Half of Manchester can breathe a sigh of relief, while the other half will curse under their breath: Manchester City will play in the UEFA Champions League next season after all.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Monday morning overturned UEFA's two-year ban on the Abu Dhabi-owned club from playing in the Champions League and the Europa League, ruling that City should pay a fine but that "it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA's club competitions." City's fine was reduced to €10 million.
UEFA barred City from European competition for two years in a February ruling, also fining the club €30 million for "serious breaches" of the governing body's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. Investigators determined that City deliberately misled regulators and inflated sponsorship revenues, with Abu Dhabi United Group reportedly covering nearly £60 million of a deal with Etihad Airways that was listed as worth £67.5 million.
The CAS determined that City "contravened" FFP regulations, but "most of the alleged breaches ... were either not established or time-barred."
"As the charges with respect to any dishonest concealment of equity funding were clearly more significant violations than obstructing the [UEFA Club Financial Control Body's] investigations," the CAS wrote, "it was not appropriate to impose a ban on participating in UEFA’s club competitions for [City's] failure to cooperate with the CFCB’s investigations alone."
City already had clinched second place and a spot in the Champions League, but they were awaiting the CAS ruling. The club have won every major trophy on offer in England at least once since Sheikh Mansour's group purchased them in 2008, but European glory has proven elusive. The Champions League awaits City following the conclusion of the Premier League campaign, with a spot in the quarter-final on the line in a second-leg tie with La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Aug. 7. Now, City won't necessarily feel an extra urgency to fill out their trophy case with the ban lifted, nor will they worry about manager Pep Guardiola having wandering eyes with just a year left on his contract or any other stars looking for the exit doors.
Guardiola has maintained he wanted to remain with City, regardless of the club's potential ban from European competition. City's financial might never allow for the club to be anything but a domestic frontrunner, but remaining a fixture in the Champions League -- combined with the coronavirus pandemic's economic impact upon their competitors -- undoubtledy will help City retain stars like Kevin de Bruyne.
City's overturned ban unquestionably is a blow to their Premier League rivals in the race for European competition. Fifth place won't clinch automatic qualifcation to the group stage of the Champions League, and the financial boost that comes with playing in the continent's premier knockout competition. As the table stands right now, fifth-place Manchester United would've benefitted from Manchester City's absence from Europe. City's cross-town rivals have a game in hand on fourth-place Leicester City, however, and United can jump into third (over Leicester City and Chelsea) with a win against Southampton on Monday.
But no more than two points will separate Leicester City and Manchester United after Monday, and the clubs are set to play on the final day of the Premier League season on July 26. That match likely carries far more importance now.
Eighth-place Tottenham Hotspur would've, depending on how the FA Cup finishes, been eligible for a spot in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League. Now, seventh-place Sheffield United has the inside track to the Premier League's last European spot. Spurs are two points behind the Blades, while ninth-place Arsenal and 10th-place Burnley are both four points back.