Manchester City appeared on Monday night to have paid the price for tabling obscure income figures which suggested they had earned more than £46m for selling their services, as it emerged Uefa had deemed the club to be in breach of Financial Fair Play rules.
City had initially been confident of passing the FFP test but Uefa has been sceptical of the way that City reduced their financial losses by claiming they had earned £24.5m from the sale of their own players’ image rights to a company they have never been willing publicly to name.
Such a financial arrangement has never been attempted by a football club before. City claimed an additional £22.45m income, in their latest annual financial results, by stating they were selling their intellectual property to “related parties”, including City’s American and Australian franchises and the club’s own women’s team.
Those two figures enabled City to scrape breaking even within the FFP regime. But it emerged last night that Uefa’s club financial control board has now made offers to City and Paris Saint-Germain, whom it deems in breach of the rules. If Uefa finds both those income figures void, City could be in breach to the tune of more than £40m. The club was not available for comment last night.
City are one of fewer than 20 clubs in breach. The club can either accept the penalty Uefa is proposing, under a plea bargaining system or try to negotiate a lesser punishment, ahead of the control board meeting on Thursday and Friday. The penalty could range from a reprimand or a fine up to restrictions on the squad for European competition next season.
Now that City have failed FFP, a “directly affected party” has 10 days to appeal against any attempt by the club to cut a deal with Uefa to reduce their sanction of a likely Champions League ban. City would then be exposed to a Uefa tribunal.
Meanwhile, back with matters on the pitch, City are three victories away from winning the Premier League title once again after their 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Sunday. And after the match Pablo Zabaleta celebrated with the fervour of a man who knew just how important the result had been.
Zabaleta charged over to the 2,500 City fans who had spent the first part of their afternoon cheering on Chelsea, whose game at Liverpool had been shown on a big screen at Selhurst Park and in the concourses beforehand.
Those four hours of football could not have gone any better for City, now in charge of the title race and the bookmakers’ favourites. Zabaleta admitted afterwards that City now have a “big chance” with the destiny of the title back in their hands.
For much of this season, City have certainly looked like a brilliant side undermined by mental fragility. Pellegrini’s first year in charge has been characterised by brilliant wins, avoidable defeats – they lost at Cardiff City, Aston Villa and Sunderland – and damaging wobbles.
After they followed losing the Palm Sunday thriller at Liverpool with a surprise 2-2 draw at home with Sunderland, City looked to have surrendered any hope of winning the title. But Liverpool’s defeat at home to Chelsea on Sunday changed everything. The league is now City’s to lose.
The situation could even echo City’s epic title victory in 2011-12, when they were top throughout winter, but threw away their advantage in a disastrous March. Manchester United were in a position of strength but collapsed, while City won their last six matches and snatched the title back.
The pattern of twists and turns that season matches the roller-coaster ride of the current campaign – something Zabaleta admitted could be vital for City in the final push to the finishing line.
“We were talking about it this week,” he said. “We know we have been in this situation two years ago and the most important thing we have learnt from that time is the team spirit, to keep fighting and keep going.”
Zabaleta believes that City’s fighting character, something which he embodies, will see them through. “The champions are the ones who have this habit and we are one of those teams that fight for it.
“Hopefully, we can continue winning all the games and show one more time that these players, this manager, this team, with the staff still working hard, are very hungry for the title.”
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