It’s an alien concept to a whole generation of Manchester City supporters to think City were once – by and large – the nation’s favourite ‘second team’, the one for which opposition fans had a bit of a ‘soft spot’.
It stemmed from always being in the shadow of the loathed neighbours from Trafford Borough. City were the antithesis of Fergie’s arrogant, big spenders who dominated English football. The levels of pity for hapless, hopeless City grew exponentially with each piece of silverware picked up by United.
Similarly, there was sympathy when City – facing financial ruination – were forced to sell Shaun Wright-Phillips, the only jewel left in the club’s tarnished crown in the summer of 2005. Jose Mourinho had Roman Abramovich pay £21m for the 24-year old winger – so idolised by the City faithful – only to reduce him to a bit-part player at Chelsea.
SWP had wanted to stay at City, but money talks and City were desperate for the dosh, as they struggled to stay in business. No ifs, buts or maybes, City were a selling club.
Three years later, Sheikh Mansour completed his takeover of a City in even greater turmoil, thanks to the ‘exploits’ of wayward owner, Thaksin Shinawatra.
As the so-called ‘oil money’ flooded in, all the affection for City dried up. Those who had previously pitied poor old City were now consumed with envy. Why hadn’t their club been chosen by Sheikh Mansour and been handed this incredible opportunity? Why was it City and not their team?
From 2008 City were popular, but with an entirely different audience – clubs wanting to ‘relieve’ City of some of their new found wealth.
Whenever City came calling, transfer fees rocketed. The City gravy train rolled in and everybody climbed on board. A case of 'think of a number and add an extra nought on the end'.
Fees for Kolo Toure (£16m) Roque Santa Cruz (£18m) Emmanuel Adebayor (£25m) and Joleon Lescott (£27m), might not seem exorbitant nowadays, where nobody bats an eyelid at £50m full backs, but they were grossly overinflated back in 2009.
The then City manager, Mark Hughes and the City hierarchy knew they were paying over the odds, but the club was in a hurry to progress, before UEFA’s perversely named ‘Financial Fair Play’ regulations, kicked in.
Of course, the FFP saga rumbles onto this day. City continue to fight the hypocritical, corrupt bureaucrats at UEFA, with potential courtroom battles looming on the horizon.
In fairness, the much maligned Hughes, must be credited with recruiting Vincent Kompany (£7m) and Pablo Zabaleta (£6.45m) just days before Sheikh Mansour’s sensational takeover. He also oversaw the return of City’s prodigal son, SWP, for £8.5m, and had the foresight to acquire Nigel De Jong for £18m.
Sheikh Mansour’s deep coffers could also buy timeless class and outrageous ability. David Silva (£24m) Yaya Toure (£24m) and Sergio Aguero (£38m) were veritable bargains for Roberto Mancini.
Pellegrini’s main success was Fernandinho (£34m). Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne were acquired on Manuel’s watch, albeit they only truly flourished under Pep Guardiola.
Sadly, Eliaquim Mangala is a £32m or £42m (depending on who you believe) example of when it all goes wrong. Still only 28-years old, his five years at the Etihad have yielded just 71 starts and eight substitute appearances. He looks Valencia bound on a loan/free transfer this month.
Under Pep, City have broken their transfer record three times; Aymeric Laporte (£57m) Riyad Mahrez (£60m) and, most recently, Rodri at £62.5m.
The 23-year old, Spanish defensive midfielder is already looking like a sound investment – something of a trend since Guardiola started calling the shots, with his friend,Txiki Begiristain getting the deals over the line.
New £60m Portuguese right back, Joao Cancelo from Juventus, seems well set to be another sound acquisition.
With back-to-back Premier League titles (198 points amassed in two seasons and records broken left, right and centre), two consecutive League Cups and an FA Cup Final victory (hence the only English club to ever win a domestic treble), this is already arguably THE best team in Premier League history.
It’s likely to improve still further, despite the loss of inspirational leader Vincent Kompany. The Treble was won, ostensibly without long term absentees Benjamin Mendy and KDB. It can only add to any optimism this season, if both are fit and available for the majority of the campaign.
Leroy Sane’s ACL injury is a massive setback for both player and club. Fingers crossed he’ll return next Spring, having committed his future to the club well beyond 2021.
Obviously, City are no longer pitied by ‘neutral’ fans.
No, what we now have from every true football aficionado is admiration and an appreciation of Pep’s mesmerising interpretation of the ‘Beautiful Game’. It also helps when you're the team going head-to-head with Liverpool for a Premier League title and the overwhelming majority of the nation detests the 'Dippers'.
City are no longer compelled to sell their best players to predators – much to the annoyance of the arrogant cabbage-munchers from Bayern Munich. I believe the correct term is sauerkraut.
Finally, avaricious owners and chairmen of clubs can no longer rub their grasping, grubby hands with glee, at the prospect of robbing City blind in player transactions.
City now play hard, but fair in the transfer market. Txiki and Pep have a valuation of a player and, if it doesn’t fit with that of the selling club, any potential deal ends, there and then.
According to pernicious elements of the media, City ‘miss out’ on major signings, or are ‘snubbed’ by key targets. The reality is City simply withdraw any interest. Just ask Harry Maguire, Alexis Sanchez, Fred or Jorginho.
City haven’t suffered too much in the past two seasons as a result of these ‘non-transfers’.
Instead of ‘shots fired’ it seems more like a track record of ‘bullets dodged’ from City’s perspective. Long may it continue.
It's all light years removed from a priceless pearl of wisdom, served up by Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2008 when City splashed £32m on Robinho from Real Madrid:
"City's deadline day move for Robinho speaks volumes for their club and its new owners. Disorganised, happy to overspend and no regard for the stability of the transfer market. Panic buying is something we never have and never will do at United."
Oops! Nice one Fergie.
By David Walker
While Pep and his City team set out to battle for the four major prizes in English and European football, this article is dedicated to two incredibly brave and stoical Blues who are fighting for the ultimate prize – life! Read But Never Red has Cliff Perry and Lee Welland in our thoughts and in our hearts as they take on Cancer and Fight Til The End.
Just make sure that ‘End’ is long, long away on a farthermost sky blue horizon on a very very distant day.