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UNITED fans, and indeed large parts of the media, are apt to dismiss Manchester City’s current supremacy on the football field as little more than a blip in the natural order of things. Despite the money being poured into the club since its takeover, City have won only two league titles to United’s one. And United, despite the past three seasons, are still the world’s most profitable football club. The natural order is bound to return.
But the media are failing to see the wood for the trees. The vast sums of money being poured into East Manchester are not primarily to win immediate trophies nor to rival United, or any other English Club, but to establish foundations that will allow City to totally dominate English football for decades.
The most obvious example is the move into foreign markets such as the US, Australia and China with the formation of or partnership with local teams, but the most instructive is the City Football Academy, built in 2014 at a cost of £150 million. It has since had more than £100 million spent on facilities and staff; that’s a quarter of a billion pounds on youth facilities in just a few years.
Before commissioning the project the club sent its staff to over 70 sporting centres in Europe and the US and picked what it felt was the best bits from each. Barcelona’s La Masia academy was examined particularly closely.
The rewards have come astounding quickly. City always had a reputation of producing the odd gem, but now there is an industrialization of the process and a bewildering array of trophies has been won at all age levels in the past few years.
Last month, the under-15s won the Premier league international tournament, sweeping aside the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea on their way to beating Swansea 2-0 in the final. The strength in depth extends into the very lowest age groups: last season, City’s under-11s defeated their counterparts from Queens Park Rangers 29-1.
Last season, the first team proved a vast disappointment to fans, but that was not how it was viewed from Abu Dhabi. Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak pointed out as much in his notes to the club’s annual report which for the first time since the takeover recorded a profit.
“The transformation of Manchester City under the ownership of HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has never been anything other than a long-term project. We have set ambitious goals and achieved many of them faster than expected in the last eight years, but we have never underestimated the scale of the undertaking.
“It is a reflection of how far we have come that Manchester City now enters each season with the realistic goals of winning the league, bringing home a domestic cup, and competing for European honours. That is a tall order for any first team squad, but it is also the reality of where we stand in football terms in 2016.”
“The commitment to football excellence at Manchester City extends well beyond our first team. Results at Youth level were particularly promising this year, with our Academy teams winning a record number of titles across all age groups, and our U16s scoring more than 100 goals in an unbeaten season.
Importantly, Al Mubarak went on to write about the importance of commercial viability, pointing out that the City “brand” which owns Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City FC – was now valued at US$3 billion. The value of the trophy-winning machine that is Manchester United is almost half a billion dollars less.