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Manchester City’s 115 Charges: Potential Outcomes from Exoneration to Point Deductions and Beyond

Another season, another title. Yet in a Premier League dominated by Manchester City, a lingering dark cloud remains.

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Soccer Football – Premier League – Manchester City v West Ham United – Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain – May 19, 2024 Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and teammates celebrate with the trophy after winning the Premier League REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Overshadowing Pep Guardiola’s successful team are the 115 charges issued by the Premier League in February 2023. The scope of these alleged financial rule breaches is unprecedented in English football and, if proven, could tarnish the legacy built during Sheikh Mansour’s ownership.

City vigorously deny the financial charges, which span nine seasons of growth, but must wait to clear their name before an independent commission expected to hear the complex case later this year. There is no guarantee that a final judgment will be reached before the end of the 2024-25 season.

  1. When is Manchester City’s next match?

    Manchester City will face Manchester United on Saturday 25th of May 2024 for the FA Cup Finals from 7:30 pm (IST) onwards at the Wembley Stadium.

Following City’s sixth Premier League title in seven years, we analyze how this protracted saga could unfold over the next 12 months.

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Unraveling the Timeline: Tracing the Journey

This remarkably lengthy process can be retraced over five years to March 2019, when Theresa May held office as the UK’s Prime Minister and Erling Haaland was still a fledgling talent with Red Bull Salzburg.

It was at this juncture that the Premier League confirmed its investigation into Manchester City following revelations from Football Leaks, as published by German newspaper Der Spiegel.

While a detailed breakdown of these revelations is best explored extensively elsewhere, City faced allegations of channeling funds into the club through inflated sponsorship deals with UAE-based companies and concealing certain expenses by omitting salaries and image-rights payments from their books.

In UEFA’s investigation, which resulted in a two-year ban from its competitions and a €30m (£26m) fine in February 2020 for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, the process was considerably swifter. However, City successfully challenged this ruling with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), resulting in the suspension being lifted and the financial penalty reduced to €10m.

City actively sought to avoid a Premier League investigation, challenging the jurisdiction of the Premier League’s arbitrators and resisting a request for disclosure of information. Despite their efforts, City lost their case in the court of appeal in the summer of 2021.

The culmination occurred on February 6, 2023, when the Premier League announced 115 charges against City, referred to an independent commission. City responded by asserting they possessed a “comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence” to demonstrate their innocence.

Over the past 15 months, while Everton and Nottingham Forest faced charges and points deductions for breaching the Premier League’s PSR, City’s broader case remains ongoing.

Preparations for the hearing have been exhaustive, with evidence and multiple witness statements being meticulously compiled and countered. City has spared no expense, with their defense led by David Pannick, the esteemed KC of Blackstone Chambers.

Lord Pannick KC in 2016 Dan Kitwood of Getty Images Manchester City's 115 Charges: Potential Outcomes from Exoneration to Point Deductions and Beyond
Lord Pannick KC in 2016 (Dan Kitwood /Getty Images)

Despite the lack of transparency surrounding the case, as with any disciplinary matter handled by a commission, it remains a confidential process. The final outcome, whenever it surfaces, will be the next public update on the matter.

So, what are the potential outcomes? Let’s explore.

In Defense of Innocence: Manchester City’s Unyielding Stand

The sheer volume of charges leveled against Manchester City might suggest some level of culpability, yet the club staunchly refutes any wrongdoing, maintaining their innocence since the inception of scrutiny into their practices. They assert with confidence that all accusations will ultimately be dismissed. “We eagerly anticipate the resolution of this matter once and for all,” they stated in February 2023.

I have never encountered a group of individuals more convinced of their innocence than Manchester City,” remarked one former Premier League chief executive to The Athletic.

City can cite their successful appeal to CAS in 2020 as evidence of their stance. This overturning of a two-year UEFA competition ban allowed them to continue their pursuit of a maiden Champions League title, which they eventually achieved last season.

CAS determined that most alleged financial breaches were either unfounded or time-barred, under UEFA’s rules, prosecutions are limited to offenses committed within the previous five years. However, the Premier League is not bound by such a timeframe, and some of the charges against City date back as far as the 2009-10 season. The strength of the evidence presented by the Premier League, likely centered on the Football Leaks revelations, will be pivotal.

