Can Manchester City's Success Ever Lead to Global Domination?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportOctober 4, 2018

Manchester City fans hold up placards showing the faces of Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (R) and Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho (L) during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on April 7, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.  /         (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
BEN STANSALL/Getty Images

It is the power shift that turned English football upside down. Seven domestic trophies have helped Manchester City emerge from Manchester United's shadow to become a dominant force in the game, and right now the fortunes of the two sides could not be much further apart.

While United are reeling from the loss of three of their first seven Premier League matches, City are unbeaten and top of the table. While Jose Mourinho is fighting to prove he is worthy of remaining as manager at Old Trafford, Pep Guardiola remains at the top of his game and regarded—probably—as the best coach in the world. And while Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez make headlines for falling out with their manager, City are enjoying the success of an Amazon Prime documentary that publicly shares the intimate workings of a fascinating life under Guardiola.

United remain the biggest club in Manchester in terms of support and history, but their noisy neighbours have turned up the volume since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped aside in 2013. Ten years on from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's £210 million takeover that completely transformed the club, City have taken a hold on English football.

Three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three League Cup successes—now their bigger plan is to dominate the game further afield. Can they ever get close to the type of world domination United created?

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Big strides have been made off the pitch and the Amazon Prime documentary All or Nothing: Manchester City is perhaps the most impressive global marketing tool any football club has produced.

The fly-on-the-wall programme gives insight to areas of the team that no fan has seen before, helping to create an understanding of players and management by shouldering up to the details of their personal lives and lending an ear to their hopes and fears within the game.

According to a report in The Sun (h/t City Watch), the show—which is available in 200 countries—has been viewed more than 10 million times since its release.

Critics claim it treads a fine line between journalism and public relations as there are few, if any, negative aspects of the club portrayed. But there is little doubt that any fan who watches cannot help but feel wrapped up in their stunning success story of 2017/18.

The club is on the rise. Since 2010, their global fanbase has risen to 38 million—four times the figure from eight years ago. The number of supporters' club branches outside of the UK has grown radically too, from six in 2008 to 116 this season.

There is still a long way to go to catch rivals United—who boast a reported global fanbase of 659 million—but there is reason to believe they can close the gap.

"Growth is driven by success on pitch," Omar Berrada, chief operating officer at Man City, told Bleacher Report. "We have had that over 10 years with seven domestic cups and also through our style of play—and that's what the chairman and owners have put importance towards.

"We play beautiful attacking football for the fans and also for neutrals. That's what fans want. The younger generation focus on the star players and the ones that people connect to.

"As a fan, it's about goals, assists and the good play. People who relate to that find us attractive. We have built towards that not just in terms of setting the points record but the goals scored record too, and the general play you have seen.

"Manchester is the main focus still, but there has been growth in other areas, particularly where we have sister clubs. The way we engage with fans on digital platforms too has been important. Our YouTube channel was important because we made specific content that fans can relate to.

"An evolution of that is the Amazon documentary."

City insist Amazon maintained control of storylines within the documentary. The plan all along was to build a bond with viewers that other clubs have not managed.

"People can relate to players in a different way the way," Berrada said. "You get to understand Vincent Kompany as a captain and a person, you see the story with David Silva and his newborn baby, and the angst of Benjamin Mendy when he suffered his ACL injury. We did not have control of how it would all be portrayed and in that sense I think we were brave."

Manchester United have long been the best-supported club across the world, but a lack of success on the field in recent years is going to impact on their ability to capture a new generation of fans. When they played Liverpool in Michigan during pre-season, there was a sign that the club may be losing its grip.

The International Champions Cup fixture took place at the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, and 101,254 people were there to see it. It was a day to forget for Mourinho in terms of what happened on the pitch—his side lost 4-1. But a battle was lost in the stands, too, as United were outnumbered by Liverpool supporters.

A sign of the times? Tyler Sanft of Manchester United Owners USA says he has noticed a shift.

"There are far more Premier League fans now than there were 10 or 20 years ago, and United has benefited from that," he explained to B/R. "But athletes like LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr. have changed the fan landscape towards supporting specific players.

"Man United has benefited somewhat from this with [Wayne] Rooney, Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and Pogba, but the club is also somewhat hated as the 'big club' like the New York Yankees or New England Patriots. But to speak a bit anecdotally, United fans were dwarfed this summer in Ann Arbor versus Liverpool, and that wouldn't have happened a few years ago.

"This is likely due to the club's failure to succeed since Sir Alex's retirement. Fans don't want to align with a club that used to be good and leans heavily on its history. I think that what has happened is that the volume of United fans has increased—but our overall share of Premier League fans has not."

Of the Premier League clubs able to pounce on any loss of momentum, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea are best placed.

Liverpool's numbers in Ann Arbor are perhaps not a surprise, given they are renowned for having good support across the world. They claim a support base of 580 million, according to stats in the Daily Mail in 2014. Their growth is supported by the fact they were the top-ranked Premier League club on Twitter for total interactions and the fastest-growing Premier League club on Instagram for new followers in the first half of 2018, according to information club sources shared with B/R.

However, City are quickly coming into the equation, given their success as a team and as a brand.

Their approach with the Amazon link-up is a display of forward-thinking but even more so is the birth of City Football Group. They are targeting new sets of fans not just by showing off the positives of the club in Manchester but also by introducing sister clubs in major cities.

New York City FC and Melbourne City FC are two major ownerships that have become well known, but with stakes also at Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan, Girona in Spain and Atletico Torque in Uruguay, City have a unique presence in the world and the chance to create a bond between clubs that has never existed before.

"We have also looked at China, south-east Asia, the Middle East," Berrada said. "We are looking at many options that can help growth. What's important to maintain, though, is that this is a club with a heart behind it. We have to keep it that way."

There was a time when City fans would make fun of United for having too many "day trippers" at Old Trafford, but a result of their own success is going to bring a new breed of City fan to the Etihad Stadium.

For many years, local, loyal fans have proclaimed "Manchester is blue" in reference to the fact they believe fans from the area choose City over United.

In 2011, the Manchester Evening News helped their cause by noting how overseas fans spent more than £100 million on visits to the city to watch Premier League matches—with United being watched by 114,000 supporters from abroad and City attracting 18,000 foreign spectators to their home ground.

No official statistics seem apparent since, but a new attitude is now needed by diehard City supporters. One fan, Tom Taylor, told B/R: "We used to laugh at the number of tourists that go to United, but, of course, we also knew it was because they had been so successful. I think it is also fair to realise that having tourists at our matches now signifies a change of the times."

In order to ensure they continue to close the gap on United's global hold off the field, City must continue to fill their trophy cabinet.

The Champions League remains the holy grail for the club owners, and club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak told ESPN FC's Mark Ogden how City "should win it in the next 10 years, and obviously sooner rather than later."

You would think the easiest path would be to throw more money at the project—yet they will not be going down the route of Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid. Superstars or Galacticos, signed for extortionate fees and on major salaries, is not in the plan.

All briefings coming out of the club insist we are not close to a day when they pay £200 million for one player. Guardiola confirmed as much this week when questioned about newspaper reports linking City with Kylian Mbappe.

Primarily, they are focused on signing players who can make their name as an elite player at the club—and City's impressive academy is a major part of the business. Phil Foden looks like being the first player who will become a key part of the future setup.

By staying true to their local roots and continuing to achieve success on home soil, City aim to nail down a lasting dynasty.

To match what United have managed to build across the globe is going to take an amazing amount of success, but City are in a position few thought would become possible.

It will most likely be another 10 years before we know whether these heady days led to all or nothing.

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