Manchester City will play in the Champions League next season after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) lifted the club’s two-year ban from European football.
City were handed the suspension by UEFA’s club financial control body (CFCB) in February for “serious breaches” of club licensing and financial fair play regulations.
After hearing evidence over the course of three days in June, CAS has now overturned the suspension and reduced City’s initial €30m fine to €10m (£8.96m) after finding “most of the alleged breaches reported were either not established or time-barred”.
A statement from CAS read: “As the charges with respect to any dishonest concealment of equity funding were clearly more significant violations than obstructing the CFCB’s investigations, it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA’s club competitions for MCFC’s failure to co-operate with the CFCB’s investigations alone.
“However, considering i) the financial resources of MCFC; ii) the importance of the cooperation of clubs in investigations conducted by the CFCB, because of its limited investigative means; and iii) MCFC’s disregard of such principle and its obstruction of the investigations, the CAS Panel found that a significant fine should be imposed on MCFC and considered it appropriate to reduce UEFA’s initial fine by 2/3, i.e. to the amount of EUR 10 million.”
City ‘welcome’ ruling
City are now free to compete in the Champions League next season, having secured second place in the Premier League with a 5-0 win over Brighton on Saturday.
The Premier League club welcomed the decision in a statement, which read: “Whilst Manchester City and its legal advisors are yet to review the full ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the club welcomes the implications of today’s ruling as a validation of the club’s position and the body of evidence that it was able to present.
“The club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered.”
City are still in this year’s Champions League competition and secured a 2-1 away win at Real Madrid in their last-16 tie just before football’s shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
UEFA ‘remain committed’ to Financial Fair Play
UEFA said that despite the decision, both itself and the European Club Association “remain committed” to the principles of Financial Fair Play.
“UEFA takes note of the decision taken by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reduce the sanction imposed on Manchester City by UEFA’s independent club financial control body for alleged breaches of the UEFA club licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations,” read a statement.
“UEFA notes that the CAS panel found that there was insufficient conclusive evidence to uphold all of the CFCB’s conclusions in this specific case and that many of the alleged breaches were time-barred due to the five-year time period foreseen in the UEFA regulations.
“Over the last few years, Financial Fair Play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and UEFA and ECA remain committed to its principles.”
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, however, took aim at UEFA’s regulations, saying FFP “needed this slap around the face”.
He said: “It’s fundamentally wrong that there are restrictions placed on owners to put money into football clubs. Whether it’s Chelsea, Man City or Blackburn, all those stories we’ve had in the Premier League over the last 20 years or so, the addition to challenging Manchester United, Arsenal and other clubs wouldn’t have happened if FFP had been implemented in its truest form. I don’t believe it’s right. There has always been rich owners investing into football clubs and that won’t change today. FFP needs changing to a different model.
“An owner should have to fulfil the obligations he commits to – that is my take on how to create a sustainability model at a football club.
“If Manchester City are signing contracts worth £200m for the next four years and they have the obligations placed on the club, they should have the money to be able to fulfil that. If the loss per year is £50m, the owner should, whether it’s through a bank guarantee or a bond, have to fulfil the obligations they commit to. They shouldn’t be able to leave what are essentially community assets in a mess.”
Can UEFA appeal the CAS ruling?
UEFA could potentially appeal the CAS ruling at the Swiss Federal Tribunal but sports lawyer Daniel Geey says it is unlikely the decision would be overturned.
“It does happen on occasion in sports cases, but the grounds to be able to appeal those decisions are pretty narrow, usually based on procedural fairness, jurisdiction or public policy grounds,” he told Sky Sports News.
“For the time being at least, it’s a very big victory for Manchester City.”
Football finance expert Kieran Maguire explains why Manchester City can now “go into the transfer market” after their two-year European ban was overturned.
“This has significant implications for Manchester City,” he told Sky Sports News.
“Participation in the Champions League is worth up to £150m a year, therefore by being allowed to compete in the competition for the next two seasons means we’re probably talking somewhere between £200m and £250m.
“Even for a side with the resources of Manchester City, and the financial backing they have, it will allow them to go out in the transfer market and also pay competitive wages during that period.”
‘Fantastic news for Pep Guardiola’
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol on Manchester City’s successful appeal…
It’s a stunning victory for Manchester City. If you’re a City supporter, it’s fantastic news. If you’re Pep Guardiola, it’s fantastic news.
They haven’t fully won the case as they still are being fined but CAS has decided the punishment was too harsh.
As far as UEFA are concerned, these Financial Fair Play rules are here to stay, but if you look at Manchester City’s stunning victory, it means there has to be question marks over the future of Financial Fair Play. Is it more trouble than it’s worth?
We’ve seen so many of these cases being dragged out at the Court of Arbitration for Sport that you’ve got to ask whether it is time for UEFA to go back to the drawing board and look at the rules again.