Will Manchester City be banned from the Champions League?
By Joe Harker
Manchester City are hot off winning their second Premier League in two seasons, making them the first team to successfully defend the title in a decade.
However, they could be in serious trouble with UEFA as the New York Times reports that investigators are recommending City take a one season ban from the Champions League.
The club have been under financial investigation for months and UEFA's panel will rule on the matter within the next two weeks. Investigators believe City have been supplying false information over sponsorship agreements and acting in bad faith.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Paul Hayward writes that if the investigation finds City guilty then UEFA must make the Champions League ban stick, describing it as an "era defining judgment".
If UEFA try to impose punishment on City for breaking the rules and the club is able to shrug off the prospect then it will be clear that super rich football clubs are able to get away with whatever they like, essentially neutering UEFA's ability to regulate top level football.
If the claims are true and UEFA is powerless to punish City then their measures have failed. Hayward argues that legal wrangling to scale back the threat will also show up UEFA. If they threaten to ban City from the Champions League for a season and end up settling for a fine then the harshest punishments will not be feared.
City have already been caught breaching the rules in 2014, meaning their punishment must be more severe if they have done so again. UEFA's actions here will set a precedent for future incidents.
The Counter Claim:
Manchester City say they are "fully co-operating in good faith" with investigators while questioning whether their faith in the Club Financial Control Body Investigatory Chamber is misplaced.
They describe the New York Times report as "extremely concerning" and describe their belief in the impartiality of the CFCBIC as being "misplaced" if they allowed it to leak to the press. They said the alternative was individuals seeking to damage the club misrepresenting the CFCBIC.
City are adamant that they have provided "comprehensive proof" of their innocence to the investigators and have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on their part.
The allegations against City have been investigated since November. UEFA want to know whether money City recorded in their finances as coming from sponsors was in fact an investment from club owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
City are sponsored by Abu Dhabi state airline Etihad while Sheikh Mansour is a member of the Abi Dhabi royal family and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.
City receive around £65 million in sponsorship money from Etihad but the allegation made against the club claims only around £8 million of this actually comes from the sponsors. The rest allegedly comes from Sheikh Manour's Abu Dhabi United Group.
Leaks from German publication Der Spiegel claim City breached Financial Fair Play rules by £167 million in 2014 and the club set up a scheme called "Project Longbow" that hid around £40 million in player payments after they agreed to settle matter with a £49 million fine.
If City are banned from the Champions League then the Premier League's qualification spots might mean Arsenal make it into the competition. If they then won the Europa League final, which carries Champions League qualification as a prize, then Manchester United might also qualify. That would depend on where the qualification place was awarded.