In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s internationally acclaimed novel, Saruman is initially portrayed as a benevolent, noble wizard who shows a great deal of respect and humility for those around him. Pure of heart, he wears a white robe, and is Master of the Order of the Istari (wizards) of Middle-Earth.
But there was another Saruman within that was symbolised by that little bit of black in his otherwise white beard. We were shocked when he wizarded the crap out of Gandalf (Gandalf is after all, LOTR speak for awesomeness) and imprisoned him on top of the tower of Orthanc. Soon, it was clear that this power-hungry, ambitious, egotistical side of him had been unleashed for all the world to see.
From the benevolent head of a noble order, Saruman the White became a tyrant who raised massive armies of fighting uruk-hai to carve out his own dominion. Trees from the forest which had once tended to his needs now became fuel for the fires of his forges which melted steel and cooled the swords, shields and spears his army used to wage war against Rohan and the famed Rohirrim.
Isengard was now home to pits several feet deep which housed the machinations of war, foul wolves which ferried the Orc scouts to battle and many other dark creatures conjured from the depths of hell. Saruman’s plan was to equal Sauron, Lord of Mordor and maintain hegemony over Middle Earth along side the forger of the One Ring. Two towers, Orthanc and Barad-Dur, watching over the realm of Men, Elves and Dwarves.
Saruman’s tower and white robe reminded me of someone in this world who also sports a white robe. Someone who has his own tall tower. A tower so tall, that should one stand at the top, one could actually see the curvature of the Earth.
This tower I speak of is Burj Khalifa, located in downtown Dubai and paid for by the Royal Family of the United Arab Emirates, and this robe-wearing bloke I refer to is His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, brother of the current President of the UAE and current owner of Manchester City FC.
Before Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City, they were just another Club in the pyramid of English football. No one gave them a second glance. Before their purchase by Sheikh Mansour, their heyday was in the 1960s and 70s when they won the FA Cup, League Championship, European Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup, when they were jointly managed by Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison.
The fortunes of the Club declined rapidly, flitting between the First and Second divisions between the 1980′s and 1990′s which meant that although they were one of the founders of the Premier League in 1992, they spent most of the 1990s mired in the lower leagues, until Kevin Keegan was appointed manager in 2001, winning them promotion in his first season in charge. Under both Keegan and his successor Stuart Pearce, City continued to be a Club in transition.
The Citizens were of course regarded as far poorer cousins of their highly successful neighbours Manchester United, with most derbies between both clubs going the way of the Red Devils. City were often the whipping boys of the Premier League’s more successful clubs, with the club teetering towards the relegation zones more often than not. When City were bought by Sheikh Mansour perilously close to the transfer deadline day, City fans wondered whether this would be another false dawn or the start of something great. This was after all a club that had just seen its future thrown up in the air when Thaksin Shinawatra – from whom the Club was bought by Sheikh Mansour – had his assets frozen by the new Thai Military Government on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
Far too many times had the City fans been pilloried by the more illustrious Red half of Manchester. Their managers always promised to deliver in the past, but let the City faithful down far too many times to earn their trust. Red Devils fans called these speeches ‘noise’. City were after all Manchester’s whipping boys. The first thing that had to be done, therefore, was to make the fans believe in their new owners. That was achieved through the signing of Robinho from Real Madrid on deadline day for a British record transfer fee of 32.5 million pounds.
“It was a fantastic day,” recalls Bernard Halford, club secretary at the time of the takeover, speaking to the Telegraph. “We signed Robinho at the last minute and I remember having to get the forms done at ten to midnight, with all the fans outside, driving around the stadium peeping their horns and singing. It was 1.30am before we got finished, but it was a fantastic day and a marker in the sand from the sheikh about what he was going to do with the club. It was as though it had been really cloudy and, just like that, the clouds are blown away and it’s a clear blue sky with something big coming up on the horizon.”
At first, Manchester City fans were sceptical as to who their new owner was. Was it an Arab-based consortium led by Suleiman Al Fahim? No. He was football’s richest man, with a personal fortune of fifteen billion pounds. And it was clear that he was here to stay. In an extract from a letter written to City fans soon after the takeover, which is available on the Club’s official website, Mansour said, ”I am a football fan, and I hope that you will soon see that I am now also a Manchester City fan. But I am also a long-term investor and that is probably more important to the club and to you because it means we are here for the long haul and that we will act always in the best interests of the club and all of its stakeholders, but especially you the fans.”
