This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.
WGM’s Leanne Lu looks at how Manchester City have gone from underdogs to top dogs in the space of just four years.
Last season’s English Premier League champions – Manchester City – have started the 2012/13 season at a much slower pace than they finished the last. City couldn’t record a clean sheet in their first six games and, by the looks of things, it seems they’ll face huge domestic challenges from both Manchester United and Chelsea. But we shouldn’t forget that the rise of the “Blue Moon” has only taken four years. In the 2006/07 season City created an unenviable EPL record by scoring the fewest goals on home soil ever in a season. Scoring just 10 goals at home that year, no wonder the then manager Stuart Pearce complained the atmosphere at the City of Manchester stadium was like “a library”. The club has certainly come a long way in a short space of time. In addition to rebranding the City of Manchester stadium as Etihad stadium for sponsorship purposes, a brand new era was ushered in when well-known Italian manager Roberto Mancini took his place at City’s helm.
The quick rise of Manchester City illustrates the magic of globalization and the commercialization of modern English football. On 16 September 2012, Manchester City met with Real Madrid for the first group game of the prestigious Champions League’s new season at Real’s Bernabéu Stadium. The two clubs contributed a total of five goals in the last 21 minutes of what proved to be a spectacular game. In the end, the more experienced José Mourinho came away with a difficult win. That same week 14 years ago, Manchester City were playing Chesterfield in the third tier of the English football league. This incredible change of fortune is down to the drive (and money) of just one man. A man that has made it possible for City to rise from the depths of obscurity on an golden elevator ride through the different leagues to become a serious challenger to Real Madrid for the title of the second richest football club in the world. All City fans owe thanks to that man, and his name is Sheikh Mansour.
His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, or simply Sheikh Mansour, took over ownership of Manchester City from former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in August 2008. Almost at once City bought Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5 million, a then-record British transfer fee. This transfer indicated the Sheikh’s strategy of how he was going to go about building the team. As a notable politician and member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mansour is far, far wealthier than that pauper Roman Abramovich. In Manchester City’s current first team, only Joe Hart and Micah Richards were nurtured in City’s academy. The rest were brought in by obscene amounts of transfer money. Yaya Touré could hardly imagine himself in a “Blue Moon” shirt back in the days he was learning his trade in Camp Nou, the footballer’s wonderland. Now he’s playing in City blue with the highest salary in British football, sharing the dressing room with Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Agüero, all footballers any manager would sell his first born for. You only have to compare the value of the two squads in City’s recent Champions League game against Real Madrid, to see how far City have come. The total value of Madrid’s squad was a cool £385 million but City were not far behind with their squad adding up to an impressive £321 million.
Money acts as a catalyst for champions. In the first full season under Roberto Mancini, City won the FA cup. The next year it was the league title. In that same season, Manchester City took down the notorious banner hanging on the stand at the Stretford end of Old Trafford that counted the 34 years since the Blue Moon had won a major trophy. The football power in Manchester has shifted and with blue eclipsing red at the top of the table and City also kicking Liverpool out of their top four spot it looks almost certain the Blue Moon will stay at the top for a good while.On the other hand, due to their lavish spending in the transfer market, City are now facing record financial losses. As UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule is looming, the Blue Moon are now becoming quite tight-fisted. This summer their transfer activities were moderate to say the least. They lost Eden Hazard and Robin Van Persie and were lucky to get their hands on less well known players such as Javier García and Matija Nastasić on the deadline day. However, this seems fairly reasonable when you consider this is their fifth full season under Sheikh Mansour, and the squad is now relatively stable.
It is their performance in Europe over the last two years that shows Manchester City’s biggest shortfall: their lack of experience and confidence as a leading European power. Last season, the Blue Moon was almost unbeatable on domestic soil. However, a team full of international star players seemed unable to progress from a group of such football “super powers” as Napoli, Villarreal and Bayern Munich. It’s obvious that this season City will again struggle on the European stage: they led twice at Bernabéu stadium against Real Madrid, but threw in the towel in the dying minutes. Roberto Mancini said “we should have had more courage at this time”. It will be a tough slog for Manchester City to rise through the ranks of Europe’s elite clubs. Luckily for Mancini the Italian still has time, as he doesn’t have a boss like Roman Abramovich whose pursuit of the Big Ear cup and other assorted silverware is so overwhelming he will sacrifice everything for it. Before setting eyes on the Champions League trophy, perhaps a more realistic target for City is to strengthen their dominance at home in the EPL. As the 2012/13 season develops the tremendous difficulty inherent in winning consecutive EPL titles will become more readily apparent, a fact City may well soon discover.