Man City ban lifted by CAS: What it means for Guardiola, De Bruyne and club's future plans

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For more than a year and a half, storm clouds have hovered over Manchester City.

Monday's verdict from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which quashed a two-year ban from UEFA competitions for alleged violations of Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, will certainly feel like a liberating moment for those running the show at the Etihad Stadum, who have been dogged by revelations published by Der Spiegel in November 2018.

A €10million fine – reduced from €30m – for not co-operating with the UEFA investigation amounts to a second contravention of the governing body's rulebook following City's FFP sanctions of May 2014 and means CAS has not completely cleared the Premier League club of wrongdoing.

However, given the damage that looked likely to be wrought by a two-year Champions League exile, that fairly minor punishment will feel like a footnote to a sweet victory.

Here, we assess how the future looks brighter for Pep Guardiola and his players than it has for some time.

GUARDIOLA SET FOR AN EXTENDED STAY?  

Throughout the process, Guardiola has stated his faith in the City board, which features his close friends Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain as chief executive and director of football respectively, and the strength of their argument against UEFA's sanctions. The former Barcelona boss has also insisted he will see out a contract that runs until the end of next season, even suggesting he is open to a longer stay.

Any upheld ban would have felt like a test of Guardiola's unflinching loyalty. Could he have gone on without the competition he cherishes above all others, having misplaced faith in the guarantees of men he trusts implicitly? A swiftly deleted social media photo posted by one of his assistants, Manel Estiarte, showed a delighted Guardiola lapping up Monday's news alongside Begiristain and Soriano.

Indeed, Guardiola sounded stridently confident when discussing all matters CAS and UEFA over the weekend. Perhaps he knew something we didn't? Now clear to reboot his squad as he sees fit (more on that below), with trusted lieutenant Juanma Lillo recently added to the coaching staff and two more trophies to aim for this year, life in Manchester looks pretty good.

KEY ASSESTS DE BRUYNE AND STERLING GOING NOWHERE

A host of City's leading lights would likely have drawn advances from Europe's elite if they had been barred from the Champions League. Kevin De Bruyne told HLN a two-year absence would perhaps force him to consider his future. The Daily Mail reported on Friday that City were ready to lavish the Belgium playmaker with a bumper new contract irrespective of the outcome.

Expect talks to continue in that direction. De Bruyne is the only player to have made more than 15 assists in three separate Premier League seasons, all of which came under Guardiola's management. He makes a strong case for being the division's outstanding player.

Raheem Sterling has ambitions in that direction and beyond. The England forward was photographed with a Real Madrid shirt when he conducted an interview with Marca this year and the admiration is thought to be mutual.

Sterling is enjoying his most prolific goalscoring season and his 65 Premier League goals for City are only bettered by the club's all-time record scorer Sergio Aguero (180). At 25, he would surely have been reluctant to place a career entering its prime on pause.

KOULIBALY? A SANE REPLACEMENT? CITY SET FOR SPENDING SPREE

Two seasons without Champions League football presented a two-sided problem for City in the transfer market. They would have become instantly less attractive to prime targets such as Kalidou Koulibaly – the Napoli centre-back who is reportedly keen on a big-money switch to the Etihad Stadium, despite saying last week he is in no rush to leave – and found themselves facing a sizable financial hole.

"The figures are anything up to around £200m. That would have been the cost of no Champions League for two years," Dr Dan Plumley, senior lecturer in sport finance at Sheffield Hallam University, told Stats Perform News.

Around £90m in annual UEFA payments to English clubs reaching the latter stages of the Champions League account for this, while some sponsors would be entitled to a refund. "We've seen Manchester United, for example, their Adidas deal had performance-related bonuses linked to the Champions League," Plumley explained. "Now sponsors are looking at writing those in and they are becoming more commonplace."

A Leroy Sane replacement? A reliable left-back? Bolstered centre-back cover? A playmaker to fill David Silva's shimmering shoes? An heir to Aguero? Guardiola might have wanted all of those as he faces up to Jurgen Klopp's mighty Liverpool. Now, he might just get them.