Prior to September 2008, Manchester City were regarded by others as a decent mid-table side fighting to reach the Europa League. But on the 1st of that month everything changed. Then owner Thaksin Shinawatra’s reign was in tatters as he failed to escape the continuing allegations of corruption in his home country of Thailand, thus with his £800m fortune frozen, City’s financial situation was in complete meltdown. Following later extradition requests from Thai courts to the British Government and the courts beginning to try them in absentia, it effectively ended any hopes of the money being released, further affing the possibility that Thaksin would come to breach Premier League rules on club ownership, which prevent owners convicted of corruption charges from retaining control of their club. The club did however attempt to stabilise it’s books by selling minority stakes for investment but failure prompted the announcement on 1st September 2008 that Manchester City were in talks to sell Thaksin’s stake to the Abu Dhabi United Group, and the deal was agreed later that day.
Even though this deal had been passed on transfer deadline day, City’s new owners immediately set the tone for their future ambitions by breaking the british transfer fee and signing, at the time, world superstar Robinho for £32.5 million from Real Madrid, whilst also placing bids for the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Mario Gomez and David Villa. Robinho however, couldn’t help City climb higher up the table and the club finished tenth that season. But this only spurred the owners to take the club’s transfer spending to an unprecedented level as they outlaid over £100 million on Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez and Joleon Lescott. Roberto Mancini was installed in place of outgoing Mark Hughes in December of that year and the club improved finishing fifth, thus narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification. But they needed more, and this time the Abu Dhabi United Group used their millions to lure Jerome Boateng, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mario Balotelli and James Milner to Eastlands. This time out however, City won their first trophy since 1976 with the F.A. Cup and qualified for the Champions League, but a year later and with the addition of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aquero, City won the Premier League in dramatic fashion on a thrilling last day, which I’m sure needs no explaining. City fans could not believe their luck. From being a club destined for mediocrity only a few years ago, they are now the envy of every football fan, or are they?
The reason I’ve included such bulky lists of players and changes in the previous two paragraphs is to emphasise the ferocity through which their current owners have built this club up and up until success has come. The Premier League is regarded by most as the greatest league in the world. A league which prides itself on its unpredictability, but are City not putting two fingers up to this? Just look at those lists of superstars joining in one transfer window, providing evidence of the attitude that one can buy success. I would argue that this attitude is morally wrong, and unless every club has a billionaire owner behind it, the healthy competition that the league thrives on will be diminished and we’ll end with a league so predictable that fans become disinterested. I know that sounds ridiculously over the top and I’m sure many will point out the twists and turns of the previous campaign but my point remains in that if this attitude continues within the sport the league will become in itself tiered and jumps and falls between these will be solely based on financial backing or lack of. This route is hardly sustainable with the possibility of far eastern owners losing interest being forever greater, and many foreign investments viewing their club primarily as a business venture, means success can quickly become failure as investment suddenly disappears, is mishandled, or withheld stifling a club’s growth. The game will slowly, but inevitably move from an on field battle to instead a competition off it.
Thus in the midst of this, as football fans, are we worried? Have City simply ‘cheated’ in winning the league and in doing so are killing our game? Or is it a case of if they have the money they may as well use it, and success after all is the reward of hard investment? Should we not be grateful for the world superstars they have brought to the English stage? But they all play for one club? And most of all, are we envious? I’d also love to hear how City fans themselves feel in their current situation and do the perceptions of those outside of your club bother you? Or should we all just stop making excuses and get on with it!