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One of the rules of legal cases: don’t criticise the court. Or the legal system

By Tony Attwood

The case between Manchester City and Uefa is one that is likely to be studied in legal circles for many years to come, not necessarily because of who wins (which of course we are still seemingly a little way from finding out) but rather because of the unusual way in which Manchester City have chosen to fight it.

Back in 2018 The Associated Press (which is not known for its hyperbole) ran the story that “Manchester City threatened to destroy Uefa with legal action when European soccer’s governing body pursued punishment against the Abu Dhabi-owned club for overspending on players and hiding costs”.

Given that Manchester City did not dispute the authenticity of the European Investigative Chamber’s documents, reported by Germany’s Der Spiegel as part of a “Football Leaks” series, the Manchester City threat to destroy Uefa has become part of the evidence of the case.  It is a bit like me being taken to court for not paying my council tax, and then saying that if the court dares to proceed I will expose the fact that one of the magistrates has been having an affair with another man’s wife.  (And before you ask, yes I do pay my council tax on time every month).

What emerged in the Man City case (and what has been accepted as true) was the fact that Man City chief executive Ferran Soriano had secretly discussed the case in 2014 with Uefa general secretary of the day, Gianni Infantino, stating that in the meeting the parties had “agreed how to brief the lawyers to negotiate a settlement that is more than a warning and can be seen as effective/dissuasive but does not affect dramatically MCFC business.”

Infantino clearly thought he had done nothing wrong in this because in an interview with The Associated Press he said, “My job entails having discussions, having conversations, exchanging documents, drafts, ideas, whatever, on many, many, many, many, topics. Otherwise, you don’t go anywhere.”  In short, he never denied that he had privately reached a deal with the club as to how the legal process would work, rather than let the case go through the regular channels.

Man City then settled with Uefa accepting a fine of 60 million euros over three years and limiting their nominated team to 21 instead of 25 senior players.  However, according to AP it never paid the fine.

Meanwhile it became clear (if it wasn’t already) that Man City’s deals were with related firms, and their value was greatly inflated.  Documents later revealed that Man City’s lawyer then mentioned a conversation between Al Mubarak and Infantino in which the owners of Manchester City declared they “would rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years,” than accept punishment.

There was also the threat to file a lawsuit against auditor PriceWaterhouseCoopers which “could destroy the entire organization within weeks.”  That was an interesting twist: drop the case or we destroy your auditors – not a threat I have ever heard before.

All that is well publicised, although much if not all is denied by Man City, but subsequent court documents have shown (according to AP) that Manchester City then “sought financial damages from Uefa for alleged leaks of the process to the media.”  That again is unusual – especially when the case to which the leaks pertain has not yet been resolved through the legal process.

Much of this was revealed by the court of arbitration for sport at its decision in November to throw out Manchester City’s case.  But the leaked internal City emails published by Der Spiegel suggested the club had deceived Uefa in their financial submissions, “principally because City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, was funding the club’s sponsorship by the state’s airline, Etihad.” (AP).  Many then argued that because the documents were leaked they were inadmissible, but that was not accepted – the argument that held sway was that the documents appeared to be valid, and therefore Man City needed to provide evidence to show they were not.  The fact that they were private documents that were leaked does not prevent them from being used in evidence.

However this argument got nowhere and Yves Leterme of “investigatory chamber” (IC) of Uefa’s club financial control body wrote on 20 May: “I must vehemently reject your allegations of unlawful activities, either by myself or by any of the members of the Uefa investigatory chamber Uefa club financial control body… Your allegations are groundless in the merits and unacceptable in tone. Please be advised that I will not continue such an exchange of correspondence and that I will not respond further to groundless accusations directed against me personally and/or against my fellow members of the IC.”

The court of arbitration in sport then refused Manchester City’s appeal against the referral. So we are now waiting for Uefa to determine if it feels Manchester City is guilty of deceiving Uefa over its finances.   Uefa retains the power to ban Manchester City from the Champions League, as recommended by the Investigatory Chamber.

If it does, and Manchester City carries out its threat to tie Uefa up in legal knots for months if not years to come, with the side issue of destroying Uefa financially, then a new organization will need to be formed, and it will have to decide whether to allow Manchester City as a member of the new body, after Man City has carried out a threat against its predecessor.

Since it will be a new organization making up its own rules and will involve all the other clubs currently within Uefa.  I would guess that the chances of these clubs that have just seen their organization destroyed by Man City lawyers, wanting Man City as part of their organization may well be quite small.

Of course, these musings are just my opinions as an outsider; in the end we shall see.  And irrespective of what happens to Man City, this case will, I suspect, set a pattern for the future.  If Man City win and defeat Uefa then other clubs in the City group are likely to feel empowered if their regional authorities question what they are doing and we could see these sort of maneuvers repeated in years to come.

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