English soccer’s top-tier Premier League has formally accused champions Manchester City of breaking financial rules.
Following a four-year investigation, the league has today (February 6) published a list of alleged rule breaches – including a failure to provide accurate information relating to sponsorship revenue – which between them relate to every season between 2009-10 and 2017-18.
In total, the Premier League champions are being investigated for over 100 alleged financial rule breaches over the space of nine seasons, as well as over a subsequent failure to comply with investigators over the last four years.
The move by the league to send City’s alleged rule-breaking to a commission is unprecedented, and potential sanctions include points deductions, financial penalties, and even the unlikely option of full expulsion. The investigation first began in December 2018 and was first confirmed in March 2019.
City have already been investigated by European soccer’s governing body UEFA, managing to overturn an initial two-year ban from European club competitions that was handed to them in February 2020. They appealed successfully to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in that case, thus reducing their punishment for serious breaches of UEFA's FFP rules between 2012 and 2016 from a ban to a fine of £9 million.
Premier League rules, however, mean a CAS appeal, in this case, is not possible.
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Since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group – controlled by the royal family of that Emirate – in 2008, City have become one of Europe's most powerful sides, and since then have won the league six times, with the club’s first-team squad estimated to have a value in excess of £1 billion.
The sponsorship aspect of both the UEFA and Premier League investigations stems from information alleged by a report in 2018 by German site Der Spiegel, which published secret documents.
This report claimed that the club overstated sponsorship income, and misrepresented income directly coming from their Abu Dhabi-based owners as revenue from Gulf-based brand partners (who are in several cases also owned by Abu Dhabi’s rulers).
In terms of the sponsorship-related allegations, the CAS – in the case of the UEFA investigation – found that “most of the alleged breaches were either not established or time-barred.”
However, that report did state that City showed a disregard for the necessity of complying with a governing body’s investigation, and that the club conducted an “obstruction of the investigations.”
City have always denied any wrongdoing whenever the subject of the investigation has raised its head. Previously, the club has described the Football Leaks revelations as a “clear and organized attempt” to damage its reputation.
In a statement released today, the club said: "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 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."
The Manchester club has now been referred to the Premier League commission for allegedly breaking the below rules:
- Regulations that require Premier League clubs to provide “accurate financial information that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position …”, between 2009-10 and 2017-18.
The above rule goes on to state that the information required from each club on this subject relates “in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue).”
- Rules concerning the need to provide full details around remuneration issued to both players and managers, between 2009-10 and 2015-16.
- Rules governing financial fair play (FFP) put together by European soccer’s governing body UEFA (which PL teams are compelled to comply with), between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
- The PL’s own profitability and sustainability rules, between 2015-16 and 2017-18.
- And, the PL’s rules concerning clubs cooperating with the PL in its investigations “by providing documents and information to the Premier League in the utmost good faith.” These charges relate to the last four seasons, and the ongoing 2022-23 campaign – the timescale in which the overall investigation has been running.
In July 2021, a court of appeal decision confirmed that Manchester City had attempted to challenge legal demands made by the Premier League to hand over legal documents and information – in this case, unsuccessfully.
Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData, has provided insight on the developments: “While questions have been raised about many of Manchester City’s financial deals over the years, the announcement from the Premier League that the club have been charged with breaches casts a dark shadow over both the regime and the team’s recent on-pitch success.
“Many have accused City of over-inflating a range of their sponsorship deals and the charges seem to support the assumption that many of these tie-ups must be under question.
“The over-inflated figures that would appear to have been reported to the Premier League may lead to severe punishments.
“This will likely impact City’s commercial appeal just as they head to market to replace lead sponsor Etihad.
“Already in breach of UEFA FFP regulations, City now face an anxious wait to see if the punishment will mean the loss of titles won in recent years, a points deduction, or even expulsion from the league.
“Following on from Juventus’ breach in Italy [that heavyweight side was handed a 15-point penalty late last month following an investigation into its financial and accounting procedures], it seems that the soccer establishment is taking financial breaches far more seriously.”
Between the seasons mentioned (2009-10 and 2017-18), City won three Premier Leagues, two league cups, and one FA Cup.
The commission will be appointed by the independent chair of the Premier League’s judicial panel, Murray Rosen, and all proceedings will be “confidential and heard in private.”
Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images