Man City defuse ‘atomic bomb’ to leave Uefa with their own explosive problems to solve

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General view: Action Images via Reuters
General view: Action Images via Reuters

The “atomic bomb” has been dismantled. There are some within Uefa that fear there could be similar long-term implications for Financial Fair Play.

Manchester City feel vindicated, and emboldened, with their own short-, medium- and long-term future greatly enhanced.

That’s how huge this was. That is why the late Uefa investigator Jean-Luc Dehaene initially described the punishment of a Champions League ban as an “atomic bomb” in the first place.

City have avoided a world of destruction. They’re still in the competition every elite club needs to be in. The playing field isn’t affected.

That means Pep Guardiola will definitely be staying, although there was never much doubt about that.

That means all the players stay. Those like Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden don’t have to look elsewhere for top-level football.

That means all players still want to come to them. Expect a key centre-half signing in the window, and probably an expensive one like Kalidou Koulibaly.

This means they still have the money to buy them.

The immensely important revenue stream of the Champions League – for that is what it represents above anything else – has been preserved. They don’t have to go about trying to offer reduced contracts, which many sources claim had been a contingency plan.

They can carry on as normal, or at least as “normal” as being the most lavishly funded state project in football can be.

Some expect the club to now “go on the offensive”. Whether that’s true or not, it does mean they don’t have to scale back the project, or reduce it.

Such questions instead turn to FFP.

This specific case wasn’t about the viability of the regulations, but many within Uefa felt it was a proxy battle about exactly that.

That’s why the “implications” – to use City’s own word in their statement on Monday morning – were so huge.

Over the last few weeks, concerns within the club had given way to confidence. Some in Uefa had been perturbed by how the CAS proceedings had gone.

City have ultimately got off on a technicality, as indicated by the use of the words “time-barred”, and merely the fine reduced. The suggestions the club have been “completely exonerated” are not quite true.

Some Uefa sources feel that the very verdict in the first place showed they had the willingness to fight these cases, that they would take on the big clubs. That was very much the mood around the February verdict, as many spoke of the symbolism of it despite the acceptance it could get overturned by CAS.

Some of the language in their own statement indicates this.

The ruling is a landmark one for City and the game (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The ruling is a landmark one for City and the game (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“Uefa notes that the CAS panel found that there was insufficient conclusive evidence to uphold all of the CFCB’s conclusions in this specific case and that many of the alleged breaches were time-barred due to the 5 year time period foreseen in the Uefa regulations.

“Over the last few years, Financial Fair Play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and Uefa and ECA remain committed to its principles.”

The use of “specific” seems key. In other words, Financial Fair Play still broadly works. But there is a symbolism to this with a power way beyond the dry legalese.

If Uefa can’t get a case like this over the line, what can they get over the line? This is the second time they’ve failed to fully punish the big clubs, and the third if you count Milan.

It will embolden the biggest powers in the game, many of who at this point happen to be the biggest states in the Middle East.

That is why the traditional “big clubs” – football’s old money – had such a vested interest in this case. That has been a source of tension at the very top of the game, as seen in the poor relations between City and Bayern Munich over Leroy Sane’s transfer in recent months.

A huge source of tension for City has been released. That could be seen in what were scenes of celebration from the club’s Catalan hierarchy on Instagram.

The headaches for Uefa only start.

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