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By Tony Attwood
And let me say from the start the word “could” in that title line is important for where Manchester City and the regulators are concerned one really doesn’t know. The ongoing enquiry into the sources of the club’s money by the Premier League is, well, basically, ongoing, and no one seems really sure how many more weeks, months, years, decades or centuries the whole thing will last.
But of late we have occasionally been highlighting another element within the City Group’s expansion. Tiny Girona finally had to play Really Big Real Madrid away and lost 4-0. That defeat, only their second of the season, came on top of a goalless home draw with Real Sociedad and being knocked out of the Cup by Mallorca.
Is someone telling them to back off a bit? Maybe, but even so Girona are still second and looking good for the Champions League next season…
And this matters because Girona are owned by the City Group who also own Manchester City and… well you know. Lots of clubs.
Which raises an issue because Uefa rules prohibit clubs owned by the same group from being in the same competition. Obviously, it is very likely that Manchester City will qualify in the top four in England, and it is looking likely that Girona will in Spain. Putting both of them into the Champions League.
What has actually got quite a few people thinking about this is the fact that the worry about trading between clubs within the same group, which can give group members an unfair advantage, has suddenly moved from the theoretical to the practical stage. For Girona have just said that they are going to sell 19-year-old winger Savio to Manchester City. He has been one of the stars of the Spanish club’s great leap forward.
And meanwhile Jim Ratcliffe owns, or perhaps it is still “is about to own” a quarter of Manchester United. He also owns Nice in Ligue 1.
Manchester United could face a similar issue once Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s 25 per cent purchase is approved, as he also owns Ligue 1 side Nice.
Now although Nice are several hundred light years behind PSG in the French league as French laws demand, they are in fact second in the league and so likely to qualify for the Champions League. Obviously, there is no certainty that Manchester United will also qualify for the Champions League as they are currently sixth, and six points behind Tottenham. But if Tottenham collapsed as they often do, and Manchester United did some squirming upward, that could happen.
The Liverpool Echo (obviously utterly unbiased in matters where the words Manchester City pop up) have noted this and said “UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body will examine the link between City and Girona in the summer if a conflict is confirmed. If no major changes are made behind the scenes, both clubs’ participation in the Champions League could be at risk.”
Now of course we know that Uefa has form when it comes to Manchester City, after it allowed its own legal case against the club collapse by presenting its appeal against its financial activities in such a way that its evidence was immediately time barred. Not a very clever piece of subterfuge but it got Manchester C off the hook.
But if Uefa feel it can’t pull the same trick twice there is cast iron evidence that the same corporation is financing both clubs.
In this case, if there is no hanky-panky (and some suggest that Girona is nothing other than a way for Manchester C to get around the FFP rules) then the team that finishes the highest will go into the Champions League and the other into the Europa.
Now that ruling itself looks horribly flawed, because if the people at the head of the City Group decide they want Manchester City in the Champions League they might be tempted to tell little Girona to take their foot off the accelerator and ensure that they finish lower in their league than Manchester City do.
That in turn would effectively be match-fixing arranged to accommodate a ruling by Uefa, and the fact that Uefa has not thought that this could be the outcome shows just how incredibly dumb and inept (or corrupt) they remain.
Of course I am not saying that will happen or that the City Group will do anything amiss – they have always boasted how nothing they do breaks the footballing laws. That is the essence of their defence in the case against them from the rest of the Premier League.
But each of these cases brings forth new mutterings within, and it seems possible that eventually, someone in Uefa will say “Screw this for a bunch of peanuts” (or whatever the phrase is in Switzerland) and action will be taken to unwind multiple club groups.
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