Bolt From The Blue

MANXIT – UEFA’s Huge Gamble to drop the “Atomic Bomb.”

By Michael Long

The Decision

By now, everyone in the world who has an interest in football, and a considerable number of those who do not, have learned that UEFA handed down a 2 year ban from all European competitions to Manchester City. There are at least 3 reasons why this raised more than just an arched eyebrow.

Most recently, respected journalist Sam Lee of The Athletic had assured most of us that a ban would not be forthcoming.

It [the information] was very well sourced, from several people close to the case on different sides.

City (and other related parties) felt there would be no ban.”

The fact that Aleksander Čeferin was allegedly pleading with City to take a slap on the wrist and cop to a technical breach right up until very recently was another cause for confidence.

Furthermore, negative speculation certainly did not prevent private equity firm Silver Lake from investing 500m in the City group only a couple of months ago.

However Lee goes on to speculate that something out of leftfield must have happened in the last month to cause UEFA to change trajectory. In any case, City seem fully prepared:

“For a year now they’ve been planning a big appeal just in case. They’ll go with everything. They’ve been collecting all their evidence/counter-points the whole way through. Info on other clubs’ business dealings, info on Uefa procedures, similar cases etc. So it’ll be a big appeal…. I think the appeal will drag on for long enough it’ll be the last year of Pep’s contract anyway. As for the players… I think some would have thought about it when Pep goes anyway…”

 The Response

One thing that is not often observed about football journalists is that they are (mostly) all football fans. Can you imagine being a Gen X or even Boomer Liverpool or Manchester United supporter watching on from the drama of 93:20 right through to the end of last season?

A once small and laughable comedy club is purchased by a deep-pocketed foreign benefactor and before long the silverware begins rolling in. United fans must reluctantly put their ‘tick-tock’ banner in the bin whilst the Anfield contingent are reduced to bricking and bottling City’s bus bringing the ‘noisy neighbours’ to their stadium.

In the event of even the most trivial City setback, Twitter feeds around the world get lit up with shameless glee and not all of them are millennials hacking away at worn-out keyboards from the dark recesses of small bedrooms and basements.

What we have seen in the last 24 hours following the announcement is clear evidence that a degree in journalism from a regional university and a slightly larger vocabulary than others does not make much essential difference to the content of many of the observations on view.

One example of this is the almost continuous use of the word ‘leak’ rather than ‘theft’ or ‘hack’ when referring to the work of Rui Pinto, the individual who sourced Der Spiegel and who now languishes in a Portuguese jail for doing, well, pretty much the same kind of thing on his own home soil.

Amid all the sensationalism surrounding the potential ramifications of the ban on City, there has been a marked reluctance to get real by the scribes.

Nothing can or will happen to City until the appeal process is exhausted. And it may be longer than you might think.

We have been assured by the venerable fourth estate that the appeal will be concluded before the start of next season but this is unlikely to be true because it is simply not in City’s interests for a number of reasons and let’s not forget that the club are legally entitled to challenge any unsuccessful appeal to CAS even further upward – right up to the doors of the Swiss Supreme Court.

If this happens, then we could be looking at a least a year and possibly more of protracted legal dispute. Until the case is definitively settled, the following possibilities that City fans might fear are cast in a very different light.

Adios Guardiola? / Mass Player Exodus? / Fire Sale?

Makes no sense whatsoever. Notwithstanding the Catalan’s repeated assurances to the contrary, Guardiola will almost certainly still be in the Champions League AND in the last year of his contract before any ban comes into effect for the following season due to the aforementioned two avenues of appeal that City possess. I simply ask all reasonable readers to ask themselves if the man (Khaldoon Al Mubarak) who has apparently threatened to hire an army of the world’s top lawyers to sue UEFA is likely to brook any form of surrender.

Guardiola is therefore extremely unlikely to have to go without Champions League football whilst he is at City.

All the talk of which 5th placed team gets to dance on City’s Euro corpse next season seems similarly absurd for the same reasons.

Likewise, any City player in his final or even penultimate season will also be unaffected. The fact that David Silva, Leroy Sané, Claudio Bravo and possibly Nicolas Otamendi are set to leave anyway should be born in mind. For Sané, even a potential future ban is almost certainly a clincher. Conversely Phil Foden, Eric Garcia and maybe even Jayden Braaf may do well to conceal crocodile tears.

Why are City so confident?

According to Sam Lee, any review of similar cases adjudicated by CAS reveals one clear insight. They put a lot of stock in consistency and precedent. The fact that Mr. Leterme let PSG escape a ban for just what City are accused of (falsely inflating sponsorship deals) and this despite independent scrutiny of those deals contradicting PSG’s valuations gives cause for confidence. Consequently even if it could be demonstrated that City did indeed employ creative accounting to put one over on the bureaucrats, the PSG case shows that Leterme & Co are not using equal weights and measures. Why not?

The answer to this question gets to the heart of the issue as pointed out by Martin Samuel in The Daily Mail:

“It is possible to acknowledge City’s wrongdoing but still hold nothing but contempt for the system that has found them guilty. For the secret briefings, the pressure placed on UEFA to ring-fence their primary competition for the select few. Financial fair play was corrupted from birth by those at the top, warped into the most naked protectionism. It was supposed to be about debt, but ended up placing limitations on owner investment. A club loaded with debt, like Manchester United, is fully compliant; a club without debt, like City, is not.”

In the coming weeks and months, oceans of journalistic ink will be spilt on the reddest of red herrings. What a 2 year ban will mean for City, the club, its coach, its players and its sponsors. Every worst-case scenario in each of these areas will prove the flub for dozens of theatrical headlines accompanied by out of context pics of Pep looking depressed after a missed goal attempt.  However the reality is likely to be far more humdrum. UEFA get to temporarily look tough. CAS overrule them. UEFA have plausible deniability and can look Messrs. Gill, Parry, Agnelli & Al-Khelaifi in the eye with sincere “did our best, lads” conviction and we all get to watch some football again.

This is the most compelling theory behind what has happened in the last 24 hours. If not, the alternative is likely to be very costly for UEFA and not merely in a financial sense. If Leterme et al really do wish to go toe to toe with Al Mubarak, the latter may very well decide to sue UEFA to its foundation for violation of Anti-Competition legislation.

This would be their worst nightmare.