After their two-year European ban was overturned, Pep Guardiola’s side can throw everything at winning the continent’s biggest prize
Manchester City’s biggest result of the season came not at the Etihad Stadium or even Wembley, but on a Monday morning with a judgement from Switzerland.
The club will be able to play in next season’s Champions League after a two-year ban from UEFA competitions was lifted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
City were cleared of overstating their sponsorship contributions but they will still have to pay a fine of €10 million (£9m/$11m) – reduced from an initial €30m (£25m/$33m) – for failing to co-operate with UEFA authorities.
The ramifications for City had the UEFA decision stood would have been huge.
A club that have won four Premier League titles and six domestic cup competitions over the past decade would have seen their reputation seriously tarnished.
But more than the past, City’s future would have been uncertain.
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No Champions League football for two seasons could have cost somewhere in the region of €200m (£180m/$220m) in lost revenue even if sponsorship deals would likely have not been impacted.
But that drop in revenue would not have come at a worse time, even for a wealthy club like City. They are now running the business on a profit and, like every other club, will be affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and its impact on matchday and television revenues.
Just as serious, would have been the consequences to Pep Guardiola and his squad.
The City manager had pledged to see out the final year of his contract and maintained that he trusted the club’s stance over the UEFA charges.
Guardiola has been loyal throughout but one of the greatest coaches in world football would have been sorely missed on big European nights.
Now he will be on the touchline, where he belongs, as he aims to bring the Champions League to City for the first time in the club’s history.
He has two attempts left – this season’s August tournament in Portugal and now another one before the end of his current deal.
But if there was any chance of City convincing the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager to stay longer, CAS’s verdict has given them more hope.
It was not only Guardiola’s situation that was a concern. Many of his talented squad deserve to be playing at the top of the game and it would be understandable if some were to consider their futures with such a long hiatus from Europe looming.
CEO Ferran Soriano spoke to the club’s stars after UEFA’s original decision in February and asked them to trust that they would overturn the decision, as well as committing to paying player bonuses.
The first-team dressing room remained united.
Kevin De Bruyne, 29 last month, flirted with the suggestion that he would look at his future if the ban was upheld but the Belgian has never seriously wanted to leave the club.
Raheem Sterling was quick to announce that he had no plans to leave during the end-of-season transfer window despite a desire to play abroad at some point during his career, with Real Madrid and Barcelona on alert.
Both are playing right at the top of their games – and City will now look to keep open talks over long-term contracts along with other key members of the squad.
Not only that, City can now look to strengthen their squad significantly.
European football reinforces their immense pulling power as one the strongest clubs on the continent and management concede they are in need of refreshment if they are to drag back Liverpool in the title race.
A number of factors have led Guardiola to plan a rebuild of his squad; failing to maintain a challenge on Jurgen Klopp’s side, the €49m (£44.7m/$55m) sale of Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich, the impending departure of David Silva, and failure to replace a centre-back after the loss of Vincent Kompany last summer.
With Champions League football now certain, Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain can look to recruit their top targets with a centre-half, full-back and forward on their wanted list.
It promises to be a hectic transfer window but that’s with one eye on next season. The verdict could hardly have come at a better time for this season’s European bid.
With a top-four place certain, Guardiola can go full steam ahead with a united dressing room targeting the FA Cup, the last-16 Champions League second leg against Real Madrid and potentially the end-of-season tournament in Lisbon.
City have registered one significant victory over UEFA. That could just give them the impetus for another major win in Europe over the upcoming weeks.