WHAT now for Manchester City?
The club exists in a strange dichotomy, where Uefa's punishment is both a surprise yet inevitable, unfair and yet apparently justified.
Whatever the consequences, there are few good scenarios for the Eastlands’ club and it will likely not end well for anyone involved. Unfortunately, worst of all for their fans.
Last Friday, Uefa stunned the football world by banning Man City from the Champions League for two seasons and also fined the club €30m, having concluded the club was not truthful in its submissions from 2012-2016 that the club’s main sponsor, Etihad, had wholly funded its annual £67.5m sponsorship.
Man City are, of course, going to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and will battle to the end to reverse or at least reduce the severity of the sentence against them. But, at the moment, the club looks like it’s caught bang to rights and that the Abu Dhabi government, through owner Sheikh Mansour, apparently covered the bulk of the sponsorship money, of unverified quantities, rather than the airline sponsor. Added to that, the club’s lack of co-operation and a general disdain for the Uefa investigation seems to have only increased the severity of the punishment.
City's owners have, so far, not dealt with the Uefa process very well, arrogantly dismissing the allegations as a conspiratorial agenda against them by the governing body under the direction of elite clubs angered by the success of this nouveau riche upstart. Yet they have in no way adequately addressed the actual accusations against them to any degree that would prove their innocence.
Still, it is easy to understand the frustration Man City’s supporters have with the decision of Uefa. There are plenty of examples across Europe of questionable financing of clubs. Real Madrid and Barcelona wrote their own cheques with the city and national authorities. PSG miraculously spend billions despite playing in a French league that barely has a full stadium for any of its matches, while in England you can example the extreme bankrolling of Chelsea, and Leicester to league success and even back to Jack Walker's spend in Blackburn’s Premier League win. It seems City’s big crime is that they blatantly broke the rules and they were caught doing it.
To be fair, there has always been questions regarding City sailing close to the edge of the Uefa’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. A simple look at their finances shows that on the one hand, City have the third-highest wage bill in world football at £300m per annum. While at the same time, having only the fifth-largest income. And it is here where it gets worse for City.
Whatever method the club has of recording their finances, if you take out the ‘floating’ Etihad sponsorship deal then the club slips back to the eighth-largest income. City’s inability to grow their commercial income quick enough to compete against the ‘elites’ of the game is, of course, the real reason City, and any other side will push the limits of FFP when their owners do not have the luxury of time to build the fan base and buying-power of Man United, Real Madrid, Barcelona or even Liverpool and Arsenal, which was built over decades of success across the years and almost impossible to overturn without throwing money at it.
The irony of it all is that a ban from European football for two years will only make the money situation worse. Absence from the Champions League, is estimated, could cost City between £100m-£150m per year - further denying the club the spending-power that put them in this situation in the first place.
This financial hole would simply leave the current squad unsustainable. Added to this, City recently signed a slew of new lucrative deals with many of their first-team regulars, which hardly helps the coffers in a reduced income climate.
Perhaps worst of all for City is that a number of their most desirable assets are entering the final two years of their deals during the ban. Fernandinho, Leroy Sané and Sergio Agüero are all out of contract in June 2021. While Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gündogan are out of contract and free to leave in 2023.
How City intends to keep all this talent employed and adhering to FFP, all the while minus the income streams of European football will be the biggest question for the Eastlands outfit should they fail to overturn the ban.
And what of Pep? Already frustrated that City haven't mounted the steps of Champions League glory under his tenure, will the thought of waiting at least three years, at best, to claim football's most-prized title be too much for him to hang around?
The money and titles are one thing, of course, the real pain if all these consequences should be played out will be faced by the fans. City followers were widely respected and honoured for their loyalty in the bad old days when the club yo-yoed between the divisions yet their stalwart fans always stayed by their side when other clubs were deserted by their fickle base. Now, after winning titles and getting a glimpse of the European promised land, it would be the ultimate cruelty for them to have it whipped away from them, whether it be from the avarice of the club owners or a vendetta from the governing bodies.
Unless the club manages to win the Champions League this season. What a Pandora's box that would open.