Whether Manchester City becomes the biggest football club in the world in the next ten years we will have to wait and see, but one thing is for sure if they do, it will be down to careful planning, and of course strong financial backing.
It has been said that if you want to lose money buy a football club.
Yet it appears that When Sheikh Mansour decided to buy the club, he and his team of advisors were in it for the long haul and actually, unlike many other owners, have had a long term plan.
At the time of Sheikh Mansour’s take over Manchester City was not for the first time, facing financial ruin. Despite being gifted a new, 48,000-seat stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games with public money – £78m from the national lottery, £49m from Manchester city council – and converted at the public’s expense, this was still a club in debt.
Mansour overhauled Manchester City. One of the attractions it has been claimed was their loyal supporter base. No matter what division they were in the fans continued to turn out in their numbers and support their team. The fans showed a loyalty to the team that many clubs were envious of. Aware of this Mansour set about turning the stadium and surrounding area into a community, building an office block, bars and an entertainment square for supporters. The famous Carrington training ground too was updated and overhauled, and dragged into the modern era. In 2012 he spent an unbelievable UKL452m on 22 new players (average price £22m) and Carlos Tevez at that time was paid UKL10million a year!
Yet this was not a club that was wildly spending money, with this investment came sponsors, namely Etihad Airlines who paid UKL350m to have its name for 10 years on City’s shirts, stadium naming rights and also at the new training facility.
Yet results were needed on the pitch despite all the work done off of it. When Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City in 2008, the club had been playing in the Premier League for six successive seasons, which at that time was remarkable as City had become a bit of a yo-yo club going up and down regularly. At the end of that season they had just finished a creditable ninth.
Many were sceptical and cynical about the purchase and felt that the club was a state sponsored purchase by the Abu Dhabi Government, which of course it was not. In those early days of the new ownership chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak was very quick to point out that Sheik Mansour was a genuine football fan. In 2012 he was quoted as saying in The Guardian “”Sheikh Mansour is a huge football fan, he follows it very closely, and I think he has always wanted to have a European club that he can take and build and become one of the top clubs in the world. There is an enjoyment that comes with owning it, a pleasure, but also he is an astute businessman. He believes that you can create a value proposition in football that has not yet been accomplished.”
So there has always been a plan behind City’s advancement.
Many may have questioned why the owner sold a 13 per cent stake in the parent company to a Chinese Investment company in the last few months, yet once again this is a deliberate business move. China has made a commitment to aiming to to be a host of the World Cup by 2030. Linked to this commitment President Xi Jinping has hinted that the Government will free football from the current state-controlled system.
China is planning to open 50,000 football schools by 2025. It is predicted that at that time the Chinese sports market will be worth USD1.1trillion. The Chinese Super League’s expansion is being underpinned by a domestic television deal worth UKL860million. With the money from television expected to reduce in Europe this is a very shrewd move by Manchester City’s owner.
Yet despite the business side of things off the pitch the team still needs to perform on the pitch to be regarded as one of the truly great clubs in World football.
Three years ago Manchester City looked at who was the best in the business at the time, and that was Barcelona. They recruited Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain the latter having been the Director of Football at the club from 2003 – 2009. A period when many believe Barcelona was at its peak winning amongst other trophies, two European Champions League titles, the European Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup.
The word is that three years ago Manchester City already had intended to recruit Pep Guardiola as their coach but first of all they wanted Begiristain to set up the systems in Manchester that had helped make the Catalan club so successful, and regarded as one of the greatest clubs sides ever formed. It will be interesting to see if this long term planning pays dividends.
While despite obvious envy there will be many English fans who hope that Begiristain and Guardiola can replicate what they did with Barcelona, but with talented English players. They may then produce players who can make England genuine challengers for a European Championship let alone a World Cup. No doubt Roy Hodgson will be hoping the same.
What though do City fans make of all this? There were undoubtedly many who were sceptical at first that the soul of the club they loved would be ripped out and it would simply become a rich man’s play thing. Sure they welcomed the financial security his money brought after many years living on the edge of financial survival, but there were grave concerns.Yet it appears that City’s owners are unlike many of the other new generation of football club owners. They are not driven by ego. They have always had a goal, to make City one of the top clubs in Europe. They have not tried to achieve that goal overnight but are trying to do it methodically, realising that it takes time and you need the right people to make that happen. They have also managed to show a genuine appreciation for the club’s history and its past which has won many fans over. They have understood that this past is the very fabric upon which the club was built. Manchester City has always had phenomenal loyal support, even when they dropped down the divisions their fans stayed loyal. The new owners realise that this is a very special side of the club and rather than alienate those fans have tried to keep them on side.
There are many clubs in financial trouble who would love to have some rich billionaire step in, save and transform their club, but you need to be careful what you wish for. So many clubs have ended up in more trouble courtesy of these false messiahs, who have only stepped in for their own Financial gains. Take a look at Manchester City’s previous owner former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, when it was finally revealed that Sheikh Mansour had paid UKL150million for the club, it also became clear that the man who had again put the club on the brink of financial ruin, Shinawatra, allegedly made a UKL90million personal profit from the sale.
The next few years will be interesting to see if Sheikh Mansour can achieve his goal of making Manchester City one of the top clubs in Europe and the World. What will also be interesting to see is if other wannabe club owners follow the long term planning that City has shown and respect and engage with their loyal fans the way they have at Manchester City.
Football is still big business, but one feels that possibly at City they understand what football is intrinsically about, community, loyalty and supporting you team through good times and bad.