We will get to the finer details in a moment, but basically, the Premier League have accused Manchester City of cheating. City have forcefully rejected those allegations of cheating. Both parties will go before an independent panel to argue their respective cases, and then that panel will decide whether City should be punished or not.
Is this a big deal?
It is potentially enormous. Never before has the Premier League accused one of its most powerful clubs (and one of its 20 shareholders) of rule-breaking on this scale and across such a wide timescale.
Okay, let’s get into this – what exactly are City accused of doing wrong?
The Premier League have charged City with breaching their financial rules. In total, they allege more than 100 such breaches, dating all the way back to the 2008/09 season.
The charges were posted on the Premier League website yesterday morning, though it was a pretty low-key announcement: they weren’t distributed to journalists in an emailed press release, and nor were they pushed out on the Premier League’s far-reaching social media channels. (The first tweet they posted after the announcement was made was confirmation that Harry Kane has scored against every Premier League side he has faced.)
There are five primary charges levied at City, with alleged recurring breaches accruing to more than 100 instances.
The first is that they did not provide “in the utmost good faith an accurate financial information” as to the club’s true financial position across nine seasons, stretching from 2009 to 2018, “in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs.” All Premier League clubs must prepare financial accounts and submit them to the Premier League for an independent audit.
Secondly, the League accuse City of failing to disclose the full details of how much manager Roberto Mancini was paid between 2009/10 and 2012/13. This issue has already been in the public realm, following the Football Leaks revelations published by German outlet Der Spiegel back in 2018. One of their stories alleged that Mancini had two contracts during his time at City: one of which was with Manchester City and another with Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi, which paid him slightly more than City’s for the provision of four days’ consultancy a year.
The League also claim City have not fully disclosed remuneration for players from 2010/11 to 2015/16.
Thirdly, the League accuse City of not abiding by Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules from 2013/14 to 2017/18.
Fourthly, City stand accused of breaching the Premier League’s own Profit and Sustainability rules from 2015/16 to 2017/18. The League does not allow a club to lose more than £105 million across a three-year period.
And finally, the League accuse City of not co-operating fully with the investigation that led to yesterday’s charges. The investigation began back in 2018.
What have Manchester City said?
City have vehemently stated their innocence. They said they were “surprised” at the charges, “particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL has been provided with.”
They then said they welcome the fact the entire case will be reviewed “impartially” by an independent commission, saying they have an “irrefutable body of evidence” to support their innocence.
This entire story seems to have come out of the blue?
Certainly everybody – including City – were caught unawares by yesterday’s statement by the Premier League, but the charges are a result of an investigation into the club running since 2018.
The key moment in all of this was the aforementioned Football Leaks in Der Spiegel. Football Leaks hacked private correspondence from various clubs across Europe, and with regard to City, published internal documents to show alleged manipulation of the rules to circumvent Financial Fair Play rules. The most serious allegation was that City disguised investment by the club’s owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al- Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, and represented it as sponsorship by the country’s airline, Etihad. City denied any wrongdoing.
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The Premier League and Uefa thus launched formal investigations into City, with the Premier League’s much longer-running. Since the league launched theirs, Uefa completed their investigation, handed down a punishment, and saw it overturned on appeal.
Uefa initially banned City from the Champions League for two seasons in 2020 for bracing FFP rules, but City’s ban was then overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). While City’s punishment was revoked, they won on a technicality rather than earn a total exoneration. CAS found that the charges of FFP breaches were outside Uefa’s own statute of limitations, and so were “time-barred.”
CAS did say that Uefa’s case was by no means “frivolous”, and did say that City obstructed the initial Uefa investigation.
Some notable facts about the Premier League case: a lack of full co-operation is among the Premier League’s charges too, the “time-barred” issue is reportedly not relevant to the Premier League case, and there is no recourse to CAS in this instance.
What happens next?
Some lawyers are going to get busy and rich. Both the Premier League and City will go before an independent panel convened by Murray Rosen, a lawyer who heads the Premier League’s judicial panel. The hearing will be held in private, and either party can appeal the result.
What are the potential punishments?
The potential punishments are wide-ranging, from a fine to a points deduction to expulsion – read relegation – from the Premier League. If they are found guilty, whether City can be stripped of their previous titles is as of yet unknown. But much of what happens next is unknown, as the scale of this matter is unprecedented.
This is a story of the sport’s biggest and most-watched competition regulating its dominant club, at a time the UK government are said to be on the verge of proposing an independent regulator for the sport.
The results will have profound implications for the competition’s future, but also its past.