Manchester City Takes Its Defiant Stand

Man City maintains its innocence in light of a two-year Champions League ban, and the rhetoric is heating up–all the way from the C-suite, to the sidelines and to the supporters.
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“We'll see you in court, we'll see you in court. F--- off UEFA, we'll see you in court!" the Manchester City fans sang on Wednesday night, because no sentiment is ever truer than when bawled angrily to the tune of Sloop John B. And if that’s how they respond during a routine win over West Ham, get ready for the atmosphere in four weeks’ time when City hosts Real Madrid in the Champions League.

In the six days since UEFA announced that Man City would be banned from the Champions League for two years, for breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations and for refusal to cooperate into an investigation into those alleged breaches, the mood has been characterized by fury. UEFA has been accused of functioning to protect a corrupt cartel of superclubs determined to prevent City joining the elite, and there has been a huge amount of belligerent denunciation of FFP, much of which failed to grasp the basics of what it is or why it was introduced (which is not to say it is perfect or that it hasn’t had certain malign consequences).

There have been rumors and counter-rumors, the concoction of fanciful conspiracies, well-sourced reports that City may be facing Premier League points deductions and projections of the chaos that may ensue of the ban is enacted–the players who may leave, the cost-cutting that will have to go on to bring a budget that already is failing to meet FFP requirements into line with an environment without European football. Much of it is conjecture, but certain things have begun to become clear.

First of all there is Pep Guardiola, who after the West Ham game, in his first public utterances since the ban was announced, made clear that he still believes the club and intends to stay on

“The club believes it is unfair, so we are going to appeal and we are going to wait,” Guardiola said. “I trust 100% what my club have said and what they have done, they have explained to me the reasons. We are going to fight, and we are optimistic that next season, if we qualify for the Champions League, we will be there.

“Unless they sack me, which can happen, I will not leave. Why should I? I love this club, I like to be here, and after we have seen the sentence we will focus on what we have to do. I want to stay to continue to help the club and maintain this level as long as possible. That’s not just because I have a contract, we want to fight to the end for the people who support this club.”

Guardiola’s contract runs to the end of next season, and, while some may see significance in the fact that, for the second time in recent weeks, he was inviting the possibility of being sacked, more significant seems the line he has stuck to throughout, which is that he trusts the club. The implication of that, presumably, is that were he to find that trust misplaced–by, say, a failure of the appeal–his position may change.

Earlier in the day, Ferran Soriano, City’s CEO, had reiterated the club’s determination to fight the ban

"The owner has not put money in this club that has not been properly declared,” he insisted in a video statement. "We are a sustainable football club, we are profitable, we don't have debt, our accounts have been scrutiniszed many times, by auditors, by regulators, by investors and this is perfectly clear."

There was a notable change of tone from City’s initial response to the ban, which was very much targeted at UEFA rather than the offenses, but Soriano did address the way in which the investigation had been conducted, saying the club felt it was "considered guilty" on "every step of the way."

"We did cooperate with this process. We delivered a long list of documents and support that we believe is irrefutable evidence that the claims are not true," he said. "It was hard, because we did this in the context of information being leaked to the media in the context of feeling that every step of the way, every engagement we had, we felt that we were considered guilty before anything was even discussed.

"At the end, this is an internal process that has been initiated and then prosecuted and then judged by this FFP chamber at UEFA."

That complaint still sounds strange given that is what organizations do when investigating breaches of their own regulations. It’s hard to see how that could make a reasonable part of any case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it perhaps plays well to City fans determined to believe there is a conspiracy against them.

And given all the chants in support of Sheikh Mansour and all the banners attacking UEFA in evidence at the West Ham game, it’s fair to say Soriano has found a receptive audience. These, though, are only the very first tremors of a process that could run for years and that threatens to be seismic.