UEFA has gone nuclear on Manchester City – and the fallout for European football will be massive
UEFA announced on Friday that City had been banned from all European competition for the next two seasons and handed a €30 million ($32.5 million) fine for breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
The case centers on leaked emails which outline that City deceived UEFA by claiming sponsorship deals between 2012 and 2016 had come from outside investment, rather than directly from City’s mega-rich Abu Dhabi owner, Sheikh Mansour.
It did not take long for City to fire back on Friday, stating they will appeal the decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, blasting the case against them as “prejudicial.”
“Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA," read a spiky statement from the club.
"With this prejudicial process now over, the Club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity,”
But however that appeal pans out, the shockwaves for football are massive, and will reverberate on many levels.
GUARDIOLA TO GO?
The most urgent question for many at Manchester City will be how the UEFA ruling affects the future of manager Pep Guardiola.
So much at City has been based on the foundation of getting the Spaniard in at the club and providing him with the platform for the success that brought consecutive Premier League titles as well as two League Cups and an FA Cup.
Long coveted by City, the groundwork was laid to bring in Guardiola even before his arrival in 2016, from the appointment of former Barcelona allies Txiki Begiristain as director of football and Ferran Soriano as CEO, to opening the purse strings generously whenever Guardiola has signaled the need to spend.
But despite the domestic success, the higher goal for Guardiola and the City hierarchy has always been Champions League glory.
That has eluded them so far, although they have another crack this season, starting again when they meet Real Madrid in the last 16 first leg in Spain next week.
With the Champions League ban looming, success in this season's competition has become even more imperative for Guardiola, who is in his fourth year of a five-year deal at City, but with reports that he has a break clause which would allow him to walk away this summer.
Speculation was already rife that he could do so, especially given that City have fallen off dramatically in the Premier League – where they are 22 points behind a rampant Liverpool – and that Guardiola is known for putting himself at risk of burning out due to his all-consuming intensity.
With the prospect of the Etihad club now being banned from Europe for the next two season, it would seemingly diminish the appeal of sticking around for Guardiola, however much he professes to be committed to City.
The lack of European football would also reduce Guardiola’s ability to bring in big-name players in a projected summer rebuild which, on current league form, is badly needed if City are to mount any sort of challenge to Liverpool next season.
Guardiola has publically asserted that he has full confidence in the City hierarchy, and that he believes their protestations that they have done nothing wrong with their financial dealings under scrutiny (which in any case came before his time at the club).
Indeed, after UEFA dropped its bombshell on Friday, a clip from 2018 quickly resurfaced on social media in which Guardiola confidently asserted that City would never face Champions League sanction.
But now that they are staring that scenario in the face – with all the accompanying uncertainty and potential financial and player losses – Guardiola will surely be less inclined to carry out his planned Man City rebuild.
All of the uncertainty surrounding Guardiola will put a number of European giants on red alert at the prospect of securing his managerial services.
One such club would seem to be Juventus, who are mid-way into their first season under new boss Maurizio Sarri, but with the signs that not all is well as their total domestic dominance comes under serious threat from Lazio and an Inter Milan team marshalled by the relentless force of Antonio Conte.
Should Juve – with their star-studded squad containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo – fail to make it nine Scudettos in a row, then the pressure to ditch the nascent Sarri project would be strong.
Even if they do scrape home domestically, Sarri will also be judged on his bid to end the Turin giants’ two-decade Champions League drought. Fail there, and the door might open for Guardiola.
Having played in Italy with Brescia and Roma, Guardiola may well fancy a stint in Italy to add to his big-league spells with Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany and Man City in England.
But rather than a switch to Italy, a return to Barcelona would also seem an increasingly appealing option to the Catalan manager.
It’s eight years since Guardiola left the club, having guided them to an astounding 14 titles in four seasons. While Barcelona have claimed a Champions League title in the ensuing period, the sense is that they have lost their way badly in recent years and would welcome a return to the principles Guardiola laid down.
Even though the Catalans have only just appointed Quique Setien in place of the sacked Ernesto Valverde, Setien is believed to effectively be on trial until the end of the season; if Guardiola then becomes available, Barca would welcome him back with open arms.
Beyond that, cash-rich French giants Paris Saint-Germain could also be keen on snapping up Guardiola should he ditch City.
The Qatar-owned club would likely have few qualms with taking Guardiola on, even if directly from a club run by bitter political rivals in the UAE.
The litmus test for current PSG boss Thomas Tuchel will be their success in this season’s Champions League; fall short again and pressure would mount on the German, especially if Guardiola seems gettable given City’s current woes.
Guardiola is arguably the greatest driving force behind City’s playing success in the past two seasons, but the galaxy of stars at the manager’s disposal is also at threat of diminishing with the prospect of no European football for the next two years.
In particular, Raheem Sterling, 25, and Kevin de Bruyne, 28, are two players at the peak of their powers who deserve to showcase that on Europe’s biggest stage.
Will they want to stick around at City, kicking their heels mid-week while the rest of the European elite slug it out?
Likewise, a Man City team without European football would seem a much less attractive prospect for potential big-name signings.
City will also be shorn of their Champions League income – estimated to be around $73 million last season alone – and while they will hardly be paupers, the reduced cash flow will put further pressure on keeping within FFP limits.
City are now faced with the threat of losing a host of playing stars, both present and potential.
UEFA LAYS DOWN THE LAW
City are adamant that they have been wronged, and will now throw their considerable financial clout at taking on UEFA in court.
Their argument is primarily that emails used in the case – which were first reported as part of the Football Leaks scandal – were stolen and effectively taken “out of context.”
City already have previous with UEFA, having been fined a record £50 million by the governing body for financial irregularities back in 2014 – on that occasion accepting their sanction.
This time round they will fight tooth and nail, seeing the case as a vindictive campaign to scapegoat them amid the selective and unjust application of FFP rules.
There are also reports that City’s Abu Dhabi owners suspect Qatari forces as being behind the whole thing in an orchestrated bid to tarnish their geopolitical rivals.Also on rt.com The rich list: Paris Saint Germain topple Manchester City as the world's most financially powerful club
In reality, City stand a good chance of at least reducing the sanction to a one-year ban, which may well be why UEFA went with the harsher two-year option in the first place, in the knowledge it would be lessened.
But whatever the outcome it will rankle with City, who feel they have been unfairly targeted while the likes of fellow mega-rich clubs such as the Qatari-owned PSG have so far escaped similar sanction.
Figures at the Etihad will also feel there is inherent injustice in FFP rules, which have been accused of protecting a long-established elite of wealthy clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus from the threat of upstart rivals like City who find themselves increasingly powerful after big-money takeovers.
Win or lose their case, the resentment from City will linger, while others may remain fearful that UEFA is setting out its stall to crack down hard on FFP breaches.
So from the training ground to the pitch to the boardroom, UEFA has nuked the European football landscape with its Manchester City decision, and the fallout will be with us for a long time to come.