Manchester City Begin Three-Day CAS Appeal Against Champions League Ban

Jamie Spencer
Man City appeal to CAS over two-year UEFA Champions League ban
Man City appeal to CAS over two-year UEFA Champions League ban / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Manchester City are facing a critical week in their history as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) begins to hear their appeal against a two-ban from all UEFA competition, imposed as a punishment for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

As things stand, City will be banned from the Champions League in each of the next two years in which they qualify. The club has spared no expense fighting the UEFA verdict, which they still see as grossly unfair and unjust, and will be praying the CAS panel sides with them and overturns the ruling.

City are banned from UEFA competition until at least 2022
City are banned from UEFA competition until at least 2022 / PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

The consequences for City if they are banned from the Champions League for the next two years – assuming they qualify again next season – could be enormous.

City have conquered England four times in the last decade, setting new records along the way, have had a near monopoly of the EFL Cup since 2014 and are current FA Cup holders. Yet the Champions League remains the elusive trophy that is still missing. A ban would set them back years.

The Champions League is the competition that all the best players want to play in. Not only could the ban influence whether prospective new signings want to join them, it could even prompt existing stars to push for a transfer away from the club.

Kevin De Bruyne will be 29 at the end of this month. If City’s Champions League ban is upheld by CAS, the Belgian will have no choice but to leave if he wants to win the competition while still at his peak, and the possibility of pushing for an exit has already been rumoured.

Kevin De Bruyne could leave Man City if UEFA ban sticks
Kevin De Bruyne could leave Man City if UEFA ban sticks / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Less dramatic but still of obvious concern would be key players Aymeric Laporte at 26, and Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, who will both turn 26 in the coming few months. All three could see some or all of their peak years lost out of the Champions League.

What is Financial Fair Play?

UEFA agreed financial fair play regulations in principle as far back as 2009 and restrictions were first implemented from the start of the 2011/12 season.

In its simplest form, FFP encourages clubs to live within their means and only spend what they can afford to, as well as stamp out what has been dubbed ‘financial doping’. Losses beyond a certain amount over a three-year rolling period are not permitted, which prevents wealthy owners from bankrolling squads to success the club would otherwise not be able to afford.

But while spending on transfers and wages is limited, FFP rules do not cover spending on infrastructure such as stadiums or training grounds, or community work. It is therefore still possible for owners to spend heavily on facilities with the ultimate aim of making a club more financially sustainable in the future – whether that be through developing home-grown talent to minimise spending on transfer fees or increasing stadium capacity to increase revenue, as examples.

City were investigated by UEFA over alleged FFP breaches
City were investigated by UEFA over alleged FFP breaches / Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Why Are Man City Banned From the Champions League? (As Things Stand)

City were first sanctioned for breaching UEFA’s rules on FFP in May 2014 when they were hit with a £49m fine, £32m of which was suspended, and subject to a capped squad for the 2014/15 Champions League season. Their net spending power was also limited to £49m that summer.

City’s punishment then was over recorded combined losses of £149m across 2011/12 and 2012/13, the first two years subject to FFP assessment. The important bit was that UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body did not believe enough of the costs could be attributed to permitted exemptions.

City reluctantly accepted the fine and additional restrictions.

Sheikh Mansour (C) completed Man City takeover in 2008
Sheikh Mansour (C) completed Man City takeover in 2008 / AFP/Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain were also sanctioned at the same time and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi generally summed up why some are opposed to FFP.

“For me, FFP is unfair. It stops new investors from coming into football. It protects the big clubs and obliges the smaller ones to remain small clubs. If investors are prevented from coming into football, they will invest in Formula One or elsewhere,” he said.

In 2018, German magazine Der Spiegel published a series of articles purporting evidence of FFP breaches from supposed emails and documents obtained by Football Leaks. It was alleged that City had sought to hide owner investment by manipulating contracts with Abu Dhabi firms close to Sheikh Mansour to artificially inflate the value of commercial income.

The club denied all wrongdoing and were clear in their response to Der Spiegel’s articles: “The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear.”

However, UEFA warned that it would consider reopening old investigations on a case by case basis if new information came to light and that is indeed what eventually happened in March 2019 when they decided to take another look at City.

Man City in Champions League action vs Schalke
Man City in Champions League action vs Schalke / VI-Images/Getty Images

In May of that year it was reported by the New York Times that members of the CFCB were pushing for City to be banned from the Champions League.

Having been referred to the adjudicatory chamber of UEFA’s financial control body, City then launched their first appeal to CAS, arguing the referral for punishment was based on ‘mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process’. They also reiterated, ‘the accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false’.

Six months later, CAS ruled that the appeal was ‘inadmissible’ because at that stage the CFCB hadn’t reached a decision or issued sanctions and there were no guarantees there actually would be.

It then came to light that City had sought damages from UEFA over what the club claimed were ‘unlawful’ leaks. Two days after that, UEFA announced that City would be banned from all UEFA competition for two seasons over ‘serious breaches’ of FFP regulations.

City responded by labelling the verdict ‘prejudicial’ and soon filed an appeal with CAS. The club has continued to maintain throughout the process that the ‘allegations are false’.

The date was set for 8-10 June and the case is now being heard, via video conference.

If City are successful in their appeal, CAS will overturn UEFA’s ruling and City will take their place in the 2020/21 Champions League. If the appeal fails and the original ban is upheld, City will be denied entry into the Champions League or any UEFA competition they qualify for until 2022.

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