Home » English football is close to collapse as Man City blow it up in a legal move as significant as the European Super League saga, writes OLIVER HOLT

English football is close to collapse as Man City blow it up in a legal move as significant as the European Super League saga, writes OLIVER HOLT

One phrase, above all the others, leaps out of the 165-page document that details Manchester City’s legal action against the Premier League. It hurtles straight at you, screaming its evangelism of greed and its untrammelled lust for power.

It is a phrase which lays everything bare. It captures the open-mouthed rage of the monarchic autocracy of Abu Dhabi that owns a club once regarded as the natural home for ordinary Mancunians but which has now become a plaything for rulers unwilling to accept limits to their power.

The document, the Times reported on Tuesday, says that City claim they are being restricted by ‘the tyranny of the majority’ in English football and that they want to be freed from their shackles so that they can fulfil their true potential.

City, of course, is a club that is already enjoying an unprecedented level of domination in the English game. Last month, Pep Guardiola’s team won its fourth Premier League title in succession, a feat never before achieved in 136 years of top-flight football in this country. 

And yet that is not enough for City’s owners. They still claim that they are victims. They still claim that they are being discriminated against. They hint at being the victims of thinly-veiled racism.

Manchester City have launched ‘unprecedented legal action’ against the Premier League

City look to end the Associated Party Transaction (APT) rules, which they claim are unlawful

City look to end the Associated Party Transaction (APT) rules, which they claim are unlawful

The Premier League (managing director Richard Masters pictured) have previously charged the club with 115 breaches of spending regulations

The Premier League (managing director Richard Masters pictured) have previously charged the club with 115 breaches of spending regulations

And with every sentence, the perils of state ownership of our football clubs, the perils that so many warned about and whose warnings went unheeded, grow more and more clear. English football, it is more and more obvious, is being taken towards cataclysm.

‘The tyranny of the majority’ — what a terrifying phrase that is. A phrase for our football times. A phrase that tells you just what a parlous position the Premier League finds itself in. A phrase that tells you just how close the English game is to collapsing in on itself.

‘The tyranny of the majority’ — it is what we traditionally know as democracy. It is a system that City’s owners, for all their attempts at sportswashing, regard with deep and lasting suspicion and which they are now attempting to dismantle in English football.

The tyranny of the majority, as City’s owners call it, is at the heart of our political system but it is also at the heart of our football league and at the heart of many of the most successful leagues in sport. For the many, I suspect, is not a phrase that appears in too many of City’s internal memos.

City’s owners, it would seem, would prefer the tyranny of the minority. Or how about a tyranny of one? If they blow up these rules, that is what we will get, although one could become two if Saudi Arabia is freed to pour the vastness of its state wealth into Newcastle United without any checks.

It is also possible that, if the arbitrators find in City’s favour, the 115 charges levelled against them by the Premier League for alleged financial breaches will be holed below the water line. That shadow has been hanging over City’s achievements for a long time and they want rid of it.

Those who have long argued that clubs should be allowed to spend what they want, that there should be a free-for-all that allows state-owned sides to blow all their rivals out of the water and so destroy what was once the unique selling point of the Premier League, may be about to get their wish.

Man City owner Sheikh Mansour (centre), pictured next to chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarrak (right) in 2023

Man City owner Sheikh Mansour (centre), pictured next to chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarrak (right) in 2023

If City are successful in the two-week private arbitration hearing that begins on Monday, the repercussions will extend way beyond the club’s attempt to end the league’s Associated Party Transaction (APT) rules, which they claim are unlawful, and its intention to seek damages from the Premier League.

If City are successful, it will mean far more than just the end of the league’s forlorn attempt to maintain the illusion of competition in the top flight of the English game by clinging on to a watered-down version of revenue-sharing and feeble efforts to limit spending.

If City are successful, it is likely to signal an end to the Premier League’s democratic system of requiring the agreement of at least 14 clubs, or two thirds of those who vote, in order to implement rule changes.

City’s legal argument contends that that gives the majority unacceptable levels of control. Poor City, operating within rules that allowed them to win the Treble last season, secure that fourth successive league title and come within one game of winning a Double Double.

This is a moment in our game every bit as significant and as dangerous as the moment when City and five other leading clubs signalled their intention to join a European Super League in April 2021.

If City dismantle the league’s rules, the way will once again be clear for them to lead a breakaway. Maybe the rest of the so-called Big Six, and Newcastle, will be emboldened by City’s rebellion, particularly as plans for an independent regulator for football have been halted by the advent of a general election.

City celebrated winning a record-fourth straight top-flight title last month and were only one win away from becoming the first side to do a Double Double

City celebrated winning a record-fourth straight top-flight title last month and were only one win away from becoming the first side to do a Double Double

It is possible that City will secede. Perhaps this is the beginning of a great schism in the English game. Perhaps other clubs would attempt to follow them and set up a rival league. Perhaps the Premier League could seek to expel them.

Right now, all bets are off. It may be, as many have also warned, that the regulator comes too late.

Still, at least it is all out in the open now. This is tantamount to a hostile takeover bid. It is an effort to prove that might is right and that, with enough money and enough lawyers, you can bring the rest of the game into line behind you.

City want to rip it all up. If they win this case, we might as well move the headquarters of the Premier League to the Etihad and abandon the pretence that anyone other than City is running the English game.