Manchester City’s appeal against a two-year ban from European competition will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from Monday in a case of wide-reaching repercussions.
City are accused of overstating sponsorship revenue to hide that they had not complied with UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules between 2012 and 2016 and were also handed a €30 million ($34 million, £27 million) fine.
UEFA’s case was prompted when German magazine Der Spiegel published a series of leaked emails in 2018 that purported to show how City manufactured extra sponsorship revenue from a series of companies with connections to the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour.
Under the Sheikh’s ownership, City’s fortunes have been transformed from perennially living in the shadow of local rivals Manchester United to winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years.
However, billions of investment in players and managers has not yet been able to deliver the club’s first ever Champions League title.
City are still involved in this season’s competition and will be allowed to compete should the 2019/20 edition of Champions League return in August no matter the outcome of the appeal.
But a two-season ban from the competition would represent a huge blow to the club’s prestige, finances and hope of hanging onto manager Pep Guardiola and key players like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
“Two years would be long. One year is something I might be able to cope with,” De Bruyne told Het Laatste Nieuws last month.
City banked 93 million euros from prize money and television rights alone by reaching the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.
The added loss of gate receipts and commercial revenue would make it extremely difficult for the club to meet FFP regulations in the future without cutting costs.
City have steadfastly refuted UEFA’s allegations.
“Based on our experience and our perception, this seems to be less about justice and more about politics,” said CEO of the City Football Group Ferran Soriano.
UEFA has been under pressure, most publicly from La Liga president Javier Tebas, to impose a harder line on clubs backed by states, like City and Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.
European football’s governing body also have plenty riding on the case. Lose the appeal and the future of UEFA’s FFP regulations will be called into question.
The hearing will be held by videoconference due to coronavirus restrictions from Monday to Wednesday.
If no verdict is immediately announced after the hearing, the decision “could be made during the month of July,” said Matthieu Reeb, secretary general of CAS.
Even if City’s appeal to CAS fails, the English champions could present a further appeal before the Swiss Federal Court.
A delayed outcome would leave a cloud hanging over the return of the Premier League season.
City seem certain to secure Champions League qualification on the field with a 12-point lead over fifth-placed Manchester United.
If they are excluded, fifth would be good enough for the riches of next season’s Champions League, which are all the more valuable during the economic crisis caused by coronavirus.
Just six points separate United from Crystal Palace in 11th leaving plenty to play for in the final nine games of the season once the Premier League restarts on 17 June.