MANCHESTER — There was anger and plenty of confusion in the air as Man City played their first game since their ban from European action was confirmed.
The name of their owner, Sheikh Mansour, was sung loud and proud, so too Pep Guardiola‘s, as there was an extra level of defiance among City’s fans who held up anti-UEFA banners, some of which were confiscated, as anti-UEFA chants ruled supreme.
Chants of ‘F*** UEFA, F*** UEFA” and “F*** off UEFA, we will see you in court!” were plentiful, especially after Rodri’s goal gave Man City the lead.
West Ham’s fans responded by signing “cheating b*******, you know what you are!”
City’s 2-0 win against West Ham was secondary. Pretty much everything else is secondary after the seismic news arrived late last week. City’s fans didn’t seem to know what to think or what to say. Guardiola revealed he will not be leaving the club. That was at least some clarity as the Etihad Stadium was shrouded in mist, rain and cloud on Wednesday.
The weather summed up the mystery shrouding Man City’s future in European competitions after being given a two season ban which is due to start in the 2020-21 campaign. City will appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but as things stands the reigning Premier League champions will not be in Europe until Sept. 2022 at the earliest.
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“It is not finished. The club believes it is unfair so we are going to appeal and we are going to wait,” manager Pep Guardiola said afterwards. “So all we can do on the pitch is all we have done in the last four years and try and win games. We are going to wait. I trust 100 percent my club what they have done, they explained to me what happened. They have explained to me the reasons why and we are going to see.”
Man City’s fans were a little more emphatic.
“I just laughed out loud. I had a laugh. It is UEFA. They are corrupt,” lifelong Man City Chris Hyde said ahead of the game against West Ham.
UEFA delivered its verdict last Friday after an extensive investigation into what they call “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play rules. City were also fined $32.4 million for the breach as UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber of the Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) found the reigning Premier League champions guilty of serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations.
The Manchester club were previously charged by UEFA in 2014 as they were fined and had a limited number of players in their squad for UEFA competitions for FFP breaches. This new charge comes after Football Leaks documents published by Der Spiegel in 2018 accused Man City of wrongdoing.
On the day of the West Ham game the CEO of the City Football Group, Ferran Sorriano released a lengthy statement via the club media channel in which he said the allegations against the club are “false” and “simply not true” and that he hoped for a quick resolution by the end of the season.
“The most important thing I have to say today is that the allegations are not true,” Sorriano said. “They are simply not true. The owner has not put money in this club that has not been properly declared. We are a sustainable football club, we are profitable, we don’t have debt, our accounts have been scrutinized many times, by auditors, by regulators, by investors and this is perfectly clear.”
He also had this message for fans.
“The fans can be sure of two things. The first one is that the allegations are false. And the second is that we will do everything that can be done to prove so,” Sorriano said. “We know the fans are supporting us. We can feel it. Man City fans have gone through challenges over the decades. This is just another challenge. We will stick together, we will go through it and we will not let the fans down.”
How have the fans reacted? Do they feel let down by the Man City hierarchy?
“No, not at all,” Paul Drew, a well-spoken Mancunian and lifelong Man City said defiantly. “I don’t think there is any antipathy or anger towards the senior leadership. It has been managed pretty well but it is just the way it is.”
City are a club which is used to falling down.
Ask any City fan over the age of 30 and they will tell you all about the heartache, near misses, relegation to the third-tier and the constant hard-luck stories. They revel in those struggles and believe the decades of agony make their recent success even sweeter.
“We take the mick out of ourselves because we have to. I hate to coin the phrase but: ‘Typical City.’ We are the only team that can be one of the most successful and best teams ever and then screw it up ourselves!” Hyde laughed when discussing the allegations.
When you walk around Manchester there are nods to Man City’s past everywhere. Many fans wear retro jerseys from the third-tier days and still talk about Gillingham, Paul Dickov and Shaun Goater (who was on the pitch at half time as a guest) fondly. The fanbase is one which embraces tough times and many don’t regard being kicked out of the UEFA Champions League for two seasons as a big issue.
There is a sense that City are being picked on by UEFA. There is anger and confusion as every club will have fans sticking up for themselves not matter how stacked the evidence is against them.
Are City’s fans angry about their team being banned from European action?
“Very much so. I hope it is articulated in the right way because it just doesn’t feel fair,” Drew said.
There is a sense this situation could actually make their fanbase more defiant, more supportive and rally behind their team in their time of need as reports have surfaced detailing possible Premier League points deductions and in extreme cases relegation to the fourth-tier of English soccer.
“It would make the fanbase stronger. That is the good thing,” Drew explained. “We are often criticized for not being a big club until the last 10 or so years but the past 120 years we have been something like the top six supported clubs in England. It might dent the international fanbase a little bit, I don’t know, but certainly the domestic fanbase not at all. It might even encourage it.”
“It is just annoying. We are City fans we will just have a laugh at it. We will laugh it off. At the end of the day it is a load of millionaires talking about how they’ve spent their money. We won four league titles, we are in the Champions League, let’s have a bit of fun! It is a bit different than 10 years ago.”
There is a sense of confusion around what is fact and fiction. City’s fans, the club, pundits, UEFA, everyone seems to be saying something slightly different.
“It doesn’t feel fair,” Drew said. “I get the principles of Financial Fair Play but when you’ve got an owner who gifts the club money and might ultimately reap the profits that’s fine, when you are leveraging buyouts of clubs built on debt and paying interest on that debt, have money from the fans which other clubs do as well, how is that even comparable? It is Financial Fair Play but aimed at the wrong people.”
Guardiola has hope City will not be banned and in turn every single Man City fan, and player, will be sharing a similar view.
“We spoke. We made a deal. We are going to fight, like we fought every single day, until the end of the season,” Guardiola said of his talks with the players. “We are optimistic that in the end the truth will prevail, and if next season we qualify for the Champions League that we will be there.”