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Manchester City and Uefa kick off pivotal football case

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Manchester City Head Coach Pep Guardiola will wait as his team faces a two-year ban from European football for allegedly violating Uefa’s fair-play rules. AFP

Manchester City and Uefa kick off pivotal football case

Manchester City’s appeal against a two-year ban from European football competition opened before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) on Monday by videoconference, said a court official.

City are accused of overstating sponsorship revenue to hide their failure to comply with Uefa’s financial fair-play (FFP) rules between 2012 and 2016. In addition to the ban, they were also fined €30 million.

Matthieu Reeb, the secretary general of the Lausanne-based Cas, said: “The hearing has started well and the video conference is working well.”

The remote hearing, which pits Manchester City against Uefa lawyers, opened 9:00am local time and is scheduled to last three days before closing on Wednesday evening.

Reeb said a decision could be announced next month.

Even if City’s appeal to Cas fails, the English champions could present a further appeal before the Swiss Federal Court, also based in Lausanne.

Uefa’s case was prompted by a series of leaked emails published by German magazine Der Spiegel in 2018 that seemed to show how City manufactured extra sponsorship revenue from a series of companies with connections to the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour.

Under the Sheikh’s ownership, City’s fortunes have been transformed, winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years.

However, the billions invested in players and managers have not yet delivered the club’s first Champions League title.

City are still involved in this season’s competition and will be allowed to compete should the 2019-2020 edition of the Champions League return in August, no matter the outcome of the appeal.

Another European powerhouse, Italian club AC Milan, has already been excluded from European competitions for failing to comply with the FFP rules, after losing their appeal to Cas in June last year.

A two-season ban from the competition would represent a huge blow to City’s prestige, finances and hope of keeping manager Pep Guardiola and key players like Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.

Last month, De Bruyne told Dutch language newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws: “Two years would be long. One year is something I might be able to cope with.”

City banked €93 million from prize money and television rights alone by reaching the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.

The further loss of gate receipts and commercial revenue would make it extremely difficult for the club to meet FFP regulations without cutting costs.

Harder line

City have steadfastly rejected Uefa’s allegations.

City Football Group CEO Ferran Soriano said: “Based on our experience and our perception, this seems to be less about justice and more about politics.”

Uefa has been under pressure, most publicly from La Liga president Javier Tebas, to impose a harder line on clubs backed by states, such as City and Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.

European football’s governing body also have plenty riding on the case. If they lose the appeal, the FFP regulations would be undermined.

A delayed outcome would leave a cloud hanging over the return of the Premier League season.

City seem certain to secure Champions League qualification on the field with a 12-point lead over fifth-placed Manchester United.

If they are excluded, fifth would be good enough for the riches of next season’s Champions League, which are all the more valuable during the economic crisis caused by coronavirus.

Just six points separate United from Crystal Palace in 11th, leaving plenty to play for in the final nine rounds of matches of the season once the Premier League restarts on June 17.

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