The Premier League has accused Manchester City of more than 100 violations of its financial regulations, a laundry list of rules breaches that it says began more than a decade ago and continue to present day.
Manchester City says it has done nothing wrong and declared itself “surprised” at the airing of what it referred to as “alleged breaches.” The Premier League’s statement suggests its thick rule book views the case quite differently.
The looming showdown over the charges promises to be a monumental fight, matching the Premier League, one of the world’s richest sporting competitions, against Manchester City, one of the dominant clubs of soccer’s modern era (and one with seemingly bottomless financial resources).
But what are the accusations? What violations do they refer to specifically? And if they’re true, what potential punishment does City face?
What is the case about?
Broadly, the Premier League has accused Manchester City of repeatedly failing to provide accurate financial information “that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position, in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs.”
City also stands accused of not disclosing contractual payments to managers and players — presumably to hide the true costs of building one of the world’s best teams — and of failing, as required, to abide by the financial control mechanisms set by the league but also UEFA, European soccer’s governing body. It is also accused of not cooperating with Premier League investigators.
What has all that money delivered?
More than a decade of relentless success, to start. Manchester City had won two English top-division titles in its history — in 1937 and 1968 — before its Gulf owners arrived in 2008. In more than a decade since, the club has claimed six Premier League titles, two F.A. Cups, six league cups and a berth in the 2021 Champions League final. Over that period, City has been — in the most literal sense of the phrase — one of the best teams money could buy anywhere on earth.
What kind of punishment is it facing?
To be clear, City has only been accused of financial rules violations at this point.
If the club is found to have breached the rules, however, the Premier League lays out sanctions that could include business penalties like reprimands and fines and — far more worrisome if you’re City — points deductions in the standings or even expulsion from the top division.
That feels like a big deal.
Expelling City from the Premier League would be a very big deal. Rewriting the league’s record books, and its title history, would be just as big. Manchester City has spent billions building a serial Premier League champion and annual Champions League contender. Losing any of it in the stroke of a pen would be astonishing.
Explain the charges to me like I’m a child.
The Premier League laid out its accusations against Manchester City in five points littered with legalese and references to rules like B.13, C.71, C.72 and C.75 (amended to C.79).
Let’s simplify them:
The first point contends that for every season from 2009-10 to 2017-18, Manchester City failed to abide by rules requiring member clubs to provide accurate financial information to the league, giving it “a true and fair view” of the club’s revenues (think sponsorships) and operating costs (think salaries).
What does that mean? All Premier League clubs sign up to a code of compliance, promising to behave as good-faith actors and provide up-to-date and true versions of their accounts to be audited every year. City has long faced accusations that it has inflated the value of its sponsorship deals with entities linked to its Gulf owners, including with the United Arab Emirates’ national airline, Etihad, and the telecommunications company Etisalat.
Another set of charges suggests that, in the Premier League’s view, Manchester City was not truthful in its reporting of contracts detailing the compensation of its manager and certain players in several seasons.
What you might not know: City is accused of reducing the cost of player and coach salaries by paying portions of them through third parties or secret agreements, an allegation that first emerged when the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that Manchester City’s former coach Roberto Mancini actually had signed two contracts when he joined the club in 2009. The first paid him £1.45 million (about $1.7 million) to coach Manchester City. The secondary agreement paid him slightly more to consult with a U.A.E.-based team, Al Jazira, for only four days a year. Manchester City’s chairman, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, is also chairman of the company that owns Al Jazira.
The Premier League’s financial rules require that all member clubs comply not only with those regulations but also with the so-called financial fair play regulations of UEFA, the sport’s European governing body. For the seasons from 2013 to 2018, the Premier League contends, Manchester City was in violation of those requirements.
We’ve been here before. In 2020, UEFA hit Manchester City with a two-season ban from European competition, a suspension that would have kept City from playing in the lucrative and hugely popular Champions League. City, however, had the judgment overturned on a technicality: It successfully argued at the Court of Arbitration for Sport that the most serious allegations — linked to its sponsorship agreements with Etisalat and Etihad — were outside UEFA’s statute of limitations. Essentially, the club argued (and won), it was too late to punish them.
What about these references to Premier League rules on “profitability and sustainability”?
A league wary of losses. After one of its teams, Portsmouth, fell into the equivalent of bankruptcy in 2010, the Premier League introduced stricter reporting rules on clubs that required them to provide details about how owners planned to cover losses, which were not allowed to exceed £105 million (or $126 million) across any three-year period. The Premier League contends City was in breach of these rules in multiple seasons.
One of the more serious accusations against City is that it did not cooperate with the investigations into its actions, including providing documents and information. In the Premier League’s view, this lack of cooperation covers the entirety of its investigation, which is now in its fifth year, and extends to current day.
To turn over, or not to turn over. City was perhaps most indignant about this set of charges in its response on Monday, “particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL has been provided with.” But the Premier League’s claim is one that was previously made by UEFA, and upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and evidence of the league’s struggles to get City to fully cooperate has already emerged. Several years ago, City sued the Premier League, asking a court to block efforts to force it to turn over crucial documents. City lost that case, as well as an attempt to block the publication of the judge’s findings in the case once it was over.
The Premier League said, in following its rules, it had referred the accusations against City to an independent commission. That body will take the case to a confidential hearing — read: private, no media (but expect leaks) — and then the Premier League will publish the commission’s final decision on its website. City and the Premier League can appeal the judgment, which would be heard by a similar panel convened by Murray Rosen, a lawyer who heads the Premier League’s judicial panel. News reports have said Rosen is a member at Arsenal, City’s closest rival for this season’s title.