The Sun newspaper has reported that Manchester United may be handed an astonishing Champions League lifeline by virtue of the expulsion of FC Basel from the competition.
FIFA handed Swiss side FC Sion a hefty transfer embargo in 2009 after the signing of Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary. El-Hadary was still under contract with his former club, Al Ahly, at the time; as a result Sion was punished with this transfer embargo.
Extensive legal battles between FIFA and Sion ensued, and hence the ban was not formally in place until Sion lost their appeal against the embargo. This meant that the transfer ban formally came into effect during the January transfer window of 2011.
Sion failed to comply with the ban and purchased a further six players, five of whom appeared in Sion’s Europa League clash against Celtic. As a result of doing so, Sion were removed from the competition.
The Swiss FA took no formal action against Sion at the time, and now FIFA is threatening to suspend the Swiss FA if they fail to take an appropriate course of action against Sion for fielding ineligible players in both the Europa League and Swiss Super League.
The biggest ramification of this suspension would be that all Swiss teams in the Champions League and the Europa League would be forced to leave the competitions.
As a result, Basel would be evicted from the Champions League, leaving a spot empty in the Champions League’s final 16.
Given that Manchester United finished third behind Basel, speculation is suggesting that they could be granted a spot in the final 16 in their place.
Whilst nothing is definite at this stage, the possibility remains very real and you can be sure to expect a number of teams across Europe contending this situation were it to come to fruition.
The Swiss FA may simply take action against Sion to avoid a ban from FIFA, however considering that they have taken no action thus far, it is a reasonable thought to think that they may choose to rebuff FIFA’s demands.
The question now is as such; would it be fair for Manchester United to be given a Champions League finals berth by default?
We can only wait and see how the situation unfolds.