When it comes to Manchester City and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP), it seems only extreme opinions will do.
A two-year ban from European club competition, imposed on the English Champions by UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), has prompted many to celebrate football’s salvation, that the exclusion of state-owned City has righted all the wrongs of modern football. Meanwhile, deluded sections of City’s support pedal the myth that UEFA are out to get them, that it’s ‘us against them’. In reality, neither scenario is true.
City may well be in the wrong. The club has been charged with misleading UEFA after allegedly overstating sponsorship revenue received from Etihad Airways (£51.5m) when it actually came directly from the club’s owners, Abu Dhabi United Group. FFP regulations limit the amount of money a club can spend that hasn’t come from revenue, i.e. the owner’s cheque book. It appears that City ‘fudged’ the numbers in order to meet the restrictions.
The line towed by some Citizens, that UEFA are willing to do whatever it takes to stop City’s success, seems far-fetched. Others have been punished, so why shouldn’t City? In 2014, PSG, like City, was punished with a £49m (£35m suspended) fine, a reduced playing squad of 21 players and squad salary restrictions. Galatasaray and AC Milan received European bans in 2016 and 2019 respectively. City enters the Champions League knowing the rules, so should abide by them.
Saying that, FFP isn’t squeaky clean. UEFA say it’s a device to keep football financially stable, to stop clubs spending beyond their means to protect against heavy losses. If the books of Manchester United are anything to go by, it’s failed. United has the biggest net debt of any football club in the world, standing at £391.3m. In the last three months of 2019 alone, it rose by £76.3m. Bizarrely, while clubs like United and Juventus are free to make gargantuan losses, City, debt-free since 2015, is punished. Does FFP really champion sustainability?
FFP puts a glass ceiling on sides trying to spend their way to the top and join the old elite, the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea that spent millions to reach their current status. Footballing success and money will always be intrinsically linked. Nowadays, the old guard bypass FFP by offsetting spending with massive commercial revenues. City had to spend big to catch up, as its lowly status in past years didn’t allow for the building of a commercial empire. It makes sense; Real Madrid & co. spent a lot to get where they are, so why would they want new kids taking some of the pie?
It’s hard to argue City’s innocence. The club has broken the rules and should therefore be punished. But let’s not kid ourselves. If the Court of Arbitration for Sport uphold the ban after City appeal, football isn’t going to return to the halcyon days of local lads playing for love not money. Unless wealth redistribution or salary caps are introduced, the gap between football’s rich and poor will continue to widen. It’s not all City’s fault.