Neil Humphreys: Manchester City’s victory kills Financial Fair Play for good
Lifting European suspension proves that Uefa rules are meaningless
Rest in peace, Financial Fair Play (FFP). You came. You saw. You couldn't compete with the game's new, limitless wealth.
Uefa's attempt to level the playing field and persuade the richest clubs to live within their means has died an ignoble death.
Manchester City won. Just as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan prevailed in hiring an army of lawyers to convince the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn bans, change unwanted verdicts or even deny tokenistic efforts to narrow the financial divide.
Yesterday, CAS overturned City's two-year European ban for a serious breach of Uefa's FFP rules and reduced the club's fine from 30 million euros (S$47.1m) to 10m euros, which at least acknowledged an element of wrongdoing.
The CAS panel concluded that City had displayed a "disregard" for Uefa's investigations and conducted an "obstruction of the investigations".
In other words, City didn't do as they were told and were fined accordingly. But their European return will swiftly recoup the 10m euros.
No wonder a wide-eyed Pep Guardiola posed for a smiley selfie with his coaching staff yesterday (a dubious PR decision, conveying a sense of an omnipotent leader thumbing his nose at his perceived enemies).
On social media, the immediate response was apoplectic, confused and despondent, leading to a couple of key questions, i.e. what is the point of FFP now? And what was the point of Uefa's investigation if it now seems clear that City were always going to get off on a technicality?
The latter question is the easier and most immediate issue to deal with.
Some of the allegations were "time-barred", according to the CAS. In other words, Uefa's investigation began after the five-year statutory limitation period.
Uefa's initial guilty finding came after a number of "leaked" e-mails were published in the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018.
The documents appeared to suggest that City's owner, Sheikh Mansour Zayed Al Nahyan, was funding most of the £67.5 million (S$118m) annual sponsorship of the City jersey, stadium and academy by his country's airline, Etihad.
Following an investigation, Uefa had concluded that City's "serious breaches" included "overstating its sponsorship revenue… in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016".
So City were found guilty of both sidestepping FFP rules and providing misleading information to Uefa.
However "most of the alleged breaches" were "time-barred", having occurred before the five-year limit to bring a case, which seems a worrying precedent.
Taking the CAS finding literally, a club must only conceal any breaches for five years to escape a ban.
City have now joined PSG and AC Milan in defeating Uefa at the CAS in the last two years, which calls the validity and integrity of FFP into question.
Uefa introduced the rules to encourage clubs to spend only the cash generated in revenues, rather than rely on foreign billionaires, particularly those with a keen interest in "sportswashing", to cover the shortfall.
Certainly, the concept was flawed. If every club strictly adhered to the FFP principles, then the occasional Cinderella story like Jack Walker's Blackburn Rovers and Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's Leicester City could never happen.
Indeed, Man City's argument was that FFP favoured the status quo, allowing the traditional elite of Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Co to continue to profit from their established global reach.
So City bought their way to the top, in record time, and with considerable panache, especially under Guardiola's stewardship. But Uefa and the CAS were in agreement that the club had shown a "disregard" for co-operation.
Think about that. City demonstrated a disregard for an investigation associated with fair play.
And today, they are back in the Champions League, ready to spend big and sustain their owners' mission to win hearts and minds, via Guardiola's beautiful football.
But it's stained. The entire process is grubby. Whatever the legalese, the CAS verdict is the final confirmation - if it was even needed - that fair play has already been brushed aside, consigned to history as an ever shrinking band of powerful conglomerates carve up whatever's left of the English game.
Like Monty Python's dead parrot, the FFP rules are no more. They have ceased to be.
Uefa's relevance and purpose will also be queried in the coming days.
The European body faces criticism for pursuing City when many of the alleged breaches occurred before the five-year limit, but consider the outrage if Uefa had not investigated Der Spiegel's findings.
They really couldn't win.
The only winners here are Man City. The game has lost. And let's not pretend otherwise.