Since the Abu Dhabi United Group took over a financially unstable Manchester City, it has felt like a club with a plan. A huge initial outlay on players was followed by success on the pitch, and City were elevated from Premier League also-rans to one of the competition’s elite sides in a matter of just a few years. Following on from Chelsea earlier in the decade, City became the second Premier League club to have their fortunes transformed thanks to vast overseas investment, and their success is reflective of an era of soccer in which money talks.
And, in 2016, Manchester City landed perhaps their most coveted prize to date – the management of Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach is one of the most celebrated managers in soccer’s history and, at 47, he has plenty of time to build another dynasty. City’s brand commitment to playing attractive football always seemed like a perfect fit for a manager who has his teams play an intricate, possession-based game. Securing Guardiola’s signature was reportedly the City Football Group (CFG)’s plan for years, they simply had to build a brand big enough to entice the Spaniard to Manchester.
Following a difficult first season, City are now flying high at the top of the Premier League and seem nailed on to lift a third league trophy in six years. The side are one of the finest the competition has ever seen, built with huge investment and a belief that the club can do the previously unimaginable and win the quadruple. City’s success is emblematic of the wider achievements of the CFG, who have created a truly global brand with franchises in the world’s burgeoning leagues.
On top of these fully branded outfits, the CFG owns 44.3% of La Liga side Girona, with another 44.3% held by the Girona Football Group, led by none other than Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere. The level of joined up thinking at the top of the CFG is impressive, and it’s not just the Manchester franchise that are enjoying success domestically. New York City FC, having been founded in 2013 as the first team based in the city, have finished in second place the past two MLS seasons, and has signed big names like David Villa and Frank Lampard in an effort to raise its profile. Across the globe in the Australian A League, Melbourne City FC has been operating since 2009, and the CFG are clearly looking to build a strong outfit in what is an emerging league. The side has won one FFA Cup and finished 4th the past two seasons, and is now on course to finish third in what will be its most successful season to date.
The branding across the clubs is notably uniform. Everything from the sky-blue kit to the ‘City’ moniker is deliberately uniform, with all three club badges immediately recognisable as part of the CFG brand. The brand unity doesn’t stop at aesthetics, either. The CFG’s website itself notes the brand’s commitment to ‘playing attractive football’ as well as ‘[using] football for social good’ and committing to developing youth prospects. These ideas are reflected in no clearer way than Pep Guardiola’s free-flowing attacking side and its £200 million Etihad Campus, arguably the Premier League’s finest training facility.
The CFG has managed to combine long-term, joined up thinking on the pitch with exactly the same off of it. In that sense, the global company is a truly modern entity, a group that understands that soccer is now just as much about brand-building and global reach as it is the game itself. If you cast your mind back to pre-investment Manchester City, a side that regularly struggled in the league and were anything but remarkable, the progress in just a decade is frightening. Manchester City and the CFG are powerful, deliberate, considered, and here to stay.