Manchester City – the best and worst of the world game

It is very rare in sport that I watch my team or player get beaten, indeed pummelled, and I can genuinely enjoy watching the opponent. It happened this week, as I watched in awe as Manchester City travelled to White Hart Lane to give my beloved Tottenham a second towelling of the season and reclaim top spot.  At least we scored this time, losing 5-1 after an earlier 6-0 annihilation.  To be honest, in the first thirty minutes I thought that this time could be worse than 6-0 as the men in light blue played relentlessly attacking football that was as mesmerising as it was horrific to watch as an opposition supporter.

 

City produced 11 attempts at goals in those first thirty minutes, but scored only once.  Much of the post-match press focused on our misfortune in having a player controversially sent off early in the second half, effectively ending the contest.  The reality was that it could have been over a lot earlier had it not been for a couple of great saves off the goal line and some profligacy from the City forwards.  I found myself thinking that City would be super-competitive if they were playing in the World Cup or indeed against any team anywhere in the world at present, and wasn’t surprised to hear our manager Tim Sherwood offer a similar opinion in the post-match presser.

 

After a mixed start to the season, City are on track to score the most goals in a season, and are playing a brand that is as attractive as could be imagined.  Their defence is no more than solid, and heavily reliant on captain Vincent Kompany, but their attacking armoury and intent is formidable.  It must be good for the game to have a team playing with such attacking skill and fervour.

 

A small article in the press late in the week offered an interesting counterpoint to the brilliance of the City team.  It reported that City had lost £51.6 million during 2012-13 after losing £97.9 million in 2011-12 and £197.5 million in 2010-11.   This is of course on the back of acquiring and remunerating a star-studded playing and management list, bankrolled by the deep-pocketed Sheikh Mansour.  Thus far his considerable investment has reaped the 2011/12 EPL title.

 

A few days before third-placed Chelsea take on City, Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho has (predictably) raised questions over how City continue to be seen to  comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, which are  underpinned by the principle that clubs should not spend more than they earn.   Clubs found to be not in compliance with FFP are not granted a licence to play in UEFA competitions, which include the competition with the biggest financial rewards, the Champions’ League.

 

While some pundits think that the reduction in shortfalls and City’s increasing revenue stream might see UEFA give them the OK, there is considerable eyebrow-raising about two aspects of the revenue stream that some consider to be interesting  accounting.  One is the £24.5m from the sale of player image rights to an undisclosed external company, while the other is £22.45m City has effectively paid themselves by selling their intellectual property to undisclosed “related parties”.

 

Of course City are not the only big English or European club to record large shortfalls.  They are neither the cause of the problem nor the problem, but they appear to be the biggest current example of the problem.   The problem has become endemic, which is why FFP and new EPL regulations, the latter brought in 12 months ago, were introduced.  (One of the key planks of the new EPL regulations is that clubs cannot make a loss in excess of £105m aggregated across seasons 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16.  The penalty for doing so is to be subject to a tighter regulatory regime, which seems like a slap on the wrist with a feather duster for a rich and powerful organisation.)

 

City’s latest financial results come shortly after it announced its purchase of Melbourne Heart.  I don’t pretend to fully understand what the implications of City’s financial position, or any penalties that might flow from UEFA as a result of it, might be for the Heart.  What I do know is that it is a very good thing that the major Australian football codes all have salary caps in place.  There are many more clubs winning premierships or in serious contention in Australian football leagues in all codes than there has been in recent times in English or Spanish football in particular.

 

It would seem from a distance that at present City demonstrates the best aspects of the world game on the field and its worst aspects off the field.  Upon reflection it might well represent the best and worst aspects of modern sport.  I won’t be holding my breath for things to change too much.

Comments

  1. Well said Steve.
    It makes me wonder what is “Manchester” (or Milan or Chelsea) about these mega-teams owned by oligarchs and sheiks, other than the name and the colour of the strip?
    Admiring their brilliance is sort of like admiring the Wehrmacht and blitzkrieg for its tactical brilliance and strategic execution. Fulham as Poland??
    We have much to be grateful for in AFL, NRL etc. Ours are thankfully ‘second world’ problems.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    I remember a article in Inside Sport where they asked a group of people at a country footy club what the most important thing was the guys in general answered winning the flag while the ladies answered making a little profit so we are ok for next season
    no wonder in my footy career I was called a girl
    Re English soccer as a supporter of QPR I don’t mind being in the championship and having a chance to win it than going up and fighting to avoid relegatiom while our comp is hardly fair( AFL ) re the draw at least it has a salary cap
    Thanks Steve

  3. Franc de Borges says:

    Good article. I too watched in equal parts fear and awe with every City attack last Thursday.

    With their shock loss this morning, however, the bigger question could surround whether all this investment – for all its glitz and routine cricket scores (against us at least!) – is actually worth it?

    Failure to land the title or CL this term would be a meagre return (one title and one FA Cup) indeed.

  4. Mark O'Connell says:

    Great piece Steve. Timely that City’s 100% home record ended this morning as orchestrated by the “Special one”.
    Despite the fact that so few teams have the resources to win the EPL, it always intrigues me that this does not diminish the interest amongst fans of the remaining clubs. I can’t imagine following the AFL with great excitement if my team was never going to finish higher than mid-ladder.
    I’ve supported Nottingham Forest for most of my life. It’s now only a dream that a club of this size can again win the title and then become champions of Europe.
    Why did I choose Nottingham Forest? It’s the most beautiful name for a sporting club I’ve ever heard.

  5. Luke Reynolds says:

    Man City’s financial losses are incredible. My teams fans (Newcastle United) are calling for new ownership after our recent poor form. The majority would love a rich Shiekh to take over. We all want to win don’t we?

    Well written piece Steve. Will be fascinating to see what happens with the Melbourne Heart as a result of the new ownership.

  6. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks for your kind words and comments folks. It is also great to know that there are plenty of people here who support some of the less glamorous clubs. Of younger folk you talk to, at least half seem to follow Man United, or at least did until this season !!

    Yes, City’s loss yesterday was ironic given this piece but perhaps not a complete shock as (1) Chelsea have a great record away at Man City and are a very good team, and 2) Aguero limping off against Spurs did Chelsea a huge favour -15 EPL goals for the season and he’s been red-hot recently, including his hat-trick in the FA Cup.

    Mark, you are spot-on about the ability of the EPL to maintain passion and interest through both the relegation system and the spots available in both the European competitions, the Champions League and the Europa League.

  7. Good report Steve,
    I must admit this game only catches the periphery of my attention, but those figures are staggering. Here we are clamouring for equity (read: some form of socialism) in the AFL and these guys are out of control.
    I’m sure the idea has hairs on it and I’ve only given a minutes thought; but perhaps the EPL and related leagues be based on spend. Promotion and relegation would be based on this, not on field success or failure.

  8. Roberto Gelvezon says:

    Good article mate,
    I am reading this a little late and as it stands, we are currently in a battle for the title against this mighty City team. Personally, I do not particularly feel the fear of these financial giants, nor do I concentrate on these elements.

    Perhaps it is my naive view on the world game; or simply because I do not balance the books. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying that these have huge implications on the way a football club is run. I simply choose to support my team emotionally and choose to be somewhat naïve.

    As a Liverpool supporter, the ridiculous amount of money we spent on a panic buy for Andy Carroll was disappointing but did not come out of my pocket. Furthermore, this will be the furthest thing from my mind in our final six games.

    - A naive 25 year old Liverpool supporter who has never seen his side lift the League Title.

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