The great Manchester divide
May 21, 2008 will be etched in every Manchester United fan’s memory. An iconic win at the Luzhiniki stadium in Moscow meant that the Red Devils were Champions of Europe for the third time. They edged out English rivals Chelsea in a penalty shootout and had even secured the Premier League earlier with a squad which made many envious.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his team, it seemed, could do no wrong. Across the city in Manchester was another club that finished 9th in the Premier League table, Manchester City. The Sky-blues, who in recent years had even seen the third tier of English football, managed to crawl back in England’s elite league but no matter what they did, they would live in the shadows of their ginormous neighbours.
A few months later, in September of 2008, after much turmoil, Manchester City were bought by Abu Dhabi United Group. Their former Thai owners were embroiled in controversy and with assets frozen, Thaksin Shinawatra decided to pass the baton on to the Middle East owners.
With hours to go before the close of the transfer window, City managed to sign Robinho from Real Madrid for a British record fee at that time of £32.5m. It seemed ludicrous and many were left thinking why Robinho would take a step backwards in his career moving from a Spanish giant to the smaller team of Manchester.
What many believed would be a fancy, has turned into an obsession. Sheikh Mansour-led Manchester City slowly but surely started laying the groundwork for a club they believed should be a powerhouse in European football. They first appointed Roberto Mancini in 2009-10 season, who steered them to fifth in the table – highest position since 1992.
City start showing their mettle
With a change in guard at the top, City started targeting marquee players that they believed could mount a serious title charge. A certain Carlos Tevez was snatched from across the town with City’s fans boasting of a banner that has gone down in history – WELCOME TO MANCHESTER.
After the additions of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Mario Balotelli et all, the Citizens started looking the real deal. They snapped up the FA Cup the following season and finished third in the EPL, which meant automatic qualification to the Champions League, a dream that seemed unrealistic a few years ago.
And then came, what many believe is the greatest season of the Premier League era. In a dramatic turn of events, City won the title in the dying moments of their final game of the season toppling the red half of Manchester and truly becoming the “Noisy Neighbours”. It was a staggering feat for a club that was taken over only a few years ago and the “project” to be Europe’s elite was truly coming to fruition.
Since then, City have won another Premier League title under Manuel Pelligrini who took over the reigns from Mancini and are gunning for the Champions League as well. But it’s not just the first team that has been producing results. The club has invested a whopping £200m on their academy, roped in the likes of Ferran Soriano who is the current CEO of the club, from Barcelona.
Under Soriano, City have cut its losses in half and have clocked record revenues through sponsorship deals. They’ve also expanded through strategic takeovers of Melbourne Heart FC and buying an MLS franchise in New York City FC. If this wasn’t enough, they’ve even also managed to bring in Pep Guardiola from Bayern Munich on a three-year contract to guide them from the 2016-17 season onwards.
The Citizens have modeled their approach to reach the highest echelons and their progression has been meticulous to achieve par excellence. In Pep, they’ve got arguably the world’s best manager and with finer touches, their squad could challenge for years to come.
Fall of Manchester United
In stark contrast, this has been the fall of the red half of Manchester. After the highs of 2008, United have seen the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the retirement of Sir Alex. Their appointment of David Moyes yielded little, with the Scot getting the sack late on in the season with Ryan Giggs taking charge as interim manager.
The Red Devils’ appointment of Louis Van Gaal has been a disappointing affair as well. The Dutchman has a win percentage of less than 50% which has been the worst in 35 years. It’s not just the dull, uninspiring football that United have produced but many fans are irate that the Old Trafford outfit find themselves in this situation after having spent oodles of money.
After taking over David Gill, Ed Woodward has received some flak for his execution of the club’s functions. While he has filled United’s coffers with money from sponsorship deals, they’re often forced to overpay for players.
Marouane Fellaini, one of Moyes’ two signings, signed for United for a higher amount than his buyout clause, had only the hierarchy been more decisive and timely. The same pattern has been followed with Anthony Martial and an infamous imposter situation to complete the signing of Ander Herrera.
Not all is lost for Manchester United. They still command a big name in world football, but Manchester City’s functioning really makes you think if the Red Devils are keeping pace with their rivals in every sphere.
City have shaken up not just their first team over the years but their leadership in every rank to ensure they become a footballing giant. With a lot at stake, Ed Woodward and co cannot afford to dither any longer. They need to ensure United’s ship is steered in the right direction or else they risk themselves living in their own shadows for a long time.