From any rational perspective, the big players in football have become too big to manage. Qatar owns Paris St-Germain. Abu Dhabi has sunk hundreds of millions into City as the core of a worldwide sporting empire, to provide relevance beyond oil. Chinese, Russian and American speculators have dwarfed the game’s authorities, turning top-level football into a version of global finance, in which UEFA, FIFA and even governments look like powerless bystanders.
A vital phrase in UEFA’s judgment is that City “failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case”. The apparent sin of inflating the club’s commercial income through deals with friendly partners in Abu Dhabi was the core of the offence. But UEFA is also suggesting City continued to resist the charges against them. “Failed to cooperate” is lawyer-speak for “tried to make fools of us”. A secretariat in a Swiss canton may lack the clout of a vast Middle East oil state, but it does have its pride, and in this case UEFA was willing to depart from its traditional mission to get as much money into the game as possible by any means necessary.
Financial Fair Play is the macabre legacy of the disgraced former UEFA president, Michel Platini. The anomalies remain. The Glazer family are free to take money out of Manchester United but Sheikh Mansour is not at liberty to put money into City – or, not beyond a specified level.
City have always seen FFP as an attempt to protect the old guard from new money: from countries and sovereign wealth funds – which it is. But City’s problem is that they signed up to it, and then tried to circumvent something they agreed to.
The guilty verdict appears correct. The battle now will be over the punishment, and whether it fits the crime.
If CAS upholds it, City’s power is broken, for now. They still have this season’s Champions League title to aim for, but the next two seasons will feel hollow. Pep Guardiola and City’s star players will not want to be confined to domestic action, especially with Liverpool now the dominant force in the land.
But we should guard against the claim that this was a kangaroo court. UEFA has sent a message that the age of unfettered power for billionaire owners has passed. Football is not the plaything of nations looking for relevance post-oil. With the fine, and the lost Champions League revenue, City’s financial punishment stretches beyond £100 million ($194 million). Less important than the money, however, is the block it places on Abu Dhabi’s ambitions, and the opprobrium it exposes it to in the court of world opinion.
The lawyers will take over now. In the meantime perhaps City could have a cup of tea with Saracens and moan about the system. Do the governing bodies not know that money is power? Unless City can demolish UEFA’s case, they are disgraced, and will play the victims, in the absence of anyone in Europe to play against.
The Telegraph, London