Premier League clubs ‘furious’ over delays to Man City and Everton financial cases
The Premier League has been repeatedly advised to establish an independent unit in order to speed up complex financial cases such as those involving Manchester City and Everton, as the planet’s most popular competition could be mired in legal uncertainty for years to come.
The Independent has been told a core of clubs have been pressing the argument, but that has so far gone unheeded.
The sight of chief executive Richard Masters on Sunday presenting the trophy to City - as the club also became the first champions in that situation to also be facing charges that, if proven, could yet see them expelled from the competition - has again raised questions about the Premier League serving as organiser, regulator, investigator and prosecutor.
A number of clubs are understood to be increasingly “furious”, particularly with reports of recent delays to the process.
It also leaves open the possibility that all of the Premier League’s key battles - the title, Champions League and relegation - could be settled for this season amid regulatory uncertainty about the future.
While City face 115 charges related to Financial Fair Play rules and Everton have been charged for breaching Profit and Sustainability rules, Masters has previously refused to confirm whether it is investigating Newcastle’s ownership after US court documents from majority owners Public Investment Fund appeared to contradict the Premier League’s “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control” the club.
Both City and Everton have strenuously denied any wrongdoing. The key for many others, however, is that it leaves a cloud over everything that happens.
A strident view within legal circles is that the nature of cases like those involving City and Everton is so financially complex that it goes beyond general sporting disciplinary issues, and requires specific financial experts involved from the outset rather than just heavyweight legal figures.
This is why Uefa and the EFL have two independent bodies, with the continental federation setting up the Investigatory and Adjudicatory Chamber and the English body mirroring that with Club Financial Review Panel and Club Financial Review Unit.
Such units both speed up processes but also take discretion away from the boards, ensuring - in the words of the EFL’s own announcement - “consistency and independence”.
A number of Premier League club employees have been pointing to this, as the perception grows that City’s strategy is again one of obstruction, just as Uefa figures have spoken about.
Several sources describe it as a “mess”, with the competition facing pressure from both sides, but one that was “foreseeable and avoidable”.
A number of Everton’s Premier League rivals have meanwhile requested their case be fast-tracked, so that everything can be settled before the end of the season.
Should the Goodison Park club go down, the EFL would not be able to pursue the case, although it is understood the commission would continue.
An illustration of how this could cause other complications, however, is that if the charges are proven and Everton issued with a points deduction, that would not apply in the EFL.
It would have to wait until a period when the club returned to the Premier League. As it stands, commissions are appointed to deal with all disciplinary issues in the elite competition.
Whereas the panel to form these commissions used to be recommended by the league and approved by the clubs, with the Premier League itself then selecting the individual from that panel for the relevant issue, this was changed in early 2020.
A fully independent chair appoints legal and financial experts onto the Judicial Panel, and it will be then up to him to decide who should go on the Commission. It is Murray Rosen KC’s appointment as chair that City are reported to have objected to, due to the fact he is an Arsenal fan. The argument is this process has evolved to become more independent, and a stance within the Premier League has been that the clubs prefer the board to handle various issues.
There is increasing debate about that, though, as figures at clubs have become frustrated with proceedings. One counter-argument is that the commissions have always been independent, but what is so important about independent units is that they do investigations and prosecutions.
Some Premier League executives have also pointed to how the case of Reading in the EFL was dealt with in a few weeks, whereby the club was issued a second six-point penalty after failing to satisfy a business plan agreed after a historical breach of Profit and Sustainability limits.
“You can’t have the same people charging clubs and helping them through processes,” one source said. “It’s obvious.”
Beyond that, several sources have spoken of how the Premier League’s legal workload has significantly increased with the case.
Some figures in that area have spoken of how it reflects the transformed role of the competition.
Whereas it used to almost be a partners’ group whose main business was actually selling media rights, with many historically having boasted of their streamlined team, it has grown into one that has to deal with the most complex legal and financial cases.
“It needs specialists and hard-nosed litigators who will scare the hell out of clubs to keep them in line,” was one view.