Sheikh Mansour and Manchester City: A Match Made in Heaven
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For quite some time now I and every other Manchester City fan has had to read, listen to and watch all manner of pundits and commentators offer their opinions on our club Manchester City.
People commenting on, offering their point of view or even criticising Manchester City is perfectly reasonable of course, but not if it is based on incorrect assumptions or plainly inaccurate information.
It seems that for too long now the start point for the majority of journalists' opinion pieces is a negative one and one built on presuppositions rather than hard, definite facts.
If you were, for example, to have accepted Everton Chairman Bill Kenwright's assertion that if he had been at the right place at the right time, then Sheikh Mansour would probably have bought Everton from him and not Manchester City from Thaksin Shinawatra.
Bill Kenwright has an agenda and is using Manchester City and Sheikh Mansour to help him in his PR battle, but I cannot let his opinion go unchallenged.
Sheikh Mansour (via investment vehicle ADUG) bought Manchester City from somebody with whom he already had a relationship, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The purchase was made only after some very serious investigations into the idea of buying a Premier League club had previously been conducted.
At the time that Thaksin and ADUG started their discussions about a possible deal for Manchester City, Everton FC had already been looked at and been deemed unsuitable for investment by Sheikh Mansour's advisers.
Bill Kenwright could not have made any impact on the decision to buy Manchester City. He could not have convinced ADUG, Sheikh Mansour or Khaldoon al Mubarak (the man charged by Sheikh Mansour in developing Manchester City post-takeover) to buy Everton even if he had given the club to them for free.
This isn't an attack on Everton; it is simple, economic facts.
Everton are, as Kenwright repeatedly says, a club with lots of history. They are no doubt a very worthy club with traditions and values that make it a club that would appeal to many prospective owners.
But Everton have an old stadium, are in a city with a relatively small catchment area and an infrastructure of airport, roads and rail trams that is below the levels of Manchester's.
The same can be said for Newcastle, even if some of their fans claim that Mike Ashley priced their club out of the lottery win that is ADUG investment.
On the same day that Kenwright was muddying the information waters, David Conn produced a rather inaccurate piece in the Daily Telegraph that was just a little bit too polemic to be even-handed.
Here, for example, is a direct quote concerning City's move to the then-named City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games:
"Built with £90m of Sport England lottery money for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and £22m from Manchester council tax payers to remove the track and convert it for City, the stadium remains a publicly owned asset."
For those who may have an axe to grind against Manchester City, this offers them a little bit more ammunition to claim that City have "conned" their way into a "free stadium."
The truth, however, is that the cost of conversion to a football stadium and the re-fit of the internal layout cost Manchester City FC £45 million and was fully and wholly funded by the club themselves.
It is not the case that Manchester City Council paid £22 million to do so. The council themselves signed an agreement with City which not only laid those costs on the club but also meant that City's old stadium, Maine Road, was transferred to the council.
So rather than getting a "free" stadium, City paid a fair market value for something that still remains in public ownership as City merely lease it from the council.
So why did ADUG choose Manchester City ahead of all these other clubs who were at that point open to investment?
To answer that, a number of the more common and ill-informed opinions formed early in ADUG's ownership need to be challenged.
First, the choice of City was made with a number of things in mind, going beyond football success.
Secondly, the desire from ADUG was to do things differently than other clubs and to make a difference off the field as well as on it.
Thirdly, this was not simply a five-year investment in a team of galacticos; it is a long-term investment to deliver the vision of a world-leading club both on and off the field.
ADUG have already managed to win a trophy, the FA Cup and get City into the rarefied atmosphere of the Champions League group stages.
So if you were to have listened to Paul Merson or Alan Hansen, then ADUG are already getting bored of owning City and looking at a way out, dropping the club in the smelly stuff.
But yet again the commentators and pundits were way off in their guesswork, and the club's recent announcements about the plans for 80 acres of land adjacent to the Etihad Stadium prove that.
If they had read my article from February then they may have understood more about City's plans.
ADUG want to embed City further and further into the community of Manchester and are investing well over £100 million to achieve that goal because their vision of a football investment went way beyond a team of superstars winning trophies.
So let's look again at Kenwright's assertion that he could have convinced ADUG to buy Everton and not City.
Not only would Everton have needed a more modern stadium in place, they would also have needed over 80 acres of land adjacent to that modern stadium for a new training base for the academy and first team. It's not looking quite as simple as good old Bill makes out now, is it?
ADUG also wanted a club with a very strong presence in the community that they could invest in and expand, and City have been winning awards for their City in the Community (CITC) programme for many years. Many millions have already been spent by ADUG to expand what CITC do and how they do it but also on taking the CITC ethos into its partnership with Etihad across the globe.
The future of City will be a presence on the streets not only of Manchester but also of New York, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. The partnership with Etihad is key to that, and we are now seeing the second stage of why a national airline would partner with Manchester City ahead of other clubs.
There is a City liveried, Etihad plane flying all over the world from its base at Manchester International Airport. The same airport also hosts a new Etihad aircraft service and engineering facility as well as an Etihad Airlines call centre.
Again the infrastructure around Manchester City meant that the vision of ADUG was not limited in any way.
The picture I paint is somewhat different to the one offered by journalists and commentators that "these Arabs" will soon get bored and leave City in the lurch.
Long-term investments in youth and community are key to City's future, yet there is very little talk about that outside of Manchester or in the press.
The purchase of City was more than a whim, it was a well-thoughtout decision to get Abu Dhabi known throughout the world.
Abu Dhabi wants to be known for all the good things that wealth and opportunity can bring.
For the plan to work, Abu Dhabi needed a club with history and values, with a community presence, with great infrastructure, with opportunities to physically grow (land) and with a recognisable location (Manchester).
Additionally, ADUG didn't want to simply buy a club that had won everything and was already understood to be world-class, like Manchester United or Chelsea. In order to reap the fullest benefits of their investments then the chosen club had to grow with ADUG and Abu Dhabi's involvement.
The brands of MCFC, Abu Dhabi and Etihad (and others) will grow and mature together, and at each stage the investments will be in people, in community and in quality.
The truth is that MCFC was the prefect club for Sheikh Mansour to invest in, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, ill-informed or Bill Kenwright.
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