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CAS VERDICT: Manchester City Are Innocent, UEFA Is Guilty

IT IS OFFICIAL! Manchester City FC have been completely exonerated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), overturning the 2-year ban from European competitions handed out to the club by UEFA on February 14.


By Bhavya Mamgain




CAS: "MANCHESTER CITY FC DID NOT DISGUISE EQUITY FUNDING AS SPONSORSHIP CONTRIBUTIONS BUT DID FAIL TO COOPERATE WITH THE UEFA AUTHORITIES"


Here's the background of the entire case, how Manchester City maintained their innocence, how UEFA was always impartial, what the verdict means and the questions that remain unanswered.


BACKGROUND


On February 14, UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber announced a 2-year ban for Manchester City from European competitions, finding the club guilty on 2 charges:

a) Serious breaches of FFP regulations by overstating the sponsorship revenues between 2012 and 2016.

b) Failing to cooperate in UEFA’s investigations.

The club responded to the verdict with a strongly worded statement:


"Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber. The Club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.


"In December 2018, the UEFA Chief Investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun. The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver. The club has formally complained to the UEFA Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling.


"Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA. With this prejudicial process now over, the Club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity."

The message was clear. The club had irrefutable evidence but they never trusted UEFA to investigate it without any prejudice and act on it in a fair manner. To City’s credit, they never tried to negotiate with UEFA for a lenient punishment and always maintained their innocence; something they believed could only be proved under an impartial and fair trial. Today’s CAS verdict vindicates that stand and while it only says Manchester City are innocent, there’s also an underlying assumption attached to it that says UEFA is guilty. Guilty of tarnishing the image of a football club to serve their own interests, by reserving the judgment even before starting an investigation.





So why would the football governing body carry out an investigation, or the lack of it, filled with prejudice and lacking any substance to arrive at a guilty verdict that Manchester City were always going to challenge in an independent tribunal?


If you go by the public’s reaction to the timeline of events, you will figure acting against Manchester City in the strictest way possible was UEFA’s best chance of repairing their tarnished image.

As soon as the Der Spiegel leaks came out, Manchester City issued a statement calling them out of context material obtained through illegal means. However, little do football fans and nowadays even ‘journalists’ care about the laws ‘til it suits their narrative. UEFA was now under pressure to not only act on these leaks but punish City, whatever it takes.


UEFA naturally started an investigation and through regular leaks via NY Times maintained the impression that Manchester City will be handed out a Champions League ban, much to the pleasure of the football fans and those same ‘journalists’. But then a contradictory story came out in November 2019.

Sam Lee, Manchester City’s most reliable correspondent came out with a story for TheAthleticUK that UEFA won’t ban Manchester City after all and would only hand out a monetary fine. The reason given was UEFA’s doubts over whether going after Manchester City was worth years of legal trouble over a regulation (FFP) standing on a shaky premise itself, purely based on leaked out of context documents.


The news wasn’t received well. Suddenly UEFA was corrupt and Manchester City ‘got away with it’ rather than being innocent. According to the report, the verdict was expected to come out in December but presumably, the reaction to it meant neither the time nor the outcome was ideal as far as UEFA was concerned. So the verdict did come out but only in February and it wasn’t what anybody was expecting to hear- a 2-year Champions League ban for Manchester City.


It is hard to imagine someone like Sam coming out with a huge story like that without any basis. So what changed? Perhaps UEFA wasn’t willing to take a hit on their reputation, if they had any, for a club hated by those same elites sitting on their board for whose protection FFP was brought in the first place.


But what about years of legal trouble and the bleak future of FFP? For the former, UEFA found the perfect middle ground. Their case was so weak that 3 days of hearing was all it was going to take to get the verdict tossed. UEFA can take the high moral ground and claim they acted tough but weren’t the ones to eventually exonerate City. As for the FFP, whether UEFA exonerated City or CAS, FFP was going to be in trouble either eventually. So ultimately, this was a win-win situation for UEFA.





But make no mistake; no one comes out a bigger winner from this verdict than Manchester City. The club could have easily negotiated with UEFA for a 1-year ban but they knew it would have also implied City broke rules. They always insisted there was no wrongdoing on the club’s part and CAS has today put a stamp on it. While a partial or complete relief by UEFA would have raised questions about backdoor dealings, the same cannot be said now for no one can question the integrity of CAS.


What the verdict means


1. First and foremost, Manchester City are innocent, they always were. The club always maintained their innocence and confidence in an independent body to back their stand. Haters will hate, may start petitions, or do whatever it takes to help them sleep at night, but officially there’s nothing to suggest the club indulged in any wrongdoing.


2. A substantially large section of football fans, media, journalists, etc. tried to delegitimize the ownership, investment, and all the success that followed because of these allegations. So as far as asterisks go, Manchester City have none on any of the titles.


3. Manchester City are now free to participate in the upcoming Champions League campaign, for the 11th year in a row. This will also mean the doubts that were raised about potential exits of star players and manager are now put to bed.


4. UEFA through their prejudicial investigation and a verdict as an outcome it made it abundantly clear that they are controlled by ‘Elite Clubs’ who feel insecure by “nouveau riche” clubs like Manchester City and will do anything to stop anyone who threatens their dominance and control over footballing leagues.


5. FFP in its current form can no longer exist. From clubs like Bury and Wigan going under to clubs like Manchester United being ridden with debt, FFP has failed to deliver on its on-paper objectives, while CAS has given them a timely reminder that their off-paper objectives won’t bear fruits as well.


Big Questions


1. What should be the sanctions against football governing bodies when they choose to act prejudicially against a club to benefit other clubs? Why aren’t there any at present?


2. Why is owner investment, if it doesn’t come with any debts or obligation for future repayments not allowed but mounting debts to the tune of 400m are?


3. PSG was let off the hook for much more serious charges with NY Times reporting “UEFA surrendered without a fight”. Can it be a coincidence that PSG’s owner sits on the executive board of UEFA? Why are members of clubs sitting on the UEFA board not a conflict?


4. With animosity between Manchester City and UEFA reaching new heights and public eyes, how would this relationship repair and how do City ensure UEFA doesn’t hold any prejudice against the club going forward?


Read full CAS verdict here: https://www.tas-cas.org/fileadmin/user_upload/CAS_Media_Release_6785_Decision.pdf


Read official Manchester City statement here: https://www.mancity.com/news/club/club-statement-uefa-cas-verdict-63730222


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