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It's impossible to have any sympathy for City given their act of financial skulduggery

Eamonn Sweeney

Hold The Back Page


Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Pep Guardiola. Photo: Getty Images

Hats off to Manchester City for their magnificent achievement. In the morally dubious world of professional football, they are the rottenest club of all. They are the galacticos of grift.

The two-year ban from Champions League football imposed by UEFA has left the whole appalling edifice on the verge of toppling down. It's unthinkable that Pep Guardiola would stay another two years at a club barred from the most important competition in football. Or that the game's top stars could be attracted to ply their trade with a team suffering such a sanction.

The €200m loss incurred because of the exclusion would be a bitter financial blow for the club but the knock-on effect of being left as Champions League bystanders would be even more serious in the long term. This ban could be the most significant event in terms of changing English football's balance of power since Alex Ferguson left Manchester United.

It's impossible to have any sympathy for City. They'd already been punished for cheating UEFA's financial fair play rules. When they were fined £49m back in 2014, UEFA could have excluded them from European competition but decided not to.

You'd have imagined that City, relieved by their escape, would have changed their ways. Not a bit of it. Two years ago the German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that a company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, City's owner, deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, transferred money to Etihad Airways in Dubai who then passed it on to the club in the guise of sponsorship money, thus subverting UEFA's limits on direct investment.

The story prompted the UEFA investigation which earned City their current punishment. City's awareness that they'd been caught bang to rights was apparent when they appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to halt the investigation.

Three months ago CAS threw out the appeal, thus cooking City's goose. Now they'll go back to CAS in the hope that they'll have better luck changing the sentence than stopping the inquiry. They may well succeed. A group with pockets as deep as the regime which effectively owns City surely has a chance of unearthing some legal technicality.

But the ethical case against City is unimpeachable and the arguments put forward by the club's apologists weak in the extreme. Objecting on the grounds that Financial Fair Play is a silly idea doesn't hold water because City, along with all the other clubs in European competition, agreed to be bound by it. There's no point pretending an act of financial skulduggery was, in fact, a principled protest against an unjust rule.

The 'other clubs are probably at it too' line is the equivalent of a man bagged for drink driving asking the guards why they aren't out catching robbers instead. If other clubs are indeed guilty, they should be banned too. Their guilt wouldn't make City innocent.

The argument, popular with some sections of the English media, that UEFA have a vendetta against City is rooted in the Nigel Faragian theory that the slippery Europeans are always trying to do down 'our boys.' Other defenders of the club appear to reason that being the richest kid on the block entitles you to do whatever you want.

Sheikh Mansour and his family would certainly agree with that. Human Rights Watch's latest report on the United Arab Emirates reveals that "the authorities have launched a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. The UAE arbitrarily detains and forcibly disappears individuals who criticise the authorities within the UAE's borders. UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, imprisonment and torture."

That's why, while City's European ban is good news for English clubs chasing a Champions League place, it's potentially great news for European football. The repressive nature of the Abu Dhabi regime means the game would be better off without its attempts to launder its image through investment in sport. Should the ban stand and Sheikh Mansour decide to take his money elsewhere, it should be a cause for celebration.

Meanwhile, City have a date with Real Madrid on Wednesday night. What was always the most intriguing tie of the round has now taken on an epochal feel. Given that City's transgressions have been judged serious enough to debar them from European football, it would make a mockery of the Champions League should they win it this year.

Give them stick Real.

Sunday Indo Sport