Manchester City’s battles over Financial Fair Play (FFP) may not be over after it emerged that the club and the Premier League are involved in secret legal proceedings over whether the ruling body’s regulations have been breached.
A report in the New York Times suggested that a confidential action is in progress with City’s lawyers arguing that the club would not receive a fair hearing in the league’s arbitration process. Last year City had a two-year Champions League ban that was imposed by Uefa overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne. CAS ruled that any transgression by the club was either not proven or fell outside the five-year window for prosecution.
The Premier League’s rules were introduced after Uefa’s and do not contain deadlines which would time-bar any offences. There is also potential for the league to launch a case against City for failing to supply accurate accounts to pass on to Uefa. In similar cases clubs have challenged the scope of the arbitration, objecting to the parameters set by the Premier League.
Uefa’s handling of the CAS appeal raised eyebrows among members of the independent bodies that prepared and handed down the verdict in the suit against City. Uefa allowed the English club to present last-minute witnesses, which was against the Nyon-based organisation’s own rules, and let City take the initiative in compiling the three-man panel of judges.
Subsequent revelations in Der Spiegel from the Football Leaks cache of hacked emails put into question the veracity of the evidence given by a senior City official to CAS. Despite this, Uefa did not challenge the court’s verdict, saying that the legal advice was that “such an appeal would stand little chance of success in forcing CAS to rehear the case and on the slim chance it did, the chance of success at a second hearing was also limited. A similar view was also taken on the possible success of a prosecution under the Uefa disciplinary framework.”
Sources close to Nyon said that the decision not to pursue the action was taken after assessing a number of viewpoints. Uefa’s relationship with City has improved considerably over the past 18 months.
During the case against City, there was some discussion in Nyon about whether the Premier League or the FA would be able to charge the club using the same information collected by Uefa. Clubs are obliged to be honest with the ruling bodies. City have always denied any wrongdoing and have gone to great lengths to protect their reputation and integrity. They point out that much of the evidence resulted from stolen documents which the club says have been taken out of context.
The secrecy of the proceedings is not a cause for concern. The Premier League’s arbitration process is often conducted in private. The range of sanctions available include points deductions and fines.
The civil action casts a cloud over a glorious period in City’s history. Pep Guardiola’s team are on the verge of recapturing the Premier League title after already winning the EFL Cup. Champions League success is within grasp. In footballing terms City are the dominant power in Europe. Until the legal action over FFP is completed, a shadow hangs over the club.
Spending at the Etihad has been a cause for concern for clubs across Europe since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008. Liverpool and Manchester United, in particular, resent City’s buying power. Last month’s failed Super League attempt – which City joined reluctantly – was conceived in part to blunt their advantage. A number of Premier League owners are keen that the organisation scrutinises the club’s conduct but City have experience in taking on ruling bodies and emerging unscathed.
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