The only place to start this morning was the extraordinary statement released on the Premier League’s website, charging Man City with over 100 breaches of Premier League rules after a four year investigation.
To say this is unprecedented doesn’t even come close. Many of the charges are financial, with the club accused of not properly disclosing remuneration to players or managers, as well as failing to provide accurate, good faith information about sponsorship deals – in essence, cooking the books.
Back in November City announced record turnover in part due to a massive £309.4m in commercial revenue generated from a clutch of new sponsors. The 2023 Deloitte Money League saw Man City top:
Manchester City retain their position at the top of the Money League and for the second time were the club to generate the highest revenue in world football. This caps off a rapid rise up the rankings, with the club having only broken into the top five for the first time in 2015/16. This growth has been fuelled by an increase in commercial revenue (up €65m to €373m in 2021/22), which is a new Premier League record.
Quite interesting, all right.
One of the most interesting charges, especially when you read City’s denial which came out in a statement a few hours later, is this one, which: require a member club to cooperate with, and assist, the Premier League in its investigations, including by providing documents and information to the Premier League in the utmost good faith.
Those apply from December 2018 to date. City were reigning champions in December 2018, and have gone on to win another three titles in that time period. Which is what makes this so fascinating. In essence, the Premier League is charging its most successful club with breaches of rules that would, by any measure, not just damage that club, but the competition itself.
The sheer scale of this is just incredible. This isn’t one or two dodgy moments, this is the result of a four year investigation with over 100 charges. City have denied everything, which is exactly what you’d expect, but the Premier League have clearly found sufficient evidence to do what they have done. That they didn’t even advise City before releasing the statement suggests that there’s a seriousness to how they will approach this, and an independent commission will be appointed and proceedings will take place in private. After which, the outcome will be published on the Premier League’s website.
As for what kind of punishment City might face, that’s another fascinating aspect to this. When you’re dealing with an institution for whom money is no object – because the club itself is essentially owned by a nation state with some of the deepest pockets in the world – a financial censure is basically pointless. It’s like issuing a parking fine to a billionaire, it doesn’t make a dent and he’ll still park where he likes.
There are suggestions of points deductions, transfer bans, relegation, stripping of previous titles, expulsion from the Premier League and more – IF the charges proven. A Man City supporting lawyer writes:
Alarmist or not, the sheer extent of the PL charges are at a level that IF found proven, must lead to relegation.
— slbsn (@slbsn) February 6, 2023
The only reasonable sanctions to breaches of rules, and so many breaches, are ones which actually hurt the offending club. These are rules that every club is expected to abide by, and if City have flaunted those down the years while winning multiple titles, it’s the kind of cheating for which there ought to be serious consequences. Which doesn’t mean they haven’t been an incredible team with a brilliant manager, it’s that they’ve built a lot of their success in contravention of the rules. Lance Armstrong was an amazing cyclist, but …
Let’s be honest, amid the astonishment at the charges – and I think much of that was down to the sheer number as much as anything else – there was an element of ‘Well, of course’ from football fans who have harboured concerns about City down the years. This isn’t the first time they have faced charges for financial irregularities, a previous UEFA investigation saw then hit with a two year Champions League ban before that was overturned by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport – which cannot, by the way, be a get out for these new charges)
If you have a few minutes, I recommend watching this video from Nick Harris of Sporting Intel (from around 12’54 for just about 11 mins) – https://vimeo.com/721879685
Play the Game 2022 – Billionaires and breakaways: Is that the future of football? from Play the Game on Vimeo.
City have denied everything, claiming there is ‘irrefutable evidence’ to support its position. The question now is how quickly might things progress. It feels like the amount of charges and the vigour with which they will be fought by an extremely proficient and highly-paid legal team will probably to lead to a protracted saga, all the while playing out in private while everyone waits for a conclusion.
Beyond that, will it have any impact on Man City on the pitch? Things already feel a bit shaky; this is not the all-conquering City we’ve seen in seasons’ past. There could, of course, be a circling of the wagons. They might use this in an ‘us against them’ kind of way, but for that to be really effective, you have to feel like there is a genuine injustice being done towards you. Players at Juventus knew they were being paid in a way which contravened rules, it’s not implausible to think that something similar could apply here to City employees – players and managers etc.
Is the Premier League just out to get City for no good reason? Clearly not. As I said earlier, this damages its own brand because they have been hoodwinked, and if the charges are proven the titles of its most successful club in recent years are completely tainted. The basic integrity of the entire competition over so many years will be damaged. Not beyond repair, but it will leave a dark mark on its history forever.
Remember this, the Premier League is so protective of its own brand, it will send people to jail for selling dodgy boxes to stream games on. They have shown a full hand here and if they come out of this without proving those alleged breaches, they’re going to look ridiculous. Which makes me think there’s a confidence that they have the evidence to back all this up.
How it all plays out, and in what time-frame, will be fascinating. And with our game against City coming up on the horizon, it adds another layer to an already compelling title race.