According to a report from Der Spiegel, based on documentation provided by Football Leaks, Man City went to great lengths to cover up payments and spending that skirted UEFA rules.

By 90Min
November 06, 2018

'If you want to buy your way into football heaven, you can't let a few rules get in the way.'

That is the incredibly damning assessment of Manchester City from German magazine Der Spiegel in the second instalment of the unmasking of the Premier League champions this week.

It started when Der Spiegel revealed how leaked internal emails between City directors and executives exposed how the club had flouted Financial Fair Play rules, allegedly manipulating contracts to cover revenue shortfalls and even having Sheikh Mansour's private equity company send payments to sponsors who would then send it one to the club.

Now, the second of four promised exposés from the publications focuses on other ways City attempted to come up with 'creative solutions', leading to the launch of 'Project Longbow'.

FFP was announced by UEFA in 2010, set to come into force for the 2013/14 season, with clubs threatened with sanctions, including potential Champions League expulsion if they failed to comply.

After £1.1bn, revealed by an internal document seen by Der Spiegel, was spent in the first four years of the Abu Dhabi regime, City were caught out by FFP at the first time of asking. It led to apparent threats of legal action from the club and indignation to the point where City fans still gleefully greet the UEFA anthem with a chorus of boos on Champions League nights.

It is claimed by Der Spiegel that despite imposing a fine, UEFA showed City 'far too much lenience'. UEFA apparently knew they had let the club 'off the hook with a ludicrously low penalty', but that is put down to not being fully aware of the 'vast extent' of the 'deceit'.

Der Spiegel declares that City could have slowed down their project when it became clear as early as 2010 that they would fall foul of FFP rules - sourcing new revenue not linked to their owner, cutting costs and generally lowering expectations until it was possible to compete fairly.

Instead, the revelation is that City saw FFP, and its support from Europe's elite clubs, as something they needed to 'fight'. One memo from chief executive Ferran Soriano is said to have read, "We will need to fight this and do it in a way that is not visible, or we will be pointed out as the global enemies of football."

It created 'Project Longbow', the name seemingly chosen because it was the weapon of choice for the English army against the French at the famous medieval battles of Crécy and Agincourt.

Der Spiegel claims that part of it saw many operational costs to be 'shifted either fully or partially' away from City. Those costs could be transferred to a subsidiary to hide them from UEFA.

One alleged example is the transferring of player marketing rights to another company, meaning that the cost of paying image rights was suddenly taken away from City and put onto this new company. The sale of marketing rights in this particular instances is said to have brought in €30m, boosting revenues to further help FFP compliance.

With the help of investment experts David and Jonathan Rowland, father and son, City are said to have transferred the player marketing rights to Fordham Sports Management. This a company of which Der Spiegel claims the ownership is 'well hidden', explaining, 'The path first leads to a British straw-man company, then to the British Virgin Islands and finally to the Rowland family trust.'

The accusation from Der Spiegel after viewing internal documents is that it was Sheikh Mansour's company, Abu Dhabi United Group, that gave the Rowlands the money 'for the purchase of the marketing rights and to pay the players for their marketing appearances'. Taking that further, it is declared that 'Fordham was merely a vehicle for hidden capital injections from Abu Dhabi.'

City executive Simon Pearce is said to have joked in one email that he had become the 'de facto MD (managing director) of ADUG', leading Der Spiegel to label the situation a 'farce' and slam City: "A club director was controlling the expenditures of the club owner's holding company, money that would travel around the world before landing in the team's coffers."

When UEFA were investigating City over FFP, Fordham apparently never came up. When auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers later reviewed the Fordham deal on behalf of UEFA, it was concluded that it was a 'very good deal for MCFC', not least because the auditors couldn't figure out how Fordham expected to make any money on the deal for themselves. A City lawyer apparently professed not to know because Fordham hadn't showed the club its business plan.

The official response from City to Der Spiegel's request for comment remains, "The attempt to damage the Club's reputation is organised and clear."

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