Great­ness, But at What Cost? It took more than money to turn Man City into cham­pi­ons but the leaked doc­u­ments re­veal an uglier truth

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Rory Smith

The prob­lem with Manch­ester City, as Arsene Wenger saw it, was not sim­ply that they pos­sessed an ap­par­ently bot­tom­less well of wealth. It was that City were smart, too. “Petrol and ideas,” as Wenger, the for­mer Arse­nal man­ager, put it.

By the end, though, even he didn’t be­lieve City’s suc­cess could be ex­plained solely by their bal­ance sheet. Their pre-em­i­nence couldn’t have been achieved with­out the bil­lion-plus pounds pro­vided by their back­ers, but it wouldn’t have been so com­plete had that money not been spent so wisely.

The­mosto­b­vi­ous­man­i­fes­ta­tionofthathas been on the field: Pep Guardi­ola’s team won the Pre­mier League last sea­son with more points and more goals than any team in the mod­ern­era.WhenEng­land’sna­tion­al­team reached the semi­fi­nals of the World Cup last sum­mer, many cred­ited Guardi­ola for help­ing­tosmooththein­tro­duc­tiono­famore mod­ern ap­proach.

Off the field, though, the mod­ern City have also be­come a point of ref­er­ence to many. Ci­tyFoot­bal­lGroup,theum­brel­laor­gan­i­sa­tion that owns City, has been con­sulted by the Chi­nese Su­per League on how to run its teams more sus­tain­ably. In the United States, in par­tic­u­lar, Ma­jor League Soc­cer has­madeuse­ofthev­ast­database­ofin­for­ma­tion held by City’s re­cruit­ment de­part­ment when as­sess­ing po­ten­tial sign­ings from mi­nor Euro­pean leagues.

Real Madrid ex­ec­u­tives told City’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Fer­ran So­ri­ano, that it was not some­thingth­ey­could­copy—Real’spres­tige would be di­luted by fran­chis­ing, they felt — but they ad­mired the con­cept.

City will go into Sun­day’s derby against Manch­ester United as a firm favourites; United, for so long the shadow City couldn’t es­cape, now seem the un­der­dog. On Tues­day, Guardi­ola was asked if the league as a whole would even­tu­ally suf­fer for City’s unim­peach­able ex­cel­lence. “I don’t know,” he said, “if it’s a prob­lem.”

Sim­i­lar­suc­cessintheCham­pi­onsLeague, the com­pe­ti­tion their ex­ec­u­tives cher­ish more than any other, has proved more elu­sive. City don’t need the tro­phy, though, to know that they has al­ready joined Eu­rope’s fron­trank.In­the­do­c­u­mentsre­leased­bythe opaque whis­tle-blow­ing plat­form Foot­ball Leak­stotheGer­man­magazineDerSpiegel, five Pre­mier League clubs were named as party to a plan to launch a break­away Euro­pean Su­per League — re­plac­ing the Cham­pi­ons League — start­ing in 2021. City was among them. The petrol, and the ideas, have brought City to the head ta­ble.

Those doc­u­ments, though, have painted an en­tirely dif­fer­ent pic­ture of City from the one that had con­vinced so many of their op­po­nents to fol­low their ex­am­ple.

The club has hardly made a se­cret of the fact they felt Fi­nan­cial Fair Play was a ruse con­cocted by the game’s tra­di­tional elite to keep up­starts like City and P.S.G. in their place. If City were try­ing to find a way around the rules, it was only be­cause the rules were un­fair.

Be­sides, even if the al­le­ga­tions are true, that does not change the fun­da­men­tal truth, the one even Wenger rec­og­nized: That money alone is not enough.

There is, though, a broader is­sue here. 11pm 11pm 1am 7:30pm

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Even as City — like P.S.G. — re­port­edly poured con­sid­er­able time, ef­fort and ex­pense into break­ing UEFA’s reg­u­la­tions, they were si­mul­ta­ne­ously meet­ing any threat of a pun­ish­ment with ire and anger, con­tem­plat­ing whether any po­ten­tial fine might be bet­ter spent on a le­gal team to take on, and crush, the or­ga­ni­za­tion levy­ing it. When the sum they would be forced to pay was even­tu­ally de­cided, City could af­ford to de­clare that tens of mil­lions of eu­ros didn’t “ma­te­ri­ally af­fect” their busi­ness.

That is the true image cast by the rev­e­la­tions of the last week, one that has ram­i­fi­ca­tions far be­yond tribal self-in­ter­est: of not just one club, but of a whole host of them that be­lieve the rules should be al­tered to fit their needs; of teams so in­flated by suc­cess that they can now ca­su­ally dis­re­gard the dik­tats of their gov­ern­ing bod­ies; of teams too big to fail, be­yond con­trol.

That’s what led City both to de­ceive and then dis­dain UEFA. It’s what led to the end­less changes to the Cham­pi­ons League and the tweaks to do­mes­tic cup com­pe­ti­tions and a se­ries of bans for il­le­gally ap­proach­ing, or sign­ing, young play­ers: an es­sen­tial ar­ro­gance, a dis­re­gard for con­se­quence, a be­lief that might makes right. It’s what threat­ens the fun­da­men­tal rup­ture in the fab­ric of the game re­flected in that Bay­ern-con­cocted plot for a break­away league that’d in­volve pulling play­ers out of all in­ter­na­tional soc­cer, in­clud­ing the World Cup.

To turn a blind eye to that is to em­brace a game that isn’t be­ing run in the in­ter­ests of the many, but the few, and a world where the qual­ity of an idea is no match for a quan­tity of petrol.

Manch­ester City set records for goals and points in win­ning the Pre­mier League last sea­son

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