Four-pronged drive to take the City to the world

LONDON • The landmark, £265 million (S$563 million) alliance to capitalise on the growing appetite for football in China has completed a month at Manchester City which has illustrated four core elements in the extraordinary story of the previously hapless English club's ownership by the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The first, highlighted by this revolutionary purchase of a 13 per cent stake in the umbrella City Football Group by China Media Capital (CMC), a Chinese state-backed investment conglomerate, is the overarching global ambition of the Abu Dhabi ownership.

An initial perception that City was a rich prince's indulgence when Sheikh Mansour Zayed Al Nahyan bought the club in 2008 has ceded to a realisation that the intention is to make serious money out of it, and this deal values City at around US$3 billion (S$4.2 billion) and rising.

The second, seen in City's position at the top of the Premier League - which their expensively bought, all-star team are the favourites to win - and in their qualification for the Champions League knockout stage, is the financial muscle and seriousness being applied to the football operations themselves.

$4.2b Manchester City's valuation, as determined by the deal that saw China Media Capital take a 13 per cent stake in the club

  • THREE SISTER CLUBS IN THREE CONTINENTS

  • City Football Group already has Manchester City, New York City and Melbourne City under its belt and a minority shareholding in Yokohama F. Marinos.

    NEW YORK CITY

    Formed: May 2013

    League: Major League Soccer (MLS)

    Most expensive transfer:

    £700,000 or S$1.5 million (Andrea Pirlo)

    Star player: Frank Lampard

    Did you know?

    Claudio Reyna, Man City's former American defender, was the club's first employee as the director of football in 2013.

    MELBOURNE CITY

    Formed: June 2009 (as Melbourne Heart, rebranded in mid-2014)

    League: A-League

    Most expensive transfer: All free transfers

    Star player: Thomas Sorensen

    Did you know?

    Head coach John van't Schip was an unused substitute for the Netherlands in the final of 1988 European Championship.

    YOKOHAMA F. MARINOS

    Formed: 1972 (as Nissan Motors FC)

    League: J-League

    Most expensive transfer: £1.4 million (Roni)

    Star player: Shunsuke Nakamura

    Did you know?

    The 'F' in the name comes from Yokohama Flugels, who merged with Marinos in 1999. Flugels fans formed Yokohama FC, their rivals.

    THE TIMES, LONDON

The third, perhaps most surreal given City's former status as Manchester's gloom-laden, perennially screwed-up second club, is the geopolitical power of the men now in charge; who, wearing their Abu Dhabi government hats, wield forceful diplomatic influence at 10 Downing Street.

While City are still owned by Sheikh Mansour, who bought them from a former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a private equity deal, the club are run by the chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who in his senior financial and political roles reports to Sheikh Mansour's brother, the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed, seen as the de facto ruler in Abu Dhabi.

The fourth, exemplified by last week's announcement that City will develop a new club badge, returning to the round design dearly loved by fans of 1960s and 1970s vintage, is the expertise the Abu Dhabi executives have applied to the detail of running a modern English football club, understanding they need to soften the commercial zeal by nurturing, not ripping off, local sentiment.

They now take the machine they have built, the trio of City clubs they own in Manchester, New York and Melbourne and the stakes they have in Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos, and the youth development, scouting, marketing and logistics operations which service them, into China - potentially the biggest future football market of all.

In doing so as full partners with CMC, a company supported by China's communist government, City move ahead of other English Premier League clubs, many of whom have long tried to figure out how to capitalise on Chinese interest.

While the Glazer family's sweating of multiple international sponsorships for United has been envied by other clubs as a lucrative commercial model, this more substantial partnership minted by City could herald a round of similar ventures in China and elsewhere.

This move will enable the Abu Dhabi owners to seriously expand into China, commercially selling the clubs, principally Man City, as brands, and the allied companies which are constituted to provide services and expertise outside the City group.

The intention of the alliance is also to service the aspirations of the Chinese government, whose President Xi Jinping earlier this year announced a 50-point plan to make China a "soccer powerhouse".

The City operations will expect to contribute substantially to the requirements for more coaches, academies and building a football infrastructure, while also capitalising on the burgeoning Chinese television audience for the Premier League.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Four-pronged drive to take the City to the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe