Here we go again…
As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States in the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin coined a famous quote about the new US Constitution ending with the words, ‘...but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’
Fast forward three centuries and you can add a third certainty to the mix – one pioneered by a malicious core of Franklin’s fellow countrymen, fuelled by self serving avarice and naked protectionism – a relentless and pernicious pursuit of Manchester City Football Club.
Who knows whether Franklin would’ve approved of the sinister antics and shady manipulations of the likes of the Fenway Sports Group, the Glazers, the Kroenke’s and, while we’re at it, why not add Todd Boehly’s crew into the mix?
The Americans love their guns. The fundamental right to keep and bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution – and, as the puppet masters of the Premier League – these desperados have long had City in their crosshairs, hell bent on removing the club as the pre-eminent force in English football.
They’ve had scant success, especially since Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad six-and-a-half years ago.
Unable to consistently beat City on the pitch they – along with the pliable and pathetic mandarins of the Premier League – are now taking the ‘pith’ with a litany of alleged Financial Fair Play law-breaking, dating way back to 2009.
Referring to the regulations as, ‘Financial Fair Play’ is a farcical contradiction in terms.
Originally intended as a laudable process to prevent nefarious owners asset stripping, mismanaging and grinding clubs into the dirt – the cases of Portsmouth and Leeds United spring easily to mind – FFP was hijacked and perverted to shore up the traditional dominance of the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.
It was bad enough when Roman Abramovich came along with roubles aplenty for ‘Chelski’, but the Reds could just about stomach that because the Premier League’s allocation of Champions League places was increased to four, thereby accommodating the ‘Big Four’.
Enter stage left Sheikh Mansour in 2008 with his takeover of a Manchester City, teetering on the brink of administration, in the midst of the chaotic ownership of Thaksin Shinawatra. The ‘Noisy Neighbours’ were about to start pumping up the volume and the simple math of trying to get five clubs into four Champions League berths didn’t add up to the Red monopoly.
And so it began.
The repugnant Reds led the domestic assault on City, whilst the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid were among the main protagonists, aiding and abetting them in attempting to keep ‘Little Old City’ away from the top table of European football.
Of course that all ended in tears, when the Court of Arbitration for Sports overturned City’s two-year ban from the Champions League – imposed by UEFA – at the behest of the infamous cabal.
Chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak and the club’s executives never wavered in their ironclad belief of City’s innocence. Likewise City have been similarly robust in their initial response to this latest attack:
“The Club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent commission, to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position. As such we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”
It’s at times like these that City’s supporters must have faith in Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon, CEO Ferran Soriano and the rest of the club’s hierarchy.
Inevitably there’s a horrible taste of déjà vu as the politically-motivated Premier League seek the ruination of City, in a pseudo show of self regulation muscle flexing.
It’s no coincidence that the 115 charges alleging financial wrong-doing, were sprung upon City just 48 hours before the Government was due to unveil a white paper on football governance reform in this country.
The Premier League – supported by the likes of United, Liverpool and Arsenal – are desperate to cling onto their self-governing powers. They don’t want to relinquish an iota of influence to an outsider, an independent regulator who won’t view the game through the Premier League’s prism of avarice and commercial gain.
To quote a lyric from ‘Blue Moon’ the City anthem, ‘You saw me standing alone...’ City have done exactly that in being the only club in the ‘Big Six’ – the Reds, Chelsea, Spurs and themselves – who are in favour of an independent regulator.
It’s a perverse perspective that in seeking to show itself capable of self regulation, the Premier League is, at best, inadvertently saying it’s been incapable of accurately monitoring City’s financial activities since 2009.
The Premier League and City’s perceived rivals dispensed with any hint of subtlety many moons ago. The witch-hunt is plain for all to see. Anybody reading this who doesn’t believe there’s even a scintilla of an anti-City agenda needs to review – or seek – medication, in rapid fashion.
In 2018, after City were crowned as the Premier League's one and only Centurions, PL chief executive Richard Scudamore expressed his hopes that City would face 'stiffer opposition' in the future.
He said: "It doesn't take away from City's excellence, but we want the season to go to the last. I'd like multiple trophies needed in various locations on the last day because we don't know how it will end. I'd like someone to get a little bit closer to Manchester City. Clearly, given the way they played last season, they look like the team to beat."
Scudamore was the Premier League boss for 19 years, but never once expressed any similar misgivings when United and Arsenal were virtually monopolizing titles, save for a few interventions by Chelsea, City, Leicester and Blackburn.
On the face of it and in the absence of every spit and cough on the charge sheet, the Premier League are saying City falsified their accounts over a nine year period. If proven, this would be an extremely serious situation.
It boils down to two broad areas:
· City artificially inflated income with particular respect to commercial and sponsorship deals. The claims appear to centre on money coming directly from Sheikh Mansour which was disguised as third party sponsorship. If the funds came from City’s owner they wouldn’t count towards FFP compliance.
· Allegations that City artificially deflated the costs of running the club by having employees (Roberto Mancini in particular) on contracts connected with other company’s owned by Sheikh Mansour, thereby lessening the direct cost on City’s books.
Given the microscopic scrutiny of City’s fiscal dealings since the 2008 takeover, it begs the question how could the club deceive all of the people all of the time, including experienced and highly reputable auditors and accountants, over such a sustained period?
Is the timing of the Premier League’s action also a coincidence when taking into account that both Manchester United and Liverpool are effectively up for sale? It’s an attractive proposition for a prospective buyer to know that the biggest single obstacle to your new club’s future success could be removed from play.
Irrespective of all the speculation, the one element of this story which was nailed on was the predictable media w@nkfest. It went into immediate overdrive on Monday morning with a nigh on universal presumption of guilt.
The sheer volume of the PL charges would lead many to assume the idiom of ‘no smoke without fire’, and therefore City had to be guilty of something. How could they not when facing more than a hundred?
It’s a mirror image of the misguided judgement when City were charged by UEFA. The club was publicly hung drawn and quartered, but ultimately went on to win. Reporting of the CAS adjudication ranged from City being ‘totally exonerated’, ‘vindicated’ and ‘innocent’ to – at the opposite end of the spectrum, jibes of having ‘got away with it’, ‘technically guilty’ and a ‘pyrrhic victory’. Mud sticks if there’s a desire for it to do so.
This time around the overwhelming focus has been on the severity of City’s possible punishments, with only a handful of balanced reports.
Take, for example, Sky Sports’ hideous Chief Reporter Kaveh Solhekol, aka ‘Kaveh Knowssodall’, who’s been getting ever moister at the prospect of City’s expulsion from the Premier League, the deduction of points, relegation and the stripping of PL titles. It’s a salivating prospect for him and many others.
This would be the same clever clogs Kaveh who was praising Chelsea – the club he supports – for exploiting FFP loopholes, whilst splurging £323m in the January transfer window and more than £600m on new players since last summer.
Cretin Kaveh ‘exclusively revealed’ the Big Six rivals want City booted out of the Premier League – Quelle Surprise – and yet in the next breath, says Premier League clubs ‘don’t want to get involved and are happy to leave matters to the independent commission.’ Bit of a contradiction there, Kaveh old chap.
The full details of the Premier League’s case are still shrouded in a degree of mystery, unlike UEFA’s. The so called ‘Independent Commission’ will hear the arguments from both sides in private sessions, so unless there are any leaks, little will be known for some time to come.
It’s inevitable that much of the ‘evidence’ will stem from notorious Portuguese computer hacker, Rui Pinto’s ‘Football Leaks’ and articles published in Der Spiegel. Whether any of the illegally obtained material will be admissible remains to be seen.
Pinto is presently awaiting a verdict and sentencing after a two-year trial in which he was accused of 89 hacking offences and attempted extortion. The outcome is scheduled for April 28th.
