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MacKenna On Monday: Manchester City Continue To Smugly Act Above The Law

There are stories. And then there are STORIES.

For The Athletic, a publication with wonderful disruptive qualities, this was big. It wasn’t solely because their exclusive last week about Manchester City likely avoiding being thrown out of European competition had so much upside, but because of huge potential downside.

After all, it’s not that long since leaked emails showed the club’s director and main PR man Simon Pearce in discussion with key players around their human-rights busting massacres in Yemen, and how to throw media off the scent via campaigns of positive focus and physically showing them the good in their war. Even sports departments know how Abu Dhabi works.

Therefore this is not a tale to get wrong as, while mistakes happen, in this case, it would slip into the pile of buying what the club and those behind it like to sell as a deceptive shield. Thus if claims aren’t proven correct, the publication have engaged and aided in a public relations effort. But for now, credit where it’s due. We can only take them at their word.

So let’s say The Athletic nailed this.

So let’s say Uefa decide that the ejection from the big time is spiked and City are let off.

Then what?

Well, that would be that, even if many are failing to realise the initial and vast significance.

If we knew that underground and out of sight the foundations had sunk, it would still be quite something to see bricks fall and the walls come tumbling down. For this wouldn’t be so much as another fine for breaching Financial Fair Play, it would be a pass for allegedly misleading anyone trying to catch them out. In a seedy world of big business, that may not seem all that surprising, but it would be the first indirect admittance by football’s governing authorities that they’ve lost control. Basically, because they can no longer afford to keep it.

That would have devastating repercussions. As Bill Murray’s character in Kingpin put it, “I can buy my way out of anything. I can do anything I want. Finally, Big Earn is above the law”.

NAPLES, ITALY - NOVEMBER 01:  Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City embrace after the UEFA Champions League group F match between SSC Napoli and Manchester City at Stadio San Paolo on November 1, 2017 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

It’s best to take in the ramifications for it’s not hyperbole to consider that the origins of a new world order in the once beautiful game. Before you get excited by such a scenario, consider those that will have been behind it, how they act in business and in life, and what they want and demand to get from a potentially seismic shift. Trust us, you really want no part in that.

* * *

Part 1 – Context

Isn’t it strange how those given everything are still the neediest?

Isn’t it strange how those who ruin the most lives remain the whiniest?

When it comes to City’s backers – from de facto Abu Dhabi dictator Mohammed bin Zayed who makes sure there’s no difference between public and private investment in his land as he controls all, even if his name is not on it; to his sibling and UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour who is officially Manchester City owner, even if he’s been to one game ever, and even if his money and choices come from the man above him; to chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak who happens to be Bin Zayed’s watchdog and bulldog; to Pearce who is the key strategist in football and beyond – they’ve been afforded every opportunity in life.

It’s not so much silver-spoon-in-mouth territory here, as when understanding the wealth and power, a better analogy would be that the silver spoon was shoved so far up that it merely looks like it’s in the mouth. Yet with so much handed to them, look what they chose to do with it.

The likes of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Medecin sans Frontiere and Reuters have shown up child starvation, infanticide, secret and illegal prison camps, torture, rape, and death squads being paid on the front line in bin bags full of cash in Yemen. Back home a regime exists that goes so far as to stone women to death for adultery.

And then the Manchester City owners come out bitching and moaning because not everyone grovels at the marvels of them buying some football trophies.

These are the people trying to turn the game on its head.

They are hypocrites too. Always claiming to be right and always applying double standards.

For instance, they’ve bemoaned the morality of the hacking that took place which showed up how their football club went about its business, but back in Abu Dhabi they also have spent millions on hacking equipment to get at rivals such as big, bad human rights activists.

There’s no end to their ugliness.

Evil – and that’s not a word we use lightly – but massively pathetic as well. How else could you describe it?

Beside that lot sport may seem small beer, only it’s an integral part of what has been described by key actors as a use of it as an instrument of foreign policy and an outright state vehicle. And sadly it’s Manchester City’s own fans who show up how this works best. It’s not all of them, but if your club was hijacked by the above, the first thing would be disgust yet there’s a strong group who traded class and honour in the lower leagues for shiny things.

These days they remind of those who go to a third-world resort and come back raving about the quality and the price of a pint, having never had any interest in stepping outside and seeing the reality behind their luxury. That’s how sports-washing and brainwashing works.

An army of blind and trained idiocy, defending some of the world’s most vile characters.

* * *

Part 2 – Consequences

If it seems clunky to place Manchester City beside Yemen, that’s to make a grave mistake about how those behind them view this.

It’s all a matter of business and they never lose.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 06: Rodri of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Etihad Stadium on October 6, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

The Hague could well be an ultimate calling if the UN are correct and justice works, but for now they were happy to threaten and bully thanks to Lausanne and the Court of Arbitration for Sport. According to sources in Uefa, that’s always been the worry as the club themselves have long made it clear how they’d react if they were thrown out of Europe for their deceit. If they didn’t get their way, they’d buy their way.

CAS would and could follow any unfavourable ruling against them – they tried to get there early but that was never a goer as due process means it can only follow a final verdict from Uefa – with an email by a City lawyer showing how they planned to win an appeal. In it, he alludes to Al-Mubarak saying he’d “rather spend 30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them [UEFA] for the next 10 years”. It also suggested a “destruction of their rules and organization”. In other words, he would bankrupt a body that, for all its faults, means so much to many, from the professional game to grassroots for children across a continent, because he couldn’t flout the rules and gain a significant advantage in his field.

The terminology is telling too for it is how Abu Dhabi go about foreign policy, razing aws and countries that dare stand in their way. They get what they want because they can afford to. At that point, a shudder should go down the spine of even a money-mad sport. Unlock the door to their ilk and they’ll kick it in and do what they want when gaining entry. And what they want has never served any greater good as it’s all about self-gain.

Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola gesures during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on April 20, 2019. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. /         (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s interesting that City have never so much as denied their wrong-doing or the validity of documents taken by FootballLeaks and handed to Der Spiegel a year ago. How could they? They were clear that having gotten away with a €20m fine in 2014, Al-Mubarak noted it felt like “a tiny pinch” and would actively continue to pursue their strategy. In essence, they’d continue to cheat, for how is this different than fielding a 12th player or getting a goal of a headstart? Meanwhile, the methodology behind that has been as precise as their on-field intricacy and planning. Be it the satellite payments to Roberto Mancini to get money off the books; be it the disguising of sponsorship money; be it shell companies.

They became The Panama Papers of football clubs and were smugly proud of that fact.

“We are breaching anyway,” wrote City’s Chief Financial Officer in 2011 after they lost several hundred million and thus broke the rules. “We are just relying on mitigating factors to get us through.” In 2012, that CFO asked the aforementioned Pearce if it was okay to change accounting dates. The reply starkly read: “Of course, we can do what we want.” Think about that.

“We can do what we want.”

How quickly complete and utter entitlement has taken hold and taken over.

The problem is, if this is the last stand, look what football is ceding the war too.

Manchester City Pep Guardiola

There is no bedrock. There is no gutter. There is no shame here.

That might seem harsh but these people deserve to be called out in the most withering terms for enough is enough.

Remember when their players on a plane last season were caught singing about Liverpool fans being “battered on the streets”. Remember City’s statement defending it on the basis that “the song in question, which has been a regular chant during the 2018-19 season, refers to the 2018 Uefa Champions League final in Kiev. Any suggestion that the lyrics relate to Seán Cox or the Hillsborough tragedy is entirely without foundation”.

Meanwhile, for all the wealth, there’s no limit to their cheapness as they’ll sacrifice serious issues to appear right.

Just weeks after that sing-song, Al-Mubarak accused La Liga president Javier Tebas of racism after Tebas had called Manchester City “the playthings of a state” run-off petrol and gas. “This is just ugly,” Al-Mubarak moaned. “I think the way he is combining teams just because of ethnicity. I find that very disturbing, to be honest.” On and on it goes. And yet, if reports are correct, Uefa are bending and bowing to this.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 12: Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates after scoring with Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Manchester City and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Etihad Stadium on December 12, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images)

Rather than enforce the rules around Financial Fair Play, having seen City tear them up, the talk is that they’ll now change the rules to suit. Give an inch and the mile will follow, indeed in sporting terms consider this as an end to the beginning rather than a beginning of the end. For we know their chief executive Ferran Soriano is seen as a real threat to the fabric of football as he wants to use City to bring down the status quo and head down the route of a European Super League, where they can buy what they want and gain huge favour and influence from it.

Back when this investigation began, an internal email was sent by the club’s chief legal adviser. In it, he joked about the death of Jean-Luc Dehaene, who had led Uefa’s investigatory chamber. It merely and starkly read, “One down, six to go.” That was an insight into so much around both Manchester City and their band of backers, the same people who in life and potentially now in sport are allowed to act above the law.

Superbia in Proelio. For shame.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.