So, now we know that Man City (and PSG) failed the FFP Break Even test. However, this was no accident. Man City didn't fail the test because of an oversight - they failed because they chose to fail. The following analogy is helpful:
I recently handed my son £5 to buy some sweets, telling him to spend no more than £1. Inevitably, he came back with quite a lot of sweets having spent about the £1.50. He didn't exceed the budget because he wasn't able to count - he just evaluated the pros and cons and viewed that the extra sweets were worth the telling-off he was likely to get. It was a conscious and rather calculated decision to overspend and take the punishment. He also made a conscious decision not to go massively over the budget - that would be taking the mickey and the telling-off would be fairly harsh.
This brings me nicely onto Manchester City.
We shouldn't be under any illusions - City exceeded the FFP threshold by choice.The rules were agreed in 2009 and the club has had plenty of time to adjust to the new rules. City are a sophisticated multi-million pound business and will have had their accountancy team working on interactive finance models to understand exactly where they would be by the time the shutters came down. The club will have weighed up the merits of complying with rules against the likely punishments and the benefits of spending heavily to compete in the Premier League and in Europe. Reining in the spending to meet the FFP limits would have reduced their ability to compete.
The fact that they chose to overspend is best illustrated by their decision to sack Mancini in May 2013, less than three-weeks before their account-period end (the cut-off date for their first FFP Break Even test). If City had waited another three weeks before sacking him, their accounts wouldn't have had to include his sizeable pay-off. Rather than wait a few weeks and risk missing out on their chosen manager and delaying preparation for the next season, the club simply decided to push ahead with their overspend. City made a deliberate choice.
What has happened this week should come as no surprise - heaven knows, I have been banging on about it for a couple of years. People might think that that as City appear to have come fairly close to hitting the target that it doesn't matter. Surely, they would argue, City have tried to comply but simply failed by just a few million. However, this is where the sweetshop analogy is effective; City knew the rules and could have complied if they had wanted to - their failure was a conscious decision. They didn't have to spend £38m on Aguero but felt the merits of on-the field success were more important than complying with the rules. Sitting here today, those extra goals might well be enough to secure a second Premier League title - money well spent it seems.
City have used a number of techniques to window-dress their accounts to help them get close to passing the test. As soon as the new FFP rules were introduced, City acquired the services of the very same Deloittes accountants who drew up the rules. The rationale was clear - these chaps would know the loopholes in the rules. Without this crack team City might-well have adopted a similarly simplistic approach as PSG and used a single overstated deal to balance their books. It has clearly been more effective to use a variety of contentious deals than rely on a single, clearly overstated, deal.
Lots has been written about the Etihad deal and we don't yet know if the deal has been adjusted downwards. However readers should ask themselves this simple question: at the time the deal was struck, could Etihad could have got the same deal for less if they had really wanted? A suspicion remains that the company deliberately and knowingly paid over the odds for the deal. In the absence of a whistle-blower or a 'smoking gun' it would be almost impossible to prove - however just because it is a hard point to prove, wouldn't avoid the immorality of any deception.
So what happens now?
Manchester City have clearly been offered a 'plea-bargain' and it seem likely that they would accept the punishment rather than risk something more serious. It seems likely that they will agree a punishment that will probably result in a reduction in their spend for their Champions League squad next season, or perhaps prevent any new recruits taking part in next season's Champions League. Along with PSG they will also probably be required to demonstrate true Break-Even compliance in 2015/16.
Assuming City accept the 'plea-bargain', any club that feels it has lost out as a result of City not being banned from UEFA competition is able to appeal. Assuming Arsenal finish 4th, this would apply to both Everton and Man Utd. The position gets a little more murky when you consider that Arsenal may also have grounds to appeal as they would have to take part in an irksome qualifying round before the Group Stages. Also, Liverpool and Chelsea might also have a grievance if the City finish above them and claim a greater share of the Champions League Marketing Pool. However, I would be surprised if any English club (other than perhaps Everton) feel that a probably fruitless appeal is worth the trouble.
Irrespective of whether any club lodges an appeal, the rules require that all 'plea-bargains' punishment must be referred to the independent CFCB Adjudicatory Chamber. During June, this Chamber will decide on the appropriate punishment for all the clubs that failed the test (including clubs that accepted a plea-bargain). It is therefore still technically possible for Man City to be banned from the Champions League next season even if they have agreed a plea-bargain. However that looks extremely unlikely and I don't expect it to happen.
So what is the point of a plea-bargain concept if it has to be referred to the Adjudicatory Chamber in any event? Crucially, any club accepting a plea-bargain has voluntarily agreed to be bound by the terms of the deal - if PSG and City were to commit to getting back to genuine equilibrium during 2015/15, they would face significant punishment (even an outright ban) if they simply ignored the terms of the deal.
Finally, It is worth pointing out that although Platini was recently quoted as saying that no clubs would be banned this season. UEFA quickly confirmed that this was a misquote and that Platini had only said that he didn't think any clubs would be banned. UEFA were also quick to point out that Platini does not have any say in the CFCB process and any decision is in no way up to him. However it is inconceivable that he is not aware of the 'plea-bargains' being discussed and their likely acceptance by the clubs - clearly he expects all impacted clubs to accept their plea-bargains.
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