End is nigh for Pep Guardiola's Manchester City reign?

English champions face prospect of losing manager, team he built, in wake of Uefa ban

The thoughts of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola might take more than an FFP-cleared penny to uncover, with his future after this season hanging in the balance. PHOTO: REUTERS
The thoughts of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola might take more than an FFP-cleared penny to uncover, with his future after this season hanging in the balance. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Pep Guardiola was speculating only a few days ago that he might be sacked if he does not win the Champions League with Manchester City this season.

He may have been unduly melodramatic but, if the Uefa verdict on Friday stands up to the inevitable appeal, he may now have just one chance this season.

The Spaniard is facing a huge test of his loyalty to City, after the Premier League champions were hit with a two-year suspension from Uefa competitions on Friday.

They are banned from the Champions League and Europa League for the next two seasons and fined €30 million (S$45.3 million) after Uefa found them guilty of committing "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

According to Europe's football governing body, City overstated sponsorship revenue in accounts submitted between 2012 and 2016.

The FFP rules were put in place by Uefa so that clubs do not receive unlimited amounts of money through inflated sponsorship deals with organisations related to the owners.

City's owner, Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, was reported to be funding close to 90 per cent of the £67.5 million (S$163.5 million) annual sponsorship of the club's shirt, stadium and academy through his country's Etihad Airlines.

The punishment will cost City an estimated £170 million in lost Champions League revenue. The club have vowed to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) "at the earliest opportunity".

"City has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position," a statement read.

Ban or no ban, Guardiola is unlikely to be in charge of City in 2023. His present contract runs out at the end of next season.

Should City have to endure two seasons in the European wilderness, there will not be much point having the 49-year-old around anyway.

He was brought in specifically for his Champions League expertise. Having won a domestic treble last season and set a points record in winning the Premier League the season before, there is little more he can do in England.

The two-season ban has no effect on this year's competition, in which City will face Spain's table-toppers Real Madrid next week in the first leg of the last 16.

Guardiola said on Thursday before news of the ban: "I want to win the Champions League, I dream and will enjoy the games against Real Madrid, to see what I can do."

Whether the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss wants to stick it out at City will show how much he has grown to love the club since arriving in 2016.

He is close to City directors Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, who worked with him at the Nou Camp, but his ties with Sheikh Mansour might be frayed if there is no escape from the embarrassing ban.

The Spaniard is already 7/4 with British bookmakers to not be at City before the start of the next Premier League season.

A source has told ESPN Guardiola wants to stay at City "as long as he is happy", but understands if his players want to leave to avoid the prospect of no Champions League football.

Should he leave, however, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern are potential destinations, according to the Italian press. News outlet Calciomercato reported that Juventus are the favourites for his signature, having approached him before they appointed Maurizio Sarri last summer.

Guardiola said last week that it was still a matter of pride for the club to finish second in the table to ensure Champions League qualification next season, but there will be even less of an incentive to do so given the prospect of a ban next season.

Now the City manager's departure appears to be a matter of time.

All Guardiola and his team can do for now, assuming the punishment is upheld, is to play their hearts out against the 13-time European champions.



Potential implications of FFP fallout


Apart from a €30 million (S$45.3 million) fine, City will not have Champions League revenue for two seasons.

The prize and television money in European football's top-tier club competition has always been lucrative and, considering that City made €93 million last season, the loss over two years could be a hefty €200 million or more.


Without European football, City will not earn Uefa coefficient points, meaning that by the time they return, they will be a lower seed and thus find it tougher to reach the latter stages of the tournament.


Assuming City finish in the top four of the Premier League this season and their ban is not overturned, the fourth Champions League spot for English teams will go to the next-highest finishers - the fifth-placed club. At the moment, Sheffield United, who were promoted to the top flight only this season, hold that spot.


The manager's contract runs out in the summer of 2021, but he reportedly has a break clause that sever ties with City after this season.

He led City to a pair of Premier League titles in record-breaking fashion and winning a domestic treble last term underlined his qualities. But he has failed to get past the quarter-finals of the Champions League with City, a blemish on his otherwise glittering CV.

He won the Champions League with Barcelona and has openly declared his goal of doing the same with City. The prospect of wasting two seasons waiting to return to pursuing his holy grail could be too much for him to bear.


City's record scorer Sergio Aguero is at the top of that list. His contract ends next year, so does that of winger Leroy Sane, who may have been set to leave for Bayern Munich anyway.

Other stars contracted beyond 2022, like Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, all primed to hit their peak years, may also reconsider their future if there is no European football to look forward to at the Etihad.


The reactions

Uefa is finally taking decisive action. Enforcing the rules of financial fair play and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football.

For years we have been calling for severe action against Manchester City.

Better late than never.

JAVIER TEBAS, Spanish La Liga president. He has been an outspoken critic of the petrodollar-fuelled spending of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

For what has just happened, their motivation will be immense.

It's a team anyway, who will be a difficult opponent, knowing also how they have been doing in the Premier League. So they will have extra motivation.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE, coach of Real Madrid, their Champions League last 16 opponents on Feb 26.

If this decision is upheld it would not surprise me to see owner Sheikh Mansour sell the club.

He has been superb for City and this is a huge kick in the b***s. I wouldn't blame him."

RODNEY MARSH, former City forward.

What they've done as a football club, what they've done on the pitch, the way they've gone about it, I think they've been first class.

They've been honourable how they've gone about it, as usual like Manchester City. This will be a shock for them but it will be something that they'll come out fighting.

MICHAEL BROWN, former City midfielder.

Manchester City are one of the biggest clubs in the world. The best players want to go to the best clubs because of the Champions League. If they're not in it for the next two years, are they going to be able to get the best players?

For Pep, they've got to win it this year. If they're not in it for the next two years, the question is what Pep's going to do and what players they're going to be able to attract.

PAUL INCE, former Manchester United and England midfielder.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 16, 2020, with the headline 'End is nigh for pep's city reign?'. Subscribe