UEFA opens formal investigation into Manchester City
Geneva — Manchester City is under formal investigation by UEFA into whether financial monitoring rules were violated, after months of confidential club documents being published in the Football Leaks series.
Europe’s soccer body can ban clubs from its Champions League in the most serious cases of breaking “Financial Fair Play” rules designed to control excessive spending on player transfers and wages.
UEFA said Thursday its independent club finance panel is focusing on “several alleged violations of FFP that were recently made public in various media outlets.”
Internal documents about Man City’s business and emails between club executives have been published in the Football Leaks series led by Der Spiegel magazine.
The revelations suggest Man City officials deceived UEFA over several years, including by disguising the source of revenue from overvalued sponsorships tied to the club’s owners in Abu Dhabi.
UEFA acted after the latest release last Friday included complete emails detailing how Abu Dhabi’s owners secretly paid into inflated commercial deals.
“The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false,” Man City said in a statement , adding it “welcomes the opening” of the formal probe.
“(It’s) an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails,” the English champion said.
The club has not disputed authenticity of the documents since publication began in November.
In one batch of communications between Man City officials, the club seemed ready to threaten to destroy UEFA with legal action before reaching a 2014 settlement agreement to close an investigation.
Then, it forfeited 20 million euros ($22.8 million) to UEFA in Champions League prize money but continued to play in world soccer’s most prestigious club competition.
The Pep Guardiola-coached team is currently top of England’s Premier League, seeking its fourth league title in the past eight seasons. The team hosts Schalke next week in the Champions League, holding a 3-2 lead from the first leg.
UEFA has since 2011 monitored the accounts of all clubs which qualify to play in the Champions League and Europa League.
It was launched as the flagship policy of UEFA’s then-president Michel Platini, who criticized “financial doping” by some club owners after the global financial downturn a decade ago.
Rules were drafted forcing clubs toward breaking even on their soccer-related income and spending to prevent clubs from becoming unsustainable. It also sought to control wealthy owners distorting the market in transfers and wages by driving up costs.
The system includes assessing the fair market value of sponsor deals to prevent clubs evading limits on cash injections by owners.
Critics of FFP say it protects historically successful clubs with global brands from challenges by ambitious newcomers.
The biggest forfeits were paid in 2014 by Man City and Paris Saint-Germain, which were bought using sovereign wealth respectively by Abu Dhabi’s ruling family in 2008 and Qatar’s in 2011.
UEFA gave no timetable for the case, stating it “will make no further comments on the matter while the investigation is ongoing.”