Man City FFP: Scenario explained where there ‘couldn’t be any defence’ with ‘only aggravating factors’ at play

Joe Williams
Man City stadium
A general view of the Etihad Stadium, the home of Man City.

It is “hard to see that there could be any defence” to some of the charges Man City are being accused of “if the Football Leaks documents are genuine”, according to a sports lawyer.

The Citizens lifted the Premier League title on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over West Ham, which is their second since 115 charges were laid against them by the Premier League in February last year over alleged breaches of financial fair play rules.

Asked whether a second Man City success while the charges remained outstanding would damage European league football, Premier League CEO Richard Masters said earlier this month: “It’s not for the football authorities to start being selective about who they would like to win the league.

“The key point is that you’ve got that jeopardy until the final day. Who knows where we will be on May 19?”

Masters, speaking at the European Leagues general assembly, added: “Obviously we can’t comment on the case, the date has been set and the case will resolve itself at some point in the near future, and I cannot make any further comment on it.”

An independent commission is set to hear the case later this year, but certainly not before the current campaign ends. Given the extent of the charges, a decision in the case may not come until next year.

‘I have never seen a bunch of people more confident’

But one former Premier League chief executive has told The Athletic that Man City are “confident that they have nothing to answer for” and outlined their defence.

They said: “I have never seen a bunch of people more confident that they have nothing to answer for than Manchester City.

“Their argument is that there are things they have done that would be wrong under the present rules. But under the rules at the time and the way they submitted the information, they believe, was all above board.

“They may get sanctioned because they didn’t account for something properly, but they are confident that when it comes to the big things, which they feel would be wrong in today’s market but fine under a different set of rules as they were back then, they won’t get sanctioned.”

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There has been some talk that Man City and the Premier League could ‘reach a settlement agreement to draw a line in the sand’ but an unnamed sports lawyer has told The Athletic that the potential solution is unlikely.

The sports lawyer said: “Six months ago, I thought this could lead to some sort of settlement but, with a hearing listed, it becomes hard to see how the Premier League could come out with a straight face and say they’ve agreed a settlement with Manchester City.

“Coming out to say they’ve reached a confidential agreement and that’s the end of the matter, I’m not sure many would just accept that. The inevitable conclusions drawn would be that Manchester City bought their way out of the case.”

The former Premier League CEO added: “The second level of what you may see is you can imagine a statement that reflects there were some accounting errors that led to an overspend over a three-year period and, as a worst-case scenario, they are given a 10-point penalty.

“The key issue is at the time the stuff they were doing may have looked odd, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was against that particular set of rules. It would be against the rules now, but that is almost irrelevant now because they are a huge club.”

‘The Everton and Nottingham Forest cases offered some quite powerful guidance this season’

The report in The Athletic continued:

‘Der Spiegel, using information from Football Leaks, alleged in 2018 that City had manipulated sponsorship deals to help comply with UEFA’s FFP rules, with additional money also paid to manager Roberto Mancini via another club owned by City’s owner Sheikh Mansour in Abu Dhabi. Mancini has always denied any wrongdoing.

‘City have always called the Football Leaks revelations a “clear and organised” attempt to damage their reputation but, if proven, the breaches would effectively have enabled the club to spend more than was permitted building a squad that would win its first Premier League title in 2011-12 and a base for more in the years that followed.’

The unnamed sports lawyer added: “If the Football Leaks documents are genuine, it’s hard to see that there could be any defence to some of those charges.

“The Everton and Nottingham Forest cases offered some quite powerful guidance this season. The judgments gave credit to clubs for admitting the breaches but they can’t do it here. If the end outcome is that Man City are found guilty, they’ve not cooperated, they haven’t admitted it and they’ve put the Premier League through all this expense fighting it for years, there wouldn’t be mitigating factors, only aggravating factors.”

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