KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: A protracted legal battle is likely if newly recrowned English title winners Manchester City are suspended from European club competition for a year, as is a repoprted possibility.
At the weekend City became the first club in 10 years to successfully retain the Premier League crown and they can make history if they win the FA Cup against Watford, thus securing a treble after landing the League Cup earlier this year.
However City have been competing under the cloud of an investigation by the European federation into allegations that they misled the authorities in their submissions over its financial fair play regulations.
An investigatory independent club finance panel, led by former Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, is understood – according to the New York Times – to be about to submit a critical report recommend disciplinary action against City.
UEFA bit the legal and ethical bullet concerning City’s finances back in March based on last autumn’s Football Leaks revelations.
Initially the European federation indicated it was unable to act on material published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel and other European media outlets because it had apparently been hacked illicitly.
However allegations concerning not only City but also French champions Paris Saint-Germain raised questions about the credibility of the eight-year-old financial fair play system which had achieved significant results in reducing the debt mountain among European competition clubs.
Since then a legal right to inquire further has been secured by the active interest of judicial authorities in at least nine countries in the Football Leaks revelations which cover a wide range of misconduct including alleged tax evasion by clubs, officials and players.
According to Football Leaks City are also subject to inquiries by world federation FIFA over their signing of eight youth players. The club is at issue with the Premier League over domestic financial control regulations.
City and UEFA have history.
In 2014 City and UEFA agreed a financial fair play settlement which saw the club being allowed to play on at international level after accepting a £49m fine – £32m of which was suspended – while their Champions League squad was reduced for the 2014-15 season.
Denials of wrongdoing
The later revelations suggested that officials acting on behalf of Abu Dhabi-owned English champions Manchester City had deceived UEFA over several years over the true sources of sponsorship income originating with the club’s owners.
City have always denied wrongdoing or misleading UEFA. A statement in March said: “Manchester City welcomes the opening of a formal UEFA investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails.
“The club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record. The accusation of financial irregularities is entirely false.”
The UEFA investigation is not the only one hanging over City. The Football Association is investigating reports that City made a banned £200,000 payment to Jadon Sancho’s agent when the England winger was 14 years old.
Manager Pep Guardiola has said he has been assured by City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak and chief executive Ferran Soriano that the club would not be banned from European competition.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has always refuted media scepticism about the organisation’s will to crack down on Europe’s powerful top clubs.