As we await the next steps in the case of the Premier League versus Manchester City, one of the verdicts appears to have already come in. In the court of public opinion as displayed via the often toxic, always tribal lens of football fandom on social media - City are already considered guilty of being the immoral disgrace that sits atop our once beautiful game.
Does this view stand up to balance and fair scrutiny? The answer is probably 'yes and no'.
Even if Manchester City do ultimately disprove the allegations against them, as their manager suggests they are confident of doing, the reality is that City's decade of success has already been tainted by the widely -held view that the club is a vehicle for sportswashing. That should be a far more significant charge in terms of how this era of the club is judged, rather than the alleged financial chicanery that the Premier League has been investigating.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) February 6, 2023
The most tribal City supporters will fight their case on social media, pointing to examples of wrongdoing from other clubs, while ignoring the obvious problems that exist when their football club is used as an emblem for a state project. Other, more reflective City supporters will probably feel conflicted - having served their time following the club through years of mediocrity, why should they apologise for enjoying the team's recent success?
A part in this story that is often ignored is the fact that Manchester City existed before the Abu Dhabi United Group took over in 2008 and the club will still exist in the future when they are gone. City fans didn't choose their current owners. But rightly or wrongly, they did choose to enjoy the fruits of what the team produced on the pitch - so if it turns out the Premier League's allegations are proven - maybe it is time for the club's supporters to take their medicine.
"For too long they've gotten away with it." 😡@mrbloodred on the Premier League charging Man City regarding over 100 breaches 🤯 pic.twitter.com/5K70CWVPSt
— The Redmen TV (@TheRedmenTV) February 7, 2023
Mancheater City 🔴⚪️⚫️ @ManUtd @KlCKASSCANTONA @BillyMu95956577 @refc160 @Drogman03 @bloom200@Richard47976211 @CRBMUFC@PadraicToolan @BusbyJones@flossybball @KellyPaully @utdandy @AnnetteH0526 @UTD_Anna_ @Davethemanc15 @locallink57 @PhilHowarth@thegaffer1969 @Helle66221114 pic.twitter.com/xo0uIalV0m
— Irish Reds (@manutdirishreds) February 7, 2023
But that is easier said than done, especially when much of that medicine is being administered by gloating supporters of clubs in a league that has been funded by petrostates, American billionaires and investment funds, not to mention Russian oligarchs.
This is the great hypocrisy that complicates the Premier League's position on Manchester City's alleged wrongdoing. The Premier League have spent the last three decades creating a commercial monster that has attracted and indulged all of the problematic owners that now inhabit the league. The Premier League is now trying to regulate itself before the UK government appoints someone who will. Manchester City in its current guise is not some outlier that has gone rogue and betrayed the fundamentals of sporting fairness - the reality is that the idea of 'fairness' on a financial level has barely existed since the league's inception in the 1990s.
This genuinely could end with relegation, if alleged breaches are proven
If breaches are proven, titles stripped seen as unlikely due to prospective punishments not being "backward looking" but this is "unprecedented"
Biggest controversy PL has facedhttps://t.co/DOuDmV4HdU
— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) February 6, 2023
Long before the Premier League's investigation into City began, Manchester United fans were outraged by the notion that a rival club can usurp them by simply flexing some financial muscles, whether it be City or Chelsea before that. This outrage seems to ignore the fact that Manchester United have been a driving force in the mass commercialisation of the Premier League that has put us on the road to this point.
Clubs like Manchester United will argue that it was their right to generate and spend their money to secure their position, while rival clubs will point out that United can't complain when their attempts to pull up the drawbridge are spoiled by the injection of even more money into the game. In this case, if you hate the player, you should probably hate the game too.
Some of the same Man United fans, outraged by City's spending and alleged deception, are currently willing the sale of the club to the Emir of Qatar. This is the type of cognitive dissonance that defines football tribalism and poisons any hope that the story of Manchester City's current ownership could be used as a cautionary tale. It's the same mentality that saw some Tottenham and Liverpool supporters welcome the speculation of Qatari investment in their clubs earlier this season, as well as that of many Newcastle supporters who welcomed their new Saudi regime by wearing Saudi style headdresses.
Kaveh Solhekol says the Qataris want to build on hosting the World Cup by investing in a Premier League club and Manchester United would be open to that 🔊pic.twitter.com/few2j1IraB
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) February 8, 2023
Licha would look fresh under a Qatari ownership 🇦🇷⚔️🛡️ pic.twitter.com/3r34L1GYAQ
— AJ🏴 (@AJMUFC10) February 9, 2023
Can't wait for top reds, the big Liverpool pods, the journos to explain to us why Qatar buying Utd instead of Liverpool is a good thing and how FSG deciding to stay is exactly what Liverpool needs.
Because have no doubt they will try it 😂
— John O Sullivan (@Corballyred) February 7, 2023
Yeah we need this to happen then.
If this is the case, he’ll buy Liverpool if he doesn’t buy us. So so obvious. https://t.co/uaOqB6E4pi
— ً (@UtdTalks_) February 10, 2023
If the Premier League is serious about re-establishing this notion of 'fairness' that City have been accused of breaching, they will need to unpick much of what the league has been presiding over for the past 30 years. And that's about as likely as having a reasoned, nuanced debate between rival football fans on Twitter.
If Manchester City are proven to be guilty, even the possible stripping of titles won't change the lived experience of their fans - like the euphoria of Aguero 93:20, winning a domestic treble or breaking the record points total in a league season. But rival fans won't wait for the verdicts to point the finger of guilt in the meantime, and the vicious circle of football 'whataboutery' will keep rolling on.
Mocking rival teams is one of the fun parts of supporting a club, as it should be. But when the mocking is centred around the financial dealings of the detached owners your club has been landed with - rather than simply what is happening on the pitch - that feels like a grim place for the sport to be. And at the moment it's the Premier League, rather than any single club, that football fans have to thank for that.
Supporting a top Premier League team nowadays often means parking your moral principles at the door to some extent. Maybe Manchester City are just the most obvious example.