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Why Man City could be banned from the Champions League

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Manchester City have set the standard in English football in recent years and last season finally got over the line in Europe to win the Champions League for the first time as part of a treble.

City's modern success all dates back to the arrival of Sheikh Mansour in the blue half of Manchester in 2008, with the Abu Dhabi royal transforming the fortunes of the club through his investment.

But the ambition of parent company City Football Group, the Business entity that actually owns Manchester City, is not limited to running just one team and a global multi-club project was conceived in 2013. Now, the group includes 12 different clubs - and their various constituent teams - with arms in men's, women's and youth Football across 12 countries and every continent except Africa.

Being part of the same stable as the likes of New York City, Melbourne City and Mumbai City is not a problem when it comes to UEFA rules. But with regulations as they sit technically preventing multiples clubs owned by one entity from competing simultaneously European competition, there are issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

It's not really an issue either with regard to Palermo, Troyes or Lommel, all of whom are second tier teams in their respective countries. The potential problem is in Spain with Girona, who are absolutely flying in La Liga and on course to qualify for the Champions League for the first time ever.


What are UEFA's rules regarding multi-club ownership?

Abu Dhabi royalty bought into Man City in 2008
Abu Dhabi royalty bought into Man City in 2008 / Catherine Ivill/GettyImages

Article 5 of UEFA's Champions League regulations state that no club in any UEFA competition may: "hold or deal in the securities or shares of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition, be a member of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition, be involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition or have any power whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition."

The rules are designed to prevent any single entity, be that a person or a group, from holding a controlling authority over several teams, which could create massive questions over impartiality if the two teams in question were ever to meet.


Why Man City face a potential Champions League ban

CFG-owned Girona are leading La Liga
CFG-owned Girona are leading La Liga / David Ramos/GettyImages

Girona are not fully owned by the City Football Group, but it is the majority shareholder with a 47% stake in the side from Catalonia following a 2017 investment.

Until relatively recently, Girona fell into a similar category to City Football Group's other European clubs. They had never played top flight football before 2017 and returned to Spanish football's second tier for three more years after a 2019 relegation. Girona only just made the Segunda playoffs in 2022 to return to La Liga last season and 2023/24 is just their second year back.

And yet, Girona are currently on a similar trajectory to Leicester when the Foxes somehow broke the Premier League status quo to become English champions in 2016. Girona have remarkably won 13 of their first 16 Games and, at the time of writing, are two points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, having just won 4-2 away from home against regional powerhouse Barcelona.

There is a chance they could keep this up and win the title. But even if they don't, it is extremely plausible that Girona finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. But with a common owner to Manchester City, this is where problems could arise under the aforementioned regulations.

UEFA rules would give priority to whichever club finishes higher in its respective domestic league. And, although City, have dominated the Premier League for several years, their recent struggle for wins suggest there is no guarantee that they could out-rank Girona in that scenario.


Are Man City likely to get banned from the Champions League?

Man City aren't the only side involved in multit-club ownership models
Man City aren't the only side involved in multit-club ownership models / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

The short answer is no. With multi-club ownership on the rise, UEFA don't want to be in a position where teams are being barred from competing at European level - especially if, besides a common owner or shareholder, there is no direct link or influence over how those teams operate.

When this was recently flagged as an issue for Manchester United, who are to become part-owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe's INEOS - already owners at OGC Nice, 90min reported that the firm had already been in contact with UEFA and were assured of no major issues. UEFA are aware that, without adapting regulations to stop clubs being punished, this could be something that continues to crop up.


How RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg navigated the rules

RB Leipzig & Red Bull Salzburg played against each other in the Europa League in 2018
RB Leipzig & Red Bull Salzburg played against each other in the Europa League in 2018 / ROBERT MICHAEL/GettyImages

UEFA were forced to investigate this multi-club issue when both RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg qualified for the 2017/18 edition of the Champions League.

Red Bull had owned both Salzburg and Leipzig for several years by that point and so, when the two teams both earned places in Europe's top competition, changes had to be made to ensure no individual involved with either team had an influence over the other.

The lead investigator claimed the existence of "several links between the legal entity Red Bull GmbH and the Clubs (as well as between the Clubs themselves) which point to Red Bull having 'decisive influence' over each of FCS [Salzburg] and RBL [Leipzig] in contravention of Article 5.01". But Salzburg made significant changes behind the scenes which saw UEFA decide the link was not as strong.

The Salzburg board chairman, who was linked to Red Bull, resigned from his position, while "certain individuals" tied to both Red Bull and Leipzig were also removed to ensure nobody working at the Austrian side had any links to the German outfit.

Agreements between the two clubs, including on loan deals, also had to be torn up, as were mutual sponsorship agreements with Red Bull. Once those changes were made, UEFA were satisfied that no one entity had a controlling influence over the two sides and permitted both into the Champions League.

Salzburg and Leipzig were actually drawn together in the 2018/19 Europa League, bringing this issue further into the light, but UEFA remain satisfied that the two teams are separate entities.


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