“This is a bad day for football”, said the Liverpool football club manager Jurgen Klopp after Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) removed the 2-year ban imposed on Manchester City to play in European competitions by UEFA. Another rival manager Jose Mourinho termed it “a disgraceful decision”. This “decision” said that there was no conclusive evidence against Manchester City to uphold the jarring ban inflicted on them. To summarize, all CAS said was that a football team that earned every right to play in the UEFA European Champions League by finishing top 4 in the domestic league can continue to do so. So how exactly would this be a disgrace and a bad day for football? If anything, this verdict should be celebrated as a triumph of football over bureaucracy. Then why would opposition managers go on to make such derogatory statements? Do they really care about the Financial Fair Play of every club and where and how their money comes from? Or do they stay up at nights conjuring up theories on how the integrity of the league would be compromised if a lowly team decides to buy some decent players? In layman’s terms, Occam’s razor states that the simplest explanation is the best explanation. The explanation is simply this – the rival managers couldn’t stand the competition.
Ever since the inception of Premier League football in England, it has mostly been dominated by 3 teams: Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool. Even though teams like Everton and Aston Villa used to occasionally usurp towards the Premier league thorn, there was no sustained threat to the title monopoly between those 3 teams. So when a Russian oligarch named Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea football club in 2003 and started investing in players, the trophies started flowing their way and Chelsea started cementing a spot among the top four in English football. This worried the elites, and their fears of disturbing the established order were further elated when Sheikh Mansoor from UAE bought Manchester City in 2008. After initially paying exorbitant amounts of transfer fees for players such as Robinho, Manchester City started finding success. This deeply troubled the aristocracy of English football. They ran to UEFA with their fears and begged for help. And UEFA, who were no strangers to corruption themselves launched the Financial Fair Play rule (FFP) in 2011 which stated that clubs need to balance their player wages and transfer fees with television and ticket income and sponsorship deals. Coincidentally, it was the same year when UEFA president Michel Platini received 1.35 million pounds in his bank account under suspicious circumstances.
Why wasn’t FFP implemented before the Manchester City takeover? There were clubs like Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich throwing money at clubs for the players they wanted. Or did they only care about making the field more even by ensuring that no single team could outright dominate a league with ease? That was the norm in Germany, Italy and the two-horse race in Spain, way before FFP came into play. Bayern Munich has been crowned the champions for the 8th consecutive season in Germany, so had Juventus in Italy who are well on their way to win their 9th consecutive Serie A champions medal. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been victors in 14 of the last 15 seasons. No complaints were raised against these teams since their influence ranged far across to the boardroom of the league directors. Ironically, Javier Tebas, the president of Spanish league frequently rants about the spending spree of Manchester City causing inflation to the value of players, meanwhile, Spanish clubs occupy 10 places in the top 20 most expensive signings of all time. And Manchester City features exactly zero times in that list.
FFP is a mere facade to protect the established football clubs from falling off the perch. High investments could initially lead to losses. That’s just how it works. A club simply cannot rise up the ranks without investments. And even if they do, it’s impossible to sustain that position without continuous investments. Take Leicester City for example who miraculously won in 2015-16 season, but had to settle for 12th position the next season. Clubs had to increase their ticket prices for revenue to comply with the FFP rules which left the fans enraged. Rival clubs and managers brainwashed their fans to see Manchester City as a scapegoat for their own failings. Jose Mourinho, a perennial has-been, whose post-match interviews are more entertaining than the games his team plays and who’s sounding more and more like Ebenezer Scrooge before his run-in with the ghost of Christmas past, illustrates that point perfectly. It was farcical that 8 premier league rivals of Manchester City wrote a letter to CAS, objecting strongly against City’s plan to play in the European competition while the appeal was still going and wanted a quick decision. However, those 8 football clubs were left red-faced when they found out that it was never City’s intention and as it turned out, they actually helped City as the decision was taken without any further delay, exonerating City from the ban.
Manchester City is one of the most entertaining and watchable teams in the premier league. And contrary to what the detractors would say, the premier league is still the most competitive league in the world with 4 different champions in the last 5 seasons. The addition of another powerhouse in the league has further enhanced that reputation. Yet the massive bias against Manchester City has shrouded that simple fact. This bias extended to their players with greats of the game like Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero never being awarded the PFA player of the season, which is nothing short of an insult towards the best players of their generation. At the end of his 11-year career at Manchester City, their inspirational captain Vincent Kompany tweeted- “Sheikh Mansour changed my life and that of all the City fans around the world, for that I am forever grateful. A blue nation has arisen and challenged the established order of things, I find that awesome.”
Without the investments, there would be no Agueroooooo moment that clinched the league title in the very last second of the game, the only team in history to score 100 points in the premier league and the fierce battle between Liverpool and Manchester City in the 2018-19 season that broke all sorts of records. The premier league would’ve been poorer without those sheer emotions which no money can buy. The players representing Manchester City are not robots or aliens. They’re humans. Beat them on the pitch, not in any boardroom. A true lover of football will appreciate the mesmerizing football put on display by City, even if it’s against the team they support. For without the opposition, there is no game.