“Disappointed but not surprised.” The prominent line of Manchester City’s condemnation of UEFA’s recent announcement reads like someone lamenting their single status on Valentine’s Day. This month UEFA, the governing body of European football, decided to ban the English champions from the most prestigious continental competition in the world. It is of great irony that City, whose love affair with football has been unsurpassed in its magnitude, should be struck down on the day of romance.
On February 14th, it was announced by UEFA that Manchester City, back-to-back Premier League champions, breached Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and now face £25 million in fines and a two-season Champions League ban. The punishment was handed down after City “committed serious breaches of…Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information…between 2012 and 2016,” as well as for allegedly attempting to mislead investigators. It has become clear that Manchester City is not only bankrolled by a dystopian Arabian autocracy, but that the club hierarchy is not bothered with rules and regulations either.
Manchester City are funded by the Abu Dhabi royal family, which heads the sovereign United Arab Emirates bordering Saudi Arabia. When Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour took over the English club in 2008, they immediately became contenders and brought in world-class players like Sergio Aguero, Yaya Touré, and David Silva. A year after they won their first league title in this new era, in 2012, the club leaders found themselves in trouble.
According to The Athletic, the problem arose when City fell roughly £10 million short of complying with FFP regulations, which state that a club cannot spend more than it makes in revenue for a given season. To make up this difference and avoid UEFA sanction, the club had some of its sponsors overstate their payments for the year. How is this possible, you might ask? Many of the club’s sponsors are owned by Abu Dhabi as well, such as Etihad Airways and Aabar Investments. When the Al Nahyan family owns the club and the sponsors, it’s all too easy to compensate for financial mismanagement with more debauchery. But, thanks to a revelation by German newspaper Der Spiegel in 2017, they were caught.
The club itself is fighting back. Chief Executive Ferran Soriano stated that the club will appeal UEFA’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. As of yet there is no set date for the appeal to be heard, meaning that City may escape ramifications for next season’s 2020-21 Champions League while prosecution hangs in limbo. It is very likely, however, that one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs will not compete continentally in 2021-22. Whether the Premier League will prosecute Manchester City is unknown, but any potential action would probably result in, at worst, a fine and a points deduction.
As a City supporter myself, I can’t help but see this punishment as a reprimand for bad karma. I agree with UEFA’s decision to ban the club from European competition. Perhaps City have a reason to appeal other than to save face, but a punishment of this magnitude is deserved even if this specific financial transgression does turn out to be false. Manchester City have become a modern footballing behemoth directly as a result of Abu Dhabi investment. If manager Pep Guardiola and star players leave, reverting City closer to a form of its older self, it will be as a direct result of Abu Dhabi investment. The petrostate giveth, the petrostate taketh away.