If Man City is Punished (Or Not), It Won’t Make People Forget About What They Accomplished

So… Manchester City had an interesting week.

On Sunday, City lost 1-0 to Tottenham Hotspur, falling to their London rivals for the fifth time in their last seven league meetings. Despite only trailing league leaders Arsenal by 5 points, Pep Guardiola sounded like a beaten man afterwards. “It will be a long season for everyone and we will try to continue,” he said, while also blaming the grueling travel from Manchester to London for his team’s lackluster effort.

Or maybe it’s because he had a sense of what was coming. The next day, the Cityzens were formally charged by the Premier League with over 100 alleged breaches of financial rules from 2009, when they taken over by an Abu Dhabi-based consortium, to the 2017-2018 season, which they won their third Premier League title with a record 100 points.

The allegations include:

  • Providing inaccurate financial information, especially relating to revenue and sponsorships. The club is accused of inflating the value of its sponsorship deals in order to get around UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.
  • Signing manager Roberto Mancini to a secret deal that more than doubled his disclosed wages. According to Der Spiegel, Mancini was paid a £1.45 million base salary at City and made an additional £1.75 million per year by being a “consultant” at Abu-Dhabi-based club Al Jazira, where he just had to coach four days a year in order to get his money.
  • Not cooperating with a Premier League investigation — an allegation that extends all the way to this season.

Possible sanctions for City run the gamut from nothing (UEFA still has some scars from a couple of years ago, when it tried, unsuccessfully, to ban City from European play in 2020), to relegation/point deductions, to even stripping the club of their honors since 2009, most notably, their six Premier League championships.

That last possibility could end up being a boon for United and Liverpool, considering they each finished runner-up to City three times. Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson will get a 14th league title. Or Jose Mourinho could retroactively earn a fourth Premier League title (rendering his “three times” rant moot). Or maybe “Slippy G” Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher might finally get those elusive Premier League winners’ medals.

And there could be plenty of additional repercussions, regardless of what (if any) punishment the club receives. Pep Guardiola is on record saying that he would quit City if he feels the club lied to him about their finances — so if he doesn’t quit, it raises even more questions about what he knew and when he knew it. Meanwhile, a bunch of players could leave if City find themselves sent to the Championship or lower, much like what happened to Juventus during the Calciopoli scandal. For instance, Real Madrid are, reportedly, already circling Erling Haaland, who may or may not fit in with Guardiola’s system.

But one thing that won’t be erased will be City’s on-the-pitch greatness and the tactical innovations they’ve forced onto the game. Championships are won on the field, and even if the winner later gets stripped, the newly promoted runner-up will never really be seen as legitimate. It’s like how Ben Johnson’s 9.79 at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 remained the standard for sprinters for years despite the fact that it was invalidated days later because of a failed steroids test. Carl Lewis eventually received the gold medal, and the 9.92 he ran in that 1988 race was recognized as the world record. But it didn’t change the fact that he got smoked in the race and didn’t feel like the winner. In the recent 9.79* documentary, he even admitted that he doesn’t like to think about that race — probably because it was such a bad moment for him.

It’ll be the same if City lose their titles. In some of those years, it was arguable that the runners up were just as good (City’s miracle 2011-12 win where they won on a 94th minute goal from Sergio Aguero on the last day of the season comes to mind, as do the three times they beat out Liverpool). But in some years, they were, clearly the best team in the country. Take City’s 2017-18 season, when they finished with a league record 100 points. They were so dominant that, even if they got hit with a Juventus-level 15-point deduction, they still would have finished first by four points ahead of second-place United. If that title gets retroactive stripped, I’m sure United would accept the trophy and medals and the fans would be pleased. But I doubt they would feel very much like winners. They certainly wouldn’t sing songs about that squad — except maybe during derby matches to remind their rivals of what they’ve lost.

Simply put, City’s accomplishments will continue to loom large no matter what happens to the record books. Only four teams had won the league until City broke through, and unlike Blackburn Rovers or Leicester City, Man City have been at or near the top ever since. They’ve won a lot and showed others how it could be done.

Indeed, look at how many teams are trying to play like Guardiola’s City. Between the slick passing, intricate link-up play, tenacious pressing and the use of goalkeepers to initiate attacks, teams all over the world are trying to emulate or improve on City’s tactical blueprint — most notably, their intracity rivals. That’s not going to change anytime soon. While it remains to be seen whether City’s players were legally on the team or not, the bottom line is that Guardiola figured out how to win trophies and play attractive football with them.

And, of course, City paved the way for other sovereign wealth funds to start owning or investing in football clubs. Qatar Sports Investments bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, and more recently, PIF, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, acquired Newcastle United. Manchester United and Liverpool, two clubs currently on the block, are reportedly attracting interest from other sovereign wealth funds, including ones based in Qatar and Dubai.

If one or both end up becoming the latest example of sports-washing by a Middle Eastern country, then they’ll have a fairly decent blueprint of what to do and what not to. City flew a little too close to the sun and may have gotten burned. With a little more caution and compliance, there’s no reason why United, Liverpool or Newcastle can’t attain that same level of success — legally, of course.

Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

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