Manchester City, a Premier League heavyweight and one of the world’s richest clubs, successfully overturned on Monday its two-season ban from European soccer’s top club competition, the Champions League.
The ban, imposed last year by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, after City was accused of “serious breaches” of cost-control regulations, was overturned by a three-member panel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.
The final decision on the Champions League ban, which had hung over Manchester City for more than a year amid questions about its finances and credibility, will have significant consequences for both the club and UEFA.
Manchester City officials had vehemently, and repeatedly, denied any accusations of wrongdoing, and the prospect of being barred from the Champions League risked upending one of the most ambitious projects in global sports.
For UEFA, the latest high-profile reversal of its effort to uphold financial regulations means that the governing body is likely to find itself under scrutiny, with its defeat creating new doubts about the future of its so-called financial fair-play regulations and its ability and willingness to enforce them.
The court said in a statement posted on its website that its panel found the most serious breaches found by UEFA were either “not established” or no longer relevant (in the court’s words, “time-barred”).
The club, the panel found, was guilty of failing to cooperate with UEFA’s investigations and fined the club 10 million euros, about $11.3 million, a reduction from the €20 million penalty UEFA had originally levied.
Since being acquired in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, the billionaire brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Manchester City has risen from relative obscurity to become one of soccer’s most valuable and successful brands. It fields one of the best teams in the world and is led by Pep Guardiola, the Spanish coach who oversaw its collecting every available trophy in English soccer last season.
Manchester City remains in contention to win the Champions League this year; it won the first leg of its round-of-16 tie against Real Madrid in March before the coronavirus pandemic forced a temporary halt to the event. UEFA is scheduled to resume the competition this summer.
“The club welcomes the implications of today’s ruling as a validation of the club’s position and the body of evidence that it was able to present,” Manchester City said in a brief statement.
The ruling in City’s favor means that the team will continue to perform on one of sports biggest stages, and one of its most lucrative. A two-year absence from the Champions League would have been worth more than $200 million, but it also would have been costly in terms of damage to City’s carefully cultivated reputation, and to its ability to attract top players and coaches.