“In the past we spent money because we wanted to build a successful team quickly. When you want to bring in big-name players you have to spend money…. I believe Manchester City are now starting a cycle that will give us time to start working with youth team players.” – Patrick Vieira
Since the Abu Dhabi United Group led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan purchased Manchester City FC in 2008, the club has been transformed from Premier League also-rans to the dominant force in English Football. City won the title after 44 long years in the football wilderness. But this success came at a significant cost with the Sheikh spending almost £ 1 billion on the club.
Manchester City along with other cash rich clubs such as Chelsea, Zenit St. Petersburg, Paris St. Germain and Anzhi Makhachkala have drawn intense criticism from the footballing fraternity for distorting the market and “buying titles”.
The gross over spending by these clubs has caught the notice of UEFA who have already enforced the first round of sanctions under their Financial Fair Play system. Stricter actions are set to follow and clubs could ultimately be debarred from competing in the Champions League.
The pressure is high for clubs to conform to these regulations and Manchester City has taken its first steps towards Financial Fair Play with commencement of construction of a £ 100 million training facility earlier this week. Barcelona’s La Masia has become world renowned for producing a steady stream of world class players for their first team. The Citizens would be hoping that the same can be replicated at Manchester with the help of this facility.
The proposed 80 acre site is adjacent to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and will have state-of-the-art training facilities for the senior team as well as players from the Academy. Facilities will include offices, 16 and a half training pitches as well as a youth stadium. The Academy will be able to host up to 400 young players with classrooms for 200 and there would be on site accommodation for junior and senior players. A bridge linking the site to the The Etihad Stadium and the rest of the Etihad campus would also be built. BAM Construction has been roped in for implementing the project which should be operational by the 2014/15 season.
The area under construction had been facing years of decline and much of the ground had been contaminated with pollutants from Manchester’s heavy industries. In an effort to contribute to the local community, the club have already detoxified the construction area and have allotted 5.5 acres for community use. Manchester City has taken a keen interest in the betterment of the local community and this project hopes to create many new jobs for the locals. Much of the construction materials and service suppliers are also being sourced locally as a means of giving back to the community.
At the outset, the picture seems quite rosy but could there be ulterior motives behind the massive investment in the project? Manchester City was in the news for selling the naming rights of The City of Manchester Stadium to Etihad Airways for £ 400 million over a period of 10 years. Several people from the footballing fraternity raised objections regarding the total amount of the sponsorship deal as well as the links of Etihad Airlines to the Abu Dhabi Royal family. The deal was worth over twice the previous record amount of £ 187 million held for the world famous Madison Square Garden. A similar deal sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines for Arsenal saw revenue generated of a comparatively paltry amount of £ 90 million over 15 years. Etihad Airlines has also yet to post a profit in its history and questions were thus raised regarding the veracity of the deal. Many viewed it as an attempt by the owners at Manchester City to bypass the laws regarding Financial Fair Play and strongly called for blocking the deal.
It was later revealed that the naming rights were not for the stadium alone but for the entire 210 acre Manchester City campus being developed around the ground of which the 80 acre football academy is a part. Under the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, any investments relating to the development of stadiums and expenditures on youth team programmes would not be taken into account.
In other words, the £ 100 million expenditure on the Academy would not be recorded while the revenue generated from the sponsorship deals and ticket sales arising from the same would be. The added millions would be critical towards ensuring Financial Fair Play for Manchester City.
Incidentally City already possess one of the better academies in the country with several high profile players graduating from the system. The Platt Lane complex currently has two full size grass pitches, one synthetic astroturf grass pitch along with other modernised facilities. Since its relaunch in 1998, the Manchester City Academy has produced more professional players than any other Premier League club. It has also produced a record 30 players for the senior Manchester City team. The question thus arises. Do Manchester City really need a £ 100 million upgrade? Perhaps the decision is driven more by economics than City’s benevolence on area refurbishment and youth player development.
However, with the home-grown rule coming into effect there is pressure on the clubs to develop players from their youth ranks. The proposed academy at the Manchester City campus will no doubt be a big leap towards the same. With over 400 talents enjoying the best of facilities the number of players breaking into the first team should rise significantly over the coming years. This will also ease the pressure of buying players on huge wages for astronomical amounts of money from other clubs. Investing in youth truly seems to be the way forward for Manchester City FC.
The club has already tasted success in the Premier League and are increasingly impressive in the European Stage. The huge investment in the Manchester City campus will ensure that it is not a flash in the pan. With a focus on player development, Citizens can be hopeful that they will be on top of the English game for a long period of time on the back of young talents bursting through from their youth ranks. Other clubs can only look on in envy but the writing on the wall is clear, Manchester City are here to stay.