The phone calls began to intensify on Friday morning in Manchester. The First Team Building at the City Academy was filling up again after three days off for the players and the coaching staff. The return to work was not calm. The club had learned that later that day UEFA would confirm their ban from Champions League football for the next two years and a hefty fine.
The clear priority at Manchester City in recent years has been the Champions League. The hierarchy respects the fans' preference for domestic trophies, but reiterate that where the club must do their best work is in Europe. The ban is not just a sporting setback for the club, but also a political one. There were many questions in Manchester after UEFA's statement. The first one looked to the bench: Will Pep Guardiola remain in charge of a club that is not in the Champions League?
SPORT have been able to confirm that Guardiola is not thinking about leaving City. In fact, the opposite. The Catalan coach is convinced that he will continue at the club and has not thought about leaving before the end of his contract, despite Friday's setback off the pitch. Guardiola's current deal runs until the summer of 2021.
During his four seasons at Manchester, Guardiola has never tired of reaffirming his loyalty towards the club's hierarchy, especially Txiki Begiristain, and to the club, thanks to the relationship developed Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, City's president and the link with the owners in Abu Dhabi.
Guardiola's idea and comfort in Manchester have not changed. City's situation has. Massively. Pep's project is facing up to a key summer in which a minimum of four arrivals. are expected to revitalise the squad, in addition to various exits. The UEFA sanction, pending an appeal, clouds everything. Without knowing the final decision, it's difficult to work with a clear budget, define targets, attract players and make advances with regards to the future.
“Months of hard work ahead”
Those looking for the responsible people look towards the club's offices. That's were the deficiencies started which generated the investigation, and it's there were they're expecting some intense months as they look for a solution. Club sources warn of the work they have ahead of them: "There are some tough months ahead, but there's a confidence that CAS will reach a (favourable) resolution."
It's expected that CAS can reach a decision within three months. It's hoped that the process will move quickly, given that anything other than a resolution before the summer would give City arguments to obtain a suspension to the ban, something UEFA would not permit. "In this period, it's time to work hard in the offices and elaborate a solid and convincing defense strategy."
The CAS will look at all the evidence from the beginning in an external tribunal. One of City's main complaints is UEFA's bias in this case. There will be three CAS judges, one chosen by City, one by UEFA and a third by the Swiss tribunal.
The reality is City's immediate future hangs on this decision. The toughest possible sanction would be a huge step back for the club following years of progression. The conflict, to the background of a war between UEFA and Abu Dhabi, now takes on another dimension. If the European governing body of football doesn't spare City and exemplary sanction, the club is expected to reach the final legal instance to try to reverse a historic sanction in the world of football.