Why Man Utd could be banned from the Champions League after takeover?

Manchester United are closing in on a massive takeover by INEOS chief Sir Jim Ratcliffe, but such a deal may raise even more questions from UEFA.

With multi-club ownership rules forbidding two connected teams from competing in a UEFA competition, United may be drawn into a debate with another INEOS-owned outfit, Ligue 1 side Nice, who are flying this season.

Amid speculation that United could face a ban from the Champions League if the INEOS takeover goes through, here’s a closer look into the situation.

  • What are UEFA’s rules regarding multi-club ownership?

Article 5 of UEFA’s Champions League regulations state that no club in any UEFA competition may: “hold or deal in the securities or shares of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition, be a member of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition, be involved in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition or have any power whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of any other club participating in a UEFA club competition.”

The rules are designed to prevent any single entity, be that a person or a group, from holding a controlling authority over several teams, which could create massive questions over impartiality if the two teams in question were ever to meet.

  • Why Man Utd face a potential Champions League ban

The threat at hand here is that, because INEOS already own Nice, United would fall under the same ownership blanket if INEOS complete their Old Trafford takeover.

Should it be decided that any two teams who qualify for UEFA competition are too closely tied together, only one will be permitted into the competition. To decide which team gets the nod, UEFA will give priority to whichever team finishes highest in their domestic league.

If the two teams finish in the same position, the priority then goes to the team whose association ranks highest in UEFA’s access list – England occupy top spot for the 2023/24 season.

Nice are currently flying in Ligue 1 and, at the time of writing, are just one point behind league leaders Paris Saint-Germain. Should they retain that position, United would have to finish second in the Premier League to take priority away from Nice in this debate. If United finish lower, they would be at risk of a ban.

To complicate things further, because teams playing in the Champions League can drop into the Europa League and UEFA rules forbid two linked clubs from meeting, the team who finishes lower would have to qualify for the Europa Conference League to book a spot in Europe next season.

  • Are Man Utd likely to get banned from the Champions League?

Simply put, no.

UEFA’s regulations are no secret and a way to work inside the rules will have been discussed at length during INEOS’ takeover negotiations. A drastic solution would be for INEOS to sell Nice but they may find ways to retain ownership of both clubs.

For inspiration, INEOS could look to Red Bull.

  • How RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg navigated the rules

UEFA were forced to investigate this issue when both RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg qualified for the 2017/18 Champions League.

Red Bull own both Salzburg and Leipzig and so, when the two teams both earned places in Europe’s top competition, changes had to be made to ensure no individual involved with either team had an influence over the other.

The lead investigator claimed the existence of “several links between the legal entity Red Bull GmbH and the Clubs (as well as between the Clubs themselves) which point to Red Bull having ‘decisive influence’ over each of FCS [Salzburg] and RBL [Leipzig] in contravention of Article 5.01”, but Salzburg made significant changes behind the scenes which saw UEFA decide the link was not as strong.

The Salzburg board chairman, who was linked to Red Bull, resigned from his position, while “certain individuals” tied to both Red Bull and Leipzig were also removed to ensure nobody working at the Austrian side had any links to the German outfit.

Agreements between the two clubs, including on loan deals, also had to be torn up, as were mutual sponsorship agreements with Red Bull. Once those changes were made, UEFA were satisfied that no one entity had a controlling influence over the two sides and permitted both into the Champions League.

Salzburg and Leipzig were actually drawn together in the 2018/19 Europa League, bringing this issue further into the light, but UEFA remain satisfied that the two teams are separate entities.

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