The Champions League squad restrictions that Manchester City were hit with when Uefa found them in breach of Financial Fair Play four months ago had actually looked like the most punishing part of the story.
Yes, the club faced financial penalties, but the reduction of the squad from 25 to 21 players seemed like it might have immediate and material effects. The assumption was that Uefa – which introduced FFP to encourage self-sufficiency at clubs – would insist that City still list as many “club-trained” or at the very least “association-trained” players as everyone else. So a parlour game developed: guessing which of the foreign contingent at the Etihad would find themselves with no European football this season. Aleksandar Kolarov was fingered as the one most likely to miss out. There was also talk of an injury-prone Stevan Jovetic being sidelined.
It was a more serious issue for the club. It is not easy signing your transfer targets when they suspect they might be at risk of missing out on the Champions League.
But gradually and almost imperceptibly the shackles have been loosened. First, it became clear that Uefa would allow the “club-trained” and “association-trained” component of City’s squad to be reduced from eight to five players. The controversial nature of that decision was reflected in Uefa’s reluctance to discuss it openly.
That number seemed generous when a more proportionate drop in the “club” or “association-trained” contingent would have been from eight to six or seven. And now it emerges that only one of that five have to be from the “club-trained” category – which, on the basis that they have to be nurtured over several years, are far harder to list.
The FFP regime has had an impact on City this summer. The decision not to buy Radamel Falcao, when his agent Jorge Mendes was hawking the striker around Europe, and yet still allow Alvaro Negredo to leave on loan to Valencia, feels like the work of a club with wages to reduce. City, remember, were ordered by Uefa to spend no more than £49m net in this summer’s transfer window, record losses no greater than £16.2m this year and avoid increasing wages in 2015 and 2016. City were quoted a £28m package by Falcao’s representatives, or a £12m loan fee plus a one-year wage of £16m. Difficult.
But the willingness to allow the club to list only one “club-trained” player drives a wedge into the regime’s credibility.
City’s “association-trained” quartet has been comfortably easier to find, especially when Frank Lampard joined City’s New York sister club. It does not help the picture Uefa wants us to buy that City’s single “club-trained” player has next to no chance of playing a minute of European football this season. Dedryck Boyata, who is Belgian, has played just 55 minutes of top-flight football under Manuel Pellegrini. His very indifferent displays on loan at Bolton and Twente made him the most improbable recipient of a contract extension. We know why he got it.Reuse content