Real Madrid is set to square off with Manchester City in the Champions League round of 16 in just a couple of weeks. However, the tone of the tie has changed dramatically with news coming out that UEFA has banned the defending Premier League winners from the competition for the next two seasons.
Pep Guardioloa’s team will not be participating in Europe’s premier competition during the 2020/2021 campaign or the 2021/2022 campaign. In the late afternoon on Valentine’s Day, City fans were not feeling much love as UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) handed down both a two-year ban and a stunning €30 million fine.
A statement released by the club shortly after the news broke stated, “Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber,” and they would appeal the decision “at the earliest opportunity.”
The core issue and the reasoning behind the suspension is quite simple. Majority owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan was paying for Etihad Airways to sponsor both City’s jerseys and the name on the stadium. Mansour was paying an estimated €67.5 million in total for the “deal” while the company was paying a fraction of that and only paid €8 million during the 2015/2016 season.
UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber found that City “committed serious breaches of the Uefa Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016.”
It’s hard to say anyone is surprised by the decision reached by the investigators since City went from being a bottom dweller in England to suddenly one of the most explosive and highest-spending clubs in the world.
So, for our sake as Real Madrid fans, what does this punishment mean heading into what should be a thrilling round of 16 matchup?
It is a bit worrying and has added even more interest to a tie that many have been calling the best of the round. It means that Pep Guardiola’s pursuit of that elusive Champions League trophy in Manchester is do or die this season.
Personally, I think this will be Pep’s final year with City given what has just happened. He sees himself as an elite manager who should be competing and winning titles on the highest level every year and not being able to compete in the UCL for almost three years would hurt his legacy.
So, with Liverpool leading the Prem by over 20 points, all of City’s focus will be dedicated to winning this tournament this year.
Until today, I considered Real Madrid to be far and away the favorite, but now, I’m having second thoughts. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu greatly benefits Los Blancos, but the return leg in Manchester will likely be the most difficult match of the seasons for these players.
There will be a hostile tone from the City fans regardless of the first leg result and that hostility will not only be directed at Real Madrid and its players but at UEFA.
Pep has a special way of getting the best out of his players despite injury problems or distractions off the field, so, while Real Madrid should still be considered the favorites, the fire Manchester City will play with in the round of 16 is unnerving and could make the tie even closer.