KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: UEFA has bitten the legal and ethical bullet and opened an investigation into Manchester City’s finances 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 Manchester 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.
The latest 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.
UEFA finally acted late on Thursday, announcing that its independent club finance panel would be investigating “several alleged violations of FFP that were recently made public in various media outlets.”
City has always denied wrongdoing or misleading UEFA. A statement 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.”
City, managed by Spaniard Pep Guardiola, are top of England’s Premier League and poised to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League; next week they host Schalke in the second round, already holding a 3-2 lead from the first leg in Germany.
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.
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, as some reports have suggested.
In January UEFA’s chief FFP investigator, Yves Leterme, said City could face a Champions League ban if the claims are proven.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has always refuted media scepticism about the organisation’s will to crack down on Europe’s powerful top clubs.