Yesterday, the Premier League charged Manchester City with more than 100 financial rule breaches over the period 2009 – 2018. The club have not cooperated with the ongoing inquiry since 2018. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, but the cuts from 2010-12 run deep, when similar charges were successfully brought against Rangers.
Problems started for City over innocuous-sounding investigations into Related Party Transactions. These are areas where an owner or controller of a club pays money, for example, to sponsor the stadium. Uefa Financial Fair Play rules prevents clubs artificially inflating such deals in order to pump more money into their coffers.
The Premier League charge, among other matters, that City did not disclose full player and manager renumeration between 2010 and 2016. City deny all allegations.
The clearest difference between City and Rangers is the protagonist. HMRC were active against Rangers and other Murray Group companies. They pursued the club for disguised remuneration through the inappropriate use of Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs). The matter went to the Supreme Court, which rules these Trusts were renumeration and should have been subject to employment taxes.
HMRC are not involved with City, so it is unlikely public services have lost out on this occasion. The League have appointed a KC to head a commission of inquiry to investigate. Before the HMRC action against Rangers concluded, but after liquidators were appointed, the Scottish Premier League asked Lord Nimmo Smith to investigate rule breaches. Nimmo Smith found Rangers broke player registration rules of both the SPL and SFA.
In surprising testimony, the SFA’s Sandy Bryson gave evidence to the inquiry that, “even if there had been a breach of the SFA registration procedures, the registration of a player was not treated as being invalid from the outset, and stood unless and until it was revoked.”
So if you break the rules, you get away with it unless and until HMRC catch you. The gods of good governance hid their faces. England is different, of course. There, their administrators, public prosecutors and police are not partial to any one club. Without the City of London Police raiding Ibrox and passing information along Whitehall to HMRC in 2007, Rangers liquidation would never have happened.
If charges against them are upheld, Manchester City’s period of domination of English football is over, a return to the days of the enigmatic Kinkladze beckons. Few will weep.
Throughout season 2011-12, Rangers, their fans, much of the media and several football administrators, backed owner Craig Whyte and his plan to flush the club’s liabilities, form a Newco and apply for SPL membership.
They were stopped by fan action which started on these pages in October 2011 with ‘The prepack route for Rangers Newco FC’. I did not dream this up on my own. The day before, Peter Lawwell called, worried that this would happen, “We need to stop this.” He called practically every day for the rest of that season urging more action.
I was given credit for my prescience, he took the blame for not going public, believing it would undermine his influence with other clubs. Neither were deserved. Without his Machiavellian strategizing, you would have lived under a red, white and blue cosh for the last decade or so. There’s more I could write, but probably best not. I just thought you should know some of what happened.