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What Man City, Girona must do so both can compete in Champions League

Michael Regan - UEFA / UEFA / Getty

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GENEVA (AP) — The Abu Dhabi investors in Manchester City and Girona have been offered divestment options by UEFA to let both compete in the Champions League next season by complying with integrity rules for teams that share owners.

Girona has made a stunning run to a guaranteed top-four finish in Spain's La Liga, with three key players either loaned or sold via Man City's influence including Brazilian star Savio.

Girona, also part-owned by the brother of Man City manager Pep Guardiola, will go into the elite European competition for the first time. City won the 2023 Champions League title and will finish in the top two of the English Premier League.

But the teams have severely tested UEFA's rules on multi-club ownership that guard against collusion in games.

Failing to comply with UEFA's rules with a proposal by June 3 should see one of the two teams, likely Girona, demoted to the second-tier Europa League. The team finishing higher in its domestic league takes priority.

According to a UEFA document seen on Tuesday by The Associated Press, two options are open to City Football Group, the Abu Dhabi-created operation with stakes in 13 clubs worldwide including 100% of Man City and 47% of Girona.

CFG could solve the problem by selling shares to an independent third party that reduces one ownership stake to below 30%, or transfer all shares in one club to a blind trust overseen by a panel appointed by UEFA.

The trustee could be picked by CFG in a UEFA-approved model that applied this season in a compliance deal for AC Milan, Toulouse and their United States investor Red Bird Capital.

The multi-club ownership issue for UEFA and CFG has loomed since Girona's league-leading fast start in September.

UEFA declined comment all season pending Girona's confirmed qualification in the Champions League this month. UEFA also did not comment on a possible pending issue with Jim Ratcliffe's ownership stakes and influence at Manchester United and Nice — both could qualify for the next Europa League.

On Tuesday, UEFA's club finance monitoring panel wrote to soccer stakeholders to clarify updates to its multi-club rules for entry to European club competitions that were first drafted in the 1998-99 season.

Man City and Girona drew scrutiny for CFG having "decisive influence" over both because the Abu Dhabi operation holds at least 30% of the shares in both, and because of the clubs' transfer dealings this season.

Girona seemed to meet the UEFA panel's criteria for clubs that "transferred, permanently or temporarily, three or more players with the other club, directly or indirectly via related parties, during the season."

Girona has two players on its squad who belong to other CFG clubs: Right=back Yan Couto, on loan from Man City, and winger Savio, on loan from French club Troyes.

Savio is the revelation of the season in Spain. His dribbling and speed on the left flank have caused mayhem in opposing defenses. The 20-year-old has scored 10 times and is one of the league's top assist-makers with nine passes for goals. Savio's end-of-season permanent move to Man City that was reported in February should not be affected by any UEFA decision.

Couto has excelled in joining in the attack from his position of right-back, delivering eight assists.

After completing a loan at Girona, Venezuela midfielder Yangel Herrera was sold by City to its sibling club last July.

Man City was bought in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of Abu Dhabi's royal family.

The CFG was formed five years later, with Man City — by now a Premier League champion for the first time — acting as the flagship club in a worldwide portfolio that soon contained teams across multiple continents.

First came New York City in 2013, then Melbourne City in Australia's A-League, Girona in Spain, Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan, Sichuan Jiuniu FC in China, Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay and Mumbai City in India joined the group, which also had a "collaboration agreement" with Venezuelan team Atletico Venezuela.

CFG bought into Girona in 2017 weeks after it was promoted to Spain's top flight for the first time. Pere Guardiola bought a stake that is now 16%.

In recent years, CFG has acquired stakes in European clubs Lommel in Belgium, Palermo in Italy and Troyes.

CFG's stable of clubs is one of the most extensive multi-club groups in a growing global trend that UEFA itself has cautioned poses risks to the soccer industry. Critics say it can enable collusion in games and the transfer market and help top-tier clubs distribute and disguise their costs to help comply with financial monitoring rules.


AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas and Joseph Wilson contributed.


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