Manchester City CAS ruling counts for everything and nothing

Every good story needs a villain. In the unending epic of European football, Manchester City have happily held that mantle for more than a decade. 

Like any good slippery character, the club continues to evade capture by the authorities. On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned Uefa’s decision to ban the club from continental football for two years for violating its financial fair play (FFP) protocols. A €10-million fine will still be incurred, but City have gleefully paraded what is undoubtedly a victory. Unless they win the Champions League, it will be their biggest of the season.

What does such a seismic decision mean for football in the long-term outside Manchester? 

Almost nothing, one might argue.

The immediate temptation has been to declare the death of FFP, but the truth is that its spirit died a long time ago — if it ever truly lived. There is nothing fair about football financials: the game is ruled by the filthy rich motivated by monetary interest. 


Pep Guardiola himself could have been tossed into a gulag and it would have done nothing to prevent another Wigan Athletic from going into administration.  

The common conspiracy is that FFP was introduced as an attempt by the European elite to protect their standing in the face of a growing nouveau riche. True or not, Uefa has done a terrible job at enforcing the scheme. Paris Saint-Germain — which operate with impunity — are walking proof of that. 

Is it any coincidence that their singular attempt at a significant punishment did not come from their own investigations, but was instead built on the foundation of the work of journalists at Der Spiegel? Common sense suggests it is not.

And this was all before we had a pandemic to deal with, of course. As a typically pessimistic Arsène Wenger told The Athletic website recently, the usual cut-throat rules of capitalism will apply in the post-Covid-19 landscape: “The strong will be stronger and the weak will be weaker.”

It may seem an injustice that City got away with it all, but it helps to remember that there could have been no verdict on Monday that would have made the football world as a whole a more equitable place.

But the decision does have massive ramifications for this year’s race for Europe. There’s now one fewer Premier League spot available in both the Champions League and the Europa League. This means Chelsea, Leicester City and Manchester United (and just maybe Wolves as well) will enter a dogfight for the latter, with fifth no longer good enough. With all three clubs susceptible to both the brilliant and the moronic, it’s impossible to say where the smart money lies.

Meanwhile, as many as five other teams will enter a battle royale for the Europa League. In this instance, the perceived evil triumph of Manchester City may very well end up costing teams that we could label as ostensibly being the good guys.

Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal are two sides that would tell you they aim to be the antithesis of City. In recent years, both have admirably embarked on an improbable journey of the improbable, becoming successful self-sustaining clubs. 

They’ve had a good crack at it too, despite falling a little short on the successful aspect. Sheffield United is another one that has to be commended for what they’ve been able to achieve on a bare budget. 

The framing of City as villains might originate from the European elite, but the failure to sanction their profligacy will be hard for fans of any of the above clubs stomach should it cause them to miss out on Europe.

The (new) magic of the FA Cup

With all the brouhaha over the goings on in court, it’s easy to forget that Guardiola is chasing a treble. He’s one down with the League Cup in hand, is looking healthy in the Champions League and will play out the penultimate stage of the FA Cup this weekend.

Although the Premier League has understandably lost some of its lustre, given the circumstances of the day, the world’s oldest cup competition is set to serve up its most exciting conclusion in years. Four of the traditional top six are vying for a trophy that will undoubtedly add some uplifting shine to their season.

Both semifinals also offer match-ups that generally provide plenty of excitement. Arsenal drew the short straw and will face City on Saturday. Games between the two tend to be high-scoring affairs; unfortunately for the Gunners, the bulk of those goals end up in their net. The last time they beat the Mancunians, however, was in the Cup in 2017 — which they went on to win — so take whichever precedent you prefer.

The onus is on Mikel Arteta to seal off as many holes as he can with limited duct tape at his disposal. As Son Heung-min eagerly demonstrated to Arsenal’s cost in the North London derby: attacking brilliancy amounts to naught when you can’t complete a basic back pass or clearance.

Chelsea and Manchester United, too, have had their own hostilities in this competition. They will face off for the fourth consecutive season — the Blues emerged as winners in both the 2017 quarterfinals and 2018 final, before United got revenge in a 2-0 win last year. The new Wembley Stadium was also opened with this tie: Didier Drogba capitalising on an assist by current Chelsea boss Frank Lampard to score a late extra-time winner. 

On top of a spot in the final, at stake may be the psychological edge needed to help sneak into the top four over the last two games.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

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

Related stories

Expect no charity from football’s elite

We should let go of the hope that our favourite clubs are going to act altruistically in English football’s looming financial crisis

The Premier League returns: Strange times, stranger football

English football is set for (another) defiant return, bringing with it several bizarre subplots

‘Wrong side of history’: Caster Semenya’s CAS appeal shot down

South Africa’s star Olympic athlete may well have run out of legal options after latest loss in Swiss tribunal

Lampard vs Arteta: Managers of a forgotten generation

Two of football’s youngest coaches are competing for one of its highest honours. This tells us something about how the Premier League appoints manager

Football’s back but still no fags

‘Augmented’ level three has me conflicted. I’m happy more people will be able to go back to earning a living, but case numbers will rise

Football will define its own destiny as it returns to a strange world

The superstars of the Premier League are back and how they do will determine whether they remain relevant – on and off the pitch
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Malawi court judges win global prize

Members of the small African country’s judiciary took a stand for democracy to international approval

Durban city manager says NPA erred in his bail conditions

The corruption-fraught metro is coming to grips with having a municipal manager who is on bail for graft, yet has returned to work

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Tax, wage bill, debt, pandemic: Mboweni’s tightrope budget policy statement

The finance minister has to close the jaws of the hippo and he’s likely to do this by tightening the country’s belt, again.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday