UEFA finally brought its hefty hammer down on free-spending Manchester City for violating Financial Fair Play rules.
But by doing so, UEFA only proved how little power it really has over Sheikh Mansour and the reigning Premier League champions.
Bad news travels fast:
At first read, the sanctions against City look like potential cripplers. Taken in context, though, UEFA's big financial red card will have all the effect of a shopping mall speed bump on a tractor-trailer full of gold.
The headline-grabber is the £49 million fine, until you see that £32 million of the fine is suspended pending ongoing efforts to comply with FFP.
Assuming City do a better job cooking their books in the coming seasons, the fine will end up costing them £17 million, or a touch more than one Javi Garcia.
The other "big punishment" City must serve is the reduction of their Champions League squad from 25 players to 21.
That also sounds like a problem, until you look at City's squad statistics from this past season's Champions League run and see just how irrelevant the players past 21 really were.
Do you think City will start Joleon Lescott or Micah Richards three times apiece in Champions League play next season? What odds would you get on four more Champions League starts for Matija Nastasic in 2014-15? Will City really miss the one substitute's appearance Jack Rodwell made?
Right, so there are home-grown player issues to deal with. The Sky Blues will still need to field eight home-grown players after the squad reduction is put in place.
That is an inconvenience, but it can be managed. It might mean that Gareth Barry comes back from loan. It might mean that Richards gets coaxed into giving City one more season. And it probably means that a player like Dedryck Boyata will be one of the 21.
What the squad reduction really means is that City will need to stay much healthier next season just to survive group play in the Champions League.
That said, City had horrific injury luck this past season, with many of their stars (Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Samir Nasri) missing significant blocks of time. Even having to patch holes in the squad, City still started only 20 different players over eight Champions League matches in 2013-14.
If City only experience an ordinary, predictable amount of injuries next season, they project to be much healthier and thus much less in need of the roster flexibility that a 25-man squad provides.
And not to be too pessimistic, but if City's performance against Barcelona this past season was any indicator, the Sky Blues are still a few seasons away from seriously contending in Europe anyway.
Beyond those two big bad sanctions, the rest of UEFA's punishment of City reads like a corporate law treatise. Per ESPN FC:
- City have agreed to cut the losses to a maximum of £16.3 million pounds for the 2013-14 financial year and a maximum loss of £8.2 million pounds for the 2014-15 season.
- City's £400 million Etihad sponsorship deal was passed by UEFA, though City have agreed not to increase the value of two "second-tier commercial partnerships" with other parties related to their Abu Dhabi-based owners.
- City have also agreed that revenues from the sale of image rights to related parties will not be included in future break-even calculations.
Are you still awake? That is some dry material.
Boiled down, City agreed to stop losing outrageous amounts of money, and promised to lose only stupid amounts going forward.
Also, their quasi-bogus Etihad deal gets the nod-and-wink treatment, and they promise not to sell Sergio Aguero posters to their own business partners for £10,000 apiece and call it marketing revenue.
Still waiting for the real hurt to be put on City in this UEFA smackdown? Wait, I know! It's the summer transfer window! City are going to be shackled this summer and unable to buy anyone!
"Spending on transfers limited to 49 million pounds net this summer," continued the ESPN FC report.
Which means City can spend £49 million in new money, plus whatever money they get in transfer fees for players they do not want anymore anyway. Insofar as they really only need a centre-back and perhaps a midfielder or an upgrade at left-back, £49 million ought to be plenty.
The American musical "Avenue Q" includes a song that reminds us all that everything in life is only "For Now." Sheikh Mansour and City's brain trust know this implicitly. As long as there is money to spend and silver to be won, the only time that matters to City is right now.
And if you think City would give back either of their Premier League trophies or the 2011 FA Cup for reasons of fiscal ethics, your delusions are beyond fevered.
UEFA wants clubs like City to worry about playing fair and leveling the financial playing field for the long term. The punishment UEFA levied on City, though, will have little meaningful impact on how the club performs or does business in the coming seasons.
The rest of the football world will have to keep waiting for a UEFA sanction that can actually hurt City, because this one is just not it.
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