There are fresh claims Uefa investigators will push for the stiffest of penalties over alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play by the Premier League champions.
Although it is unlikely any ban could be enforced for another 12 months at the earliest, it would be an enormous blow to City’s hierarchy, who have always maintained their innocence regarding financial wrongdoing. It will also come as a surprise to them, even on the back of a series of damaging leaks published by German magazine Der Spiegel over the past six months.
The club were quietly confident that the case against them was not strong enough to lead to punishment from European football’s governing body. They issued a defiant statement in response to investigations in March, declaring: “Manchester City welcome the opening of a formal Uefa investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails. The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false.”
A final decision over the current investigations is not expected to be reached until the start of next season, meaning the earliest a ban could be enforced would be in 2020-21. City could also appeal, via the Court of Arbitration for Sport, causing further delays.
City are also being investigated by Fifa over allegations regarding the signing of underage players, which could lead to a transfer ban. Again, any potential punishment is not expected until after the upcoming transfer window, when Pep Guardiola has outlined plans to make as many as three additions to his squad.
Possible sanctions from Fifa or Uefa would place the spotlight on Guardiola’s relationship with City’s hierarchy. The Catalan is close friends with chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain, dating back to their time at Barcelona. He has maintained faith in the club’s practices after being given assurances from his superiors.
In December, Guardiola said: “We will not be banned, no. That’s what I think because I trust in my chairman, with my CEO, what they have explained to me. I trust in them.”
That was in response to a series of reports by Der Spiegel, which included emails and documents obtained by the whistle-blowing platform Football Leaks. They claimed to reveal the full extent of City’s measures to balance the books, while continuing their incredible outlay on world-class talent.
A £67.5million sponsorship deal with UAE airline Etihad is alleged to have included £59.5m-worth of investment from City owner Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group.
If a ban were to be imposed in 2020-21, it would mean next season could be Guardiola’s last chance to win the trophy before his City contract expires in two years’ time.
A ban remains the worst-case scenario and there is still the potential of more lenient sanctions of a fine and/or squad reduction, as was was the case when City first fell foul of FFP in 2014. They were fined £49m on that occasion, with £32m of that figure suspended.
City, who won the Premier League on Sunday to add to the League Cup they won in February, face Watford in the FA Cup Final on Saturday.
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