Manchester City: The rug may be pulled away, but it could be a very long game

THE NEWS that the Premier League has charged Manchester City with breaching financial rules over 100 times was generally well received by the football community, with schadenfreude the dominant theme along with a sense of relief that common sense was at last prevailing. Ever since football clubs started benefitting from financial steroids (call it what you will), the rest of the game has longed to catch out clubs like City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. All around the football stadiums of Britain, the cry of “gotcha” could vaguely be heard.

There’s no great wave of sympathy for City at the moment, firstly because everyone knows they have the financial clout to employ the best lawyers for the duration and fight out a war of attrition, and secondly, because you get the impression City are no mugs. Nevertheless, people want justice to be done. Henry Winter in The Times commented that it is “time to lawyer up” and “If Manchester City are guilty, the league must make an example of them”. That is exactly what the Premier League will do, but they must be prepared for the long game.

The Guardian’s Barney Ronay believes that if City have broken so many rules, they have betrayed football as a spectacle. “If they are found guilty, and this is a long way off, pegged between appeals, arbitration and the distant, dazzling prospect of a trip to the high court, then the punishment must be commensurately harsh.”

Manchester City’s performances – 2009 to 2018


Unsurprisingly, City’s “big six” rivals, who have been denied success by the club’s dominance, are among the loudest voices calling for punishment. “The matter will not be referred to an independent commission, but it is reported that many of English football’s top teams are eager to see City pay the price,” reported The Daily Mail

Talk of relegation, points deduction and even ceremonial cancelling of honours is premature, although it makes good headlines in newspapers and on TV and radio. Should City be forced to hand back the prizes they won between 2009-10 and 2017-18 (the period in question), then there will be significant collateral damage: “Nothing erodes the legitimacy of a sporting competition like titles being stripped and that prospect could come at a point when the Premier League is in an unprecedented position of power in the sport, when virtually everyone is concerned with keeping that going,” reported Miguel Delaney of the Independent.

Reputations will be soiled and the immediate repercussions on football could be significant – this is, after all, the most successful, heavily marketed competition in the game. Little wonder people are talking about doomsday scenarios such as Pep Guardiola leaving City along with star players. Indeed, Rory Smith of the New York Times, described the roll call of breaches like a “doom scroll of letters and numbers” that resembled a list of artificial colourings and preservatives.

Transfer activity 2009-10 to 2017-18

 Transfer spend (€m)Transfer income (€m)Net spend (€m)
Manchester City1,440380(1,063)
Manchester United1,010385(621)
Source: Transfermarkt

Of course, City have been here before when UEFA tried to charge them on overstating sponsorship, among other things, but the Court of Arbritration for Sport (CAS) cleared them of financial irregularities. This time, they cannot call on CAS.

Kieran Maguire, speaking to the Manchester Evening News, said the allegations are so powerful the outcome could be transformational for City, the FA and the Premier League. “If you look at the charges as an overall body of work, the Premier League have effectively said that Manchester City have systematically misrepresented their finances for a period of at least nine years in order to gain an advantage.”

Manchester City key financials 2009-10 to 2017-18

 Revenues £mP&L pre-tax £mWages£mWage to income Ratio %
Source: Manchester City financial statements

For the Premier League, the City case could be a defining moment. If they succeed, in an age when elite clubs are trying to form a super league, it could present them as having some pretty sharp teeth. On the other hand, humiliation for City may possibly boost the drive for that very breakaway competition – not forgetting that super league advocates Juventus have also been in trouble. Henry Winter pointed out that “the Premier League has struggled to cope with City’s delaying tactics, alleged tactical fouling outside the witness box”. He also added that a prolonged saga will damage the Premier, English football and build greater tension between fan groups. 

Everyone bar the lawyers (who always emerge as winners) will be hoping for a swift (and face-saving) conclusion, but don’t bank on it.

AS Roma need to grab the chance, despite their financial limits

WHEN José Mourinho joined Roma, it looked like a statement of intent, a sign that the giallorossi were eager to become genuine contenders. They might not have been getting Mourinho circa 2004, but any club that aspires to win trophies is attracted by his track record. 

Roma’s 6-1 defeat in Norway in the Europa Conference League was a shocker for their fans and the Italian football community, Mourinho teams don’t lose like that and even with a weakened team, there was no way that should have happened. Roma should still qualify for the latter stages of the Conference League despite that humbling against Bodo/Glimt, but the Mourinho image was a little damaged by such a setback.

