Earlier this month, Manchester City appealed to the Court of Arbitration to Sport over a sentence that hasn’t even been handed down yet.
It is symptomatic of the sometimes murky, always confusing process that is UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
With a decision expected soon, and with implications that affect not just City, here is all you need to know about the club’s latest battle with UEFA.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola may miss out on leading his side in Europe this season
So, what have City actually been accused of?
Back in November last year, German weekly Der Spiegel released a series of revelations about Manchester City, based on emails they had received from Football Leaks. In them, they revealed allegations that the club had used their sponsorship deal with Emirati airline Etihad to disguise investment from owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
One email suggested that, of the £67.5million deal in place between City and Etihad for 2015-16, only £8m would come directly from the airline – the other £59.5m would come from Abu Dhabi United Group – Mansour’s own company he uses to run the club.
…And that’s bad because?
Well, essentially this accusation suggests City have lied to UEFA. There is, of course nothing wrong with any owner investing in their club, however, under Financial Fair Play rules stipulated by UEFA, there is a limit on how much clubs can spend.
The rules are there to stop clubs operating at unsustainable losses, stipulating that teams that report losses of more than €30m (that’s £27m) over a three-year period will face sanctions from the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB for short).
By allegedly disguising the owner’s investments as sponsorship income, City would have been able to spend that extra £59.5m a year on transfers without it affecting their expenditure when it came to UEFA sifting through their books.
City have been accused of disguising investment from Sheikh Mansour (right) as sponsorship
So what are UEFA doing?
It safe to say they’ve taken a pretty dim view of City’s tactics in Nyon and they’ve acted swiftly. After taking on board the accusations, UEFA launched a formal investigation in March.
That took only two months to complete, and the case is already with the CFCB for final adjudication.
City have already lodged an appeal over the recommendation to the CFCB, saying there had been ‘a basic lack of due process’.
What doesn’t help the Premier League champions’ cause is the fact this isn’t the first time they’ve been hauled in front of the governing body’s judicial arm.
Back in 2014, the club were fined a then record £49m and allowed to name just 21 players in their Champions League squad for the 2014-15 campaign. Their transfer budget was also capped at £49m.
That could look lenient in comparison to this time around.
What kind of punishment can they expect this time?
UEFA’s top brass have not minced their words when asked about this themselves.
The CFCB’s chief investigator Yves Leterme has insisted since January that City face ‘the heaviest punishment’, which taken to its extreme suggests that Pep Guardiola’s side could be refused entry to to the Champions League.
CFCB chief investigator Yves Leterme (right) insists that the club will face heavy punishment
Champions League ban sounds severe… is that likely?
It’s almost certain. City may be one of the most recognisable clubs on the planet right now but UEFA know they must throw the book at them to give FFP the credence they believe it merits.
They haven’t been afraid to ban well-supported clubs from UEFA competition in the past – Turkish giants Galatasaray were handed a two-year ban in March 2016 for failing to hold up their end of a break-even agreement with the CFCB.
In fact, as City’s deal with Eithad was signed in 2015, UEFA may see it as a breach of their 2014 FFP agreement, which they exited in 2017.
If UEFA have proof they have been duped, then historically the system doesn’t bode well for repeat offenders.
City have adamantly denied the allegations and said the emails were hacked or stolen and their contents taken out of context.
There is a good chance that UEFA will ban City from competing in the Champions League
Can City do anything about this?
Well they’re certainly trying. As mentioned earlier, City managed to negotiate an agreement in 2014 with the CFCB, but it’s highly unlikely either side will want to deal with the other in those terms now.
The club remain adamant that they have done nothing wrong, regularly attacking the FFP process during their investigation, releasing a statement last month maintaining that the accusations are ‘entirely false’.
In an attempt to head off the CFCB judgement, they have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to have the case thrown out.
That appeal was made earlier this month, but it won’t stop UEFA’s decision being handed down.
That being said, no ban will be implemented until the end of any appeals process. These can be long and drawn out so prepare for this saga to rumble on.
So what happens if they do get chucked out?
Well then it’s good news for at least one of their Premier League rivals.
Due to the lengthy appeals process the likelihood is that any suspension from the competition will see City booted out for the 2020-2021 season.
If City can’t take up their the spot, the next best-placed team in the Premier League would take it.
Given City’s recent dominance in the top-flight that makes it reasonable to assume that fifth place will secure a Champions League spot for that season – a lifeline for the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal who finished fifth and sixth this year.
As a result, an extra Europa League spot would also open up, too.
It is all still a big if however. In May, it was expected that City’s sentencing was merely ‘days’ away, but we’re a month beyond that now.
With City already involving CAS, this messy situation is set to play out long beyond this summer.
If the Premier League champions are banned, it would be a boost for the likes of Arsenal