Last week, Manchester City had their two year ban in the UEFA Champions League overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The ban had been handed down in February of this year after the CAS found City guilty of “falsely inflating sponsorship revenues in 2012 to 2016 when making submissions as part of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) compliance process and of breaching regulations by failing to cooperate in the investigation of the case by the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB).”
Ultimately the ban was overturned on the grounds of not finding sufficient, conclusive evidence to uphold their original ruling, as well as some of the allegations being more than five years old and outside the statute of limitations for such breaches. There’s also the small fact that Manchester City refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Manchester City are treating this as a win for them, as they were basically told to keep breaking the rules and all they’ll have to do is pay a fine to get out of it.
This isn’t exactly great for anyone else in the football world, either.
Manchester City hasn’t exactly made it a secret how much money they have at their disposal and how much of it they’re willing to spend on players. Their players are currently worth something like £1.9 billion and with this new ruling, it’s likely that they’ll keep shelling out the top dollars for top talent.
For clubs like Liverpool that constantly follow every rule, spend frugally, and have had to prove themselves countless times against them, it’s kind of a slap in the face. And that’s not even talking about the clubs that have had their own bans kept in place due to their own rule breaking. Chelsea was handed a two year transfer ban last year (granted, from FIFA and not UEFA) after breaking rules regarding transfer practices — that was eventually lessened to a year, but not completely overturned.
Liverpool have always been careful of their transfer business, only spending huge amounts on players like Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, brought on to fill positions that were… well, they desperately needed help. Other than that, most of Liverpool’s players have been bought on the cheap or brought in on free transfers. We may be paying them high wages to make them want to stay, but that’s not breaking any rules.
The Reds have also always had a focus on bringing in kids from the Academy and letting them have a shot. Working with the Academy is one of Jurgen Klopp’s strengths and he’s the whole reason the club have merged the Academy and the Men’s team’s training facilities. Fostering that talent is a cheaper alternative to spending money on a player that has blown up Europe but is unproven in the Premier League.
All of this is not to say that these players do not deserve this money, or that clubs shouldn’t spend money that they have. It is not about spending the money, but rather it is the complete disregard for the rules set in place to keep things fair. Financial Fair Play. We all know that this sport is full of cash and funded by people who have maybe made their money in less than fair ways (looking at you, oil barons). There’s also maybe a measure of hypocrisy in it, as the Premier League itself is full of financial inequalities. A lot of the traditional top sides have more resources and more reach, due to their financial backing, as opposed to some of the mid-table and lower table teams — the ones that are in the constant yo-yo of promotion and relegation.
Manchester City, having also been part of that eternal yo-yo system of promotion and relegation through the 90’s after the formation of the Premier League, didn’t find a permanent spot until 2002. Before that, they’d been in League 1, the third tier of English football, in 1998-1999, got promoted to Championship the following year, made it back to the Premier League in 2000-2001, and then promptly got relegated back down once more. It wasn’t until 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited completed a takeover by buying the majority shares in the club that things started to turn around for them.
Whereas, you know, Liverpool have only ever been relegated once in their 128 year history.
The thing is that Manchester City has done everything they could to disrupt the system of well established and historic clubs — but by spending their money with little regard to the rules and regulations set up to make sure that the game remains fair and that clubs are on a somewhat even pitch. Yes, the point of these leagues is healthy competition but simply throwing money around to buy the best players and the best managers is not the way to foster that healthy competition.
Even as City has tried to claim some kind of new rivalry with Liverpool, the only kind of rivalry to come out of it is on the pitch because their team of players that have been bought with all of that money are just that good. The thing is, that while City have consistently paid those top dollars for those players, whereas the most money Liverpool have invested have been on maybe two players that have made our squad considerably better, and otherwise spent as little money as possible or invested in players we already had and developed.
The rivalry between City and Liverpool is purely manufactured because, maybe, Liverpool are the only team worthy of a rivalry because they are the only ones at City’s level. They have traded points so often and fought so hard to prove that they are good enough. And this year, they finally did. Without the added finances of shady sponsorships and cutting every corner in paperwork to hide how the money is gained and spent.
All of this is not to say that I know exactly how Liverpool also gains and spends their money. I don’t. I don’t know exactly how Liverpool has ever gained and spent their money, but considering they have never been charged with breaching Financial Fair Play rules. Even in the year that they were under investigation, Manchester City were fined and handed restrictions in their transfer spending and Champions League squad sizes… for breaching financial fair play rules.
There were lots of comments following the ruling on the appeal that this overturning would basically mean the end of the FFP as we know it. Which, to be fair, may not be wrong. If a club like City is so easily able to flout those regulations, what does that mean for the whole point of these regulations? What does it mean for a club like Liverpool, who has done their damned best to make sure they stay on the right side of those regulations?
What does it mean for this manufactured rivalry and the clubs that are caught in that eternal yo-yo?
What does it mean for the integrity of the game, if clubs like City can throw around whatever money they want, regardless of the supposed regulations that were set up to keep clubs like them from doing exactly that?
I don’t know. But I have a feeling it isn’t good.
All we can do as Liverpool fans is hold our club accountable, and applaud them when they do the right thing. Support them when they spend frugally or decide to focus on a young Academy player as opposed to throwing out money when they’re stuck in a bind that maybe a new and fancy player will fix.
Liverpool have always tried to do the right thing. Even if it means it takes a little longer to get the results that we want — like that elusive title that we got this year, and the 6th Champions League trophy that City are still chasing.
Someday, the game will swing towards integrity and playing with what’s right and fair. The only thing we can do as fans is support the teams that do things the right and fair way.