Editor’s note: This article has been re-published a year on from the Premier League’s decision to charge Manchester City
It is a year since the Premier League handed Manchester City a charge sheet without precedent: 115 breaches of its financial rules across nine different seasons.
The like had never been seen before. As well as being charged with failing to disclose accurate financial information and managerial remuneration details during a period that began their rise to the summit of English football, Manchester City were also alleged to have breached the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR) during three seasons from 2015-16 to 2017-18.
The wide-ranging charges have been strenuously denied by City, who last year said they would look forward to this opportunity to “put to rest, once and for all,” a protracted investigation that had begun in 2018.
Yet 365 days on, against a backdrop of other top-flight clubs forced to answer for their financial misdemeanours, the reigning Premier League champions are still to even see a hearing begin.
Why are Manchester City being made to wait so long to learn their fate?
This, in short, is a case like no other. The financial rule breaches City stand accused of began in 2009 and extended through to 2018, effectively covering the first decade of Sheikh Mansour’s reign as the club’s owner. Three Premier League titles were won during the period under investigation, as well as an FA Cup and three League Cups.
City have already fought legal action from UEFA following the initial reporting of German newspaper Der Spiegel in November 2018 that first highlighted their alleged wrongdoing. That initially resulted in a two-year ban from UEFA competition in February 2020 before it was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) five months later.
City have never blinked in their defence, insisting they have followed regulations. The Premier League, though, has not been convinced and, following the formal charges being delivered in early February, it will now be the task of an independent commission to pass judgement.
That reality has hung over City for more than 11 months and, in all likelihood, it could be another year before the case reaches its eventual conclusion.
Neither the Premier League nor the club have offered any indication when a hearing will be held as a confidential process that includes the compilation of witness statements continues, but it is its complexity and breadth that denies a swift resolution.
City’s charges include accusations of failing to disclose accurate financial information, “in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs”, and not fully providing managerial remuneration details for a four-year period that saw Roberto Mancini at the helm.
City have also been charged with breaching UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules, as well as the Premier League’s PSR. A final layer of litigation comes from the Premier League’s claims that City did not cooperate fully with investigations in “the utmost good faith”.
Unlike Everton’s breach of PSR in 2021-22, when the club was referred to an independent commission and then deducted 10 points within eight months, the 115 charges could not be answered as quickly.
Everton’s formal hearing, held a month before they were informed of their points deduction, lasted only five days and, by direct comparison, was a straightforward case. The weight of evidence and witness statements that will be put forward in Manchester City’s case points to that process lasting months.
The charges facing City, who have appointed so-called ‘super-silk’ Lord David Pannick KC to mount their defence, also fall outside of the new rules introduced by the Premier League last summer.
Everton and Nottingham Forest, who were both charged with PSR breaches in January, know their case and any appeal would need to be heard within 12 weeks, enabling any punishment to come before April 8. That tweak to the rules ensured that financial breaches would be punishable within 12 months. City’s alleged wrongdoing, however, does not fall under those regulations.
What about Chelsea’s uncertain situation?
Chelsea have their own historical concerns.
Their owners — a consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital — took the unusual step of self-reporting “incomplete financial information” to UEFA, the Premier League and the Football Association last year.
That resulted in an £8.6million ($11m) fine from UEFA for a breach of its FFP regulations owing to “historical transactions” that took place between 2012 and 2019 under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
No further sporting sanctions were handed out by European football’s governing body, but the Premier League and FA continue to investigate a period that saw Chelsea win the domestic title in 2014-15 and 2016-17, as well as an FA Cup and a League Cup.
Chelsea will hope their cooperation will offer mitigation as they attempt to draw a line under the Abramovich era, but the Premier League, which took four years to bring charges against City, is yet to make it known if Chelsea are to face charges.
Adding to the concerns were fresh reports last week alleging that a series of payments, worth tens of millions of pounds, were made by Abramovich-owned companies to entities linked to deals that appear to benefit Chelsea.
Reports by the Guardian, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in November detailed leaked documents appearing to show transactions made to associates and agents who dealt with Chelsea during their rise. It is alleged these may not have been declared, presenting Chelsea with an unfair advantage over rivals.
“These allegations pre-date the club’s current ownership,” Chelsea said in response to those reports. “They are based on documents the club has not been shown and do not relate to any individual who is presently at the club.”
Chelsea do not yet have a case to answer with the Premier League, which has brought no charges, but any proven circumvention of PSR would bring unavoidable sanctions, including the threat of a substantial points deduction. Like Manchester City’s case, however, it is unlikely to be resolved quickly.
(Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
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