Premier League clubs have become “incentivised to sometimes push the rules to the limit, if not beyond” and Manchester City may not be the only team to face an investigation into their affairs, according to a leading football finance expert.
The Premier League announced on Monday it had referred a number of alleged breaches of the competition’s rules to an independent commission, with some of those dating back as far at the 2009-10 season.
In response, City said they had “irrefutable evidence” that would be presented in their defence against the accusations.
Kieran Maguire, author of the book The Price of Football, said isolating City could be seen as making a “scapegoat” of the Premier League champions, and he suspects investigators will also look closely at the finances of other clubs.
Speaking to Stats Perform, Maguire said: “Certainly we have seen some clubs, in terms of the financial submissions that they’ve made, make fairly significant claims as to the impact, for example, that COVID had on their finances, and they’ve claimed that COVID cost them money in a myriad of ways, some of which have certainly raised eyebrows as far as observers are concerned.
“So if Manchester City are charged, you would think that Manchester City would say to the Premier League, ‘well, you’ve investigated us and charged us, then surely you have a responsibility to do this for other clubs as well’.
“If the Premier League don’t do that, it could be seen that they’re trying to make a scapegoat of Manchester City, who are unpopular with certain other elements of the English football establishment because they represent new money, and old money doesn’t like new money in all aspects of life, it doesn’t have to be sport.
“Therefore you can understand why there’s likely to perhaps be enthusiasm for this to move on. And that’s going to be bad news for football as a whole because then it becomes who’s got the best lawyers, and the best accountants, as opposed to who’s got the best strikers and centre-halves and midfield players.”
If the independent commission finds City to have breached financial guidelines, they could face a variety of punishments, ranging from fines to points penalties, or even expulsion from the league.
City are controlled by the City Football Group, which is owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Since a 2008 takeover, the club have invested heavily in infrastructure and players to develop the dominant team in England.
It remains to be seen how City come out of this saga, if found to have transgressed.
“There’s a lot of politics in English football,” said Maguire. “I think that the preferred punishment would be a points deduction, because the argument would be that if it was just a financial punishment, given the wealth of the owners, given that it is effectively a sovereign wealth fund which is the benefactors of Manchester City, that a financial penalty would not actually particularly harm the club.
“Therefore, you need to do something which would be seen within football itself as being a punishment, and also acting as a deterrent should any other clubs with equally benevolent owners decide to take or consider a similar action.”
Maguire said City face jealousy and “resentment” from rival clubs, and he believes there would not be such interest if a smaller Premier League club came under the microscope.
“It’s because it is Manchester City who have won the Premier League for four years out of the last five, who have reached the Champions League final, who have spent around about $1.3billion in building their squad, that we’re having this conversation,” Maguire said.
“There is jealousy, there is resentment, there is envy. And there’s not a lot of admiration, because football doesn’t operate like that. Football is a very, very snarky business, where everybody’s trying to put each put other clubs down.
“Changing the culture of football into one of ethics, morality, sustainability, is very difficult because of the nature of the people that own the clubs. They tend to be very successful in their own right. And therefore, they are used to getting their own way.
“And in the world of sport, you can’t have 20 Premier League clubs all being successful at the same time. Therefore, they’re incentivised to outmanoeuvre each other, and they’re incentivised to sometimes push the rules to the limit, if not beyond the limit.”
Maguire said world governing body FIFA, having been tarnished by scandal itself in recent years, was “unlikely to be in a position to take a moral high ground”.
“And it then just simply becomes a game of whack-a-mole, as the authorities find one loophole, they bring a sticking plaster to solve it,” Maguire said. “And then you’re always in a room with a smarter accountant and a smarter lawyer who will come up with yet another scheme.”