Pep Guardiola is on record as saying it. Khaldoon Al Mubarak states it unequivocally in his end of season reviews every year. Ferran Soriano reiterated it recently and the overwhelming majority of Manchester City fans have never wavered from it – City’s priority above all else is always to be Premier League Champions.
The Champions League – as tainted as it is by corrupt practices and dubious officiating – is obviously desirable, but certainly not the Holy Grail that City’s detractors would have us believe. Starting in Seville tonight, Guardiola will lead the club’s 12th attempt to capture UEFA's showpiece competition since first qualifying in 2011/12.
If City captain Ilkay Gundogan were to lift the trophy in Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium on June 10th next year, it would tick a very big box. It’d also quell the carping of the misguided masses who rate a 13-game cup competition, above a gruelling and far more demanding 38-match domestic campaign.
Nonetheless, it would be nice to force the deletion of, ‘Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that...’ from the playlist of certain opposition fan bases, but such is the level of contempt for the Champions League, there are some ‘old school’ City supporters who still prefer winning the FA or League Cup.
It’s a sentiment completely at odds with the commercial realities of the day and one that understandably, doesn’t chime with Sheikh Mansour and the City hierarchy.
That said, City love picking up cups at the Etihad South. What’s not to enjoy about four consecutive ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ triumphs, before Liverpool broke the cycle by lifting the hugely prestigious Carabao Cup last February?
And then there’s the FA Cup, the oldest cup competition in world football – a critical component when winning a domestic treble, or quadruple, depending on whether the Community Shield is seen as a bona fide trophy or the spoils of a pre-season curtain raiser. It speaks volumes how City fans never feel the need to taunt opposing fans with such a unique achievement.
There is however one ‘trophy’ which has never been on City’s radar, one that lauds the winners as paragons of prudent football economics.
The ‘Net Spend Trophy’ clearly doesn’t exist. It’s a load of old tripe trotted out as perverse mitigation for clubs who often fall short of on-field success. Obviously it could never be ‘won’ by a club accused of ‘ruining football’, labelled as ‘oil cnuts’ and, to paraphrase a certain Jurgen Klopp, are ‘country-owned’.
But here we are, the summer transfer window has closed and, depending on who you want to believe, City have had the most lucrative ‘clear-out’ by any British club in a calendar year.
It’s reported City amassed close to a quarter of a billion pounds in player sales, with a net transfer profit in excess of £125m – not that City fans give a gnat’s chuff about any net spend nonsense.
The real magnitude of the fiscal achievements is they go hand-in-hand with winning proper trophies, reshaping and upgrading Guardiola’s first team squad and reinforcing the club’s – and the wider City Football Group’s – self sustaining business model.
As City go for a third consecutive Premier League title they do so without Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko – a trio who played very meaningful roles in Pep’s period of unprecedented success. Their departures, along with that of the less impactive Ferran Torres, brought in fees totalling £175m – great business considering all wanted to leave and Sterling and Jesus were in the last year of their City contracts.
Even more savvy is how City have conducted the sales, buyback and sell-on clauses, as well as loan fees, for a plethora of players predominantly from the City Football Academy.
Young talents including Romeo Lavia, Gavin Bazunu, Samuel Edozie and Juan Larios have joined Southampton, Pedro Porro has stayed at Sporting Lisbon, Darko Gyabi has gone to Leeds, Ko Itakura to Borussia Monchengladbach, Claudio Gomes to Palermo, Arijanet Muric and CJ Egan-Riley to Burnley, all for fees totalling in the region of £65m.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis, Liam Delap, James McAtee, Luke Mbete, Tommy Doyle, Callum Doyle and Zack Steffen are all out on loan deals to Championship clubs in 2022/23.
Brazilian striker Kayky has been loaned to Pacos de Ferreira in Portugal, whereas his fellow countryman, full back Yan Couto and the more established Venezuelan international defensive midfielder Yangel Herrera will play for Girona in La Liga. Issa Kabore – the Burkina Faso full back who won the Best Young Player of the Tournament at the African Cup Of Nations in February – has switched from Troyes to Marseille in Ligue 1 and could eventually make a permanent move from City to the tune of £17m.
City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, the CFA and the club’s global scouting network have delivered a master class in football and business acumen, at a time when City top the Deloitte Money League – a study of the highest revenue generating clubs – ahead of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester United, and that’s before any summer transfers are factored into the equation.
Football’s fiscal landscape is a weird and not so wonderful terrain when you look at the crooked Catalan’s billion pound debt and United’s perennial £400m deficit – and yet UEFA’s deeply flawed Financial Fair Play regulations leave them untouched – free to spend wildly in a bid to regain former glories.
Even a transfer ban can be made to work in a club’s medium to long term favour under FFP. Chelsea have spent circa £300m this summer – a direct result of being barred from buying players in the same window in 2019. It’s a farce, but not as plainly idiotic and malevolent as UEFA’s utterances that it will ‘monitor Manchester City’s finances closely this year...’
It must drive UEFA and its puppet masters insane when they scrutinise City’s business dealings. City’s half-a-dozen 2022 signings are already looking like sound investments.
Erling Haaland’s 10-goal haul from six Premier League appearances is a record, Julian Alvarez could be the steal of the century, Stefan Ortega Moreno is a substantial upgrade as back up keeper, Sergio Gomez has arrived with a glowing endorsement from Vincent Kompany, the as yet to be seen Manuel Akanji is clearly rated as a fast, experienced ball playing centre back and, when Kalvin Phillips can stay fit for more than five minutes, he should provide strength in depth in the defensive midfield.
Injuries and fatigue may prove the biggest threat to City’s silverware ambitions. Less than a month into the season and Aymeric Laporte is still recovering from summer surgery, whereas Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips, Nathan Ake, John Stones and Kyle Walker have all been sidelined at some stage.
On the home-grown front the continuing upward trajectory of Cole Palmer comes as no surprise – the 20-year old attacking midfielder will become a first team regular – while the emergence of full backs Josh Wilson-Esbrand (19) and Rico Lewis (17) can only be a good thing in a campaign destined to be disrupted by an ill-timed World Cup in Qatar.
Perhaps the biggest bonus of the summer’s wheeling and dealing was the transfer that never was, that of Bernardo Silva to the morally bankrupt Barcelona. It was a protracted pantomime – a saga that no City fan wants to see resurrected until at least 2025, when the Portuguese maestro’s present deal runs out at the Etihad.
Had he gone, City would have surely demanded his market value of £100m+, which is all well and good if you’re sad enough to covet the nauseous Net Spend Trophy shenanigans.
City never have and clearly don’t. How it must rankle with UEFA, the Premier League and so many others that Pep can refresh and renew his squad with world class and high quality players, whilst the future transfer kitty continues to swell.
By David Walker