The Mancunian tale of Money: A story of contrasting fortunes
Since the inception of the Premier League back in the early 1990s, the North-West of England and particularly, Manchester has been one of the most fruitful footballing areas in the country. After all, Manchester United is indeed the most successful Premier League club across the nation.
However, for all the glory the Red Devils tasted in the 20 years before the 2010s, they’ve had to fend off their ‘noisy neighbours’ this decade and it’s fair to say that they haven’t quite made a proper fist of it.
United’s last league title came way back in 2012-13 which incidentally coincided with the departure of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester City, on the other hand, has racked up four PL crowns in the 2010s and on current evidence, they look primed to make it five next term.
So, when and where did the power shift exactly happen? Were the Red Devils then completely powerless to stop their cross-town rivals from scaling peaks even Ferguson had perceived improbable?
The answer to the first question takes us back to September 2008 and the taking over of Manchester City by Arab owners, who called themselves the Abu Dhabi United Group.
After the summer of 2008, the Cityzens’ financial system was infused with an astronomical amount of money. The Sky Blues have had a net spend exceeding a billion pounds over the last ten years and that sum is head and shoulders above what every other club has spent over the same duration.
Thus, the increased financial clout helped them reduce the gap in quality on their city rivals within a span of a few years.
As for the second question posed above, the answer is definitely in the negative.
The 2008 off-season saw City trundle along as it usually did and they made no profound attempts to grab the bull by the horns. Yet, the takeover just before the culmination of the transfer window saw them launch an audacious bid to acquire Dimitar Berbatov from under Manchester United’s noses. Though nothing of the sort materialised, it certainly acted as a precursor to what was in store.
Mark Hughes was the first manager to be entrusted with the Arab money and he snaffled Robinho away from Chelsea on deadline day in September 2008. However, the signing of the Brazilian failed to have the desired impact as he couldn’t come to grips with the English game.
Inevitably, a run of dubious results in 2009 meant that the City hierarchy were planning for a future sans Hughes.
Roberto Mancini took over from the former Manchester United player in December of the same year and gave a good account of himself in the remainder of the season.
The Italian brought with himself a wealth of experience and his tactical nous coupled with his knowledge of the transfer market enabled him to take City to heights it had never experienced before.
Mancini signed the likes of Aleksander Kolarov, David Silva, James Milner, Jerome Boateng, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure before the 2010-11 season. While they couldn’t lay their hands on the Premier League that term, the aforementioned players played a vital role in their conquest a season later.
In addition to the superstars above, City also brought on board Sergio Aguero, the Argentine who famously snatched the league from United’s grasps in May 2012.
However, with Mancini losing the dressing room a season later, the Sky Blues decided to replace him with Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean delivered the Premier League in his first year in charge. The veteran also signed a plethora of players during his time with Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho being the most notable ones.
In 2016, City appointed Pep Guardiola at the helm with a view to define their era and the Spaniard has done rather well.
Pep’s first season in charge was far from inspiring yet he was able to chalk out the deficiencies that existed in his team. In 2017, he signed full-backs, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo to replace the ageing Kolarov, Clichy and Sagna.
Moreover, he brought a sense of directness to City’s offensive play by deploying De Bruyne in midfield and adding Leroy Sane to his ranks. Additionally, Gabriel Jesus was also acquired to provide a different dimension to Aguero and help ease the goal-scoring burden.
In the defensive third, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones were purchased to help Pep ingrain his philosophy on the team.
As a result, his team was able to conjure two magnificent seasons on the trot and they broke several long-standing records in the process.
Thus, a closer introspection at all of City’s signings since the influx of Arab money tells one that they’ve generally gone on to become mainstays for the side.
While there has been the odd puzzling acquisition, namely Eliaquim Mangala, Nolito and Wilfred Bony, they’ve been outnumbered significantly by the positive impact others have created.
Moreover, whenever a new manager came in, he was allowed to mould the team to his liking and bring suitable players on board. Hence, indicating that the Sky Blues always had a proper course of action chalked out before dipping into the market.
However, that has hardly been the case with their rivals, Manchester United. Since Ferguson bid adieu to the game, the Red Devils have stuttered, stumbled and shunted from one manager to another, all without an adequate plan in place.
The Scottish manager’s hand-picked replacement, David Moyes neither had the acumen nor the negotiation skills to entice top-drawer players to Old Trafford. Inevitably, he ended up obtaining only Marouane Fellaini in his first summer as United manager.
Moyes was given the axe before the 2013-14 campaign ended and Louis Van Gaal was installed in his stead the next season.
The Dutchman proceeded to make numerous signings of his own yet only a handful truly worked out. Angel Di Maria was a flop at Old Trafford while the less said about Marcos Rojo and Falcao the better.
The alarming pattern though, through these signings was that United prioritised ‘big’ names over footballers who might actually have suited the manager’s system better.
Di Maria, Schneiderlin and at that juncture, even Schweinsteiger would never have fulfilled the demands Van Gaal placed on his players. Yet, they were signed impulsively only for them to regret it later.
The next manager to try his luck with Manchester United’s money was none other than the Special One, Jose Mourinho. But, he too couldn’t build the long-lasting dynasty the Old Trafford hierarchy craved.
The Portuguese signed Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Fred, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez. However, of the eight players mentioned, only three, if one includes Pogba, have gone on to make a mark.
Ibrahimovic was decent in his time in England while Lindelof has established himself as a vital cog in a floundering United wheel recently.
Though the Red Devils made some shrewd purchases in the post-Fergie era, those were massively outweighed by the other inexplicable signings they’ve come up with.
City, meanwhile, have had most of their arrivals stamping their authority on the league with some even competing in a small list to be counted among the best to have ever graced the English top-flight.
Thus, it leads one to the conclusion that having the money to spend and using it efficiently are two different things altogether.
And it is clear that while both Mancunian clubs have had the former, only City has proceeded to achieve the latter. To make matters worse for the Red Devils, they’ve failed rather spectacularly in that aspect.
Hence, it is only fitting that as the 2019-20 season dawns, the Sky Blues are on the verge of leaving behind a dynasty that might survive the ravages of time while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces another summer of fervent searching of the ‘Manchester United DNA’.
And even if United are triumphant in their seemingly futile search, they might yet find it tough to combine all the components and put together a City-esque machine.