Man City await FFP fate
Few trends have been more notable in football in the past two decades than the emergence of the super-rich owner, who can transform the fortunes of a club.
In English football there have been several examples: Wigan and Fulham are two clubs who have enjoyed sufficient backing to rise up to Premiership level, while Blackburn Rovers, backed by local steel magnate Jack Walker, went further and won the Premiership title in 1995.
Those were limited cases, with Fulham and Wigan not mixing it with the very top sides, while Blackburn's time at the top was limited, sliding out of contention and being relegated in 1999 as the funds dwindled. Indeed, having been extremely lucky to have Walker's backing, the opposite is true after the takeover by a bunch of bird-brained chicken farmers.
Chelsea and Manchester City have subsequently taken matters to a new level, backed by multi-billionaires who have enabled them to challenge for top honours year after year. They have been joined in this by other Sheiks and Oligarchs around Europe, most notably the Qataris at Paris St Germain and the Russian-owned AS Monaco.
Some have seen this as a welcome challenge to an otherwise self-sustaining elite of established big clubs, whose large fan bases and popular appeal has helped keep the money rolling in and thus at the top, where the Champions League lucre and mammoth sponsorship deals are.
UEFA boss Michel Platini has taken a very different view, labelling such spending 'financial doping' and introducing the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations to force clubs to live off what they can earn through the turnstiles and legitimate, market-value sponsorship.
This is now the time of reckoning. Making the rules work means backing words with deeds and imposing sanctions, and it may just be that both City and PSG have gambled that UEFA will either be unwilling to punish them - or make the punishments stick.
Either way, with a loss of £149 million over the past two seasons, compared with the permissible £37 milion, City now face the music.
At this stage, however, they need not fear the ultimate sanction of exclusion from European football. Instead, it seems from all reports that they will be among up to 20 clubs hit by limitations on their squads, such as making new signings ineligible for the Champions League. This could mean, for example, that even a free transfer like the possible Bosman move for Arsenal's Bacary Sagna could leave him unable to play in the Champions League.
UEFA took the step this week of offering settlements to the affected clubs, which may call the bluff of any considering a legal challenge to FFP - a risky business considering the European Commission's support for UEFA's standpoint. We will know soon enough if City will accept it, or appeal.
If this does mark the end of the limitless spending, however, the investment will still have made a huge difference to the club. It has transformed what used to be a laughing stock to regular challengers, with three major trophies secured since the 2008 takeover and the team within touching distance of a second Premiership title in three years.
Even the worst case scenario - that the glory days end and the team slips into decline - will steam mean fans used to mediocrity and worse for so many years will have had years of success to remember fondly.
However, such an outcome is far from inevitable. There is still no limit to how much the owners can spend on projects like expanding the Etihad Stadium and the new academy.
Indeed, in these respects City are certainly in a better position than Chelsea, who have trimmed their budget to meet FFP rules, but cannot expand Stamford Bridge and have floundered in their attempts thus far to find room for a new home - including a failed bid to buy the Battersea Power Station site.
By investing as they have, the owners have done more than just bring a few years of success: They have raised the club's profile to the point where an expanded fan base offers the hope of more income through bums on seats, while an academy run by former Barcelona officials will leave no stone unturned in the bid to develop young talent.
In short, while the club must try to find different routes to success in the future, they have done much to prepare for such a scenario. The budget may be smaller, but the club's infrastructure and organisation now are incomparably better than they were six years ago.
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