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IAN HERBERT: Man City have established a reputation as a grubby club with under the table dealings

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IAN HERBERT: Manchester City have established a reputation as a grubby club with under the table dealings... UEFA's two-year Champions League ban is SO rightManchester City have been banned from European competition for two seasonsThe Premier League side failed to answer serious questions about their financesThe club's lack of co-operation created suspicion of Financial Fair Play breachCity have always disliked Financial Fair Play rules and paid for their arrogance

It was the Fordham episode which perhaps best illustrates the struggle for transparency and truth in football and the reason why UEFA's decision to throw Manchester City out of European competition, with all the consequences that will have, is so right.

Several sources confirmed to me two years ago that City were raking in millions from image rights deals — despite having stated in documents filed at Companies House that they had sold that income stream in the 2012-13 season to a third-party company, Fordham Sports Image Rights, for £24.5million.

UEFA had been examining their spending from the summer of 2011, since when their gross outlay on players had been £185m. City needed every £24.5m they could lay their hands on to break even and comply with UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) rules.

City's owners have always been criticial of FFP and failed to address their overspending

Manchester City have paid the price for their dismissive attitude towards Financial Fair Play 

The story will perhaps seem arcane and dry. The small financial details get crushed these days in the stampede for the next soundbite or headline. But it was fundamental to City's attempts to comply with the rules set out for any teams wishing to compete in the Champions League. 

It was not one of those 'anonymous sources' disclosures, either. 

Spanish financier Esteve Calzada, a close friend of City chief executive Ferran Soriano, confirmed to me that he had always been working on image rights deals for City — Kevin De Bruyne's, among others —when that entitlement had supposedly been sold off.

The publication of my story in The Independent brought down the full force of City's wrath. A demand from a specialist internet law firm that it be removed, that an apology for it be published and that I tweet out that apology.

It would have been an unprecedented level of 'contrition'. But we were not cowed. A detailed, 1,500-word defence of the story was sent by return. We heard no more from City or their lawyers on the matter. In November 2018, a cache of documents published by Football Leaks suggested that we had actually only half of the story.

UEFA have been examining City's spending on players since 2011 when they spent £185m 

Raheem Sterling is one of a host of players who arrived at the club for multi-million pound fees 

City's owners, the Abu Dhabi United Group, were actually financing Fordham, according to the leaks — effectively paying part of the players' wages through the shell company which had paid City the £24.5m. 

Not only were City boosting their income against the rules but reducing their headline wage bill as they did so.

City were not the only ones on the attack when the Fordham story was published. 

Journalists who challenge the club know they invite dog's abuse on social media and that one was no different.

It is why what ensued after Associated Press journalist Rob Harris asked Pep Guardiola who paid his wages, at his post-match FA Cup final press conference at Wembley last year, had such a ring of familiarity. 

The question was intended to establish whether Guardiola had been paid a separate fee by City to artificially reduce the club's wage bill, in the way that Football Leaks revealed that his predecessor Roberto Mancini was. And as the Fordham arrangement had.

Harris asked City, in writing, in November 2018 whether Guardiola was being paid in this way. If not, then 'no' would have been an extremely simple answer, protecting the manager from the indignity of having to answer for himself at Wembley. But no reply was forthcoming from City. The club have never been willing to say.

Journalists asked City how Pep Guardiola was being paid but the club failed to respond

'Why not?' clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal have justifiably been asking, internally. Both those clubs have complied with FFP, cohering with the view that if you play in UEFA's competitions, you abide by their rules — whatever your views on them might be.

The question of Guardiola's salary is by no means the only one raised by the Football Leaks documents, which suggest an abundance of ways were found to deliver Abu Dhabi money to City under the table. A letter by City lawyer Simon Cliff jokes about the death of Jean-Luc Dehaene who was one of seven FFP overseers. 'One down, 6 to go,' Cliff joked. Grubby.

Those who pose the difficult questions should be applauded. The veteran New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh's memoir, published last year, was entitled, simply, Reporter because he laid claim to be nothing more than that. In it, he described the months of abuse he received after breaking the story of the United States' brutal killing of civilians at My Lai, in Vietnam. 'I would survive any criticism of a story I knew to be true,' he wrote.

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