City’s Calciopoli? How the Premier League’s biggest potential scandal could be defined by Italy’s past

It’s been branded as an unprecedented moment in the history of the Premier League. It’s highlighted the systemic problems in football that have been running rampant for years, potentially decades. It’s set the tongues wagging of fans across the country, and much further afield. Manchester City have been charged with at least 100 breaches of financial rules between 2009 and 2018, with a further investigation already announced to analyse the years since.

Whatever happens next, the clearest example we have of something remotely similar to this happening shows that it’s going to be a rocky road, no matter the destination.

Ever since the announcement on Monday morning, the potential punishments for the club, if they are found to have broken the rules by an independent commission, have spread across social media like wildfire. Hefty fines, point deductions, the stripping of past titles all debated in great detail.

And the most daunting of all: expulsion from the league.

Some might be of the opinion that City are simply too big of a club to have these punishments carried out. They’re too significant, too influential, too powerful. People of this mindset firmly believe that this scandal may simply end with a slap on the wrist, the equivalent of a damp squib acting as the crescendo of a particularly impressive fireworks display.

A trip across the Channel, ending up on the continent in 2006, will prove that no club is too big to be removed from the competition. In Italy, the sport’s governing bodies were wracked with a scandal of paralleling proportion and, at its centre, Juventus were caught in the tussle. The stain on Italian football became known as Calciopoli.

The Italian Job

A series of telephone tappings made it abundantly clear that, over the course of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons in Serie A and B, club executives and referee organisations were working in tandem, with officials chosen for select games based on their favourability to a specific club.

In a twist of fate that would only be seen as reasonable in the movies, the phone calls were only uncovered because of a separate investigation into doping claims against Juventus. It would ultimately see them, along with four other Italian clubs, put into the proverbial stocks for their undermining of the credibility of the national sport. 

What happened to these separate teams may shed further light on what is viable in City’s future. Football finance expert Kieran Maguire has described the potential tariffs as “limitless”. The repercussions of Calciopoli were wide and varied, supporting this sentiment.

Relegation to Serie B, with a 9-point deduction to begin the 06-07 season
AC Milan
An 8-point deduction to begin the 06-07 season, along with 30-point deduction from 05-06 season
A 15-point deduction to begin the 06-07 season, and removed from the 06-07 Champions League
A 3-point deduction to begin the 06-07 season, and removed from the 06-07 UEFA Cup
An 11-point deduction to begin the 06-07 season, and a €100,000 fine

Unlike in the Calciopoli scandal, Manchester City are the only team in the spotlight for the time being. This could work against them, with the ire of the Premier League focused solely on them. Serie A removing their crown jewel, the team that finished top of the table in the two consecutive seasons leading up to the revelations, should exemplify how the pride and joy of football are not infallible.

Could City truly be relegated? The answer has to be yes in these uncertain times. It’s a distinct possibility, particularly when looking at Juventus’ fate. And yet it could be even worse. Serie A and B are governed by the same bodies, whereas the Premier League and EFL are separate organisations. According to reports from the Telegraph, the EFL would be under no obligation to house the six-time champions, potentially sending them straight into the National League, the cut-off point for professional football.

And what of their trophies? Juventus had their two Serie A titles taken from them in which they were deemed to have unlawfully won. Whilst the 2004-05 title was left unassigned, the 2005-06 trophy was handed to third-placed Inter Milan, with AC Milan also docked points. If the ensuing investigation was to come up to the present day, this would encapsulate all six Premier League titles currently under City’s belt.

Are the ears of those at Liverpool and Manchester United pricking up at this possibility? Both sides finished as runners-up to City on three occasions during this time span and, as shown by our Italian precedent, they could see their trophy cabinets widened if the charges are proven against their bitter rivals. Or would the titles be left unaccounted for as seen in 04-05, leaving the recent history of the league void and meaningless?

The Team vs the Club

On a more personal note, what does this scandal mean for the squad and those who work at City? Pep Guardiola went on record last year that he would leave as soon as it became known he’d been lied to. It’s been his genius that has taken City to new heights. Even if they avoided relegation, would the team be able to go on unperturbed with this gaping hole missing?

You must feel for the players if there’s truth to the charges. Over a decade of their achievements would come under scrutiny, forever tainted by this scandal. In the case of relegation, it’s likely that the team would be stripped apart. The likes of footballing stars Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro del Piero stayed with Juventus following their relegation, but would young starlet Erling Haaland really want to ply his trade away at Stoke on a rainy Tuesday night, with other money-rich giants likely to be sniffing around him?

A golden generation of City heroes could face being consigned to the history books, marred by events and rule-bending that had nothing to do with them. What of the fans? The fans who cheered that famous late goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012, not knowing that, over a decade later, its credibility would be called into question. If the club has deceived the league, it’s also deceived its fanbase, the sort of thing that would decimate a relationship that’s supposed to be for life.

Past, Present, Future

Whilst looking at the past has shown how severe the penalties can be in a situation like this, more recent examples of wrongdoing evidence a more lenient response. QPR were found to have breached transfer regulations in 2011, but were only fined £875,000. Juventus, evidently not shy from being involved in a scandal, faced a 15-point deduction just last month after they were investigated for the conduct of their transfers.

Based on this, City might not be too concerned, regardless of whether they believe they’ve done anything wrong. A fine wouldn’t dent their finances too much, and a similar points deduction to Juventus would see them still remain above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool based on the current league standings.

But, as has been reiterated countless times since the news broke, we’re not facing a situation that’s been seen before. The Premier League faces a challenge to the very foundations it stands upon and risks bringing everything tumbling down if this isn’t dealt with properly. Serie A still hasn’t learnt from the story of Juventus, as proven by more recent wrongdoing; English football can’t afford to make the same mistake.

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