Today, we heard that Manchester City is being accused of financial misdeeds - specifically, understating their commercial income in order to hide money from UEFA and thus contravene the already-shaky charade known as Financial Fair Play.
The genesis of the charge surrounds Etihad’s sponsorship of the club’s stadium and shirts. When Sheikh Mansour, otherwise known as “the head of the family who owns all the money in the United Arab Emirates”, bought City under the City Football Group business name in 2008, a lot of that money started pouring into the blue half of Manchester, in the form of stadium improvements and the development of training facilities nearby.
In 2011, City signed a deal with Etihad Airlines to be the club’s stadium name sponsor, shirt sponsor, and also to become the name sponsor of the Etihad Campus, the area around the stadium containing training grounds, the academy, and other related infrastructure. It is this deal that’s the crux of the charges leveled today.
Basically, the deal was for £65 million a year, but UEFA alleges that only about £8 million of that annual sum actually came from Etihad Airways. The rest, it is alleged, came from Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), a holding company owned by...checks notes...Sheikh Mansour! You want to hear something else that’s a bit wild? ADUG owns 86% of City Football Group! What a crazy coincidence!
(UPDATE FOR CLARITY, added 1.20 PM) The problem with that is simple. The Premier League, as part of Financial Fair Play, generally restricts clubs to a 7% annual increase in its total player wages. A team can increase its wage bill by more than that 7% a year, but it must do so from player sales, ticket revenue, or commercial income, not from Premier League TV or prize money. So in this case, UEFA alleges that Etihad was paying only £8 million, not £65M, and Sheikh Mansour was paying the rest out of, essentially, his own pocket.
It should be noted here that the chairman of the board of Etihad Airways is Mohamed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, who, in another wacky coincidence, sits on the board of City Football Group. It’s amazing how coincidental and not intentional this all seems to be!
Annnnnnnyway, as mentioned, Manchester City are being accused of hiding that money in order to contravene Financial Fair Play rules. If they are found to be in breach of those rules, one possible sanction could be their banning from the Champions League. That’s good news for fifth-place Arsenal, right?
Not so fast. If such a ban were to happen, it probably wouldn’t happen until 2020/21 - and it would be lawyered to death before it were even allowed to live a decent life, thus rendering FFP even more pointless than it currently seems to be. So, don’t hold your breath for any sort of significant hammer to fall on MCFC and subsequently benefit Arsenal - they’ll probably get some sort of fine and maybe a transfer ban like Chelsea’s, but don’t be surprised if it’s the billionare’s equivalent of a wrist slap. Looks like Arsenal will have to earn their way to the Champions League in Baku.