FFP furore fo­cuses on piv­otal rule of the game – but no one seems to care

Foot­ball’s rul­ing pow­ers have of­fered scant re­sponse to claims over Fi­nan­cial Fair Play

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football - SAM WAL­LACE

So much choice, but one stand­out de­tail from Foot­ball Leaks’ Manch­ester City al­le­ga­tions this week was from the club’s lawyer Si­mon Cliff, whose email style sug­gested a yearn­ing for a wilder, sim­pler time, or at the very least a year’s mem­ber­ship of the Sealed Knot so­ci­ety.

We may never know if Cliff had been hit­ting the Game Of Thrones box set a lit­tle too hard in the days be­fore he sug­gested “long­bow” as the Agin­court-in­spired op­er­a­tional name for the club’s Fi­nan­cial Fair Play push­back strat­egy. Safe to say also that his cel­e­bra­tory tone around the death of one of Uefa’s FFP of­fi­cers – “one down, six to go” – jars some­what with the con­ven­tional le­gal style. Over­all, it would be fair to as­sume that HR is prob­a­bly look­ing at po­ten­tial cour­ses in the com­ing days and weeks to work on the le­gal de­part­ment’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion ap­proach.

But then Cliff was just a small part of a big­ger ma­chine that the Der Spiegel al­le­ga­tions have thrown light on and his emails, giddy on the in­flu­ence of his wealthy Abu Dhabi pay­mas­ters, might be ex­pected. When the chair­man of the club, Khal­doon Al Mubarak, is said to be threat­en­ing Uefa with an eter­nity of law­suits, or Si­mon Pearce, the Keyser Soze-style com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist says “we can do what we want”, then who are the rest to dis­agree?

City re­leased a state­ment on Fri­day when the first part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was pub­lished say­ing that the “at­tempt to dam­age the club’s rep­u­ta­tion is or­gan­ised and clear” and that the in­for­ma­tion is “hacked or stolen” and “out of con­text”.

Since then they have re­ferred all in­quiries to that state­ment and cer­tainly it would be use­ful to see the full ex­tent of the leaked emails from Cliff, Pearce and oth­ers who are named by Der Spiegel, if only to see whether the long­bow lads are prone to mak­ing daft off­hand com­ments in the heat of the mo­ment, or whether it is part of a more per­va­sive cul­ture. In the days that have fol­lowed the dis­clo­sures there has been very lit­tle out­cry from the game. Javier Te­bas, La Liga pres­i­dent, has said his bit, but he is no more than a cheer­leader for the big two in Spain. There has been no note of protest from the other big guns in English foot­ball and the Premier League and the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion have passed it on to Uefa.

One of the Eu­ro­pean game’s big­gest clubs have bro­ken one of its most fun­da­men­tal rules, but no one in foot­ball seems too up­set about it.

City had al­ready squared off Uefa, through its for­mer gen­eral sec­re­tary Gianni In­fantino. Fifa, as we know, is a busted flush. The Premier League says it has no role to play.

The Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is the only gov­ern­ing body which throws it­self into dif­fi­cult and un­pop­u­lar com­pli­ance pro­ce­dures, but when all is said and done, it is only the FA, in 2018, try­ing to reg­u­late a multi-bil­lion pound multi-na­tional in­dus­try. The truth is that no one is run­ning foot­ball any longer and

City’s hi­er­ar­chy are be­hav­ing no dif­fer­ently from the bul­lies who they seek to sup­plant

the game’s rich­est in­ter­ests are do­ing as they please.

Der Spiegel’s al­le­ga­tions of half-baked scams sug­gest that the Eti­had Sta­dium club’s ex­ec­u­tives be­have this way be­cause they do not re­ally fear any­one. That also ex­plains the spell­bind­ing naivety about some of the high­est paid foot­ball ex­ec­u­tives in the world which makes you won­der: are they ac­tu­ally any good at their jobs?

Ac­cord­ing to Der Spiegel’s al­le­ga­tions, Fer­ran So­ri­ano, the City chief ex­ec­u­tive, de­cided that if the club were to beat the sys­tem they had bet­ter do so in a man­ner – and we are us­ing his own words here – that would not iden­tify them as the global en­e­mies of foot­ball. He then com­mit­ted all those thoughts to a doc­u­ment, thus en­sur­ing there would, for all eter­nity, be a con­ve­nient smok­ing gun.

Like­wise, the net­work of com­pa­nies al­legedly con­structed to sell and then buy City’s own mar­ket­ing rights in or­der to gen­er­ate FFP clean cash, was not ex­actly out of Pro­fes­sor Mo­ri­arty’s top drawer. Der Spiegel man­aged to ex­plain it in one flow-chart.

The top­ping up of the value of com­mer­cial part­ner­ships was ev­ery bit as fla­grant as ex­pected. The club’s Pr-fi­nessed Ama­zon Prime doc­u­men­tary All Or Noth­ing might now be due a re­brand in light of the al­leged spon­sor­ship ar­range­ments in which City ef­fec­tively pay the lion’s share. Some­thing, one pre­sumes, along the lines of All For Noth­ing.

That lack of judg­ment is there when the club al­legedly ride roughshod over some de­cent in­ter­nal ad­vice not to sign a deal with the mi­grant-worker abus­ing con­struc­tion com­pany Arabtec. Be­cause be­hind all the FFP avoid­ance there is the shadow of hu­man rights abuses, a much greater con­cern than the tri­fles of elite foot­ball’s back­room deals.

City will not be the only club to sign part­ner­ships with du­bi­ous com­mer­cial en­ti­ties – but by this stage of the al­le­ga­tions they seem un­able to even lis­ten to the con­cerns of their own ad­vi­sors.

The rules of FFP were ev­i­dently wrong in their con­cep­tion, try­ing, as they did, to pull the draw­bridge up on the es­tab­lished elite and then botched again in their im­ple­men­ta­tion.

But there are ways of mak­ing the case for change that are much more ef­fec­tive than the bla­tant dis­re­gard that was shown up in those emails de­tail­ing al­leged fake pay­ments.

City’s great sell in the Abu Dhabi era has been that they will be dif­fer­ent to all those em­bar­rass­ing old duf­fers from old money clubs dream­ing up Eu­ro­pean Su­per Leagues that no one wants. Yet City’s hi­er­ar­chy are be­hav­ing no dif­fer­ently to the bul­lies they seek to sup­plant.

In some quar­ters, City, and by ex­ten­sion Abu Dhabi, have been af­forded a kind of rev­er­ence for their good works, in­clud­ing the re­gen­er­a­tion of east Manch­ester and as­so­ci­ated projects.

One hopes that at some point they will of­fer some con­text to these Der Spiegel al­le­ga­tions, be­cause as it stands this feels like just more of the usual greed.

In the spot­light: Fer­ran So­ri­ano, the Manch­ester City chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer

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