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By Tony Attwood
City AM which is a financial journal relating to the City of London, not a fanzine of Manchester City, has stated in a headline that “Manchester City face wait until 2027 for punishment in Premier League dispute.”
Although as so often happens with headlines, this one has a word missing – the word “may” in front of “face”.
And indeed they did correct that with the statement that “It may take as long as four years for Manchester City to receive punishment if found guilty of perpetrating the biggest financial scandal in Premier League history.”
The reason for the possible delay (for it is not certain) is that “Sports law experts believe that the complexity of the case, the seriousness of the charges and the legal capabilities of both parties mean that it is likely to drag on until 2025 at the earliest.”
The article follows on from an earlier piece Manchester City fans boo Premier League over charges ahead of win over Aston Villa which suggests that the club’s supporters are turning against the Premier League – which raises some interesting questions in itself.
The KC involved in the case, Nick De Marco has said, “I do not believe that this is going to be wrapped up in anything less than two to four years’ time.”
There is of course also the lack of precedent here – no other club has even been charged with crimes such as these, so there is a lack of detail as to how proceedings might go. The nearest things to precedents are the cases against Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday.
Derby were charged with the breach of financial rules over the sale of Pride Park. In the Sheffield Wednesday case the club issued a claim against the EFL “for allegedly “acting unlawfully” by bringing a misconduct charge against the Championship club.” This was concerning a dispute over the sale of the Hillsborough stadium.
Each of those cases lasted for around 18 months – and they were a lot simpler than this case with around 100 charges on the table. According to City AM, Manchester City, “have hired £10,000-an-hour barrister Lord Pannick KC to represent them at the independent commission which will rule on the charges.”
If Manchester City were ever to be found guilty there seems to be no end to the punishments that they could face. A fine would seem rather pathetic given that the club has access to the wealth of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan. And I suspect the League are fully aware that a fine against Manchester City would make the League a laughing stock.
The league could also impose a transfer ban, but of course the City Group could simply buy players for its other clubs around the world (remembering that they have prepared for this moment by owning a total of 12 other clubs) and then loan them to Manchester City.
Another possibility in the case of a guilty verdict would be a points deduction and/or relegation which would be amusing but really would have no impact – the club would just buy in the players it needed to take it up from the Championship, and the Championship clubs would welcome a sell-out for their home games against City, and a share of the income from the away games – which of course every other Championship side would welcome.
So what could the Premier League do to Manchester C that really would have an impact? One certainly imagines that the Premier League would not have brought 100+ charges unless they really knew what sort of sentence could be imposed in the event of a guilty verdict.
A transfer ban is certainly likely – although probably not enough on its own. A points deduction would have an impact if it were big enough – but would be over in one season, and the allegations are that there have been misdeeds across many seasons.
Expulsion from the Premier League and a refusal by the Football League to have them back would be interesting, leaving the club free to apply for membership of the National League and work its way up – although if that were given at the expense of an existing or just promoted National League side I think the whole league would revolt.
So what could work? Well, let’s say that the finding is that Manchester C have been cheating for 10 seasons, then a 30 point deduction each season for ten years would be possible. More effective would be playing home games behind closed doors for 10 years with no TV coverage allowed. Or a ten year ban from the Premier League maybe. And stripping the club of all the trophies won during the period of the corruption and allocating them to the runners’ up.
In short, the trial is just one part of this. The other is how the punishment is arranged if the club is found guilty.
But there is one other thing other clubs could do. They could all simply refuse to play Manchester City. City would claim victory in each case and win the league by playing no games. They might even arrange an open top bus tour to celebrate. But everyone would know exactly what was going on.
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