Manchester City could be banned from the Champions League, with reports saying a ban could happen next season, after UEFA reached an initial conclusion that they had misled them over their finances, Associated Press has reported.
European football’s governing body discovered from reading internal City emails, published by Der Spiegel last month, the extent of schemes to allegedly cover up the true source of income in a bid to comply with financial fair play (FFP) regulations, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told AP.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the situation while UEFA conducts a review.
City have already been punished for violating FFP, striking an agreement in 2014 that saw them fined rather than banned from the Champions League for inflated sponsorship deals with companies linked to the club or their ownership.
UEFA said last month that evidence from “Football Leaks” could lead to past cases being re-opened.
The person with knowledge of the situation said it was more feasible to use the leaks to reassess the candour of club executives and as a basis to judge City’s compliance with FFP in the current three-year assessment period.
That covers 2015, when Der Spiegel said emails were being sent internally at City showing the manipulation of sponsorship revenue from Etihad Airways, the Abu Dhabi state-owned airline which is the naming rights sponsor of City’s stadium and training campus as well as having its name on City’s shirts.
The sponsorship was said to generate £67.5 million annually for City. But City’s holding company, the state-backed Abu Dhabi United Group, channelled £59.9m back to Etihad, according to Jorge Chumillas, the club’s chief financial officer, in an internal email to director Simon Pearce.
City have not disputed the authenticity of emails published by Der Spiegel over the last month. Given the fresh insight into the club’s financial dealings, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said there was “public interest” in the correspondence being leaked but questioned how it was obtained.
“We are assessing the situation. We have an independent body working on it,” Ceferin said on Monday. “Very soon you will have the answers on what will happen in this concrete case.”
The leaks showed that City allegedly tried to artificially raise revenue, according to emails from 2013 reported by Der Spiegel. Abu Dhabi United Group was alleged to be sending cash to a shell vehicle created to supposedly buy the right to use players’ images in marketing campaigns.
Seeing internal City correspondence has given UEFA a greater insight into the conduct of the club and its officials.
It is examining whether to open disciplinary cases against individuals involved in attempts to provide a misrepresentation of club finances to the governing body’s FFP assessors, another person with direct knowledge of the situation said.
A challenge for UEFA is getting City to provide information from related companies in Abu Dhabi that the leaks show are central to compliance with FFP.
In a statement earlier this month, City said: “We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purportedly hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people.
“The attempt to damage the Club’s reputation is organised and clear.”