City facing transfer ban for 'financial insanity'
Manchester City are facing a huge Financial Fair Play sanction as UEFA prepare to rule that the spending spree that transformed them into a superpower of the game breached its much-vaunted cost-control regulations.
It is understood that City, whose billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour has bankrolled the most successful period in the club's history, will this week be found guilty of failing to comply with FFP rules – barring an improbable eleventh-hour reprieve.
Paris Saint-Germain are also poised to be punished by Uefa's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), which was created to police "greed, reckless spending and financial insanity" in European football and will meet today and tomorrow to make its first decisions on which clubs will be prosecuted.
City and PSG are understood to be among fewer than 20 teams under threat of a sanction and, unless dramatic new evidence emerges in the next 48 hours to support their claims they have played by the rules, they are on course to be hit hardest of all.
The nature and degree of any punishment will be determined in the coming days but it is understood neither team will be faced with expulsion from the Champions League.
The sanction is far more likely either to take the form of a heavy fine or some kind of transfer embargo in order to prevent their mega-rich owners adding to two of the most expensive squads in history.
Such a punishment could hardly come at worse time for City, who remain at the centre of one of the most thrilling three-horse title races English football has seen and will be desperate to avoid any unwanted distractions in their final six games.
They declined to comment last night on the status of the CFCB's probe into their finances, PSG did not respond to requests for comment, while Uefa refused to comment on the identities of any team in danger of being punished.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea all confirmed they were not under investigation from European football's governing body, having complied with its rule forbidding clubs making losses in excess of €45m during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons after certain exceptions are taken into account.
Having posted losses of £149m over that period after buying the likes of Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic, City were always likely to find themselves under heavy scrutiny. It is their attempts to balance their books which have been most closely examined, particularly their 10-year, £350m sponsorship deal with Etihad, the official airline of Abu Dhabi.
FFP rules prohibit transactions with companies which have ties to a club or its owners being used in this way unless they can be shown to represent fair market value.
Designed to prevent wealthy owners artificially inflating the value of such deals, their validity is judged on three criteria.
If it is shown to be a related-party transaction, Uefa's auditors calculate how much equivalent media exposure would have cost through the company advertising in other ways, how the tie-up compares with those struck by similar clubs, and what independent marketing experts think of the agreement.
City have always insisted the deal is no more unfair when measured on a like-for-like basis against those struck by its closest rivals. PSG have also argued that its many-times-larger £167m a year commercial arrangement with the Qatar Tourism Authority is above board, but it emerged last month that Uefa had serious doubts over its validity.
Today's and tomorrow's meeting of the eight-strong CFCB investigatory chamber, which includes former Celtic chairman Brian Quinn, could consider new data before making a final decision on each club's innocence or guilt.
Those prosecuted will then either be offered the chance to settle the case by accepting a pre-determined sanction, or the matter could be referred straight to the CFCB's five-strong adjudicatory chamber.
Uefa introduced the settlement option into its FFP regulations in a bid to avoid lengthy disciplinary hearings and the clubs involved will have 10 days to respond to the investigatory chamber's approach.
If they reject settlement, the adjudicatory chamber will convene to determine their case, which could result in a more severe, as well as more lenient sanction.
Clubs guilty of FFP breaches will not be named and shamed until around May 5, after which there is a further right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Also woven into FFP rules is the opportunity for rival clubs directly affected by any sanction to contest it on the basis it is too lenient.
Were City to be found guilty and still allowed to enter next season's Champions League, Everton or Arsenal could try to challenge their punishment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)