For the last 11 years, a Manchester club has been the dominant force in English football. But unlike the previous 21 years (1992 to 2013), this Manchester team has the word “City” next to its name, and not “United”. Indeed, after playing second fiddle for most of their history to the more revered Manchester United, Manchester City has firmly become the preeminent team in English football, matching the exploits of United with their undoubted success.
The statistics make this point clear: since 2012, they’ve won 7 EPL titles, been EPL runners-up 3 times, and have won the FA Cup once, and been a runner-up once in the Champions League. However, before their current success, Manchester City were considered an average club, and far inferior to their Manchester cousins.
So how did they turn things around? Read below to find out how they did it.
City were not doing well in 2008
In 2008, Manchester City were struggling and in a financially precarious position. Thai businessman and politician, Thaksin Shinawatra, had taken control of the club in 2007, but could not affect positive changes as his assets had been frozen due to his political travails. City had finished a middling 9th in the 2007/2008 EPL season, and the club hadn’t won the top prize in English football since the 1967/1968 season. In fact, they hadn’t lifted a trophy since the 1975/76 season. At this stage, it seemed that City were bound to always be the “lesser” big-name Manchester club, while United would always be the marquee, acclaimed Manchester club.
The turnaround started with a club takeover
Then, in August 2008, a major development occurred that would change the fortunes of the club and the face of English football: the takeover of Manchester City by the Abu Dhabi United Group, headed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan (of the Abu Dhabi ruling family).
The injection of cash from the new owners (estimated at £2.6bn) resulted in the signing of a flurry of high-profile players, with the club breaking the transfer record by signing Brazilian international Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5 million. However, these signings did not immediately lead to a huge improvement in performance, as they finished 10th in the EPL and managed to reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup.
The new owners then upped the ante during the summer of 2009, splashing out an unprecedented £100 million on players such as Gareth Barry, Kolo Touré, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez and Joleon Lescot.
While the cash infusion and buying of new players was a good start, the real turnaround for City took place after their original, underperforming hire, Mark Hughes (a former United player), was replaced in December 2009 as manager by the Italian, Roberto Mancini. The new manager immediately made a difference, as City subsequently finished the season in 5th position in the EPL, which meant they narrowly missed out on the Champions League but qualified for the UEFA Europa League. The Italian made some important changes, shoring up City’s defence, which made them hard to beat.
The “breakthrough” season – 2011/2012
City really hit the big time when they won the EPL for the first time in 2011/201, and it couldn’t have occurred in more dramatic fashion. After a close season with a Manchester United side still led by the incomparable Alex Ferguson, the race for the EPL title came down to the last day of the season. It seemed that United would win the tile yet again after beating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, while City (who now needed to win outright to lift the title), were actually 1 goal behind Queen Park Rangers heading into extra time. As United waited on the field for a possible trophy presentation, Edin Džeko equalised for City in the 92nd minute, and Sergio Agüero then scored a 94th-minute winner to clinch the title in dramatic fashion on goal difference.
A revolution under the new chairman
Manchester City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak has played a massive role in City’s rise, overseeing a massive transformation at the club over the last decade. In 2008, management consultants were brought in, and City’s owners hired the know-how of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, the former Barcelona chief executive and director of football respectively. The former Barcelona pair acquired a worldwide commercial and youth development empire in the form of the “City Football Group”, a global network of clubs, with a £200m academy “campus”, opened in 2014, at its apex. Their greatest move though was hiring former Spanish player and Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager, Josep “Pep” Guardiola Sala.
Real dominance began with Pep Guardiola
While City’s surge to the top of English football began under Mancini and continued under Manuel Pellegrini (winning the 2013/2014 EPL title), their real dominance began when Pep took over in 2016 and ensured that City’s performance was raised to a level never seen before at the club. Guardiola had already won 3 Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, and his pedigree was impeccable. And Pep has certainly lived up to his reputation, helping City to win 5 EPL titles during his 7-year stint, and with the possibility still present of completing an unprecedented treble this season, with City in both the Champions League and FA Cup finals.
Ultimately, a combination of a major cash injection, smart player buys, smart strategic planning, and the hiring of an outstanding manager has helped Manchester City surpass their neighbours (Man United) and become a completely dominant force in English football.
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