Manchester City Football Club, a top-level English soccer team, faces more than 100 charges from the Premier League on the eve of Saturday’s Champions League final. Allegations include murky payments to a former coach, false financial reporting and obstructing the league’s investigation.
What is Manchester City accused of?
The league has brought 113 separate charges against the club addressing three main questions, according to Kieran Maguire, an expert in football finance at Liverpool University. First, that it made disguised payments to its coach in 2009-13, when current Italy coach Roberto Mancini was in charge.
The club is alleged to have disguised some payments to Mancini as consulting fees paid to another club owned by City Football Group, allowing it to conform with rules limiting the losses clubs can rack up.
Second, that sponsorship money from Etihad Airways was in fact a hidden equity injection from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who owns both the airline and the club. That would amount to false financial reporting, according to the charges. And third, that City obstructed the league’s investigation.
Neither the club nor the Premier League responded to requests for comment.
Haven’t we heard all of this before?
Yes, these are substantially the same charges brought against City by Europe’s governing body, the Union of European Football Associations. In 2020 it barred the club from European competitions including the Champions League for two years. Manchester City successfully appealed the decision, however, because the allegations were time barred—although it did have to pay a €10 million ($11 million) fine for obstructing UEFA’s investigation.
“The Premier League is very determined about this,” Tom Murray, a sports lawyer at Mishcon de Reya in London, said. “There’s a feeling in football that Manchester City got away with it before UEFA.”
The English league doesn’t include the same time restrictions on bringing charges as UEFA; it brought the charges in February 2023, after the collapse of UEFA’s case. This is the first time it has charged a team for financial breaches.
Why would such a rich club do this?
Manchester City is owned by a family worth billions of dollars and that wealth has funded spectacular success on the football field. It’s won the Premier League in five of the past six seasons and is favorite to win Europe’s biggest event, the Champions League, this year. Spending restrictions designed to stop clubs going bust, however, have made it hard for the owners to inject money into the club, with wages and transfers having to be kept below 70% of revenue. Company accounts show that Manchester City’s 2008 revenue, when Mansour bought the club, was just £82 million ($103 million), meaning that it couldn’t afford the top players it needed for success.
How badly could Manchester City be punished?
If found guilty of the charges the club could face severe penalties, Murray said, noting that it’s accused of false accounting, rather than of breaching spending limits.
Sanctions could include being stripped of titles, a points deduction and fines. Murray said that these could be applied to past seasons, removing some of City’s previous league victories. The most draconian penalties—such as demotion—are unlikely, both Murray and Maguire said, with fines or loss of points more probable. Some of the Premier League charges date back to 2009, Murray said, and a final decision probably won’t be reached for a couple of years.
Is the alleged misconduct unusual?
Far from it. Across Europe, clubs have been caught breaching financial rules or gaming the system to avoid doing so. Italy’s Juventus was docked points in May for inflating the value of some player swap deals, allowing it to report higher short-term profits.
The points deduction meant the club didn’t qualify for the big European competitions next year and it remains under investigation by Italy’s tax authorities. Juventus was also one of eight clubs fined by UEFA in September, along with giants like Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, for breaking financial rules.
The rules are meant to limit the money that very wealthy owners like Manchester City can inject into their clubs, protecting some venerable teams that struggle to compete. While that has helped to prevent the collapse of any Champions League side by reducing overspending, it’s also created incentives among wealthier teams to game the accounting.
“We could only find three Premier League teams that didn’t show obvious signs of financial distress,” Christina Philippou, an accounting lecturer and football finance expert at Portsmouth University, said. “You need money to win at football.”
Manchester City’s revenue has grown more than sevenfold since its 2008 takeover. How it found the money to fund its earlier success remains in question, casting a long shadow over Saturday’s final.