If that result was embarrassing for Roma and their coach, then the club’s financial condition is also a worry, despite the new ownership of the Friedkin Group. Roma lost € 185 million in the 2020-21 season, which continued the negative financial impact of the pandemic on Italy’s Serie A. Roma may also face sanctions in connection with breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

Juventus announced their results recently and made a loss of € 210 million, which at the time was the highest ever for a Serie A club. Inter Milan topped that with a € 245 million loss in their title-winning season. AC Milan’s loss was € 96.4 million, a huge deficit but much lower than 2019-20 when they lost almost € 200 million.

In spite of these setback, Serie A has become very attractive for US investors like Friedkin owing to the competitive pricing of clubs and future broadcasting rights. Seven members of Serie A and two from Serie B currently have US backers in some capacity. 

Roma’s revenues actually increased by 35% to € 190 million, but their wage bill accounted for a very disconcerting 89% of income. Unsurprisingly, matchday income declined by 37% and since 2018-29 has dropped by 62%. TV income was up by 44% to € 124 million and commercial and other streams were up by 50% to € 53 million.

The biggest anxiety surrounding the financial results could eventually be the Financial Fair Play issues. The club’s press release said: “On the basis of the final figures as at June 30, 2021, a deviation from the UEFA break-even requirements for the reporting period for four years has been recorded. Therefore, the club may be subject to the sending of more economic-financial information and, subsequently, the Club Control Body in charge of the control, may requiest any contradictory clarifications for the appropriate assessments.” 

This may mean the club will face sanctions, although the rules are currently being rewritten and FFP punishments suspended. When they become operational again, a number of Italian clubs could be compromised.

Roma were less active than Juventus, AC Milan and Parma in the transfer market in 2020-21 but in 2021-22, they are so far the biggest spenders in Serie A having acquired € 100 million of fresh talent, including Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham (€ 40 million). Roma’s ability to spend underlines the confidence the club’s owners have in their objective of challenging at the top of Serie A and in Europe.

The Friedkin Group recently injected more cash in the club bringing Roma’s net debt to over € 300 million. They are, however, planning a capital increase of up to € 460 million, to be completed by the end of 2022. When they took the club over in August 2020, the company’s CEO, Dan Friedkin, proclaimed that Roma could become on the greatest names in football. 

But since the takeover, Roma have shelved plans for a planned new stadium after earlier signs that the project was gathering momentum. In February 2019, the city’s mayor said private financing was willing to contribute € 1 billion towards the cost. The new 55,000 arena was being driven by the club’s previous owner, James Pallotta. Friedkin subsequently analysed the scheme and came to the conclusion the financial, economic and legal conditions were unsuitable. It’s not completely over, though, as the club has confirmed they are in talks with the Rome authorities and reviewing their options, including a green and sustainable stadium for the future.

Last season, under Paulo Fonseca, Roma reached the semi-finals of the Europa League but were heavily beaten at Manchester United (6-2) at Old Trafford and eventually went out 8-5 on aggregate. They also finished seventh in Serie A, thus qualifying for the inaugural Conference League. 

Absence from the UEFA Champions League (and the Europa) will cost Roma dear in 2021-22. Every point in the group stage of the Champions League earns € 930,000 and just qualifying for the knockout stages wins a further € 9.6 million. With Serie A clubs suffering more than most from the pandemic, the income from the Champions League is vital, especially in the current climate. The Conference League prize money is, understandably, much lower, € 500,000 for a group stage win and winning the group yields € 650,000.

Roma’s goal is clearly to get among the Champions League contenders, but they will have to improve their away form in Serie A. Their home record is good, five wins and a draw and only two goals conceded, but away from the Stadio Olimpico they have won once and lost their last three games, the most recent at Juve. Their latest performance saw them hold early season leaders Napoli to a 0-0 draw, a game that saw Mourinho sent off, but one that redeemed the team after the disaster at Bodo/Glimt.

Roma remain one of Europe’s underachievers and their three scudettos – the last in 2001 – is a paltry return for such a big, well supported club. Although they have won nine Coppa Italias, their only success in Europe has been the fledgling Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1961. Although they have the potential to be champions and a European force, they are currently way behind the likes of Juventus in terms of financial clout or business acumen. Regardless of that, the 2021-22 season may be one of the most open in Italian football history, there’s an opportunity to be grasped.