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Sensemaker: Manchester money

Sensemaker: Manchester money

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A US Air Force general declined to rule out the possibility of extraterrestrial UFOs in North American airspace (more below).
  • The UK’s Labour Party said the Conservatives have spent £145 million on discretionary perks and entertainment with government credit cards.
  • Sky Brown became Great Britain’s first skateboarding world champion aged 14. 
  • Mars Wrigley received a £12,000 fine after two workers fell into a vat of chocolate. 

Manchester money

Manchester City beat Aston Villa 3-1 in the English Premier League yesterday, showing little sign of tension on the pitch even though the club was charged last week with 115 breaches of the league’s financial rules.

So what? The charge sheet has since been shortened slightly, but it’s still long, serious and potentially a body blow to the club. More than that, City has become exhibit A in the case made by critics of the league that a great British export is morphing into the vulnerable plaything of heedless overseas investors. 

Manchester City is…

  • the world’s richest football club;
  • in the world’s richest football league;
  • and the most successful English team of the past decade, having won the league six times in the past 11 seasons.

It was bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, which has since spent almost $2 billion on players, management and facilities. That kicked off a new level of spending by most of the league’s top clubs – spending that seemed to prove if money were no object it could buy results. But there may be limits.

The charges. City is accused by the Premier League of not providing accurate financial information, “in particular with respect to its revenue (including sponsorship revenue), its related parties and its operating costs”. Under the league’s financial rules, clubs are allowed to lose £105 million over a rolling three-year period. In a broad sense, financial rules are there to create a more level playing field by allowing clubs only to spend what they earn. The charges have three main targets:

  • Accounts. They claim City’s accounts are effectively wrong for the nine-season period. These charges relate to whether the club hid costs, and whether revenue gained from supposedly independent sponsorships was legitimate.
  • Mancini’s pay. Roberto Mancini managed the club from 2009 to 2013 and won the league – thanks to an unforgettable goal by Sergio Aguero – in 2012. His first contract with City was for a base salary of £1.45 million net of tax, but his company in Italy was also allegedly paid £1.75 million annually as a consultant for Al Jazira, a UAE-based football club, for which he had to commit to coaching for just four days a year.
  • Assistance. Clubs are supposed to help the league with its inquiries, and the third accusation is that City hasn’t done enough in this department over the last four years. The investigation started in 2018, thanks to the ‘Football Leaks’ cache of documents obtained by the Portuguese computer hacker Rui Pinto, and published by Der Spiegel

The timing. The league’s announcement of the charges came two days before the UK government was due to launch a white paper on football governance, chief among its recommendations being the appointment of an independent regulator. The league is vehemently opposed to this – and the government has delayed the launch of the white paper.

What next? The club’s board denies the charges. Its current manager, Pep Guardiola, has said he’ll quit if he suspects for a moment he’s being lied to by the board. Not much else is clear. It’s “complex and messy,” says football finance expert Kieran Maguire. “There are lots of vested interests. There are lots of interested parties, and there are lots of stakeholders.” 

Transparency? Not much. The Premier League’s commission will be confidential and proceedings will be heard in private. Fellow Premier League clubs want a quick resolution as the potential penalties – which in theory range from reprimands all the way to expulsion from the league – could have significant impacts on each club’s league ranking. But the process could last at least four years, according to Nick De Marco KC, a leading sports lawyer. 

This is a struggle between the powers of a petrostate and the biggest league in world sport. It will run and run. 


To fight, or not
Forget for a moment the promises of kit and training made last week to Volodymyr Zelensky on his trip to London. The gap between what Britain’s armed forces have been promised and what they want is wide and widening. Defence ministry officials say they will be hard-put to stand still, never mind grant Ukraine’s wishes. The Times has the numbers: Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, wants up to £11 billion in extra funds over the next two years but has been promised only £700 million. Under current plans, the MoD can only afford 61 of 75 multiple-launch rocket systems on order, even though they have proved crucial in Ukraine. Barely two-thirds of a Challenger 2 tank upgrade programme is actually funded. Boosting defence spending isn’t one of Prime Minister Sunak’s five big priorities. Stopping asylum seekers arriving on small boats is. 