Mansour needed results, and he was willing to be ruthless to get them. Like Saruman with his Orc commanders, Mansour sacked Mark Hughes around Christmas 2009 after he’d finished the previous season in 10th place. Despite expanding City’s war machine by buying Roque Santa Cruz, Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Joleon Lescott, in addition to snapping Carlos Tevez from Manchester United. Tevez’s image was later used in an advertisement outside the city limits and towards the Trafford area, with a banner saying ‘Welcome to Manchester’, which irked United boss Sir Alex Ferguson who angrily said that City were “a small club with a small mentality”.
But a run of two wins in eleven games following a good start to the new season saw Hughes sacked after a 4-3 win against Sunderland, despite being in sixth place and losing just twice all season. Hughes was replaced by Italian Roberto Mancini, a man who had experience in lifting titles with Internazionale in Italy.
It was clear that the Citizens were on the rise. Like Isengard marching to war, City were beginning to become a real threat to their opponents. Mancini finished the season in fifth, and expanded upon the forces City had, by bringing in Jerome Boateng, Mario Balotelli, James Milner, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov.
Like Saruman’s army, City were now a force to be reckoned with. The bulwark of Saruman’s uruks consisted of tall, physically strong warriors who destroyed everything in their path. Neither giving nor taking quarter, these fearsome fighters attacked with a brutality that struck fear into the heart of those who faced them. Yaya Toure, Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Vincent Kompany would fit that description. Supplementing them were skilled marksmen who could track the enemy for days without stopping for breath, and Gareth Barry, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Nigel de Jong and David Silva would slot into those roles in the City ranks.
Saruman’s outriders were speedy, lethal fighters who struck deft, damaging blows to their opponents, and sped away before their enemies could recover. Adam Johnson, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta are definitely marauders in their own right.
Obviously each army requires its group of stout defenders who keep watch over its most vital supplies. Joe Hart is the man who protects City’s goalmouth, and he has proven to be a wise investment since he brought in from Shrewsbury as a teenager.
When Saruman’s army marched on Helm’s Deep, they breached the Deeping Wall, but the arrival of reinforcements (if you’ve read the book, it’s thousands of soldiers on foot, led by a guy called Erkenbrand. If you’ve followed the films, its Gandalf, Eomer and the Rohirrim galloping down an impossibly steep slope) meant that they could not hold the Keep. Nobody has conquered Old Trafford, which is definitely the Helm’s Deep of English football. Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, several other teams have gone there and won. But Manchester United’s domain remains firmly impregnable.
‘They shall fall upon us like water on rock,” says Theoden in the film, and when they do break through the outer wall, he throws down a challenge to Saruman. “Is this it?” he asks. “Is this all you can conjure, Saruman?” At Old Trafford, not only did Mancini breach United’s defence time and time again, he conjured enough to leave what was left of the Red faithful in disbelief at the way City forces had sliced United apart, with a final score of 6-1. But as I have said before, United win a vast majority of their home games, and no one can claim dominion over them.
Mancini’s men clinched the title on the last day of the season in dramatic fashion as, we all know. Ten-man QPR had fallen behind but were leading 2-1 through Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie with just three minutes of stoppage time out of five left to play. Dzeko equalised from a corner for City, and with just seconds left to play, Aguero rode a couple of challenges to fire home what has to be the most dramatic winner in the history of the Premier League.
Manchester United, level on points with City, had already won at Sunderland courtesy Wayne Rooney‘s solitary goal. The fans, however, stayed rooted to the spot as they waited with bated breath, watching the seconds tick by at the Etihad via smartphone. It was to be the most cruel of defeats Sir Alex’s men have ever been meted out.
And like Saruman watching every move of his army through his palantir, Sheikh Mansour and his hand-picked associates who manage City assemble in Abu Dhabi to watch every single City game on TV.
For now, like Isengard, Manchester City will play their hand at conquering all. But it wasn’t the best message they sent out to Europe, being relegated to the Europa League and then crashing out in the knockout stages.
Enjoy your time in the sun, City, because when the Rohirrim came galloping, filled with bloodlust and a thirst for victory, even the most valiant of Orcs scattered.
Please note that this article has no racist intonation whatsoever. Should you think it does, I sincerely apologise. This was not my intention