Abu Dhabi ties under scrutiny in City's £400m deal

 

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The Independent Online

Manchester City may have to prove that their Abu Dhabi owner is not "influenced" by his half-brother, who chairs Etihad Airways, if their £400m sponsorship deal with the emirate's national airline is to avoid failing one of the key tests of the Uefa Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

Though Liverpool's owner John W Henry backed Arsenal manger Arsène Wenger's criticism of the deal as "financial doping" yesterday, City are comfortable that it represents "fair value" and is not simply a means of the Abu Dhabi royal family, which founded Etihad, artificially inflating the balance sheet of the club owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan and enabling it to meet the FFP rules.

However, detailed analysis of Uefa's regulations reveals that the family relationships between City and its sponsor may fall foul of Uefa's "related party" test. The rules stipulate that a club will fail the "related party" test if money comes in from a "close member" of the club owner's family who "has significant influence over the [club]".

It will be for City to demonstrate that several members of Sheikh Mansour's (above) family who have been integral to Etihad do not exert that influence over him. The sheikh's elder half-brother, the Abu Dhabi ruler and UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, founded the airline, while Etihad chairman, Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and vice-chairman Sheikh Kaled are both half-brothers.

Liverpool's owner, Henry, first hinted at his displeasure with the Etihad deal at the weekend when he Tweeted: "How much was the losing bid?" The inference was that City had not sought any other potential sponsors because they wanted only an inflated deal from Etihad.

But one of the leading lawyers in the FFP field, Daniel Geey of Field Fisher Waterhouse, said that even if the deal fell foul of related party rules, it could still be deemed acceptable if Uefa considered it to represent fair value. "The first hurdle is whether the Etihad deal can be deemed a related party transaction. Only if it is will an economic judgment have to be taken to assess whether it is fair value," Mr Geey said.

Meanwhile, City would be receptive to another bid from Corinthians for their captain Carlos Tevez, having rejected an initial £35.3m offer following email contact with the Brazilian club. The two clubs have not yet met.

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