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Opinion: Man City decision leaves FFP dead in the water

July 13, 2020

The news that Manchester City have escaped punishment for the most serious charge against them comes at a huge cost to UEFA. They cannot be taken seriously and Financial Fair Play is in tatters, writes Michael da Silva.

Champions League Manchester City - Tottenham Hotspur Kevin De Bruyne
Image: Getty Images/S. Botterill

This should prove to be a watershed moment for the runaway train that is European football's finances. It should be the moment that an alternative to UEFA is founded and a hard salary cap introduced, bringing it closer to the model of most professional US sports. In reality though, it's just another win for those with the deepest pockets in a game that has been permanently disfigured by greed and corruption.

Read more: Manchester City's Champions League ban overturned by CAS

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) claimed they couldn't investigate City's alleged impropriety as it dates back more than five years. UEFA were only prompted to investigate after German newspaper Der Spiegel published leaked emails and documents in November 2018, but it was already up to five years after the alleged infringements between 2012 and 2016. What took UEFA so long to investigate a breach of their own rules and why did it only happen after a media investigation?

CAS have promised a full report of their judgment "in a few days" which could shed more light on a landmark decision that will only embolden the owners of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and the prospective Saudi owners of Newcastle United, among others. Emboldened to behave as they please at the expense of the greater good of the game, this decision is a dark day for football.

Monaco | Soccer Champions League Draw
Manchester City were facing two years out of the Champions League.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/D. Cole

City's alleged breaches

The claim against City was that they embellished sponsorship receipts from Abu Dhabi-based companies to disguise what was actually equity funding - a clear contravention of Article 56 of UEFA's Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Of course, in theory, this is a big 'no no' in UEFA's handbook. But that handbook has proved to be more of a pamphlet, as UEFA's rules have been found to be achingly inadequate.

City were banned from the Champions League for two seasons and fined €30 million by UEFA, but there was always a feeling that City would get away with it. With Pep Guardiola yet to sign an extension to his contract which ends in 2021 and top players like Kevin de Bruyne open that they might be forced to leave if City weren't in the Champions League, the stakes couldn't have been higher for the Manchester City project.

Financial Fair Play in tatters

When FFP was introduced back in 2011, it promised to herald a new era that would protect clubs from debt and force them to live within their means, preventing reckless investment from dubious external backers - Russian oligarchs, American venture-capitalists and oil-rich states with questionable track records on corruption and human rights.

Instead, it's proved to be a protectionist racket that has created an environment that has encouraged just that. UEFA has overreached and is now unable to implement its own rules.

DW's Michael Da Silva
Michael da Silva

It's a hugely embarrassing episode, and one that seems likely to result in further or even complete deregulation of the sport, which would in turn clear the path for a European Super League.

UEFA has lost appeals against AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain before, but the City case has pushed them further than ever. While it's impossible to make a judgement on the full extent of the decision until CAS publishes its full ruling in the coming days, it's clear that this is a big win for individuals and states who want to instrumentalize football to launder their geopolitical reputations.

Yet more clubs will be stripped of their souls and used as pawns in bigger political games in the truest sign yet that FFP is a completely inadequate system implemented by a failed organization.

Football deserves better and its fans do too — but UEFA has lost control.