BEFORE 2008, Manchester City were not even their local rival’s biggest game of the season. Manchester United versus Liverpool was far more attractive at Old Trafford. Back then, the fans were dreaming of one day getting back into Europe, let alone claiming the Premier League title.
Fast forward nine years and the current squad has sparked debates over whether they are the best side ever to play in England. Each week, the excitement over whether they will go through the entire season unbeaten grows a little more, with the feat last completed by Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2004.
The difference has been the takeover by Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG). Investing money into the squad and its facilities to build a title-winning side, they clinched the Premier League in 2012 and 2014.
While they were enjoying City’s success, they wanted to build a global network of clubs, with the ADUG, along with CITIC Capital, forming the City Football Group (CFG). Now the group owns or has shares in teams in Australia, Spain, USA, Japan and Uruguay, purposely to swap ideas, players and staff for the further development of each club.
Having joined the newly-formed New York City in June 2014, David Villa spent time on loan at Melbourne City to maintain match fitness, with Major League Soccer not beginning until the following March.
Patrick Vieira was the youth team manager at City before gaining his first senior managerial job at New York City, with a view to return and take over the same role at the English side in the future.
Spanish outfit Girona are at the other end of scale, where the CFG’s main club, Manchester City, are loaning their youngsters, such as Pablo Maffeo and Aleix Garcia, to the LaLiga side to gain first-team experience. Although for the owners and Man City this is the perfect formation for them to grow and build for a long-term successful future, for the other teams under this holding company, there is a sense that not everyone is on the same wavelength.
Jeremy from the Melbourne City Supporters Group admits the club have progressed since their days as Heart prior to the takeover, but there are still problems for the AAMI Park outfit: “The CFG’s financial aid is enough to have beautiful facilities in Bundoora (area where Melbourne City is based), but not enough to win the A-League,” said the City fan.
However, he is in two minds over how successful the group want the Australian side to be, and believes there are ulterior motives to the CFG’s cash boost in Melbourne. “They want all their clubs to be the best, so that Manchester City can be better. They are using football as an industry, and they know that the best way to get more money is to win the EPL [Premier League],” said Jeremy.
While there have been many ups for Melbourne City, including winning the FFA Cup in 2017, Jeremy is still not a fan of the CFG: “I am against modern football, and I hate that we are a part of the City group. I wish we were never bought by them. It looks like they’re [Man City] on their way to win it. Unstoppable, I wish Melbourne City were like that.”
For Girona, it is a very different story, with the City Football Group owning 44.3 percent of the club, the same amount purchased by Girona Football Group, which is led by City manager Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere. The remainder is owned by a Girona fans’ association.
When they were bought, the Catalan side had just been promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history. During their short period as co-owners of Girona, CFG have already shown that they see them as a feeder club for some of City’s best talent. So far, Pablo Maffeo and Aleix Garcia are just two of five youngsters from the English side that are spending this season in Spain.
While this may seem hurtful for a side who are looking to establish themselves in LaLiga, one GironaUK member believes that the relationship with CFG will only help them, rather than hinder: “Having a unique mix of Segunda División promotion winners alongside some of the most highly rated young players at any Premier League club can only have a positive impact on a club like Girona,” said Adam Selby.
“For a club like Girona to be in any way linked to a club of the size and stature of Manchester City can only be a good thing. City willing to share their resources and expert knowledge will undoubtedly be beneficial to a club attempting to establish themselves in the Spanish top flight for years to come.”
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Considering at the start of the season Girona were odds-on favourites to get relegated straight back to the second tier, they have impressed many keen viewers of the league. They currently sit just outside the top 10, mere points from a European place. Their best achievement since winning promotion is beating reigning champions Real Madrid at Estadi Montilivi.
Selby does not believe the success will stop there and believes their sister clubs’ triumphs will have a knock-on effect in Spain: “Who doesn’t like success, especially when it’s close to your own heart or club? Success breeds success and if Girona’s compañeros in the City Football Group go on to be successful then that will hopefully reciprocate right throughout the group.”
In the same sense that Girona and Melbourne City are from different countries and very different backgrounds in the CFG structure, the same goes for New York City. They are a new club altogether, one that was co-founded by the group along with Yankee Global Enterprises, owners of the New York Yankees baseball team, as CFG expanded to the United States.
Based at Yankee Stadium, converted for every match to suit the two sports, the financial aid and resources at their fingertips has seen them finish runners-up this season, off the back of a fourth-place finish last year, alongside two MLS Cup semi-final appearances.
The greatest help they have had through City Football Group has been the ability to sign some of the league’s best Designated Players, often stars exempt from the salary cap restrictions. New York City’s first major signing was none other than former World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winner David Villa, who can put Atlético Madrid and Barcelona as former employers on his CV.
Since then they have seen Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo pass through their doors. The former was signed by NYCFC on a free transfer before spending six months at sister club Man City to maintain his fitness ahead of the new MLS season.
This year’s addition in Maximiliano Moralez has failed to grab the excitement of the Blues’ fans, with his name not as well-known as previous DPs, as are the clubs he has played for in Vélez Sarsfield, León and Atalanta.
An NYCFC Supporters Forum member believes that the cap on spending prohibits the amount CFG can invest in improving the squad, but the Designated Players at the New York outfit have not performed to their necessary standards to earn the club the success it wants: “It’s great that they [CFG] are making an attempt to establish themselves in the community. But from a NYCFC perspective we haven’t seen enough yet,” said NYCFC_Dan.
“Operating within a cap and not being able to simply throw money at players is what makes this challenging. Most of that money has gone to DPs. Aside from Villa we haven’t had successful DP signings. We’ve spent a lot on their salaries but none have been impactful as a DP in this league.”
Despite this, he feels that the group are still aiming to make every club under their wing the best they can and want to fill the cabinets with trophies. “If anyone believes that CFG doesn’t want success for all clubs they are delusional. Success and profitability are their goals. They did that with Man City and they’ll attempt the same with all clubs.”
However, while the group’s main reasoning for owning – at least partly – teams all over the world is for them to become one connected circle, where they can share ideas, resources and staff, including players, this has not been the same for the fans. “A lot of us, myself included, follow Man City. For me it was my first club before NYCFC was formed,” NYCFC_Dan added. “I don’t have a connection with other clubs as I can’t watch their games. I don’t see myself taking an interest in a team that I can’t easily follow.”
Each fan has their own views and reservations about the group; one wanting to return their team to their former selves, another happy with their new owners and the resources that they bring, while the final supporter is sitting on the fence, waiting for their side to go to the next level and start bringing home the trophies.
The main theme is that there isn’t any connectedness between the supporters. City Football Group have built their organisation on each side working together, yet this has not been transferred to the people who go through the gates week in, week out, or watch them on television.
One thing these supporters can agree on is that success will have a knock-on effect, so as Manchester City continue to lead the Premier League title race, Melbourne City, Girona and New York City fans believe their triumphs are not far away