It is arguably the biggest story in English football this season.
Manchester City have been kicked out of the Champions League until 2022.
City are furious, claim they have effectively been found guilty by a kangaroo court and are promising the fight is not over by any stretch of the imagination.
But for now, they are out, which raises a number of serious questions for the club.
- Man City banned from European club competitions for two seasons by Uefa
- From magazine claims to European ban – timeline
Is it the end for Pep?
Time and time again over the past few weeks, City manager Pep Guardiola has responded to questions about his future by stating his intention to see out his contract with the Blues, which does not expire until 2021.
Yet Guardiola has also consistently expressed his trust in the City hierarchy when they have assured him there was no foundation to the claims being looked into by Uefa’s investigatory panel.
Does Guardiola feel let down by this outcome? It is impossible to say.
However, it is fair to assume that after winning back-to-back Premier League titles with staggering points tallies that eclipsed anything that had gone before and, in addition, becoming the first side to win all three domestic trophies in a single season, Guardiola may struggle for motivation.
If City win the Champions League this season, Guardiola could go anyway. Now it is impossible to imagine him staying and, amid persistent rumours of interest from Juventus and the almost certain knowledge any number of alternative challenges will present themselves, Guardiola’s City future would seem to hinge on whether the club are successful in their appeal.
What about the players?
We already know veteran midfielder David Silva will be leaving at the end of the season. But the number of players whose contracts are due to expire before City will return to the Champions League is a concern.
Striker Sergio Aguero is at the top of that list. His deal expires in 2021. Leroy Sane’s deal ends at the same time. John Stones’ expires a year later. The same is also true of Nicolas Otamendi.
And what of the plethora of stars who are under contract beyond 2022, such as Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez?
If Guardiola left, it is easy to see a number of players following suit, which could leave City with a massive rebuilding exercise.
What are the financial implications?
Funnily enough, this is the least important aspect. Everyone knows City have rich owners. Everyone also knows the difficulty Manchester United have had trying to get into the Champions League in recent times. Arsenal have missed out three seasons in a row. Chelsea weren’t in it last season. Liverpool failed to qualify as recently as 2015.
Yes, their bottom line will miss out on a few million quid but that won’t hurt them so much.
Maybe the biggest difficulty will be the loss of the chance to earn coefficient points, which means even when they get back, City will be a lower seed than they would have expected to be and therefore find it harder to reach the latter stages of the competition.
Is this the end of an era?
If this outcome sees the end of Guardiola’s time at City, then marks the end of an era.
Yet eras come and go in football. Whenever Guardiola goes, City would have had a rebuilding job to do and that will not change, even if signing players might be slightly more difficult.
The bigger issue is the damage to City’s reputation.
Ever since the badly handled dismissal of Mark Hughes in 2009, City have prided themselves on doing things the right way. They believe, with some justification, they have a good reputation.
If this verdict sticks, it will undermine all the good work they have done.
They will have been seen to have cheated their way to trophies and in the process damaged the reputation of owner Sheikh Mansour and chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak. If that proves to be the case, the consequences will be fascinating.
What have they done?
In effect, concealed a number of payments. These were either made to individuals or to inflate sponsorship deals, which allowed the club to meet financial fair play regulations.
They were brought into the public domain by the Football Leaks organisation, who distributed thousands of confidential emails to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
City alleged they had been the victim of an illegal hack by people who had the express intention of damaging their reputation. They also said the emails were being used as the basis for reports which were being taken out of context. That is still their stance.
Is the race for the top four now a race for the top five?
Heading into this weekend’s games, Chelsea had a two-point advantage over Sheffield United in the battle for the fourth Champions League place.
It is not entirely clear what will happen if City are excluded but if Uefa decide to retain England’s four spots and the team in fifth gets the spare one, a fascinating battle will be in process.
From Sheffield United in fifth to Crystal Palace in 14th, there are just nine points separating 10 teams. From looking to have no chance of getting back into the Champions League, Arsenal will be back in with a shot.