Manchester City, FFP and the danger posed to Pep Guardiola's reputation

Manchester City Football Club has yet to formally deny a single word. There has been just one statement partway through the tidal wave of finely-detailed, document-led allegations that the Abu Dhabi-owned club systematically and repeatedly broke the rules of the competition the Gulf monarchy has spent a decade trying to buy.

“We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purportedly hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people,” read the 38-word response. “The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear.”

The allegations, which came to light in German newspaper Der Spiegel are as follows…

Bypassing UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations by structuring sponsorship deals with Abu Dhabi-owned companies such as Etihad Airways in which just 12 per cent of the money flooding on to City’s books came from the airline itself, the remainder paid by the club’s owners. Keeping more than half of Roberto Mancini’s salary off club accounts by signing the coach to a second contract with Al Jazira Club; also owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family.

Selling players’ image rights to a tax-haven company owned by a senior Tory politician whose “ongoing operating costs” were funded to the tune of “approximately £11 million” every year from Abu Dhabi. Creating “a central model” that “allows for many of the operational costs to be shifted either fully or partially away from the club”.

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Pep Guardiola
(Image: PA Wire)

Club chairman, and senior Abu Dhabi politician, Khaldoon Al Mubarak telling a UEFA official attempting to negotiate a soft settlement of City’s FFP transgressions “that he would rather spend £30million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years”. City lawyer Simon Cliff responding to the death of UEFA investigator Jean-Luc Dehaene with the words “1 down, 6 to go”.

The allegations go on and on, depicting an attitude within the club captured by City director Simon Pearce’s conviction that “we can do what we want”.

“It was clear in the past that they were making dirty tricks,” said La Liga president Javier Tebas last week. “Everything is crystal clear now.”

If the allegations are now clear as to what Abu Dhabi has done to one of England’s historic football clubs as part of its quest for geopolitical soft power and international branding, the repercussions are not. Their potential scope is so broad it’s worth considering just how far this case could go.

Infantino is nicknamed “The Egg” but is he a good one?
(Image: REUTERS)

UEFA, whose leadership now is very different from the Michel Platini-Gianni Infantino president-general secretary tandem who let City off with little more than a slap of the wrist in 2014, is exploring options to punish the club. There is a growing call for City to be banned from competing for the trophy the Al Nayhan family so badly wants.

Were City to be excluded from the Champions League one of the club’s legitimate income streams would be blocked, and their ability to continue recruiting the game’s most talented players compromised. Before Kylian Mbappe agreed to sign for Paris Saint-Germain last year, he asked for a compensation clause should the Qatar-owned club suffer a similar Champions League ban. Would the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling be content representing owners UEFA forcibly exiled from football’s premier club competition?

How would Sterling take to any City exclusion from the Champions League?
(Image: Getty Images)

Every season City spent in the Champions League after agreeing the club’s FFP punishment with an apparently supine Infantino cost Premier League rivals revenues from the competition. If UEFA confirms the wrongdoing would those clubs have grounds to sue for damages? The dual contracts Abu Dhabi gave Mancini in 2009 before he went on to become the club’s first English Premier League-winning manager bring to mind the side contracts used by Rangers before liquidation and forced descent to Scotland’s fourth tier. There are obvious grounds for HMRC investigation into tax avoidance at City. And questions as to whether they breach Premier League rules.

Infantino is running for re-election as FIFA president, his candidacy publicly supported by Saudi Arabia, which along with regional ally Abu Dhabi is reported to be part of a $25billion proposal to overhaul the Club World Cup. Infantino needs funds to meet the financial promises that helped him ascend to the top of the world game, but his Club World Cup proposal has angered UEFA with its obvious threat to the Champions League. A UEFA investigation that queried Infantino’s role in City and PSG’s light FFP punishments has obvious political utility.

Abu Dhabi’s multi-billion pound investments in Manchester were facilitated by the Westminster-led ‘Project Falcon’, “a secret Whitehall unit that gave the United Arab Emirates privileged access to Britain’s political elite, prime land deals, world-famous institutions in academia and the NHS”.

Among them was a £1billion property deal with Manchester City Council, which kept a report on “the detailed commercial arrangements” of the joint venture secret because it “involved consideration of exempt information relating to the financial or business affairs of particular persons”. Last year, Abu Dhabi handed a job to Sir Howard Bernstein, the council’s chief executive when the property deal was concluded.

Mourinho and Guardiola go head-to-head on Sunday but the latter says he trusts his club
(Image: PA)

Reputations are at stake, including that of Pep Guardiola. City’s manager, the best paid on the planet, expressed his “trust” in the club when queried about Der Spiegel’s reporting this week, yet moved to distance himself from any wrongdoing. “Believe me, I’m completely honest,” said Guardiola. “So I don’t know what happened because I am a manager. I am focused on what happened on the pitch, in the locker room. But about the business, about how they handle this kind of situation, I’m completely out of that.”

There has long been an asterisk beside City’s trophies under Abu Dhabi, secured with the aid of an unprecedented commitment of €1.47bn on transfer fees alone since 2010. What legacy is there to be had in winning silverware by outspending every opponent while simultaneously breaking competition rules that others diligently adhered to?

“Incredible,” said one coach who has spent years trying to outwit City on the field of play upon reading Der Spiegel’s reports. “And…will something happen to them? Nothing – for sure.”

Nothing? That one’s now on the game’s governing bodies.

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