Leaked emails, courtroom drama, clandestine meetings with lawyers in big European cities; the back story to Manchester City’s Champions League ban could have come right out of a spy novel set in the days when an iron curtain divided the continent. Beyond the high drama and fall out from the explosive news that saw the reigning champions of England barred from Europe’s premier competition last week; there is potential for more upheaval to come which could affect some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs. UEFA’s spat with City could end up dragging the biggest names in English football into the epicentre of a bleak cold war that threatens to disrupt and sour the very spirit of the game.
One very interested party watching on as this saga plays out is FIFA president Gianni Infantino. It is alleged in Der Spiegel’s series of articles centred on leaked documents which implicate the great and the good, that Infantino played a key role in softening the eventual penalty that City faced six years ago.
Running between City’s legal team and hierarchy behind the scenes while simultaneously undermining UEFA’s Investigatory Chamber; Infantino allegedly worked hard on City’s “proposal for an amicable solution” which eventually saw them handed a fine of just 20 million euros for dramatically overstating their sponsorship deals to circumvent losses of nearly 200 million euros. Given Infantino’s reported keenness to step in on City’s behalf and curry favour with their hierarchy back in 2014, he may be willing to offer an olive branch again. An invitation to FIFA’s Club World Cup could be a timely financial windfall for the club at a time when uncertainty threatens to derail their success story.
UEFA and FIFA look set to do battle over the fiscal control of the beautiful game for the foreseeable future. However, City too are on a war footing with European football’s governing body. The tone of their internal emails back in 2014, as well as their current defiant response to their two year ban, suggests that any opportunity to stick the knife in on UEFA would not go begging at the Etihad. Infantino could well present such an opportunity with repercussions that could be felt across the whole Premier League and wider football fraternity.
Kevin De Bruyne believes Manchester City will be again written off as failures if they do not win the Champions League, despite their recent trophy haul.
Kevin De Bruyne said “If we don’t win it [the Champions League] everybody is going to say we are failures like the last five years!” he added. “It’s something we’ve not won yet. We always want to win everything but sometimes another team is better or performing well – like Liverpool are doing this season. It’s just that way and you just have to admit it. But we will just go there to win that game. You can’t look too much forwards and see what’s going to happen.”
City won every trophy available in England last season and have won the last two Premier League titles, accruing record points haul of 100 in 2017-18. But success in Europe has so far alluded the club, with their 2016 run to the semi-finals the closest they have to come to lifting the trophy.
Amid the chaos and uncertainty following Manchester City’s ban from the Champions League, Pep Guardiola struck the perfect note to calm the tensions. Privately he had already suggested he was going to remain at the club.
Pep Guardiola said “If they don’t sack me, which could happen, I will stay here more than ever. First because I want to stay, not because this is something special. I want to stay longer than the contract that I have. I said before and now and until the end of my contract that I want to help the club grow and maintain this level for as long as possible. Why should I leave? I said before that I love this club and I like to be here so why should I leave, more than ever in this situation. I am optimistic we can finish this well. I’m confident that we’ll play in Europe next season. I’m pretty sure we’ll defend our position”
With the critics circling and looking for any hint that Guardiola could end his time at the Etihad before the final season of his five-year contract, the City boss was emphatic. He is going nowhere and the club and his players are united as they prepare to take on the best of Europe, both on and off the pitch.