City’s court victory more precious than any of their trophy wins as power in the game now shifts
Manchester City claimed a victory more precious than any of their trophy wins in a Swiss courtroom yesterday and it could have huge implications for the future of the European game.
While City's hierarchy were always confident that their team of high-powered lawyers would prevail as they picked holes in UEFA's attempts to make their two-year suspension from the Champions League stick, the flaws in the case presented by European football's governing body were glaringly exposed as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) found in City's favour in a landmark case.
Make no mistake, this was a hammer blow for UEFA's efforts to act as leaders in a money-driven game as, once again, it gave a green light for mega-rich owners to spend big in the knowledge that the legal basis for halting them will be hard to back up in court.
AC Milan had their Europa League ban lifted after an appeal at CAS in 2018 and Paris Saint Germain prevailed in a CAS appeal against UEFA, reopening a Financial Fair Play investigation into their financial structure last year, leaving those eager to play fantasy football with real clubs seemingly clear to return to the transfer negotiating table once again.
If this was UEFA's attempt to stamp their authority as standard-bearers in European football, it backfired badly and the organisation now looks vulnerable to a coup that it may be unable to halt.
For more than a decade, European football's traditional power-broker clubs have wrestled with plans designed to halt the game-changing influence of mega-rich investors who have transformed struggling clubs into trophy contenders in double-quick time.
After Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich penned the blueprint for this free-spending policy when he bought Chelsea in 2003, the oil-rich owners at PSG and Manchester City followed his lead as the three clubs at the heart of this debate have claimed 42 major trophies between them since their big-money backers arrived.
Claims that the trio has been massaging sponsorship deals to ensure they balanced their books to meet FFP rules have tarnished the glow of their trophy successes, yet this latest CAS ruling ensures these clubs could be even more extravagant with their transfer spending in a summer that will see so many of their rivals battling to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
News of City's courtroom victory sparked inevitable social media quips that the Manchester club will soon announce a £50m sponsorship deal with the club's chief sponsor Etihad for a plant pot in the club's reception, yet this verdict is no laughing matter for the old guard of European football.
Already this summer, Bayern Munich have conceded they cannot compete with Chelsea to sign Bayern Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, Liverpool pulled out of a deal to sign RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner on financial grounds and Real Madrid are reported to be keen to off-load star name in a bid to bolster their battered finances.
Meanwhile, Manchester City, PSG and Chelsea now look set to reshape the football landscape once more as they eye up some big-money signings, with the backlash against the CAS decision certain to be more vitriolic behind the scenes than UEFA's statement on their latest court loss suggested.
It was Neymar's £200m move from Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain in the summer of 2017 that confirmed finances were no barrier to ambition for clubs eager to break the glass ceiling of the European game and with this latest failed attempt to halt such extravagance, UEFA could now be viewed as lame-duck leaders in this high-stakes game.
Former England captain Gary Lineker was quick to question whether UEFA's credibility was shattered beyond repair after their latest CAS defeat.
History may confirm that the biggest mark Manchester City and their Abu Dhabi-based owners left on this era of the game was not the trophies cluttering up their Etihad Stadium trophy cabinet, but this court victory that confirmed money will buy you power in the modern game.
This increasingly bitter battle at the top of European football is not over, but one side now holds all the aces.