Manchester City, Chapter 3: Winning now – and well into the future

In chapter three, we discover it's important for the club to continue winning and securing silverware, but building blocks are also being put in place to ensure much longer-term success...

It is well known that to overhaul their roster and makes moves to ensure sustained success, Manchester City have spent big on and off the pitch since 2008.

There have been some exceptions – the £32.5 million (S$58.6m) signing of Robinho, just hours after Sheikh Mansour agreed to purchase the club, didn’t turn out to be a success – but more often than not their outlays have helped them make progress.

The £150m they spent on the City Football Academy, the training base which opened in 2014, is certainly an incredible sum of money, but it has produced an incredible facility that could reap dividends for decades to come. It is intended to pave the way for a conveyor belt of Manchester City youth talent that could keep the club at the top for the long term.

The tour takes some time. There are 16-and-a-half pitches – the half is for goalkeeper training – and they’re looked after by no fewer than 16 groundstaff

“We are building a structure for the future and not just a team of all-stars,” is the quote FFT reads on the wall just inside the facility’s entrance as we begin our tour of the facilities. Mansour has never deviated from the commitment he verbally laid out with his takeover in September 2008.

The tour takes some time. There are 16-and-a-half pitches – the half is for goalkeeper training – and they’re looked after by no fewer than 16 groundstaff.

One is an artificial pitch painted in Manchester City blue, besieged by birds that continually confuse it for a lake. Four more are of different grass mixes, so the first-team manager can train on the pitch most similar to the surface they’ll be playing their next away match on.

Another is shielded from the wind by huge walls, allowing Guardiola to work on set-pieces in a stadium-style setting in the final training session before a game.

All first-team pitches have been blocked from prying eyes, mostly by trees. City remember all too well how the open nature of their old Carrington training ground allowed photographers to take embarrassing snaps of a scuffle between Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli, laying bare the issues within their camp midway through the 2012-13 season.

The sprawling City Academy and transfer hub

By the following summer both men would be gone, having each played their part in a much happier moment 12 months earlier.

In one of the City Football Academy’s gyms, a wall is emblazoned with the words ‘Every Second Counts’. FFT wonders briefly if City’s designer was a fan of early-’90s game shows hosted by Paul Daniels, but then we turn and see a gigantic picture of a celebrating Sergio Aguero on the opposite wall, accompanied by the digits ‘93:20’.

That, of course, was the time on the clock when Sergio Aguero – or ‘Aguerooooooooo!’, as he was known at that moment – scored against QPR to deliver Manchester City their first league title of the Mansour era. That it denied Manchester United top spot was a nice bonus for fans who hadn’t seen their club win the division since 1968.

THANKS A BILLION

Manchester City's transfer spending has reached nine figures under Sheikh Mansour:

  • 2008-09: £82.5 million (S$150 million)
  • 2009-10: £125m
  • 2010-11: £154.8m
  • 2011-12: £76m
  • 2012-13: £54m
  • 2013-14: £103.2m
  • 2014-15: £87.5m
  • 2015-16: £152.1m
  • 2016-17: £168.9m
  • TOTAL: £1,004,000,000

It was City’s ‘Up For Grabs Now’ moment – a moment their fans will always cherish, in the same way Arsenal supporters still celebrate Michael Thomas’ late title-winning goal at Liverpool in 1989.

Both goals still mean plenty to Brian Marwood, an Arsenal player then and a man who has helped to oversee the rise of Manchester City since 2009, first as football administrator alongside Mark Hughes and Mancini, before becoming academy director and now the managing director of football services across all of the City Football Group.

Asked to describe what was going through his head when City faced QPR, Marwood can’t help but immediately burst into laughter. “I’d be severely understating the fact that it was an emotional rollercoaster,” he smiles. “To be losing the game with minutes to go ...  I just remember thinking: ‘How have we lost this?’

“I was injured at the time but I was there when Arsenal won at Anfield, which people still talk about now. I think people will talk about Sergio’s goal in the same way. I actually feel sorry for Edin Dzeko as his goal was the equaliser, and no one talks about that.

“The fact that they were unwrapping the trophy at the Stadium of Light for Manchester United, only for us to win it in that fashion – I’ve never experienced such elation, but also so much tiredness at the same time. I couldn’t celebrate, I was just so drained by it all.

“Having won the league, the club gathered momentum, people gathered belief and we gathered credibility and respect for what we were doing. I don’t think that was the case in the early days – people said, ‘You’re just throwing money at it’, and, yes, none of us can deny that we’ve spent money. But we’ve done it for the right reasons.

"Our owners have not only changed the fortunes of a football club, they’ve also changed the fortunes of a city, and that’s very rare these days.

“This is one of the most unique projects in world football; maybe only Red Bull have a similar model as they own clubs, too [New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg, Red Bull Brasil and RB Leipzig]. But for us to have arguably the best manager in the world and everything that we have here in place, it’s been remarkable progress in eight years.”

Marwood credits Al Mubarak with much of the rapid progress. The Englishman occasionally has direct contact with Mansour, but liaises more closely with the chairman, whose other business commitments include an involvement with Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“He’s had a huge passion for this project from the very first day and his knowledge of everything we’re doing is remarkable when you think that he’s got lots of other things going on in his world,” says Marwood, 56.

Our owners have not only changed the fortunes of a football club, they’ve also changed the fortunes of a city, and that’s very rare these days

“We’re extremely fortunate to have not only the owners that we have, but also a chairman who is probably the best figurehead I’ve ever known – and I’ve been in football since I was 16.”

When FFT asks at what point Guardiola’s name was first mentioned at Manchester City as a man they’d like to be their head coach one day, Marwood’s response is instant. “It was 2008, I think – we would have loved to have him then!” he says with a smile.

The answer is only half-serious: Marwood wasn’t at the club at that point and Pep was barely a few games into his managerial career with Barcelona.

City’s realistic hopes of attracting their dream manager came with the arrival of director of football Txiki Begiristain in October 2012.

Guardiola was a free agent at that point, on a year’s sabbatical after leaving Barça, but Mancini had just delivered City the title in dramatic fashion and Guardiola had already started discussions about moving to Bayern Munich on a three-year deal from the summer of 2013.

City would have to bide their time, but Guardiola had long since indicated to Begiristain that when he was ready to move to England, it would be to link up with his former Barcelona teammate, who had once played a key role in his promotion to first-team coach at the Camp Nou. When his deal at Bayern was running to a close, he decided that the time was right.

“Obviously we benefited from the relationship that Txiki and (chief executive) Ferran (Soriano) had with Pep from his Barcelona days,” Marwood says. “But I think Guardiola also needed to see and get an understanding of what Manchester City was all about.

"It wasn’t just about working with two people he was close to; it was about being able to work in an environment where he could see that everything was just right.

“Now he’s here, I think he’s very pleased with what he’s walked into. Now we need to reach another level. We’ve fallen short in the Champions League and we’ve fallen a little bit short in the league in the last year or two.

"We want to be successful. We want to win.”

[NEXT: A Belgian dynamo joins the revolution]