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Manchester City and the battle against UEFA over financial fair play

What is financial fair play (FFP)?

Financial fair play was introduced to European football by UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations- the administrative body for association football) in order to prevent football clubs across the continent from spending beyond their capabilities. Former UEFA president Michel Platini believed that the enormous spending of some clubs was ruining the game and the levels of debt was becoming unsustainable. FFP was brought in to assist the long term survival of football clubs and to help mitigate the growing gap between rich clubs and poorer clubs.

FFP was confirmed in principle in 2008 but the implementation of the set rules and regulations began in the season of 2011-12 in order to ultimately assist in improving the financial health of European football. Teams would be sanctioned over the breaking of FFP rules and regulations – including multi-million pound fines and possible bans from competing in European football competitions such as the prestigious UEFA Champions League. 

Where do Manchester City FC come into the equation?

On February 14th Manchester City – informally known as “City”- were banned from the Champions League by UEFA for two seasons (the 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaigns) for alleged “serious breaches” of FFP rules and regulations. UEFA announced on the 14th of February that they had found Man City guilty of multiple violations relating to club licensing and so-called financial fair play rules. City were not only banned for two years but they were also fined 30 million euros for their breaches. 

This was the worst punishment awarded by UEFA since the creation of FFP regulations and it was especially harsh as Champions League participation is worth about 100 million euros per year for each club. Missing out on the Champions league – Europe’s most coveted club competition – could also affect the career decisions of some star players and even potential signings. Despite City still being eligible for the current Champions League campaign that is already underway, this ban puts City’s future prospects under serious reconsideration.

Soon after the UEFA ruling was given, City stated that they will appeal the decision made by UEFA in an attempt to overturn the ban. City previously stated before the ban was handed out that “the accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false.

The overturning of the ban on Manchester City FC

City officials had vowed to do “everything that can be done” in order to fight the ban and that is exactly what they did. Especially since they have one of the world’s richest men backing them, they seemed ready to spend any amount of money to succeed in their appeal. Eventually, the Manchester giants were successful in their legal battle against UEFA. Cities’ salvation was evident the entire time as there was a section in the rules of UEFA stating that there is a five-year time limit on infractions eligible for punishment. Therefore, barring investigators from using some of the most serious evidence and ruling on some of the most serious accusations against the City- giving the City an extra boost.

A three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS – an international body established in order to settle disputes that occur in sports) were also allowed to rule to overturn the ban imposed for “serious breaches”. The panel cited UEFA’s rules therefore coming to the conclusion that the majority of the serious accusations against City were inadmissible. UEFA agreed that there was “insufficient conclusive evidence” to uphold the conclusions that had resulted in the Champions League ban.

A fine of 30 million euros was subsequently reduced to 10 million euros in acknowledgement of the fact that City had failed to cooperate with the investigation but this punishment was far more inferior to the punishment they were facing. Manchester City released a brief statement on the 13th of July which said “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 lifting of the Champions League ban raised questions about the club’s finances and its credibility as well as the credibility of UEFA and their FFP rules. Many people within the football world, such as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Spurs manager Jose Mourinho, have raised their eyebrows over whether the overturning of the ban was correct. There are many questions about whether UEFA are a weak organization who are not able to correctly carry out punishments for those who break the rules. This contrasts to the opinion of City manager Pep Guardiola who said that City “deserve an apology”.

There will continue to be much uproar over the issue in the next few months and maybe even years but it is clear for now that Manchester City FC are the winners in this situation.

By Chikomborero Madanhi 

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