Manchester City are facing the threat of expulsion from the Premier League after the English champions were accused of the biggest financial scandal in the competition’s history.
City were yesterday charged with more than 100 alleged rule breaches dating back to 2009, including falsely reporting income and the salaries of players and managers, and failing to cooperate with the Premier League’s four-year investigation.
The unprecedented charge sheet casts a shadow over the achievements of the most successful English team of the last decade, placing an asterisk next to the 14 titles won in by far the most prolific era of the club’s 131-year history.
“Given that no club has ever been found to have breached the Premier League’s financial fair play rules, this is of historic significance,” said Tom Murray, a sports lawyer at Mishcon de Reya.
City are accused of not submitting “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” for nine seasons from 2009 to 2018.
They are also alleged to have made off-book payments to former manager Roberto Mancini for four seasons between 2009 and 2013, and paid undeclared sums to players for six years between 2010 and 2016.
The current title-holders are further claimed to have broken financial fair play rules at domestic level between 2015 and 2018 and at European level from 2013 to 2018.
Finally, City are also alleged to have breached their obligations to assist the Premier League investigation for the past five seasons. An independent commission will consider the case.
“If Manchester City are found to have breached the Premier League Rules they could face a menu of sanctions including a fine, a transfer embargo, a points deduction and technically expulsion from the league, although I doubt this is likely,” said Murray.
Any punishment has the potential to impact the current Premier League season, in which City trail leaders Arsenal by five points with three months remaining.
Stephen Taylor Heath, head of sports law at JMW Solicitors, said: “It is not just the sanctions but the timing of the sanctions that is important as a points deduction can have vastly different consequences.”
City’s indication that they will contest the charges means the legal row could rumble on for many more months, delaying any prospective penalties.
“Manchester City FC is surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches of the Premier League Rules, particularly given the extensive engagement and vast amount of detailed materials that the EPL has been provided with,” the club said.
“The Club welcomes the review of this matter by an independent Commission, to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence that exists in support of its position. As such we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”
City previously challenged European financial fair play sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which resulted in a two-year ban being overturned despite being found guilty.
The commission’s verdict can be appealed and taken to arbitration or – in theory – court. “This ultimately may end up in CAS again,” added Taylor Heath.
Charging City is a show of strength from the Premier League at a time of heightened scrutiny of the merits of an independent football regulator. It was confirmed yesterday that the government’s white paper on the matter has been further delayed.
“The timing of this is arguably significant too,” said Murray. “The Premier League will be keen to demonstrate that it is the best organisation to police its own rules and that an independent regulator is not needed for these types of issues. Time will no doubt tell whether that is indeed the case.”