"At A Loss" City Have Little Cause For Complaint

On the field Manchester City are closing in on a second league title in three seasons, but UEFA's FFP sanctions threaten to leave a sour, and deserved, taste in the mouth...

Last Updated: 07/05/14 at 11:57 Post Comment

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In a weird season, Manchester City are enjoying and enduring the weirdest of weeks. After Liverpool's collapse at Crystal Palace, Manuel Pellegrini's side will surely pick up the four points needed to secure the title; off the pitch, though, the hierarchy are facing a challenge to their entire strategy from UEFA and seem at a loss as to how to handle it.

"At a loss" are apposite words here: because City are being challenged for the money they have lost and also for that squandered by Etihad. The marketing deal has been deemed to have been designed to artificially boost the football club rather than be mutually beneficial at the requisite level the airline. For Sheikh Mansour - and any who assured him all was well - UEFA's decision to offer a £50m fine and a four-man cut to their Champions League squad as an appropriate punishment to swallow is distinctly unappetising.

City deserve their punishment. They have tried and failed to draw a nonexistent distinction between themselves and Paris Saint-Germain, who are reportedly accepting that their Qatari fig leaf cannot remotely cover their modesty. The distortion in competition at the highest level needed to be addressed, not merely to deal with the existing problem but also to deter newcomers from following suit. If there is a regret here, it is that no action was taken earlier, when Roman Abramovich threw a billion at Chelsea before bringing down losses.

There is nothing wrong with investing in a club, and certainly not with trying to keep a club alive as a social service to a community. But sham investment, forcing well-run businesses to give up on hopes of glory or take substantial risks in order to cling on to an outside chance, needs to be curtailed.

As soon as a football club ceases to be dependent on attracting ordinary supporters through the gate, it has lost connection with the community that gave birth to it. It is far from clear that Richard Scudamore and the Premier League will ever address this, and there are surely grounds to be sceptical that their own FFP regulations will come with the teeth UEFA are baring, or even with the Football League sanctions that concern some loss-making clubs in the Championship and below.

Financial fair play is not a panacea. Distortions that threaten the stability of dozens of clubs remain, in the shape of the gulf that separates the Premier League and the Championship, despite parachute payments. Desperation to stay in or get into the top flight is a menace that reaches down into League One, with the casualties of failed attempts - hence the Football League's measures. UEFA's own elite competition creates a painful gap between qualifiers and non-qualifiers but domestically we have a chasm into which too many slip.

Michel Platini and UEFA make too many mistakes to catalogue but have acknowledged one problem and are taking serious steps to tackle it now, to the evident discomfort of City. The game will remain in the paradoxical word of greatest losses in an era of astronomical income unless action is taken at home, too.

Philip Cornwall

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