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Manchester City deserve a level playing field...don’t they?

The polarization of Manchester City hit new heights and plumbed unchartered depths following the club’s win at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – CAS – and the overturning of the two year Champions League ban imposed by UEFA.

At one end of the spectrum you’ll find words such as ‘totally exonerated’, ‘innocent’ and ‘vindicated’ – at the other, you have ‘got away with it’, ‘technically guilty’ and ‘pyrrhic victory’.

The pernicious press and media outlets have shown little, or no, respect for the CAS adjudication, which cleared City of artificially inflating the value of commercial sponsorship deals with money from club owner, Sheikh Mansour.

The headline judgement read, ‘Manchester City did not disguise equity funding as sponsorship contributions, but did fail to cooperate with the UEFA authorities.’ The court handed down its decision, which read, ‘Exclusion from participation in UEFA club competitions lifted; fine maintained but reduced to €10 million.’

UEFA had sought to ban City in seasons 2020-21 and 2021-22, plus hit them with a huge €30 million penalty, for contravening the paradoxically entitled, Financial Fair Play Rules (FFP). They failed abysmally.

The lesser fine is quite laughable in the context of UEFA conducting a highly loaded investigation with what appears to be a pre-ordained verdict of guilt, before proceedings had even begun.

The only element that went against City – in the eyes of the three man CAS panel – was one of non-cooperation with the investigators from UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) Investigatory Chamber. In this instance City were found to be in breach of UEFA’s Article 56.

The CAS judgement did indeed exonerate City. It was definitive. Prior to the case, nobody, but nobody, was casting aspersions on the standing, the integrity or the impartiality of CAS as a legal entity. That soon changed as UEFA were right royally blown out of the water.

The City haters in the media, the cabal of Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal and so many others with a vested interest in seeking to destroy City, have been unable to conceal their hatred and breathtaking hypocrisy in the wake of yesterday’s watershed verdict.

The usual suspects have been quick to show their colours. Jose Mourinho said: “If you’re not guilty you shouldn’t have a fine. I don’t know if Manchester City are guilty or not but either way it’s a disgraceful decision.”

Jurgen Klopp added his wisdom saying: “I don’t think it was a good day for football yesterday.”

Javier Tebas, the thoroughly repugnant La Liga President attacked CAS: “We have to reassess whether CAS is the appropriate body to which appeal institutional decisions in football.

“Switzerland is a country with a great history of arbitration, CAS is not up to standard.”

It’s funny how Tebas never had any problems with CAS when they were making judgements which helped Real Madrid and Barcelona – the darlings of La Liga – in previous hearings.

Quite naturally, City boss, Pep Guardiola is ecstatic that the assurances given to him by Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Ferran Soriano and Co, have come to fruition.

“I am incredibly happy for the decision, which shows what all the people said about the club was not true. We will defend on the pitch what we won on the pitch.” Contrary to the seething emanating from land of the red Scousers, Pep said: “Yesterday was a good day for football.”

The battle lines between City, their Premier League rivals – lest we forget the so called ‘Hateful Eight’ of Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester City, Wolves and Burnley – yes, Burnley – who petitioned CAS to have City’s ban upheld, along with UEFA, are clear to see.

If this is the end of this particular sorry saga in UEFA’s seemingly relentless witch-hunt of City, we would do well to retrace its origins and pose questions that the anti-City media may well choose to avoid asking.

UEFA initiated its investigation after allegations appeared in Der Spiegel – a German weekly news magazine – in November 2018, based on City emails, stolen by notorious ‘Football Leaks’, computer hacker, Rui Pinto.

The key allegation within the leaks was that Sheikh Mansour was the source of a large portion of funds from City’s main sponsor, Etihad Airways.

In December 2018 Yves Leterme, a former Belgian Prime Minister, and the Head of CFCB (Investigative Chamber) referring to the leaks said: “If what has been written about Manchester City is true, there might be a serious problem. This can lead to the heaviest punishment - exclusion from UEFA competitions. If the information is correct, this goes against the truthful reporting of financial affairs.”

UEFA began a formal investigation into the allegations in March 2019, through Leterme’s Investigative Chamber. Eleven months later, on February 15th 2020, City were handed the two season ban by UEFA’s Adjudicatory Body. City immediately appealed the decision with CAS.

Trace events back to the insidious drip feed of Der Spiegel’s articles, and City have been under a malicious media glare for the past 21 months leading up to yesterday’s verdict.

The three-member CAS panel held it’s hearings from June 8th-10th, before taking just 33 days to analyze the evidence, corroborate them with the testimonies during the hearing, and come back with a finding, stating that “most of the alleged breaches reported by the Adjudicatory Chamber of the CFCB were either not established or time-barred”.

The media reaction since 9.30am yesterday has – with the odd exception, most notably Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail – been sadly predictable. It’s been that of spoilt brats – a pack of cowardly bullies who didn’t get what they wanted – either for themselves, or UEFA’s cabal.