In a similar fashion to when Pep Guardiola warned his former employers, ‘...don’t talk too loud Barcelona...’ when they were fuelling the fires against City, Vincent Kompany has questioned the motives and holier than thou approach of the Premier League, and those pressing for punitive measures against his former club.
The City legend said: “I think the football industry in general, is not one that can afford to point the finger too many times. I’m very sceptical when people start pointing fingers.”
The clear implication from Vinny is, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. The words of reggae singer Bob Marley also ring true. He once said: "Before you start pointing fingers...make sure your hands are clean!" Fair to say United, Liverpool and Arsenal have plenty of muck behind their fingernails as they cling onto the hope that the Premier League will do the dirty work on their behalf.
Kompany was City’s Captain Fantastic for the vast majority of the period included on the PL charge sheet, but is presently managing Burnley back to a near certain return to the top flight, after relegation last season.
How ironic that Burnley were among the original ‘Hateful Eight’ along with United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, Leicester City and Wolves, who petitioned CAS to have City’s Champions League ban upheld, prior to appeal. Newcastle United later joined those lobbying against City.
As was the case in February 2020, when UEFA announced City’s Champions League ban, let’s not pretend this week’s headlines make for comfortable reading. Of course they don’t, but take a step back from the hatred, the lies, the innuendo and the agenda of those displaced by City’s success.
Guardiola the Gladiator came out in full fighting mode at his press conference before City's game with Aston Villa on Sunday. He fielded all the questions in a very measured but passionate fashion, fiercely defending his bosses and the club as a whole.
"What's happened since Monday is the same as what happened with UEFA. We have already been condemned. We were completely innocent then.You have to understand that 19 teams in the Premier League are accusing us without us having the ability to defend ourselves. Since Abu Dhabi took over the club - since day one - it's been like that.
"We are lucky we live in a marvellous country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We didn't have this opportunity, we are already sentenced. I am fully convinced we will be innocent."
Pep certainly wasn't ducking any questions. When asked if he believed rival clubs were driving the Premier League's prosecution and what were their motives, he said: "Of course. I don't know why, you have to ask Daniel Levy and the CEOs of the other clubs." He added that another reason was that City weren't, '...part of the establishment.'
Referring to the Premier League hierarchy and the clubs who are seeking to damage City, Pep sounded a word of warning: "They have set a precedent. What they (rival clubs) have done to us, be careful. Be careful in the future. Many clubs can make accusations and there are a lot of clubs that can be accused - like we have been accused - without being innocent! Who knows what will happen in the future?
"They believe that we didn't behave properly, we can accept that, but let us defend ourselves when we believe we did it properly."
Much has been made in the media of Pep previously saying he would leave City if allegations they broke financial rules were proven. He wasn't taking any nonsense on that score: "I am not moving from this seat, I can assure you. I want to stay more than ever."
Mixing defiance with sarcasm, Pep said even if City were found guilty and relegated by the commission they would return to the Premier League: "We have already been in the lower divisions, if we will be back there - not a problem - we will call Paul Dickov and Mike Summerbee and make a good process.
"But they should wait. The Premier League put it there, but they should wait. We are going to defend ourselves, like we did in the UEFA situation."
Guardiola said he does not know what will happen next, but reiterated he had received reassurances of City's innocence from the club's hierarchy: "I trust my people, I don't have one second for the other people."
Going on the offensive - in a truly masterful display, Pep raised the question nobody has bothered to ask since Monday.
"But if the same situation with UEFA happens and we are innocent, what happens to restore or pay back our damage?"
As Khaldoon & Co go into battle to preserve City’s reputation as true champions of England, the Etihad faithful could do a whole lot worse than adopt the mindset of a much less combative American.
Never mind the words of Benjamin Franklin, City’s fans should adhere to the positivity of the Emmy award-winning Apple TV+ comedy series ‘Ted Lasso’ and the mantra of the main character – BELIEVE!
By David Walker
Twitter: @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu