Verdict that kept Manchester City in Europe delivers some glancing.img

Verdict that kept Manchester City in Europe delivers some glancing blows

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Photograph: Jan Kruger/Uefa via Getty Images


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Jan Kruger/Uefa via Getty Images

So Manchester Citys hierarchy won the war they waged furiously against European footballs governing body Uefa, but the reality of the victory does not quite match the claims they made during their long campaign.

The panel at the court of arbitration for sport decided 2-1 in Citys favour to overturn the comprehensive guilty finding and two-year Champions League ban imposed by Uefas Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) in February, but the published judgment nevertheless exposes a core of contradictions in the clubs case. In May 2019, after the CFCBs investigatory chamber (IC) referred charges to the adjudicatory chamber (AC) that City owned by Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi ruling family overstated sponsorships by the state airline Etihad and telecoms giant Etisalat, the club publicly accused the ICs chairman, Yves Leterme, of bad faith and a basic lack of due process.

Related: Cas releases its reasons for overturning Manchester City’s Europe ban

City have never explained what evidence supported this serious public criticism, or the allegations of bias made against Leterme and all members of the IC, AC and Uefa itself after the ACs guilty decision in February. But the clubs statement said: The accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false and the CFCB IC referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City.

The Cas panels full 93-page judgment does not quite support that: Citys hierarchy did not provide a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence; they refused requests for evidence and witnesses and obstructed the investigation. Criticising City for that, the judgment even states that the club itself accepted there were legitimate grounds for the charges: The panel is of the view that Uefa by no means filed frivolous charges against MCFC. As also acknowledged by MCFC, there was a legitimate basis to prosecute MCFC.

While they did overturn the ACs decision by a majority, the panel did not actually find that Citys alleged financial irregularities were entirely false. They found one of the ACs key findings time-barred: that in 2012 and 2013 Etisalat had not paid 15m in sponsorships, which in 2014 City declared to the CFCB when making a settlement under the financial fair play rules. The judgment recites the finding that Mansours company vehicle for owning City, the Abu Dhabi United Group, had made or caused to be made those payments instead. It also notes that the CFCB did not have a fully complete and accurate picture of two payments to MCFC in 2012 and 2013 when the settlement was agreed.



Manchester City refused requests for evidence and witnesses during the investigation.


© Photograph: Jan Kruger/Uefa via Getty Images
Manchester City refused requests for evidence and witnesses during the investigation.

The panel overturned the guilty finding relating to Etisalat because two of their members decided that any breach of rules had not happened in 2014 when, the AC and IC found, Citys financial information provided for the settlement was false. Instead, presumably to the bemusement of the IC, AC and Uefas lawyers, the Cas majority decided any breach happened in 2012 and 2013, when the payments were made. CFCB rules require breaches to be prosecuted within five years even if the evidence only emerged in November 2018 when the German magazine Der Spiegel published leaks of Citys emails. So, the Cas panel decided the Etisalat charges were time-barred when the IC prosecuted them in May 2019.

Citys complaint that they presented the IC with a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence stood for longer than a year before the details now revealed that they obstructed the investigation. The Cas panel found that Citys hierarchy declined to provide emails and other documents when asked by the IC and AC, and refused requests for executives to appear as witnesses.

This toxic saga has featured an aggressive, ruthless approach from City, which has deeply poisoned relations with Uefa

They did provide more testimony to Cas, with City director Simon Pearce, and former Etihad chief executive James Hogan, among others, giving evidence, and with the Etisalat charges timed out, the panel decided that the ACs finding that Mansour had also substantially subsidised the Etihad sponsorship was not established.

More broadly than the precise legal findings, this toxic saga has featured an aggressive, ruthless approach from Citys ownership, which has deeply and unnecessarily poisoned relations with Uefa. Of course it was grim for City to have their internal emails exposed the club saying they must have been hacked; Der Spiegels source, Rui Pinto, denying it, as he now denies criminal charges against him in Portugal for hacking in relation to other leaks. Nevertheless, it was shocking to see the email from the clubs lawyer, Simon Cliff, who wrote that Citys chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, had told Uefas then general secretary Gianni Infantino, that he would not accept a financial sanction for exceeding the FFP permitted 45m loss when assessed in 2014. Cliff said: [Mubarak] would rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue [Uefa] for the next 10 years.

Ultimately, based on the information City provided apparently including the stated 15m sponsorships from Etisalat Uefa and City then agreed a settlement.

Cliff also sent a tasteless email reacting to the death of Jean-Luc Dehaene, the then IC chair, and like Leterme a former prime minister of Belgium, writing with reference to the seven-person IC: 1 down, 6 to go. Mortifying as it must have been for him to see that private bad joke held up to the light of day, and insistent as City were not to dignify an alleged hack with any response, they might just have dealt with that by apologising.

The hierarchys scornful statement after the ACs guilty decision was in effect contradicted within days in an in-house video interview with their own chief executive, Ferran Soriano. City had again claimed the process was biased, naming and blaming Leterme, and refusing to recognise any CFCB independence from Uefa. Simply put, this is a case initiated by Uefa, prosecuted by Uefa and judged by Uefa, the club said.

Giving an expanded reaction, Soriano explicitly did recognise a distinction between Uefa and the CFCB. We are not talking about the whole of Uefa, which is an association of [Europes national football] associations, he said. He explained that he knows many people working at Uefa, for the benefit of the clubs of Uefa like ours, but also for the benefit of football Uefa is much bigger than this FFP chamber.

Loyalists to Uefas FFP system, which has deterred European clubs from spending beyond their means on wages and hugely improved the games overall financial stability, reject that anyway. The CFCB process is integral to Uefa, and is set up to be as independent as possible so that the FFP compliance processes are credible. Whatever, Sorianos acknowledgment of Uefa as a decent governing body never punched through the months of denunciation. Some fans arrived at Citys next Champions League match privileged heights to which the Abu Dhabi mega-money has taken the club with banners including Uefa Scum and Uefa Mafia.

Since Mansour took over City in 2008, Mubaraks regime has been exceptionally skilled at balancing their unchallengeable spending 1.3bn from the ownership with good public relations: celebrating the clubs heritage and supporter loyalty, embracing good causes, investing in the community. In their war with Uefa, that slipped. Citys ownership was revealed as a group prepared to wave millions at lawyers to hammer European footballs governing body for trying to uphold its rules. Citys hierarchy have won that war, but apart from their own supporters, whom they encouraged to join in, their approach has not done much to win friends or influence people.

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