An investigation into accusations that Premier League champion Manchester City misled European soccer’s financial regulators in pursuit of its success on the field is expected to recommend that the team be barred from the Champions League, European soccer’s richest competition and the trophy the club covets most.
English soccer authorities and officials at UEFA, European soccer’s governing body and the organizer of the Champions League, have for months been investigating Manchester City amid allegations of rule-breaking revealed in damaging leaks over much of the past year. Members of the investigatory chamber of UEFA’s financial control board, a group set up to analyze the accounts of clubs suspected of breaking strict cost-control regulations, met two weeks ago in Nyon, Switzerland, to finalize their conclusions.
The investigatory panel’s leader, the former prime minister of Belgium Yves Leterme, will have the final say on the submission to a separate adjudicatory chamber, which could be filed as soon as this week. The body is expected to seek at least a one-season ban.
Even the suggestion of a ban would be a stinging rebuke for Manchester City and its Gulf owners, who celebrated a fourth Premier League title in eight seasons on Sunday. They long have sought to add the Champions League — club soccer’s top prize — to the club’s growing haul of domestic trophies, and any effort to bar the team is likely to spark a monumental legal fight.
Manchester City’s current squad, assembled and financed at the cost of more than $1 billion, is just the latest example of the financial might the club’s owner, Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, can bring to bear. Sheik Mansour has invested billions over the past two decades — on players, coaches, facilities and the team’s operations — to transform Manchester City, which played in England’s second tier as recently as 2002, into one of soccer’s biggest and most successful brands.
It remains unclear if any Champions League ban, if levied, would be enforced next season or in the 2020-21 campaign. Qualification games for next season’s tournament begin in June, meaning UEFA faces a race against time to finalize a sanction that City would have the right to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Manchester City has vigorously denied wrongdoing, and its officials have warned UEFA that they would mount an aggressive response to any effort to bar the club from the competition. “The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false,” City said in a statement earlier this year. “The club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record.”
If UEFA is unable to establish a case and enforce a punishment, it risks seeing its system of financial rules — in place since 2011, and designed to impose a measure of financial fairness within the European soccer economy — rendered meaningless. Several officials on the financial control bodies also have said privately that their reputations could be harmed if their work is seen to be toothless.