Soccer expert Andrew Noland details the Financial Fair Play investigation into Sheikh Mansour’s illegal methods in funding the Premier League champions.
Last Thursday and Friday, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Premier League opened up a new case into Manchester City’s finances and potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules. The investigation is the second probe in five years concerning the City Football Group-owned club with this one sparked by leaks published by Der Spiegel.
FIFA instituted Financial Fair Play rules after concerns arose from traditional giants of the sport that weaker clubs, like Paris San Germain and Manchester City, pumped into their infrastructure to spark success.
FFP functions like a barometer for how much money a club can spend on their team’s salaries and transfer purchases. A team’s revenue, which can come from sponsorships, tickets, merchandising and TV deals, establishes a bar for the amount of money the club can use on their team. This is meant to prevent billionaire owners or groups from putting unfair amounts of money into their clubs to artificially produce success without growing any substantial fanbase.
Manchester City’s rise to the elite of European football has been rapid. Sheikh Mansour bought the club in 2008 as a birthday gift to himself. His personal worth is close to $17 billion, but his Abu Dhabi Group, and its parent trust the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, is worth about $1.1 trillion. Most of his money comes from the exploitation and mistreatment of migrant workers in their cities, many of whom are beaten and worked to death in the desert heat to build the UAE’s extravagant skyscraping, futuristic cities and engineering projects.
Manchester City had perennially been the figurative little brother compared to the dominant and lustrous Manchester United. However, Sheikh Mansour flooded his team with billions of dollars and training and data analysis facilities, and the youth academy turned into state-of-the-art marvels. By 2014, rivals simply could not match Manchester City’s willingness to drive up contract and transfer price tags.
When standard revenue did not match Manchester City’s spending, investigations and internal leaks revealed that the Manchester City board, with the day-to-day running of the club handled by Chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, had inflated the amount of money that sponsorships were granting to the team in order to illegally smuggle Sheikh Mansour’s own money into the club.
UEFA, at the same time cracking down on Paris San Germain, found severe resistance from Manchester City and the French giants. In email leaks, Mubarak threatened UEFA with drowning the union with legal appeals, injunctions and countersuits if the regulatory board punished Manchester City proportional to their transgressions. Backed by the Sheikh Mansour’s inexhaustible pool of money, Manchester City would simply outspend the European body.
UEFA issued slaps on the wrist onto Manchester City in 2014 which only allowed the Citizens to persist in their illicit practices. What is different with the new investigation is that other powerful clubs are rumored to be backing UEFA in this run-around and Manchester City might not be able to get away with only a miniscule fine and a smaller Champions League squad.
These allegations include an illegal $200 million payout of youth star Jadon Sancho’s agent and even more inflated sponsorships. UEFA’s chief FFP investigator Yves Leterme even contended that Manchester City could face a Champions League ban, a punishment that would strip Manchester City of hundreds of millions of dollars in prize money and TV revenue.
The likelihood that Manchester City faces a substantive punishment is low, but if UEFA indeed has outside support, a ban on City would signal to clubs and billionaire owners that buying a Champions League is not an option.