It was remarkable to see how quickly UEFA retreated to a position of consolidation in the wake of the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling to overturn Manchester City’s Champions League ban. The verdict, while not totally exonerating City, was sufficient to get the super-rich Premier League powerhouse off the proverbial hook and secures their short to mid-term future on and off the pitch.
However, for UEFA, they have been left with a mammoth task of saving face. They are now pitifully reduced to publicly scrambling around while they try to salvage their flagship Financial Fair Play apparatus as it lies fatally damaged – potentially beyond repair.
It is now very hard to see FFP as anything other than a white elephant for European football’s governing body. Even their own press release on Monday had the sorry undertone of a eulogy to it as it tried to put a positive spin on a sorry day:
“Over the last few years, Financial Fair Play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and UEFA and ECA remain committed to its principles.”
Of course, helping clubs become financially sustainable is a highly commendable pursuit, but it is difficult to see how UEFA can legitimately continue any future FFP campaigns after Monday morning’s ruling. Despite previous breaches back in 2014 and being found guilty of obstructing the investigation this time round, City have effectively walked away unscathed. With such an inability to follow through on their own laws and procedures, the ramifications of this ruling could be long lasting and hugely significant.
Firstly, there has been just over half a decade’s worth of bad blood between UEFA and Manchester City. While the Abu Dhabi backed club covet Champions League glory above all else, it would be interesting to see how they would react if they were invited over to FIFA’s flagship Club World Cup project in the near future.
Whilst lifting the famous jug-eared trophy would still represent the zenith of City’s ambitions and secure their status amongst the elite of the game, their enmity towards Europe’s governing body has been at best, thinly veiled since the first round of allegations were hurled at them six years ago.
In FIFA chief Gianni Infantino they have a powerful ally and a man who is keen to muscle in on UEFA’s hold over some of the sport’s most powerful and famous names. City and their owners would be highly unlikely to show any loyalty or solidarity with the European Club Association’s boycott of FIFA’s plans to expand the Club World Cup. On the contrary, they may feel they would be in pole position to benefit from a newly emerging global tournament that builds their brand and gives them a competitive edge as an early adapter.
Of course, while plausible, this is all purely hypothetical in the short term. City’s gaze will now be fixed on getting that pesky Champions League monkey off their back in the very near future, ideally with Pep Guardiola at the helm. However, away from their continental capers, their escape from a FFP reckoning can still have some very tangible and lasting effects on the Premier League.
Not only is City’s Champions League status secured, they can now look to seriously strengthen their already impressive squad of seasoned prize winners. A reported summer splurge of £150 million is in the works with reinforcements needed to help Guardiola’s men challenge Liverpool for the title next season.
It appears their immense wealth is now primed and ready to be unleashed on the transfer market once again. City flexing their financial muscles should be sufficient on its own, to send a shudder through their domestic rivals for silverware.
Their recent bold moves in the market suggests they will respond strongly to losing their title this season and without any financial hindrances to worry about, their hegemony over the English game during the past decade could be further extended in seasons to come.
However, CAS’s ruling could have further ramifications for the football landscape in England. Should the protracted £300 million takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund finally see the light of day, we could see the rise of yet another super-rich power in the English game.
Whereas there had previously been the threat of FFP restrictions which were, in part, supposed to stop rampant loss making and chronic overspending; it is now difficult to see anything other than a black and white striped march to future glory for Newcastle, should their prospective new owners get their hands on the ailing North East institution.
The English game already has immensely wealthy clubs skewing results and siphoning off power for themselves at the expense of the rest. As recently as 2017/18 the traditional top six sides were taking on average 2.31 points from their matches against “the rest” of the league, no condescension intended. That figure was up from 1.95 in the 2010/11 campaign and more than hints at a creeping loss of competitive balance in the division.
Should another Gulf-backed club emerge this could further tear at the fabric of what made the league so darn entertaining in the first place; that feral unpredictability that used to stalk even the best teams in the land.
Nowadays, Manchester City’s favourite scoreline seems to be 5-0 and Liverpool almost went a full Premier League season without dropping points at home, a feat which hasn’t been achieved in more than 100 years. North of 90 points on the board for the champions in Springtime seems to be the “new normal” whereas previously it represented a remarkable achievement of footballing brilliance.
Rightly or wrongly, the league’s balance of power sits with the current wealthy elite in a manner more exaggerated than perhaps ever before in the history of the game. Monday’s decision to bat away City’s punishment could serve only to exasperate this imbalance and alienate a fan base that has murmured discontent with the current status quo on more than one occasion in recent years,
The failings of FFP and UEFA’s feeble position to police the game cannot, of course, be fully to blame for all of this. But with their regulation and reputation currently lying at the side of the road, the ramifications for the future integrity of the sport do not bode well at all.