UFO alert
The US has shot down three unidentified flying objects in North American airspace over the past three days. They could be Chinese. They could be testing US early warning systems. They could be deliberate provocations, doubling down on last week’s spy balloon, or more routine trespasses detected only because NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defence Command) cranked up the sensitivity on its radar at the weekend. Some or all of the objects may have been balloons. If anyone knows, no one is saying. The New York Times left the bombshell until paragraph 17 of its poker-faced coverage, so we’ll bury the lede too: asked about the possibility of extraterrestrial origins, General Glen VanHerck of the US Air Force’s Northern Command said he hadn’t ruled anything out. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Controversy over the practices and provisions at the Gender Identity Development Service as part of the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust has been brewing for years. But the story of the Tavistock is now very much in the public domain. It is unusual, as BBC journalist Hannah Barnes notes ahead of her new book on the service, for mental health professionals to speak “as openly” as they have on the significance of the service’s collapse. The Times has the early read with significant allegations about the provision of medication to children, the financial interests of the trust and the restriction of whistleblowers. See also: Tortoise’s six-part podcast series on the Tavistock. To think about: last summer, NHS England announced that the child gender clinic would close this spring and be replaced by regional services. GIDS staff has sent an open letter to NHS England levelling criticism on how the closure has been managed and, as of yet, a lack of action to set up the promised clinics. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Crisis by numbers
A week after two earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, the death toll stands at more than 36,000 and rising. Miracles are still happening – a woman was rescued in Turkey’s Hatay province after 175 hours under rubble. But the overall picture is devastation. The UN’s top aid official said aid efforts so far had “failed the people of northwest Syria”. In Turkey, the government is blaming contractors linked to buildings that collapsed, issuing 113 arrest warrants. But many say President Tayyip Erdogan’s government should look closer to home. Strict building codes meant to protect against quakes were not enforced, while amnesties which allowed illegal properties to be registered in exchange for a fine made a bad situation worse. On the campaign trail in 2019, Erdogan said the amnesties “solved the problems” of property owners. Such claims will haunt him – and the victims’ families – ahead of Turkey’s next elections in May. 


Brexit chat
Michael Gove, David Lammy, Lords Howard and Mandelson and the chair of GlaxoSmithKline were among attendees at a weekend meeting at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire to talk about the problems with Brexit and how to fix them. The Observer had the scoop and bigged it up by calling the meeting secret even though it seems to have been anything but. Sir John Redwood warned in a tweet from the sidelines that the EU would exploit anything that looked like weakness. Sources close to Gove told the Sun he’d been pleasantly surprised to find Remainers at the meeting weren’t pushing for closer ties to Brussels. Note to Sun readers: that’s because those Remainers aren’t in government yet, but they are overwhelmingly likely to win the next election, at which point the common sense imperative of a revived close relationship with the EU will kick in. File this meeting under: progress.

The week ahead


13/2 – British Museum staff hold a week of industrial action; ONS report on homeworking released, 14/2 – UK labour market statistics released; university staff begin three-day strike; preliminary Covid inquiry hearing on pandemic preparedness held, 15/2 – UK inflation figures released; auction of Leicester car park where King Richard III remains were discovered, 16/2 – Centrica releases financial results; Northern Ireland ambulance workers begin strike action; memorial for Vivienne Westwood at Southwark Cathedral, 17/2 – Scottish Labour party hold annual conference; Border Force staff begin three-day strike; Liz Truss to give a speech on China at a conference in Tokyo; London Fashion Week starts, 19/2 – Bafta film awards held in London.


13/2 – Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg holds press conference ahead of defence ministers’ meeting; UAE World Government Summit held in Dubai, 14/2 – Valentines Day; meeting of US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group; first legs of UEFA Champions League round of 16 kick-off; 15/2 – New York Fashion week ends; Elon Musk speaks at World Government summit; EU gas price cap enforced; meeting of African Union foreign ministers; 16/2 – 73rd Berlin International Film Festival starts, 18/2 – Carnival held in Rio de Janeiro; Daytona 500 motor race held in Florida. 

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Andrew Butler

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jess Winch and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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