By Tony Attwood
The Manchester Evening News has evolved a staunch defence of Manchester City in an article under the headline “Man City Football Leaks revelations are missing a key piece of information”
The article is by Stuart Brennan who is best known to many of us who watch the ducking and diving of journalists for his excellent coverage of the formation of FC United – the breakaway group of Man U fans who went out and formed their own club.
I think he got an award for the story, and I certainly followed it with interest, with Blacksheep and I going off one saturday when Arsenal were not playing to watch FC United play.
That story was essentially one about the alienation of football supporters from a club that was spending so much money that the fans could not feel part of it. Now here is that journalist again, but now writing about Manchester City and defending their actions vis a vis Uefa.
Brennan makes the statement that the “nub of the Football Leaks allegations (is) the way money was allegedly shuffled around and channelled through Etihad, Etisalat and Aabar in order to bypass the rules.
“There is a moral argument here, as to whether it is reasonable to break rules which are unfair.” The claim is then made that the rules were not fair, and so Man City seemingly had a moral duty (or at least could be excused) for breaking the rules.
He then cites, as evidence, altruistic football men the likes of Jack Walker at Blackburn, Dave Whelan at Wigan and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at Leicester. Plus he says that the clubs that Man C have bought players from, clubs like Monaco, Wolfsburg, Valencia, Benfica, Porto, have benefitted from the arrangement, and have been happy to accept the money.
So his argument is that Uefa regulations stop beneficial owners at Manchester City and allows detrimental ones (he takes the case of Man U where the Glazers take some of the profits out of the club they own, for their own benefit) to flourish, and thus concludes, “The whole basis of FFP was wrong.”
(I should point out that shareholders taking money out of profitable businesses in return for having invested in the company in the first place, is the whole basis of business in the west, but perhaps we’ll let that pass for the moment.)
As a result of this situation, he claims Man City “had no choice” but to sign up to the FFP rules, then threaten legal action, and then settle with Uefa.
He concludes “The Football Leaks stuff is intriguing, and some of the detail is unseemly and downright despicable – such as claims club lawyer Simon Cliff made a sick joke about the death of one of Uefa’s club financial control body. But the calls for punishment seem to be more like calls for re-punishment.”
It is an intriguing article from a man who was so forthright in his support for the breakaway club at Man U and so critical of the Glazers, but I think it misses one point.
We can agree that Manchester City signed up for the rules, and then later broke the rules in a manner no one had ever seen before. Then when Uefa threatened further punishment said they would sue. Uefa buckled and gave in.
But let’s try this a different way. Imagine I set up a business in England or Andorra or any other country, and there are the rules about tax. I know the rules and continue to trade. The local tax authority send me a tax bill and I think it is far too much. I can appeal through established channels which keep the tax authorities, myself, and those judging the case completely separate.
If I don’t like the findings all I can do is go to court which is there to interpret the rules that are laid down. As when players in Spain try to hide their income and thus not pay tax, the Spanish authorities go to a separate institution, the courts, and the matter is heard there. The court rules based on what the law says, and both sides accept the ruling. You can’t sue the courts only appeal to a higher court, until you run out of courts.
Uefa has its rule making branch and there is a separate court which judges matters (you will recall if you have read earlier articles that I went into detail about how the two were separated).
But in this case, under threat from Man City, Uefa brought the rule making branch and the judicial branch together to reach a compromise with Man City.
In England that would be like Revenue and Customs (our tax authority) and the courts (County Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) all being merged into one, so Revenue and Customs and the Court could act together, rather than the latter judging the action of the former on the basis of the laws set in Parliament.
It does happen in countries we generally call dictatorships. It doesn’t usually happen in democracies. Separating the law makers from the police and from the court that interprets the law is fundamental to western democracy. Not fundamental to some middle east countries, but to western democracies.
Thus in England in case after case in which clubs went bust and then gave “football creditors” the right to be paid first, leaving non-football creditors (the food supplier, the firm that printed the programme etc) with nothing there were outcries. Revenue and Customs, the tax collector, didn’t like it so appealed to higher and higher courts, but the ruling was, “the law of the land, as it stands allows this kind of settlement”.
What happened with Uefa was that it joined its court and its rule makers together in the manner of many dictatorships around the world. Thus, as pressure from Man C mounted it changed its rules and started to act as one organisation that was the judge and when laws are broken, the jury, and the law makers. That crucial separation was gone. There were no checks and balances.
It is a very fundamental point, and it is interesting that such an established journalist either doesn’t know about it, or ignores it or indeed like the dictatorial process instead of the democratic.
I have lived in a country in which courts and the country’s rule makers (the army) acted in close harmony. It was quite worrying at times and I didn’t enjoy it. The fact that a) it happened with Uefa and b) others defend this approach, is indeed worrying to someone like me who (perhaps quaintly) really does believe in democracy and the rule of law.
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