On Saturday, The Guardian published a lengthy article on Manchester City’s endgame. Not the final destination of Pep Guardiola’s incendiary football team, but the objectives of the club as an enterprise.
City, in a sporting sense, want to ‘take over the world’. As has been obvious for some time, their ambition isn’t confined to winning the Premier League, the Champions League, and developing the already state-of-the-art Etihad Complex. Instead, the aims extend overseas: to the procurement of host clubs in foreign countries which, together, can be the foundation blocks of a nearly impenetrable structure.
The purpose, whether acknowledged or not, is to remove the threat of competition. City are seeking to manually shift the tectonic plates of football’s geography, creating pockets of advantage in nearly every part of the world.
There are two responses to that. The first is to dispassionately salute the imagination of Ferran Soriano. Sheik Mansour’s wealth may have animated his vision, but the scale of his ambition is inarguably impressive. As referenced in The Guardian, he was entirely right to see football’s existing business model as archaic and incontestably correct in identifying the inefficiencies which lay within it.
Furthermore, it makes perfect sense for a club like Manchester City – and an organisation such as the City Football Group – to protect their position. Vast amounts of money have been invested and, not unreasonably, in return they are seeking a permanent place at the top of the game’s hierarchy. Not just a couple of trophies and some memories, but a proper, enduring legacy – and the network they are constructing, which will eventually provide them with an unrivalled pool of players and all sorts of commercial and sporting advantages, is an excellent way of doing just that. From a business perspective, this is all highly logical; when Google, Apple, or any other multinational behaves in the same way, it’s treated as sensible expansion.
In football, however, where the notion of competition is so fundamental to the game’s essence, there’s something distasteful to City’s mobilisation.
When presented on a map of the world, the nine clubs which CFG now control look chilling. In fact, to look down on them – tactically spaced, cleverly positioned – is to see the early stages of a footballing check-mate. It’s reminiscent, really, of the early scenes in Independence Day, where the invading ships descend from the atmosphere and hover over critical landmarks.
The other unfortunate parallel concerns evolution. City, evidently, have developed their thinking at a quicker pace than the game’s various legislatures. If other superpower clubs were to follow this example, buying up clubs from different parts of the world and creating their own version of Soriano’s vision, then the footballing world would quickly become a much smaller place. Paris Saint-Germain would have their own corners of Asia, India, South America and China, so too Manchester United and Real Madrid. Eventually, probably over a couple of decades, the powerful positions of those clubs would have become so entrenched as to be unchallengeable. The club game, in essence, would be little more than a behemoth scrap between three or four impossibly powerful organisations and very little else.
They would be the Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tescos, towering over an industry of independent retailers.
This may read like an attack on a particular club or group of people, but nobody can credibly claim that reality to be in football’s best interests. More worryingly, the only tools that the sport can call on to protect itself are the vague regulations about club ownership and a diluted version of Financial Fair Play, a flawed initiative even in its original form.
This is terrifying and something which must be taken more seriously. The notion of Corinthian Spirit died a long time ago, regrettably that has to be accepted, but allowing the financial elite to seal off the sport’s summit for themselves is contrary to even the modern spirit of the game.