LONDON • The prospect of Manchester City being banned from the Champions League for alleged breaches of Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules increased on Monday night after it emerged that the investigators charged with examining the case will push for a one-season suspension.
Uefa's independent club financial control body has been investigating allegations that a £59.5 million (S$105.4 million) sponsorship deal that was supposed to have come to the club in 2015 from Etihad Airways was instead paid directly by the club's owners, the Abu Dhabi United Group.
Members of the body, which is led by former Belgium prime minister Yves Leterme, met in Nyon, Switzerland two weeks ago to finalise the conclusions that they will put forward to Uefa's adjudicatory chamber, which will decide on the sanction in the coming weeks.
A report in The New York Times on Monday also corroborated accounts that their recommendation would be a Champions League ban of at least one season.
Speaking in December, Leterme said: "If it is true what has been alleged, there might be a serious problem. This can lead to the heaviest punishment - exclusion from the Uefa competitions."
It is unlikely that such a ban, if authorised by the adjudicatory chamber, would come into effect in time for next season as City would have the right of appeal and could also take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
If City are found guilty, Uefa would have little time to finalise the English side's punishment in time for next season's competition as qualification for the Champions League starts next month, although the Premier League champions do not enter the competition until the group stage begins in September.
Investigators are recommending a one-season suspension for Manchester City from the Champions League.
City have strenuously denied any wrongdoing and vowed that they would mount an aggressive response to any effort to bar the club from the competition.
In a statement released earlier this year, the club said: "The accusation of financial irregularities are entirely false. The club's published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record."
They have also pointed out that many of the allegations of financial impropriety and rule-breaking made against them came to light after they were reported by news media outlets with access to the so-called Football Leaks files, which are widely believed to have been obtained by hacking.
The club have previously been found guilty of breaching Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules, with the investigatory team arguing that a strong punishment is required on this occasion to prevent the regulations being rendered meaningless.
In 2014, City agreed to accept a fine of £49 million related to a breach of the spending rules and to accept some restrictions on transfers.
The latest development came a day after City retained the title and as the club prepared to back Pep Guardiola in the transfer market this summer as he looks to revamp his squad in another bid for a maiden Champions League crown.
The Spaniard became the first manager in a decade to win successive league titles and his players will complete an unprecedented domestic treble if they defeat Watford in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
But Guardiola still believes that his squad need strengthening amid the threat of a transfer ban following a separate investigation, with up to four players possibly signed while defenders Fabian Delph, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala are set to leave.
He wants to add more physicality and height to his team, which is why he wants to bring in imposing Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodri, who is seen as the perfect replacement for 33-year-old Fernandinho.
The Spain international has a €70 million (S$107.7 million) release clause in his contract, which means that if acquired, he would become City's record buy.
Riyad Mahrez, their most expensive purchase at £60 million, though, has no intention of leaving the Etihad despite his lack of playing time since moving from Leicester last summer.
The Algeria forward started only 14 league games, with Guardiola preferring Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane on the flanks, but he revealed he was "very happy here" and was "not going somewhere else because I don't play".
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON