UEFA launches Manchester City football leaks probe

8 March 2019

Man City owner Sheikh Mansour
Photo: Getty Images The German magazine Der Spiegel last week expanded on allegations that it made last year that City systematically disguised investment made by the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al- Nahyan, and showed it on financial documents as sponsorship.

UEFA sources see City and PSG as test cases for its regulatory powers.

City claim leaks result from ‘illegal hacking’ and ‘out of context’.

Premier League clubs to request action on City.

James Corbett corbett@offthepitch.com

UEFA has launched a formal investigation into Manchester City following the so-called ‘football leaks’ allegations that the club violated its financial fair play rules. 

European football’s governing body said in a short statement that it would focus on "several alleged violations" of FFP that had recently been made public in the media.

The German magazine Der Spiegel last week expanded on allegations that it made last year that City systematically disguised investment made by the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al- Nahyan of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, and showed it on financial documents as sponsorship.

It published a series of internal emails between City executives that appear to show City’s sponsorship deals being inflated by payments worth tens of millions from Sheikh Mansour’s own City holding company.

City have not denied the veracity of the emails but said in a statement that they resulted from "illegal hacking" and were published "out of context." "The Club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record."

Testing point for regulatory powers

News of the investigation comes as UEFA’s financial fair play investigators convene to discuss whether Paris Saint Germain violated FFP rules. Taken together, the two cases represent a major test of UEFA’s credibility and ultimately its resolve to protect its own rules.

Sources within UEFA have repeatedly spoken of their exasperation with both City and PSG’s approach to FFP. They see these cases as a testing point for its regulatory powers and have dismissed concerns that they could become embroiled in a lengthy war of attrition with clubs ultimately backed by two of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds.

Previous attempts to tackle sponsorship deals which appear to be inflated have been bogged down in legal argument and obfuscation. This may not be UEFA’s line of investigation this time around for the most recent allegations appear to show that financial submissions made by City to UEFA may not have been honest.

Have violated rules they would be subject to the ‘heaviest punishment… exclusion from UEFA competitions

The chairman of UEFA’s club financial control body (CFCB), the former Belgian prime minister, Yves Leterme, said in an interview in late-2018 with the magazine Sport Strategie, that if the ‘football leaks’ allegations were true, and City were found to have violated rules they would be subject to the "heaviest punishment… exclusion from UEFA competitions."

The CFCB Investigatory Chamber has a heavyweight complexion. As well as Leterme, its members include Rick Parry, the former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive, and world renowned experts in sports and regulatory law, such as Yves Wehrli and Petros Mavroidis.

Nevertheless its disciplinary powers are limited to a reprimand or a maximum fine of €100,000, although it can and will be expected to refer to the CFCB’s adjudicatory chamber in the event that sanctions are taken.

News of the probe comes as top flight clubs plan to write to the Premier League to ask what action they intend to take over alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play by City.

It reflects growing unease and scepticism by its English contemporaries at City’s financial practices. The Times have reported that at least a dozen clubs are behind the push for action and that others were being asked to sign up.