City face Euro ban after fair play inquiry stepped up
Man City v Watford, FA Cup Final, Wembley Stadium, Saturday, 5pm
Manchester City could be facing a ban from European club football after a Uefa investigation into potential breaches of financial fair play.
Chief financial fair play investigator Yves Leterme referred their case to the investigatory chamber of its main regulator, the Club Financial Control Body.
But City said in a statement that they are "entirely confident of a positive outcome" when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.
Leterme, a former prime minister of Belgium, opened his investigation into the Premier League champions on March 7 following a series of reports in German news magazine Der Spiegel late last year which suggested the club had deceived Uefa about finances.
Based on emails received from the Football Leaks whistle-blowing website, these reports alleged City had inflated the value of their commercial deals with Abu Dhabi-based companies and hid payments to players and staff from the wage bill.
In a statement, Uefa said: "The Club Financial Control Body chief investigator, after having consulted with the other members of the independent investigatory chamber of the CFCB, has decided to refer Manchester City to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber following the conclusion of his investigation."
It added that it would not be making any further comment until a decision on what punishment City will face, if any, is announced by the CFCB's adjudicatory chamber.
City, who are set to celebrate their second straight Premier League title with an open-top bus parade on Monday and face Watford in tomorrow's FA Cup final, did not take long to reply.
In a statement released via their social media channels, the club said: "Manchester City is disappointed, but regrettably not surprised, by the sudden announcement of the referral to be made by the CFCB chief investigator Yves Leterme.
"The leaks to media over the last week are indicative of the process that has been overseen by Mr Leterme.
"Manchester City is entirely confident of a positive outcome when the matter is considered by an independent judicial body.
"The accusation of financial irregularities remains entirely false and the CFCB referral ignores a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence provided by Manchester City to the chamber.
"The decision contains mistakes, misinterpretations and confusions fundamentally borne out of a basic lack of due process and there remain significant unresolved matters raised by Manchester City as part of what the club has found to be a wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process."
City's immediate focus is on the FA Cup final.
Pep Guardiola could become just the eighth manager to win the English top flight, League Cup and FA Cup, after Bill Nicholson, Don Revie, Joe Mercer, Kenny Dalglish, George Graham, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho; Mercer achieved the feat with Manchester City.
And either Guardiola or Javi Gracia will become the third Spanish manager to win the FA Cup, after Rafael Benitez (2006, Liverpool) and Roberto Martinez (2013, Wigan).
Watford's Spanish right-back Kiko Femenia once enjoyed a 2-0 victory over Guardiola's Barcelona team when he was at his hometown club Hercules.
"The secret is to be together, to be united," he said now when asked about how best to topple the giants of the game.
"Defend together, attack together. Man City are a much more complete team than Barcelona right now, and have very quick players. They can do us a lot of damage if we're not together, defending well.
"We know it will be difficult. They are one of best teams in the world at the moment. But it's one game, anything can happen. We have the weapons to beat them. It's very much possible."
Of course, he has every reason to feel bullish. Watford have just completed another strong Premier League campaign, with Kiko finally showing the form that convinced both Barcelona and Real Madrid to take him on after leaving Hercules.
Neither move worked out, but during his two years in the Barcelona B side, and then 18 months at the Madrid Castilla, he got a taste of what it took to reach the very top.
"I didn't have much contact with Guardiola, because I wasn't with the first team most of the time," he recalled. "But I respected the way he kept very close to his players, the way he builds a relationship with them. He tries to drive into you that you have to play with a calm mentality."