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UEFA Investigations, Multi-Club Owners Raise Doubts For European Competition Entries

Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan are among clubs awaiting investigations and legal decisions that can decide which teams — if any — must be removed from European play.

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Any club suspected of fixing just one game is typically removed from the next European competition.
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The European club football season ended this weekend with Manchester City beating Inter Milan in the Champions League final, so entry lists are now known for UEFA competitions next season. (More Football News)

Not so fast.

When late on Monday in Switzerland the entry deadline set by UEFA for the Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League passes, the lawyers will still have much work to do.

Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan are among clubs awaiting investigations and legal decisions that can decide which teams — if any — must be removed from European play.

UEFA punishments and rulings often lead to appeals that in past years have kept the Court of Arbitration for Sport busy until the group-stage draws in late August.

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Juventus looks in most jeopardy of being banned from UEFA competitions for at least one season.

Barcelona is under scrutiny for possible match-fixing linked to suspect payments over several years to a Spanish refereeing official.

AC Milan is in shared American ownership with Toulouse and a strict reading of UEFA rules relating to integrity of games and conflicts of interest could see the French Cup winner lose its Europa League place. Milan's place in the higher-ranked Champions League would not be affected.

Juventus already was punished in Italy in its season of intense legal turmoil.

A false accounting case saw the storied club docked 10 points in the Serie A standings. That ruling dropped Juventus from a Champions League place to finish seventh — enough only for the third-tier Conference League. Milan got in the Champions League instead.

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A separate case based on the same evidence was opened in December by the UEFA-appointed club financial monitoring panel into what has looked a clear violation of “Financial Fair Play” rules.

American who leads the UEFA investigators, Sunil Gulati, declined to comment on the case in Istanbul on Saturday.

A one-year ban for Juventus would not be the worst result, when it stands to lose only a Conference League place that is worth tens of millions of euros (dollars) less than Champions League prize money.

A serious problem would be a longer ban stretching into the revamped UEFA competitions that start in 2024. Clubs will then have more games and UEFA expects a 30% rise in broadcast and sponsor-rights deals.

Barcelona also faces a ban that could stretch to multiple years if a match-fixing allegation emerges in the so-called “Caso Negreira” case.

Any club suspected of fixing just one game since a UEFA rule took effect in 2007 is typically removed from the next European competition. A disciplinary case also is opened that can apply further sanctions. Turkish club Fenerbahce ended up missing three seasons because of fixing allegations in 2011.

Milan and Toulouse, owned by RedBird Capital Partners, are not alone facing UEFA questions about multi-club owners having “decisive influence” over two clubs.

Brighton and Union Saint-Gilloise have close ties through owner Tony Bloom and both are in the Europa League. Aston Villa's owners, including Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens, have a near-50% stake in Vitória Guimarães of Portugal. Both are in the Europa Conference League.

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Still, those clubs can point to a celebrated ruling in 2017 when Leipzig and Salzburg were able to persuade UEFA — amid broad skepticism — that energy drinks giant Red Bull did not control both clubs.

Any club's ban opens the door for others to be included.

Fifth-place La Liga team Villarreal can step up from the Europa to Champions League if Barcelona is out. A Spanish reshuffle would likely see eighth-place Athletic Bilbao get into the Conference League.

Fiorentina, eighth in Serie A, could return to the Conference League where it was the beaten finalist last week by taking over from Juventus in the playoff round starting Aug. 24.    

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However, some things were definitely decided by the Champions League final Saturday.

Man City's win meant the title winner's place in the top-seeded pot of the Aug. 31 group-stage draw now reverts to Feyenoord. The improving Dutch champion will be the lowest-ranked top-seeded team.

The new European champion is facing a Premier League investigation alleging years of financial wrongdoing and non-cooperation, but that is unlikely to be resolved before a UEFA Super Cup game on Aug. 16 against Europa League winner Sevilla. That is at Olympiakos' stadium in Greece.

By then, there should be more — but possibly not total — clarity on the legal issues facing UEFA.

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