City’s financial fair play case is a test of Uefa’s mettle



When Manchester City executive Simon Pearce was asked if it were possible to embellish a particular payment date on the books, his response was plain: “Of course, we can do what we want.”

What was merely a matter-of-fact reply to his colleague, chief financial officer Jorge Chumillas, has come to be seen as the maxim by which the rich elite operate in the football world on a day-to-day basis.

We know this thanks to German publication Der Spiegel, which exposed the club’s attempt to cook their ledgers to comply with Uefa’s financial fair play regulations (FFP).

One year after the report was published, there’s no reason to believe a damn thing will be done to ensure City are punished commensurately. That last word is important, because no one is buying that fines are anything more than a tickle to an empire with voluminous bank vaults.

What would hurt would be an outright ban from the Champions League — one of the possible punishments. But the investigatory chamber of the club financial control body (CFCB) — the Uefa arm that would mete out the sanctions — actually pulling the trigger seems too proactive to be true.

The Athletic certainly doesn’t think it will. It ran an article last week claiming inside information that the CFCB has cowed out of pushing for any substantial punishment. Again, given recent history, this is hardly an exclusive insight.

Uefa is simply afraid of the infinite time those aforementioned bank vaults can buy City. As the club’s lawyer put it in another leaked email: “Khaldoon [Al Mubarak, the chairperson] said he would rather spend 30-million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years.”

It must have been with hidden resentment then that the CFCB greeted the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision to dismiss City’s appeal at the weekend. Had it instead ruled that the CFCB must leave it all alone, then the body would have been absolved of responsibility. Now, there is nowhere to hide.

In many ways this agonising loop is poetic. FFP was ostensibly put in place to erode club debt, but came into being only because the old European guard (Manchester United and Real Madrid being two obvious examples) pressured former Uefa boss Michel Platini into slowing the rise of new powers such as City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Ten years after the conception of the regulations, it’s clear they’ve done as much to stall them as the hare’s nap did in its race against the tortoise.

The greatest irony in all of this is that City are now part of the fiscal elite themselves. The club announced a record revenue of £535.2-million this week — putting them behind only United in the English Premier League. And with the Red Devils missing out on the Champions League, it’s possible the world’s most popular side will be surpassed by their nouveau riche neighbours by this time next year.

With these sorts of revenues, City could balance the books just fine without the need for “financial doping” and tax tricks.

The window to punish any past discretions closes with this case before the CFCB and, by now, we’re all morosely tapping our feet in the hope that it will all go away.

Either the body must level a punishment of consequence or accept the FFP project as a failure — arguably a fate it was always destined for.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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