NYON - Manchester City have been banned from European competitions for the next two seasons for "serious financial fair-play breaches", UEFA announced on Friday, with the verdict immediately contested by Pep Guardiola's Abu Dhabi-owned English champions.
City, who were also fined 30 million euros ($32.5 million), announced they were appealing the suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) "at the earliest opportunity".
"Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today's announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber," the club said.
"The... flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he (the UEFA chief investigator) oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver...
"Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA.
"With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible" at CAS.
Announcing the ban a UEFA statement declared: "The Adjudicatory Chamber has imposed disciplinary measures on Manchester City Football Club directing that it shall be excluded from participation in UEFA club competitions in the next two seasons (ie. the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons)."
European football's governing body said that City "failed to cooperate in the investigation".
"The adjudicatory chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City Football Club committed serious breaches of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016," European football's governing body said.
City lost a previous appeal to CAS over UEFA's original decision to refer them to its adjudicatory chamber over the alleged FFP violations.
"An appeal would not necessarily lift the suspension but the request can be made," UEFA said.
The investigation into City was based on leaked emails published last year by German magazine Der Spiegel as part of "Football Leaks".
Boost for English Champions League hopefuls
Guardiola's City outfit currently sit second in the Premier League table, meaning that the fourth Champions League slot available for English teams would likely go to the fifth-placed club this term.
Sheffield United, promoted to the top flight last year, sit in fifth.
It is not the first time that Man City have fallen foul of FFP regulations, having been fined 60 million euros and seeing their Champions League squad reduced in May 2014.
The ban will raise questions about the future of City coach Guardiola and their key players. Guardiola said last month that he could be sacked if he failed to beat Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16.
"If we don't beat them, OK, come the chairman or the sport director and say, 'It's not good enough, we want the Champions League, I'm going to sack you'," he told Sky Sports.
"I don't know (if this would happen). It has happened many times and could maybe happen."
Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain were also fined that year.
Seven-time European champions AC Milan were banned from this season's Europa League for FFP breaches.
Among football leaders calling for City to be punished was the head of the Spanish league who has been critical of how "funding by state-aid distorts European competitions."
“UEFA is finally taking decisive action," La Liga President Javier Tebas said on Friday. “Enforcing the rules of financial fair play and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football.”
City face Real Madrid in their first leg at the Bernabeu on February 26, with the second leg at the Etihad Stadium on March 17.
City are not the only English champions with financial problems - Saracens, the Premiership rugby titleholders and European champions have been relegated to the second-tier next season for salary cap breaches.
'Come out fighting'
The damage to City on and off the field could be immeasurable if the ban is upheld.
Former Manchester City star and England forward Rodney Marsh fears the Premier League champions will be thrown into disarray by their shock two-year ban from UEFA competitions.
Marsh, ranked as one of City's greats after his spell there in the 1970s, is concerned the club's Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan could walk away in that case.
"If this decision is upheld it would not surprise me to see owner Sheikh Mansour sell the club," he tweeted.
"He has been superb for City and this is a huge kick in the balls. I wouldn't blame him."
City face an anxious wait to discover if their appeal is successful and in the meantime there will be speculation about Mansour and the futures of City manager Pep Guardiola and his star players. Guardiola and company may not want to stay at City if they are denied Champions League action.
But former City midfielder Michael Brown expects Mansour to fight to save the club's reputation and preserve their successful squad.
"What they've done as a football club, what they've done on the pitch, the way they've gone about it, I think they've been first class," Brown told the BBC.
"They've been honourable how they've gone about it, as usual like Manchester City. This will be a shock for them but it will be something that they'll come out fighting.
"The owners aren't here for the short term, they will take it on. If any owners will take this adversity, it will be these."
Guardiola has won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and twice lifted the League Cup since arriving at the Etihad Stadium in 2016.
His current contract runs until 2021 amid reports he has a release clause that can be triggered at the end of this season.