3 The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 14 July 2020 *** Best result in club’s 140-year history defeats ‘cheat’ charge I t is Manchester City’s biggest result of the season; perhaps in their 140-year history. City 1, Uefa 0 (after extra time). Had the two-year ban from European competition been upheld it would have meant that every title won during the Abu Dhabi ownership since 2008 would have come with an asterisk as they had been achieved through dishonesty and the charge they had inflated deals, and therefore income, beyond their true value to cover up additional investment; that they had cheated. It would have meant that even future triumphs could have been questioned. It would have made dealing with their squad a minefield – some may have wanted to leave; others may have pushed for compensation for loss of Champions League bonuses; transfer targets may have turned them down; a £200 million hole in finances that would have made it even harder to comply with financial fair play; and Pep Guardiola would certainly not have stayed beyond his contract, which runs out next June. It would have been a huge backward step, an embarrassment, and constituted significant reputational damage. Instead, City will feel exonerated in taking the fight to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. They will feel that the assurances they gave through Ferran Soriano, the chief executive, to Guardiola and the players the day after the original shock verdict were proved right, and means their credibility remains intact. The greatest punishment imposed by Uefa for breaches of FFP has been reduced to just a €10 million (£9 million) fine for obstructing an investigation, even if City always felt the whole process was unfair, prejudiced, selective and flawed. Critics will seize on the fact that Cas made it clear the charges were either outside the five-year limit – because the original story broke in in 2018 but referred to 2012, which is covered in Article 10 of Uefa’s statute of limitations – or were not established. That time limit is certainly something Uefa has to look at extending in what will have to be a comprehensive examination of how it operates. Being time-barred is a basic mistake. Of course, we await the full verdict from Cas in the next few days, but the fallout from the failure of Uefa’s Club Financial Control Body investigators to have the case stick is that FFP is now in tatters in its present form. FFP is not dead but it needs a new lease of life; a rebooting of how the rules are drafted and implemented to more fairly reflect the finances of football. Uefa responded by saying the rules still remained important but it is inconceivable that they will not have to be rewritten. It is yet another damaging setback for Uefa, which has lost cases brought to Cas by Paris St-Germain, AC Milan, Galatasaray and now City, as they have been FFP does not deal with such issues as clubs being involved in leveraged buyouts or the wider, ethical accusation that it protects the elite by preventing ambitious new owners from spending huge amounts so that they can afford to break into that group. The accusation is, therefore, that it was a protectionist move backed by the established powers who wanted to preserve the status quo. Maybe there is something uncomfortable about sovereign wealth coming into football, as has happened at City and PSG, and the competitive advantage it gives those clubs, but it is not illegal and if the investment is sustainable then it is hard to argue against it being allowed. Undeniably, Uefa should remain committed to good financial management and it would be hypocritical to argue otherwise when the richest sport in the world has been caught out so badly by the economic hit caused by coronavirus. But it does need to look at how FFP is framed, as it has at the very least been undermined. The implications will run and run. For City, though, this is a precious victory. Defeat was unthinkable. If the case and the punishment against them had been upheld then they deserved to be expelled. They may not have agreed with the rules but they signed up to them and, rather like a driver who objects to a speed limit being reduced from 30mph to 20mph, it does not mean they can go faster than the law permits. Their opponents will argue that they have won on technicalities but they will deny that, while their fans believe they have been the victims of a Uefa-led vendetta. Either way, though, they have won. They remain intact. Crucially, there are no question marks over their achievements, and they can plan for the future knowing that the past is not tainted. FFP is not dead but it needs a new lease of life; a rebooting of how the rules are drafted outgunned in legal argument. Whatever principles and morals are involved, FFP is not working. The FFP rules were well meaning and brought in to allow clubs to compete on a financially sustainable basis when it appeared the whole of European football was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. A form of FFP is absolutely necessary. Uefa points to how a collective loss of £1.6 billion in 2011 was turned into a profit of £500 million just six years later, but that does not address the heart of the matter: FFP was originally conceived to reduce debt, not losses, and guard against profligate spending. City do not have any debt; Manchester United and Barcelona do – and they are both fully FFP compliant. Der Spiegel
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