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February 17, 2020

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UEFA hands City 2-year Europe ban

Manchester City is now a tainted champion.

A club transformed by lavish investment, in part to promote the emirate of Abu Dhabi on the world stage, is now damaged by deceptions in the pursuit of glory on the soccer field.

The Union of European Football Associations showed there is a price to pay for misleading the governing body of European soccer.

Failure to play by the rules disqualifies a team from playing in the Champions League. For two seasons, in Manchester City’s case. It doesn’t matter if Pep Guardiola is the coach or you have some of the world’s most expensive players on the team.

Banishing such a wealthy, powerful club was a test of resolve.

Not for the leadership of UEFA but the independent investigatory and adjudicatory bodies, with the final verdict reached by a panel a judge from the European Court of Justice led.

When team officials complained that “this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA,” it was a statement seemingly as misleading as some of its financial reporting.

Manchester City appeared to hope the public and UEFA would never discover it was funneling money around Abu Dhabi to fund sponsorships that helped ensure it complied with Champions League spending rules.

There were already questions about the club’s reliance on sponsorships to raise revenue before 2008 when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and member of Abu Dhabi’s royal family, purchased the team.

The alleged scheme was only discovered thanks to leaked internal correspondence that team officials think should be inadmissible, saying the information had been hacked or stolen. However, the club has never disputed the information’s authenticity, unearthed by German publication, Der Spiegel, and published in 2018. Nor has it publicly challenged Financial Fair Play rules.

In fact, the team agreed to abide by rules restricting losses and owners pumping money into clubs for spending on players when it reached a settlement in 2014 to avoid a Champions League ban.

It is the 2012-16 financial submission from the team that became subject to additional UEFA scrutiny when Der Spiegel published the trove of leaks outlining how the true source of income was allegedly covered up. Even though Etihad Airways paid for naming rights and jersey sponsorship, the company appeared to receive most of the money back from Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi holding company.

According to UEFA, the team overstated sponsorship revenue and break-even information. Because the 2019 UEFA champion plans to appeal the Champions League ban and 30-million-euro fine to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, more extensive details from the case will likely surface.

Manchester City is not a club that likes to be challenged, choosing annual in-house interviews with its chairman over open news briefings.

It deployed a squadron of attorneys to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a hearing last year, attempting to get the case dismissed but to no avail.

It was the type of defeat City has not become accustomed to in the Sheikh Mansour era.

City’s place in the game and world sport is diminished again. The vehicle to promote the Abu Dhabi brand is now associated by many with rule-bending rather than just excellence in sport.


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