The idea behind Financial Fair Play (FFP) is to create something of a level playing field in football to prevent clubs backed by powerful investors enjoying a complete monopoly. That’s the idea, anyway.
Punishments for breaching FFP are – on paper – severe, with fines, transfer bans and expulsion from continental competitions all on the menu.
It was into the latter camp that Manchester City went when they were adjudged by UEFA to have breached FFP, after allegedly covering up payments made to them by equity firms by claiming they were ‘sponsorship contributions’.
UEFA took a dim view, banning City from participation in the Champions League for two years back in February after claiming a ‘serious breaches’ of financial fair play between 2012 and 2016.
As is common in these cases, City took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), who operate independently of UEFA and other leading sporting authorities. Cas, historically, have shown sympathy to aggrieved individuals and teams, and so perhaps it was no surprise that they overturned the ban on the Manchester outfit.
Cas cleared Pep Guardiola’s outfit of any wrongdoing, and while a charge of failure to cooperate with UEFA’s investigators has landed them a £9 million fine, they will still be allowed to compete in the continent’s premier competition.
In a statement, City said that Cas’ decision to overturn their ban was ‘validation’, based upon the evidence that the club’s legal team were able to present to the appeals process.
“The club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered,” the statement continues, with a nod and a wink.
Fair Means Fair
The logic behind Financial Fair Play is sound and, arguably more than any other piece of legislation, is best placed to prevent cash-rich clubs from hoarding the finest players in the world and monopolising silverware – fans of any Ligue 1 team other than PGS might disagree, of course.
The issue is that breaches of FFP are not being punished adequately, and especially so when there is such a flimsy appeals process in place. For context, City were fined £9 million because they DID break UEFA policy, but really what is £9m to a club bankrolled by oil rich magnates.
And, lest we forget, if City were banned for two seasons from the Champions League they would lose upwards of £150 million.
Does Cas’ verdict mean that football clubs have carte blanche to bend FFP rules without fear of retribution? UEFA certainly don’t want to give that impression, but they will have to save face very noticeably to turn the ship around – expect further scrutiny on the big clubs in the coming seasons.
City got away with it because of inaccuracies in some of UEFA’s reporting and because some of the allegations took place more than five years ago – outside of the remit of this case.
There was ‘insufficient evidence’ to indict City, and so they are free to spend hundreds of millions again this summer as they bid to overturn Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.