Premier League backlash proves Man City’s enemies spread far wider than Uefa alone

Tony Evans
Manchester City face a fierce backlash from Premier League rivals over their Uefa ban: PA

Manchester City are regarded as a “pariah club” by a number of their Premier League rivals, according to a senior football source. The English champions have been at war with Uefa for the past couple of years but events this week have shown that they have enemies closer to home.

City were stunned when eight of the top ten teams in the top flight contacted the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) to intervene in the club’s appeal against their two-year Champions League ban. The suspension was imposed by European football’s ruling body after City were ruled to have breached financial fair play rules. The intervention is designed to ensure that, should the appeal not be heard before the new campaign starts, Pep Guardiola’s team will not be able to take part in next season’s Champions League.

Cas does not automatically suspend punishments while it hears cases. Appellants are required to petition the Lausanne-based court to have any sanctions ‘stayed’ while the case is considered. City have not asked for the sentence to be deferred until the process is complete but the move by eight clubs – Liverpool, Leicester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Burnley – appears to be an attempt to pre-empt any such strategy from the Etihad.

If City were allowed to enter next season’s Champions League and Uefa’s ban was later upheld, another team would miss out on the chance to participate in Europe’s most prestigious competition. Cas’s procedures allow interested parties to involve themselves in a case. When Milan were banned from European competition for a season last year, Atalanta planned to intervene but missed the deadline and were unable to have their say.

The involvement of the eight Premier League clubs will not affect the main judgement, only whether City can play on as normal in Europe while Cas considers the case. The unprecedented manoeuvre has exposed the rifts between City and their peers, though. “It’s going to be hard to rebuild relationships after this,” the source said.

Cas is still working despite the Coronavirus pandemic but all non-urgent cases have been postponed. Hearings will be conducted by video conference and proceedings are expected to be slowed down because of the changes to the way the court operates. There are fears that City will not be handed down a verdict until next season’s Champions League is well under way.

While the intervention will not have a direct impact at Cas, it may discourage Uefa from negotiating a deal with City behind closed doors. The strength of feeling of Premier League clubs is likely to have an impact on the thinking at Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon and reduce any thoughts of a compromise.

There has been no public response from the Etihad. City have been very vocal in their criticism of Uefa and have sought to frame the situation as a battle against faceless European bureaucrats conducting a vendetta against them based on flimsy evidence. That narrative has been undermined by the latest development. There is real concern about City’s spending and behaviour among other English clubs.

City have always maintained that they are innocent of any charges and complain that the allegations against them are based on illegally obtained information that was made public by a Portuguese hacker under the name Football Leaks. Sources at Uefa headquarters refute that and claim that the case is built on details supplied by City to the ruling body. The club have been steadfast in denying any guilt. Uefa has been equally forthright in insisting City have broken the rules.

Uefa's Investigatory Chamber, the independent body that examined the evidence last year and found that City had a case to answer, even considered separate proceedings against Ferran Soriano, the club’s chief executive. There is still a remote possibility that the Catalan, who has a reputation for being ruthless, haughty and effective, will be indicted. Uefa believes that City’s hierarchy were deeply involved in circumventing the financial rules.

The Premier League have also launched an independent investigation into City. The other 19 clubs will have no input into whether any action will be taken against the Etihad but the atmosphere at the organisation’s shareholder meetings is likely to be frostier after this week’s events.