Manchester City: Changing the Face of English Football

Manchester City celebrate

It is fair to say that while Chelsea may be viewed as the first of English football’s Nouveau Riche clubs, piggybacking on the benevolence of their billionaire owner Roman Abramovich to Premier League success, not even Abramovich himself, nor the Premier League authorities could have foreseen what this would eventually lead to.

When Manchester City’s new owners first took over the club as a signal of their intentions they signed up Real Madrid’s Brazilian ace Robinho, with the owner of the club paying for the transfer via his credit card to ensure the deal went through.

Looking back that transfer should have been ample warning that under their new owners, then called the Abu Dhabi United Group, but now named City Football Group, things would be different: Very different.

As since then, City have continued to push through the barriers and boundaries of English football and they, along with Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in particular, have taken the game on to a whole new level. But it is the peculiar effect of Manchester City that has without doubt shaped the game at the highest level in England.

And not necessarily for the better.

So what are the notable effects that Manchester City’s limitless wealth have had upon the game in England?

1. Transfer Fees

The first major effect that City had on the game in England was to push the expected value of players up considerably. When the new owners were bidding £20m to £30m for players who were not worth half that amount, it pushes up prices across the board.

Few fans of any club side have a problem with the club spending £24m on Yaya Toure, £25m on David Silva or even £38m on Sergio Aguero. However it is the feathering of their nest with ‘squad players’ of the likes of £22m on Joleon Lescott, £26m on James Milner, £15m on Jack Rodwell and £25.8m on Stefan Jovetic that are the real issue.

These players, who barely featured for City last season apart from James Milner who records will state made 27 Premier League appearances for City, however only 12 of those came as a starter. 15 were as a substitute.

The result of this has been the inevitable rise in transfers and while few fans will bemoan clubs paying top prices for top talent, the knock on effect is that less skilled and particularly English born players are now moving for ridiculous amounts of money. Would you pay £2m more to sign James Milner ahead of Yaya Toure?

Spiralling fees have been offset by increases in TV revenue and Champions League revenue for the top sides, plus improving sponsorship deals. But there is no doubt that the spiralling costs of transfers in the British game can be traced back to City’s five year spending splurge.

Perhaps most saliently, City spent considerably more in the past six years than Sir Alex Ferguson spent in his entire 25-year career at Manchester United.

2. Wages

With rising transfer fees comes the inevitability of increasing wages and Manchester City are setting new standards here, not just in football, but across the sporting world.

The 2013-2014 Manchester City squad were the best paid sporting team in the world in any sport.

At a time when rivals like Chelsea were cutting their wage bill to comply with UEFA Fair Play regulations (more on that later), City’s average first team player earned £5.3m a year (£102,653 per week).

It is worth remembering here that this figure includes first team squad players. Including several that barely made an appearance in the first team last season.

Of course, if you are a player, then on the one hand, a wage well beyond what your skills actually merit is certainly a good thing, but what effect does that have on your career when you aren’t in the team?

Take Joleon Lescott, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell, three English born players who spent last season with City almost entirely in the stand or at best, on the bench. These are players that would certainly help improve fortunes at almost any other Premier League club.

However, these players are priced out of a move, not so much because of their transfer cost, but because of their wages. Sunderland have signed Jack Rodwell, but you can bet Gus Poyet’s negotiations were 99% spent on resolving the issue of how the Black Cats could afford to pay Rodwell’s salary, which is vastly inflated by his largely anonymous spell at Manchester City.

This is why when players move away from City, they have to be prepared either to take a wage cut, or broker into the deal (especially if it is a loan deal) for City to pay the remainder of the wages that the other club cannot afford.

At this point, you should think to yourself that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play directive was aimed to stop precisely this, but we’ll examine how effective it has been shortly.

3. Effects on Players – Notably English players and young players at the club

Spend big on players and you get yourself success. Chelsea have done it, City have done it, United have done it and to a lesser extent Arsenal and even Blackburn have done it in the Premier League era.

However, the continual spending of huge sums of money on players does take its toll on English players and also young players at clubs trying to forge a career for themselves in the game.

