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EPL TALK: Spare us the victim-complex whining, Manchester City

Club should prove that their multitude charges of financial breaches are false, otherwise the real victims are clear

A mural of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
A mural of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. (PHOTO: Reuters/Carl Recine)

VINCENT Kompany, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City supporters should build on their victim complex. Keep the conspiracy theories coming. We could do with a laugh.

Traditionally, the English Premier League suffers a bit of lull in this period. The festive fixture overload is behind us and the trophy run-in is still to come, leaving an unsatisfying hole, like the one in City’s finances, allegedly.

Luckily, we’ve got Manchester City: Money Never Sleeps, Part II to watch, a serialised drama involving financial regulations and a global conspiracy. New episodes are expected to drop regularly for the next couple of years with updates on raging fan forums because it’s all a plot, a set-up, a big fix at the highest levels.

The Americans didn’t land on the Moon. COVID-19 didn’t happen. Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t kill JFK from an open window and Manchester City didn’t break any financial rules.

Indeed, the hardcore among the City faithful are already doing a terrific Joe Pesci in JFK, laying out their labyrinthine conspiracy theory and telling us that, “This is too f**** big for you, Man City haters, you know that? Who fixed Financial Fair Play, Uefa and the EPL? Who sent the emails? Who made us top of Deloitte’s Football Money League despite being the second club in Manchester and the third club in Lancashire? Who hacked our club, man? It's a mystery! It’s a mystery wrapped in a Football Leaks hack inside an enigma! The f***** hackers don’t even know! Don’t you get it?”

If you haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s epic JFK, then the above paragraph will mean nothing to you. No worries. Just watch the three-hour movie or read recent tweets from Manchester City fans. Both sufficiently capture the conspiratorial mood among the suffering supporters at the Etihad, a stadium name sponsor secured for a fair, market value price of … No, stop that. The sarcasm just isn’t fair.

They didn’t know. No one ever told them. No one even told Guardiola. During Uefa’s investigation in 2019, he recreated the courtroom scene in A Few Good Men inside his club’s boardroom. He wanted the truth. His employers insisted they were telling the truth. He said, "fair enough", and skipped off merrily into the transfer market.

If the Spaniard also demanded the truth about the Easter Bunny, he could potentially have a really miserable spring.

But make no mistake. Guardiola is the real victim here, along with his employers, players and supporters. Kompany knows that better than anyone. Earlier this week, the City legend hinted what the “football industry” was all about, with its “pointing fingers”.

Really, Manchester City are the innocent parties in a longstanding smear campaign to discredit their financial dealings and prove that they are not atop the Deloitte Football Money League on merit. Smart business and a massive global fanbase put them there.

The Etihad Stadium is seen after Manchester City were charged with breaking financial rules by the Premier League.
The Etihad Stadium is seen after Manchester City were charged with breaking financial rules by the Premier League. (PHOTO: Reuters/Carl Recine)

Every right to clear name if innocent

Remember, the club astutely acquired investments from a wide and diverse field, including Etihad Airways, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Experience Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi energy company Masdar and the telco firms of Abu Dhabi. These sponsors all paid market rates to associate their names with Manchester City. Sneering critics are allowing bitter jealousies to cloud their judgment.

Never mind the 101 charges against City, with the club being accused of failing to give “a true and fair view of the club’s financial position” and failing to “cooperate with, and assist, the Premier League in its investigations”, this is all a stitch-up to keep the old guard on the throne with more Machiavellian twists than the Red Wedding massacre.

Gary Neville inadvertently proved it, subconsciously wallowing in his entitled smugness as he expressed his shock at City’s superior position in revenue terms. How dare the noisy neighbours make more money than Manchester United, or even Liverpool and Arsenal for that matter? The traditional status quo felt threatened by City’s new money and backed the FFP regulations to keep out the foreign states and keep power within an established core.

And while we’re on this subject, no one objected when Chelsea’s £1.5 billion debt to Roman Abramovich allowed the oligarch to sportswash his own trinket in West London (actually, many did, for years, but never let facts get in the way of a rollicking conspiracy theory).

No, Financial Fair Play is really about the dominant clubs continuing to dominate, safe in the knowledge that their global economic supremacy, built over decades, will allow them to raise more revenue and buy more players than anyone else – except those bankrolled by pesky foreign states with bottomless pits of petrodollars.

There they all are – Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal – lined up on the grassy knoll, weapons raised, waiting to take the kill shot when the Manchester City motorcade passes, knowing that they can pin the lot on the bean-counters in the back office and deny any involvement. The EPL investigators are the lone shooters here. If the three red clubs happen to profit from the Blues being taken out, well, that’s just a coincidence, right?

So let’s assume for a moment that the victim complex is warranted and there really is a conspiracy at work. So what? Evidence is still required to make Manchester City pay. The owners either broke the rules or they didn’t. How the investigation got here is immaterial now. It’s here. And City’s innocence or guilt must be proven.

They have every right to clear their name, which is why they’ve hired leading barrister Lord Pannick KC, who charges up to £10,000 an hour for his services, but they are not victims.

They are a team that have benefitted from a unique level of investment that has changed Manchester City, the EPL and even European football forever, creating a chasm between other clubs and other leagues that simply cannot be bridged without at least a semblance of fair play, in terms of financial regulations.

If they have not broken the laws, then the onus is on other clubs to catch up, to find a way to raise revenue, hire the right managers and buy the best players to compete with the finest football side that has ever graced the EPL.

But if Manchester City have broken the laws, if they have bought your team’s best player, or poached your club’s top academy prospect, or ended your side’s romantic cup run with a squad that was assembled illegally, then it will become very clear, very quickly, who the real victims are.

If Manchester City have broken the laws, if they have bought your team’s best player, or poached your club’s top academy prospect, or ended your side’s romantic cup run with a squad that was assembled illegally, then it will become very clear, very quickly, who the real victims are.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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