“Their argument revolves around actions that may contravene present regulations,” explained the former chief executive. “However, they contend that under the rules of that era and their method of disclosure, everything was conducted legitimately. While they may face sanctions for procedural errors, they are confident that major infractions, which they believe would be unacceptable in today’s landscape but permissible under the regulations of the time, will not result in penalties.”

If City’s stance is vindicated, they can finally turn the page. Yet, their Premier League competitors may not be as eager to move on.

Seeking Resolution: The Possibility of a Settlement

Speculation has long swirled around the possibility that the case between the Premier League and Manchester City may never see a hearing, with both parties potentially opting for a settlement agreement to bring closure. This resolution would likely involve retrospective fines, sparing City from more severe consequences and allowing them to sidestep formal admission of guilt.

Such a settlement could also sidestep broader political ramifications. The UK government, acknowledging discussions between its embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) regarding the charges against Manchester City, remains tight-lipped due to concerns about the UK’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

GettyImages 1497466539 2048x1365 1 Manchester City's 115 Charges: Potential Outcomes from Exoneration to Point Deductions and Beyond
Sheikh Mansour, owner of Manchester City, and Khaldoon Al Mubarak, club chairman (Michael Regan/UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Would such a compromise appease other English clubs? Perhaps not entirely, but redistributing any fines paid by City could ease tensions. However, the Premier League would face challenges in maintaining consistency, particularly after Everton and Nottingham Forest received combined point deductions of 12 for PSR breaches this season.

Just six months ago, I entertained the idea of a settlement, but with a hearing scheduled, it’s difficult to envision the Premier League publicly announcing a settlement with Manchester City,” remarked one sports lawyer.

“Announcing a confidential agreement as the resolution would likely face skepticism. Many would interpret it as Manchester City buying their way out of the case,” they added, highlighting potential discomfort with such an outcome.

Alternatively, another potential scenario could involve a statement acknowledging accounting errors resulting in overspending over a three-year period, with a worst-case scenario being a 10-point penalty, as suggested by the former Premier League CEO.

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that while City’s actions may have appeared questionable at the time, they may not have breached the specific regulations in place then. Although such actions would violate current regulations, their past conduct may be deemed irrelevant due to their stature as a significant club,” they concluded.

Navigating the Fallout: Potential Punishments and the Nuclear Option

As we envision the arrival of next spring, with Manchester City unsuccessful in their defense against all 115 charges, the inevitability of punishment looms. However, the nature of this penalty remains uncertain, hinging upon which charges City are found guilty of and how many.

Among the significant charges are alleged breaches of Premier League Squad Registration (PSR) rules between 2015-16 and 2017-18, alongside accusations of providing inaccurate financial information and withholding details of payments to players and coaching staff.

Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 2012 Christopher Furlong via Getty Images Manchester City's 115 Charges: Potential Outcomes from Exoneration to Point Deductions and Beyond
Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 2012 (Christopher Furlong via Getty Images)

The allegations stemming from Football Leaks, suggesting manipulation of sponsorship deals to adhere to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, pose particularly serious implications. Additional claims of payments to manager Roberto Mancini through another club owned by City’s proprietor Sheikh Mansour in Abu Dhabi further complicate matters, despite Mancini’s denial of any wrongdoing.

While City has dismissed the Football Leaks revelations as an orchestrated attempt to tarnish their reputation, the potential implications of proven breaches are grave. If substantiated, these infractions would have facilitated excessive spending, laying the groundwork for City’s Premier League triumph in 2011-12 and subsequent successes.

If the Football Leaks documents are authentic, it’s challenging to mount a defense against some of these charges,” explains a sports lawyer.

Drawing on the recent cases of Everton and Nottingham Forest, the absence of cooperation and admission of guilt by City could exacerbate their situation. Any guilty verdict would likely be met with severe repercussions, potentially including fines, points deductions, or even expulsion from the Premier League.

The penalty would likely be substantial,” remarks the sports lawyer. “Expulsion from the Premier League wouldn’t be an exaggeration. It would be a plausible outcome if City were found guilty.”

In scenarios where charges lack clarity or revolve around multiple PSR breaches, a significant points deduction, possibly up to 30 points, could be in play.

With four potential outcomes — acquittal, significant fine with minor points deduction, substantial points deduction, or expulsion — the severity of punishment remains contingent upon the depth of evidence. Despite facing 115 charges, guilt is not predetermined.

Ultimately, it falls upon others to pass judgment on City’s fate.

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