Manchester City were hit with an unprecedented two-year ban from the Champions League last night in a bombshell Uefa financial fair play verdict that has stunned the football world.
Pep Guardiola will consider his future as manager in the summer, it is understood, unless the club is able to overturn a verdict which condemns "serious breaches" in payments by executives.
The reigning Premier League champions announced immediate plans to appeal last night after being left reeling by the punishment, which is set to come into effect next season. Uefa, which also fined City €30 million, had been investigating the club for more than a year since an alleged deception caught the governing body's eye following revelations in the Football Leaks scandal.
Documents first published in the German magazine 'Der Spiegel' suggested almost £60m was paid directly into the club by their billionaire Arab owners but declared as sponsorship.
More than a year ago it was revealed that UEFA were considering a one-year ban, but it would appear to have been doubled in recent months over the club's perceived lack of co-operation.
The players, many of whom were returning from winter breaks, are set to attend crisis talks with chief executive officer Ferran Soriano today.
City now face the additional threat of a potential Premier League points deduction. Richard Masters, the league's chief executive, said last week that he "cannot comment" on domestic investigations into the same allegations that were pursued by Uefa.
Subject to City's appeal, the fourth Champions League spot would go to the English team that finishes this season in fifth place under Uefa regulations - assuming Guardiola's side remain in the top four.
Uefa stated the punishment was based on "serious breaches of the Uefa Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016".
The punishment was issued by Uefa's Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB), which the governing body insists has an "independent" mandate. "The adjudicatory chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations the Club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case by the CFCB."
City, who previously failed in a preemptive bid to get the case thrown out at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last year, responded last night with a blistering attack on Uefa. Executives said they were "disappointed but not surprised" by the announcement.
"The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position," a City statement said.
"In December 2018, the Uefa chief investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun. The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked Uefa process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver. The club has formally complained to the Uefa Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling."
"Simply put, this is a case initiated by Uefa, prosecuted by Uefa and judged by Uefa . With this prejudicial process now over, the Club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
The ruling takes a sledgehammer to the club's ambitions of European domination and will prompt immediate doubts over the future of City's manager and star players. Despite Liverpool racing away to this year's Premier League title, Guardiola had repeatedly insisted he would remain at the club next season.
However, following last night's verdict, sources close to the manager said he was in a "state of shock" and will now "evaluate" his plans at the end of the season if the ban is not overturned within the next three months.
"It's stay calm and carry on for now," a source close to the Spaniard said. "Pep will not decide now what he's going to do. He will keep calm and decide what to do in future. Nobody expected this. City punished harshly. We are genuinely shocked by this punishment."
Recriminations between City and Uefa will escalate as the club tries to get the ban thrown out or at least reduced. The club had already demanded damages over "leaks" by Uefa as part of their pre-emptive appeal.
Documents from the previous hearings revealed a bitter falling-out with chief financial investigator, Yves Leterme, after he publicly supported a suspension.
The club took its first appeal to CAS last year on the basis that it claimed the investigatory committee of Uefa's Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) had conducted "unlawful activities". Uefa, the club said, should then pay "damages to be assessed for losses incurred as a result of the respondent's conduct".
City's case was thrown out by the Swiss court in November. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Manchester City have been banned from the Champions League for the next two seasons and fined €30m after being found to have "committed serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations," European football’s governing body has announced.