How did Manchester City go from winning two titles in their first 128 years to collecting the Premier League trophy six times since 2012?
The managerial genius of Pep Guardiola and other coaches. And absolutely the footballing talent of Sergio Aguero and Co.
But it was funded by spending unimaginable to City before 2008 when the sovereign wealth of Abu Dhabi began flowing into the club with Sheikh Mansour’s takeover.
Spending that became subject to break-even restrictions from European and English football authorities to limit losses of all clubs.
Now it has spawned the biggest financial case in Premier League history – with one of its wealthiest clubs facing more than 100 charges of trying to circumvent the rules.
A KC-led commission will determine the club’s guilt. Ultimately, there could be docked points, relegation, fines or titles removed.
All that is known about the potential evidence is from internal City correspondence published since 2018 by German outlet Der Spiegel in the “Football Leaks” series from information gained by the Portuguese hacker Rui Pinto.
Take the Premier League claiming rule breaches over whether City provided “full details of manager remuneration in its relevant contracts with its manager” from 2009 to 2013.
That covered Roberto Mancini’s period in charge, including the 2012 title triumph that ended the club’s 44-year drought.
Image: Roberto Mancini lifts the Premier League trophy in 2012 According to Football Leaks, at one point Mancini had a basic salary of £1.45m from City but more – £1.75m – as a consultant for a team controlled by Sheikh Mansour in Abu Dhabi.
Then there’s the sponsorship.
City have become the biggest moneymakers in world football – with more than £600m in revenue last year – fuelled by sponsorships from Abu Dhabi.
Now sponsoring City has significant value as one of Europe’s most successful teams with stars like scoring sensation Erling Haaland and Guardiola in the dugout.
Early in the Sheikh Mansour ownership, City took time to gain appeal on a par with neighbours Manchester United or Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.
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So experts had a bigger challenge determining, for UEFA accounting purposes, if a company linked to the United Arab Emirates was paying more than reasonably expected to sponsor City to inject more cash into the club.
We already know from a previous UEFA process that City were found to have overinflated the value of sponsorship from Abu Dhabi telecoms company Etisalat.
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Sky’s Rob Harris explains where the cash is from, who’s getting rich and what the spending rules allow But the Court of Arbitration for Sport later determined the allegations fell outside the statute of limitations as City’s ban from the Champions League was overturned in 2020.
The CAS verdict far from exonerated City.
The fine was huge by football standards – €10m for obstructing the investigation with conduct “strongly condemned” for showing “blatant disregard” for the case.
Image: Sheikh Mansour took over Manchester City in 2008 And the Premier League has also charged City in relation to not fulfilling its requirements to cooperate with the investigation and provide documents and information in “utmost good faith” since December 2018 – when the “Football Leaks” were published.
There was scrutiny over the Premier League’s ability to regulate its clubs as the investigation dragged on and City won three further titles.
Now a commission has to determine whether this unprecedented case leads to the biggest sanctions to hit a leading English club – with City claiming to have “irrefutable evidence” to defend themselves.
Findings of wrongdoing would not only be reputationally damaging for Manchester City, but also for the United Arab Emirates and its showpiece sports – and soft power – investment project.