The Premier League on Monday accused Manchester City of years of financial rules violations, setting the stage for an expensive and high-stakes fight that could see City, one of the most dominant soccer teams in Europe over the past decade, ejected from England’s top league.
The charges, outlined in a statement released by the Premier League on Monday morning and unprecedented in their scale, accuse City of repeatedly failing to provide accurate financial information “that gives a true and fair view of the club’s financial position, in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs.”
City, which has won six Premier League championships since 2011, was also accused of not disclosing contractual payments to managers and players and of failing, as required, to cooperate with Premier League investigators.
The Premier League said the rules violations had been referred to an independent commission and would be heard in a confidential hearing, according to league rules. League officials declined to comment further on the statement, or the case against City.
In a statement published on its website, Manchester City responded to the charges by saying it was “surprised by the issuing of these alleged breaches.” The team contended it had cooperated with the Premier League’s investigators, had turned over a “vast amount of detailed materials,” and that it welcomed an independent review of what it labeled this “comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence” that it said supported the club’s position.
It is unclear what penalties Manchester City could face if the league’s accusations are upheld. According to Premier League rules, teams that are found to have been in breach of its rules face sanctions that could include reprimands, fines, points deductions in the standings or even expulsion from the top division.
The charges date back as far as 2009 — a year after Manchester City was purchased by the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi and began a turbocharged era of both spending and success.
Under the stewardship of its Gulf owner, Manchester City has been transformed into one of the most successful and free-spending teams in world soccer, a serial English champion and a regular contender for the world’s best players and Europe’s biggest trophies.
Throughout that period, there has been suspicion about Manchester City’s financial dealings, and its willingness to abide by the cost-control and financial regulations of not only the Premier League but also European soccer’s governing body, UEFA. In 2020, UEFA banned Manchester City from its top competition, the Champions League, for two years for financial rules violations, though the club appealed the decision and had the ban overturned.
In challenging that ban, City focused on a few words in UEFA’s rules, which set a five-year time limit on the infractions eligible for punishment. In effect, UEFA’s investigation had taken too long to consider the most serious offenses, and so the club escaped the harshest punishments levied against it.
Unlike UEFA, the Premier League does not have a statute of limitations in its regulations.
The scale of wrongdoing implied by the Premier League is remarkable in its scale. No previous investigation has lasted as long as the current case against Manchester City, nor has one produced allegations of wrongdoing spread over so many seasons.
Several of the charges date back as far as the 2009-10 season, and at least one makes reference to the current campaign. Manchester City is currently second in the Premier League, and chasing its fifth title in six years.
Manchester City officials have for years fought back against any efforts to criticize their financial maneuvers or question their adherence to financial rules, railing against hackers who leaked private club documents and the news media organizations that reported on them. It has called accusations that the club broke rules “entirely false” and decried the investigative process as “unfair.”
In the previous case involving a proposed Champions League ban, City vowed to do “everything that can be done” to defend its actions, and clear its name. Bankrolled by one of the world’s richest men, the club appeared prepared to spend any sum to prevail. But in the Premier League, it may have come face to face with a formidable opponent. The league is one of the world’s richest sporting competitions, and it is populated by a half-dozen more of the world’s most deep-pocketed teams — all of them chasing the same prizes as City every season.