At this stage there are many questions which remain unanswered. Equally there are many questions that the press corps probably won’t ask, because they fear the answers won’t fit their anti-city narrative. Here are some contenders:

  • CFCB Incompetence or Politics? The speed of CAS’s decision and the outright rejection of the ban, while welcome, is also surprising considering that CFCB’s investigation had gone through the whole CFCB process, including both the Investigative and Adjudicatory Chambers of the CFCB. CAS took just a 3-day hearing and 33 days of deliberation, to find no evidence to support the allegations or that some of the alleged breaches were time-barred. So did UEFA actually have a real case against Manchester City? Was it a matter of gross incompetency in the CFCB process or worse, was it an investigation motivated by internal UEFA politics?

  • Did the Chief Investigator for CFCB Yves Leterme lead this investigation with a pre-existing bias? If so, what is the nature of the bias? This is pertinent from the standpoint of his December 2018 statements, in which City subsequently claimed he “publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered, before any investigation had even begun”. This contrasted sharply with his treatment of PSG in 2018, an incident which the New York Times claimed, UEFA surrendered without a fight. (Nasser al-Khelaifi, President of PSG has since become a member of UEFA’s Executive Board).

  • Protocol & Audit: Did UEFA follow its investigative and adjudicatory protocol appropriately? Shouldn’t there be an independent audit of the same?

  • Media ‘Perp’ Walk: The previous question is significant because there have been two major leaks to the media from the investigative process. The first on May 13th, 2019 (UEFA Investigators Set to Seek Manchester City’s Ban from the Champions League) and, the second on the following day, (Man City facing 1-season ban from Champions League). These leaks seem to have been aimed at swaying public opinion against City while the legal process was on-going. CAS in an earlier verdict in November 2019, said such leaks were ‘worrisome’. Who in the CFCB or UEFA was responsible for these leaks? Was this CFCB’s version of a ‘Perp Walk’ – an instance of someone in police custody being led into a courthouse in full public glare – implying guilt in the absence of any evidence?

  • Neutrality of the Regulator: Can CFCB be a truly neutral regulator? Shouldn’t CFCB be completely independent of UEFA and its Executive Board? How can it provide oversight on European Clubs when the Executive Board, which comprises members from some of the cabal, has the powers to elect/re-elect members of the CFCB, possibly fix remuneration and be responsible for the supervision of UEFA’s statutes and regulations?

  • Cartel Clubs: How can UEFA attract new investors with Financial Fair Play rules that are so heavily skewed towards the large established clubs in Europe? Aren’t the FFP rules protectionist by nature? How can the game as a whole benefit from these slanted rules? How can UEFA be left in the hands of the favoured few – those with vested interests in FFP?

  • Accountability in CFCB: The case in front of CAS was about two extreme positions with little or no middle ground. It was clear that one party would be found to be in the right and the other vanquished. If City had lost the appeal, there would’ve been a clamour for senior executives to be sacked. As it was, UEFA lost. By the same token how can the CFCB continue under its current leadership?

  • Article 56 Breach: With regards to the breaking of the rules as contained in Article 56 of UEFA’s regulations, isn’t it a result of City having completely lost faith in the CFCB process after the leaks and the apparent belligerence of the Chief Investigator?

  • Media Coverage: Has the football media been fair in its portrayal of City? Pep Guardiola has already stated City’s reputation and standing has been damaged in the 21 months, before the club had its ‘day in court’ – not UEFA’s kangaroo version – but one of integrity such as CAS. The bias against City is plain to see, but why? City have invested well and executed a strong long term plan to near perfection? If money was the only criteria for success, Manchester United would have consistently been a top 3 club since the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson, which we all know hasn’t been the case.

  • Vindication: Finally, doesn’t City stand vindicated? The club maintained their innocence throughout this vengeful pursuit by UEFA. This has proved to be true. Hasn’t City’s behaviour (notwithstanding the breach of UEFA’s Article 56) been exemplary, with no media leaks or PR spins? Haven’t City only been seeking a level playing field – one denied to them from UEFA or the media for a very long time.

In conclusion, City’s performance both on and off the field over the past decade, is not down to money and money alone.

It owes much to the unparalleled efforts of the leadership of the club, the management, staff and players – their collective vision and turning that vision into a glorious reality.

Shrewd business acumen – unlike any other in English football – has successfully attracted major investors, such as Silver Lake – the US multinational private equity firm, along with China’s CITIC Group.

Sheikh Mansour’s investment and the self sustaining nature of City’s affairs, have transformed vast tracts of East Manchester, providing the once barren area with a sustainable uplift. Everything has been achieved against a relentless onslaught of skewed regulations and a bombardment of baseless allegations of all kinds.

Isn’t it time for the harassment to end and City afforded a level playing field?

By David Walker

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