What they do have is unlimited resources and the power that ensures. And Pep Guardiola. And now both of these pillars of their status have been left at risk by UEFA’s extraordinary decision to ban the club from the Champions League for two seasons and fine them €30 million. A decision which is unprecedented in its severity, and, to some extent, bravery.
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If we know anything from the eye-opening Football Leaks revelations around City’s Financial Fair Play machinations, aside from the fact that UEFA’s decision to punish them for “serious breaches” is built on apparently firm foundations, it is that the City ownership group will not accept this punishment lightly.
In a leaked email regarding UEFA’s decision to pursue City for the alleged “serious breaches” around “overestimating sponsorship revenue”, club lawyer Simon Cliff recalled that, “Khaldoon (Al Mubarak, City Football Group chairman) said he would rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years.”
An appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport has already been confirmed and UEFA can be certain that City will indeed explore every avenue to overturn this decision. Unsurprisingly, as it threatens to compromise the footballing empire that City Football Group have thrown so much money into constructing.
A general view of Etihad Stadium ahead of the Carabao Cup Semi Final match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium
Image credit: Getty Images
If this suspension holds, then City’s very expensively-acquired status will evaporate. The money will still be there, but the ability to exercise it to any extent they wish, and the power which flows from that economic certainty, will be neutered, UEFA having proven, remarkably, that no club is above the law.
Where once City’s riches opened their doors to some of the very best players on the planet, now any seriously elite performer will park themselves elsewhere for a couple of seasons. Players of the calibre of Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne may find it difficult to justify spending two years of their career in the European wilderness. Why do so, when they could pursue the game’s greatest prize and harness the huge earning potential of winning it at a genuine European super club?
Most seriously of all for the City project, this decision basically ends Pep Guardiola’s reign as City boss. The Catalan has already spent four seasons as City manager and was being strongly linked with a move to Juventus even before this story broke. The thought that he would relinquish Champions League football for two seasons while he still seeks the validation of winning the biggest trophy in club football without Lionel Messi's talents under his command is fanciful. City have reached previously unscaled heights in English football playing his football. A post-Guardiola future is an uncertain one - with or without Champions League football.
UEFA’s monumental punishment, delivered in cold legalese on an unassuming Friday evening, has the potential to reshape the football world as we know it. Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had already ended City’s veneer of domestic invincibility, just months after Guardiola led his side to a clean sweep of trophies in England, and now the path looks clear for a sustained period of Scouse dominance.
Real plot swoop for Barca summer target - Euro Papers
Moreover, it establishes the primacy of the rule of law where no one thought it likely. Financial Fair Play is not a spectral threat but a clear and present danger to cheats. Football clubs will be punished if they step out of line – at least, if hackers manage to expose documents which make the case inevitable. As La Liga president Javier Tebas - a man with his own agenda to press, who has nonetheless spoken out consistently against financial abuses in certain quarters - said on Friday night:
“UEFA is finally taking decisive action. Enforcing the rules of Financial Fair Play and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football. For years we have asked for severe action against Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, we finally have a good example of action and we hope to see more this way. Better late than never.”
No one should kid themselves that this punishment means City will disappear as an elite force. Juventus were relegated to Serie B for their role in the Caliopoli scandal but were back dominating Serie A within five years. City's punishment is not as severe and they will likely return with a renewed vigour and a burning (and misguided) sense of injustice.
But the football world has been truly upended by the decision coming out of UEFA headquarters on Friday evening.