Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Manchester City's appeal victory eradicates uncertainty over club's future prospects

Premier League club had two-year ban from European football overturned by Court of Arbitration for Sport

Manchester City were always confident they would not be banned from the Champions League.

That conviction had become more apparent in the past couple of weeks, and was voiced by Pep Guardiola on Friday. “I’m so confident,” he said. They had long denied wrongdoing and a club statement on Monday spoke of “validation”.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced their fine from €30 million (Dh124.6m) to €10m and criticised City for not co-operating sufficiently with Uefa’s investigations into whether they breached Financial Fair Play regulations.

But the most salient detail – and the worst for whoever finishes fifth in the Premier League – is that they can compete in next season’s Champions League.

Now their August campaign to conquer the continent does not take on all-or-nothing affair. City will be back next season and, while outsiders long took a top-four finish for granted, Guardiola reacted to Saturday’s 5-0 win at Brighton by pointing out it was now mathematically certain.

He had pledged to remain at the Etihad Stadium next season regardless of the outcome of their appeal against the two-year ban Uefa had initially imposed.

Next season is the last of his current contract and, with City able to envisage 2021-22 in Europe as well, CAS’s verdict is certain to fuel hopes the manager will agree to an extended deal. There is no doubt the Champions League represents unfinished business for both him and the club. Regular hard-luck stories have only made their past exits more agonising.

In other respects, the important significance of the ruling lies in what will now not happen. Predictions of an exodus may have always been overblown, especially in an economy when fewer can afford the supersized fees required to buy the best, and in their different ways Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling had indicated they were likely to stay, even if there were some mixed messages.

But if City were banned for two years, the Belgian would have been out of the world’s finest club competition until he was 31 and the Englishman until he was 27. Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva would have been absent until each was 28.

These are the peak years of their careers and, more than most, City know how hard it is to win the Champions League without losing two years at their prime. For Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, two of City’s all-time greats, there would have been no return to the European elite after this season.

The significance extends to the next generation. Even before factoring in matchday revenue and the clauses of commercial deals, City made €93m in prize money and television rights from participation in last season’s Champions League. If they go further this year or, as seems likely, are the last English team standing, that number should be larger again.

Like the carrot of Champions League football, that income will be essential to a rebuild. Guardiola has said that, with Phil Foden’s emergence, he will not buy to replace the departing David Silva and that he may not purchase a replacement for Leroy Sane as the winger joins Bayern Munich.

Yet a makeover of some sort is expected. It may include a new forward of a different description, another left-back or a central defender to partner Laporte. If Aguero goes in 2021, when his contract is up, it is logical to expect some kind of striking addition. All that is harder without Champions League football and funding. Because a two-year ban had the potential to set City back more than two years.

Others would have had the bigger budgets. Perhaps they would have signed some of City’s targets. Maybe, if Guardiola does move on next summer, it would have been tougher to get the right replacement.

Certainly, as Manchester United and Liverpool have discovered in the last decade and Arsenal are finding now, an exile from the Champions League is not necessarily a short-term affair.

Confident as City were, such thoughts may have been in the back of their minds for the last 20 months. Now they can look forward: to a second leg with Real Madrid, to a 10th straight season in the Champions League and, perhaps, to a first European Cup.

Updated: July 13, 2020 05:22 PM

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