On Monday morning, news broke that perennial Premier League contenders Manchester City were hit with over 100 charges that stem from violations that are alleged to have taken place between the 2009 and 2018 seasons.
This led to every media outlet discussing these allegations and how they may affect newer ownership groups like the ones at Chelsea, Nottingham Forest, and Newcastle in the near future.
But what are the rules? And why is this coming into the light now after Premier League clubs spent a record £815M this window, almost doubling the previous record of £430M in 2018?
The UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) guidelines were agreed to in 2009, but their implementation was delayed from 2012 to 2015 and then eased after potential lawsuits over what they could truly accomplish came to light.
Simply put, the rules enacted by UEFA state that clubs can only spend 70 percent of their total revenue on player wages and transfer fees by the time 2025-26 is reached. What makes this even more head scratching, is that as of November of 2022, the EPL had decided to skirt the UEFA rules and allow a higher percentage that remains confidential.
Confused yet? In addition, the initial UEFA rules allowed clubs to absorb losses of over €30M over a time period of three years. This amount was quickly changed to €60M to offset losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This all may sound familiar to you because Man City was already banned from European tournaments for allegedly breaching the FFP rules between the years of 2012-2016 and fined £26.8M. However, Man City was able to appeal that ruling and had it overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2020 with their fine reduced to £8.9M.
The reasoning for the fee—even though Man City was not found guilty of any of the charges—was based on a general “disregard” of the rules, and “obstruction of investigations.” It’s also worth noting that one of the main reasons the charges were dropped was because of the statute of limitations based on the time periods.
The kicker is that Man City’s attorneys will obviously fight these new charges tooth and nail, although according to Martyn Ziegler, and under the premier league rules, the club will not be able to appeal any sanctions this time around.
Man City latest: under Premier League rules the club will not be able to appeal any sanction to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (which overturned the UEFA ban)— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) February 6, 2023
I’m not going to delve into what I think the punishments will be nor when, as this could take years and the variability is still wide open. But I do think it’s worth looking at how this may be an effective blueprint for the Newcastle ownership in avoiding future pitfalls.
Specifically, the current charges stem from a lack of transparency from money sources to pay wages and transfer fees. A portion of this comes from sponsorships, of which Man City has partnered with Etihad Airways since the 2009-10 season. That season the amount was £7.34M, while 2021-22 saw that number balloon to £67.5M.
It’s easy to see why questions remain over the accuracy of the payments, as Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi, and majority owner Sheikh Mansour is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and on the board of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority—among other titles.
It was reported in November of 2022 that Newcastle United named Saudia as their airline partner for a December tour. Over the last three seasons, the Magpies' primary shirt sponsor has been FUN88 at an annual amount of £6.5M. The new shirt sleeve sponsor, Noon, already pays 33% more with the relationship valued at around a lucrative £9.2M annually.
With the FUN88 deal expiring, the ownership team at Newcastle will need to be completely transparent should they pursue a larger cooperation with Saudia airlines.
While unfair to assume any future wrongdoing, the parallels are simply way too similar and will be interpreted by the media as following the Man City footprint. Not to mention, if the Toon can finish the season strong and knock down one of the “Big Six” members off European competition, expect a fresh wave of animosity among the fanbases losing out on a spot in Europe.
Nothing has been proven and there is a long time to go before the lawyers on both sides fight the final battle, but it seems this time around the Premier League expects to make an example and set a precedent for the new FFP rules.
I have no clue how Chelsea will justify further spending this summer should they miss the champion’s league, but here’s hoping Newcastle is paying close attention.
Fair or not, the world will be watching.