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Why Man City's courtroom victory could have huge ramifications for the future of European football


Image credit: Getty

Image credit: Getty

Image credit: Getty

MANCHESTER City claimed a victory more precious than any of their trophy wins in a Swiss courtroom on Monday morning 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 that left so many questions unanswered.

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 they 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 Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City followed his lead in recent years as the three clubs at the heart of this debate have claimed 42 major trophies between them since their big-money backers arrived.

And 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.

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 names in a bid to bolster their battered finances.

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Meanwhile, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea could 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 that UEFA's statement on their latest court loss suggested.

"UEFA takes note of the decision taken by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reduce the sanction imposed on Manchester City FC by UEFA’s independent Club Financial Control Body for alleged breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play regulations," read their statement, as they acknowledged their efforts to punish City for financial infringements that took place more than five years ago was a mistake that ultimately undermined their case.

"Over the last few years, Financial Fair Play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and UEFA and ECA remain committed to its principles."

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 and now the prospect of a European Super League featuring the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool and Manchester United is certain to be put back on the negotiating table if these clubs conclude their efforts to halt their unwanted new rivals has failed.

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 far from over, but one side now holds all the aces.

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