The pressure is on managers to win at all costs and that is what City have done. Of their current squad, only Micah Richards and John Guidetti came through the ranks at the club and both of these players are being strongly linked with a move away due to a lack of playing time.

Young players at Manchester City (and other clubs) now have almost no chance of progressing into the first team unless they are truly exceptional. This cuts the flow of emerging talent at top clubs almost to the point of standstill.

As a result, the young English talent that does exist, usually comes at a premium price well in excess of what a club would want to pay for a player. Everton quoted a telephone number price when the sale of Ross Barkley was mentioned recently, yet clubs like City will pay this as it enables them to meet the “home grown” quota of players needed in legislation for the Premier League and European competitions.

The net result is that clubs at the highest level tend not to develop their own talent any more in England. Instead entrusting their future to expensively assembled players from abroad with a smattering of English talent procured at huge expense.

Yet does this guarantee success? Think back over some of the best teams of recent times, the Manchester United team of the 1990s and the current Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams and you’ll realise that bringing through talented youth players has played a huge part in these teams success.

4. UEFA Financial Fair Play

Manchester City and Paris St-Germain were both found guilty of breaching the new UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations regarding how much the club spends on wages and transfers compared to their net earnings.

City’s main problem was that they had a number of sponsorship deals from companies owned by the same group that owned Manchester City and that these deals had been used to ensure City reached the ‘break even’ figure.

However, UEFA felt that the figures City had been paid had been artificially inflated to allow City to meet the regulations. City denied this but chose not to contest the decision, no doubt in due to UEFA’s ludicrous ‘punishment’ handed out to the club.

As ridiculous as it seems, a team with unlimited financial resources and criticised for over-spending, was fined £49m, along with having their Champions League squad reduced to 21 players for the next season.

What is clear here is that UEFA have not got the teeth required to mete out punishments that would actually deter the wealthiest clubs in the world from ignoring the system or bending the rules to try and circumvent them.

The punishment administered to City and Paris St-Germain is a non-punishment and will not impact the clubs in any way. A £49m fine would certainly hurt a club with limited resources. PSG and City have the wherewithal to pay this, probably by credit card if they chose to do so.

For Financial Fair Play to work, UEFA has to have the guts to hit teams that breach these terms in the only way that would hurt them. Disqualifying them from all European competitions until they prove they are operating within Financial Fair Play guidelines.

However, UEFA are loathe to do this because if they take on Europe’s biggest clubs, then the threat of a breakaway European Super League, separate from UEFA, looms ever closer.

5. Owning Other Teams in Other Countries.

Manchester City also own the new MLS franchise New York City and already the owners have been busy snapping up quality players for the new franchise. David Villa was snapped up during the World Cup from Atletico Madrid and following the tournament Frank Lampard left Chelsea to join the new franchise.

However, with the MLS season not kicking off until January, Lampard has now been loaned out to retain his fitness to Manchester City.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has already criticised the move stating it is simply a way for City to avoid Financial Fair Play rules. He is absolutely right.

In brokering this whole deal, City have removed a top player from a Premier League rival, signed him for their sister club, sold a fringe player (Rodwell to Sunderland) for £10m and then brought in Lampard to replace him for free.

The result? City are £10m up, they have signed an experienced, talented player who helps them fulfil the home grown quota for the Champions League and they have weakened a rival in the process.

So where will it end? Will New York City sign up Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie or John Terry next summer, then loan them back to City to ‘retain fitness”? It’s happened once before, what is stopping them doing it again next summer?

Manchester City’s effect on English football is huge. How they conduct their business may not always breach rules, but it certainly bends them and means that football authorities are facing some new challenges that test whether ‘fair play’ is generally being adhered to.

However, until effective sanctions are in place to stop them, City will continue to push the boundaries of what can be done in the game. With limitless resources, driving ambition and a willingness to bend the rules to breaking point, City are forging a new path for English football.

It’s one for the long term benefit of Manchester City, and not necessarily for the benefit of the English game.

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