Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Manchester City - My Aim Is True

Although Manchester City won the Capital One Cup and progressed further than ever before in the Champions League, reaching the semi-finals for the first time, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak described results as “uneven”. This was a reference to the somewhat disappointing fourth place finish in the Premier League, which he described as “squarely below our expectations.”

However, he did point out, “It is a reflection of how far we have come that Manchester City now enters each season with the realistic goals of winning the league, bringing home a domestic cup, and competing for European honours.”

Certainly the overall performance was not enough to save manager Manuel Pellegrini, who was replaced by Pep Guardiola, with the City honchos hoping that the new arrival could emulate his successes at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

"John, I'm only dancing"

Off the pitch, there could be few complaints. In December 2015 the City Football Group (CFG), which owns Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City FC, announced a $400 million investment from a consortium led by China Media Capital (CMC) for a 13% shareholding, which valued the Group at a hefty $3 billion.

Chief executive Ferran Soriano commented on this move, “Our new partners are instrumental in our ability to understand and foster the opportunities for our Group in China.” City clearly see the Chinese market as an area of great potential for commercial growth, as Khaldoon explained, “China is the future and City Football Group will be involved in China.”

In fact, these “visions of China” are just the latest step in City’ strategy to build a global presence, as they now have important relationships in America, Australia, China and Japan (a minority shareholding in Yokohama F. Marinos of the J-League).

This is largely future music, but City are also doing pretty well in the here and now, as evidenced by the 2015/16 financial results, which included club record revenue and profits. Indeed, profit just about doubled from £10 million to £20 million.

Revenue shot up £40 million (11%) from £352 million to £392 million, mainly due to broadcasting income, which rose £26 million (19%) to £161 million, driven by City’s most successful Champions League campaign to date. Match day income was £9 million (21%) higher at £53 million following the Etihad Stadium expansion. Commercial income also increased, but by only £5 million (3%) to £178 million, which was a little surprising.

In addition, profit on player sales climbed £8 million (60%) from £13 million to £21 million, though this seems on the low side, given the reported departures: Alvaro Negredo to Valencia £24 million, Edin Dzeko to Roma £9 million, Rony Lopes to Monaco £9 million, Karim Rekik to Marseille £3.5 million, Scott Sinclair to Aston Villa £2.5 million and Dedrick Boyata to Celtic £1.5 million.

"Orange Crush"

City’s significant expenditure in the transfer market has led to a £24 million (34%) increase in player amortisation to £94 million, while depreciation also rose £4 million (50%) to £13 million after the stadium development.

The wage bill only increased by £4 million (2%) to £198 million, but other expenses rose £10 million (13%) to £86 million, largely due to higher external charges.

There was better news on financing costs, as net interest payable swung £2 million to a receivable position, while there was a £2 million improvement in property sales, due to a small accounting loss on the sale of a training facility in the previous season.

As a technical aside, the implementation of accounting standard FRS 102 meant that the prior year comparative was restated with a slight reduction in the reported profit figure.

Only four Premier League clubs have so far published their 2015/16 accounts, but they have all registered profits, though Arsenal (£3 million) and Stoke City (£2 million) were only just above break-even.

Against that Manchester United’s £49 million profit was substantially higher than City, despite finishing behind their “noisy neighbours” in the Premier League and being knocked-out of the Champions League at the group stage.

Profit from player sales can have a major influence on a football club’s bottom line, as best shown in 2014/15 by Liverpool, whose numbers were boosted by £56 million from this activity, largely due to the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.

However, this has not been a great money-spinner for City in the last few years, but the £21 million they made from moving on unwanted players in 2015/16 is a more than reasonable sum.

After years of heavy spending in order to build a squad and the facilities required to compete at the highest level, City have been on an upward financial trajectory since 2011 when they posted the highest ever loss by an English club of £197 million.

There has been a striking transformation under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour. As Sorriano said, “Long-term financial sustainability is another well-documented key objective for us and we are seeing consistent and continued evidence of this in our financial statements.”

Khaldoon went further, “It has always been our view that sporting success and commercial sustainability must go hand-in-hand.” This virtuous circle has been the cornerstone of City’s progression, as success on the pitch delivers, both in terms of immediate financial rewards (e.g. higher prize money), but also by building the brand to make the club more attractive to potential sponsors (and indeed players).

Another impressive aspect of City’s recent results is that they have not been enhanced by some of the fancy footwork that has been seen in previous years, most notably in 2013 when the sale of intellectual property lowered the loss by £47 million, though this was one of the reasons for the £16 million UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) fine in 2014, which effectively delayed the return to profitability by one season.

Although City have not become a selling club by any stretch of the imagination, player sales have had an increasing impact on the club’s profits in the past two seasons, averaging £17 million compared to just £5 million in the preceding six seasons.

To get an idea of underlying profitability and how much cash is generated, football clubs often look at EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Depreciation and Amortisation), as this metric strips out player trading and non-cash items. In City’s case this clearly demonstrates their improvement, as it has steadily risen from a negative £71 million in 2011 to an impressive £109 million in 2016.

That’s one of the best in the Premier League, but it is still £83 million below Manchester United’s astonishing £192 million, though £27 million higher than Arsenal. Now that United have reduced their financing costs to a more manageable level, they basically have at least £80 million more than any other English club to spend on players – every season.

City have grown their revenue eight years in a row. Since 2010 their revenue has shot up £267 million from £125 million to £392 million with commercial income leading the way (£131 million), followed by broadcasting income (£107 million) and match day income (more than doubled, but a smaller £28 million increase).

That growth can be effectively split into two relatively even periods, 2010-13 £146 million and 2013-16 £121 million, though the drivers are quite different. While the first three-year period was dominated by explosive commercial growth (£96 million), broadcasting (£73 million) has led the way in the more recent three years, down to a combination of higher TV deals allied with more success on the pitch.

City’s revenue growth has been highly impressive, though they were outpaced last season by United, whose revenue was £120 million (30%) higher than 2014/15, attributable to their return to the Champions League and their blockbuster new Adidas kit deal. On the other hand, City’s £40 million (11%) growth was around twice as much as Arsenal’s £21 million (6%).

In fairness, United are in a class of their own in the Premier League, at least in revenue terms, with their turnover of £515 million being £123 million higher than City, their closest challenger. However, it should be emphasised that City’s revenue is well ahead of all the other English clubs: Arsenal (£352 million), Chelsea (£314 million), Liverpool (£298 million) and Tottenham (£196 million), though the latter three clubs are likely to increase when their 2015/16 figures are announced.

Clearly, having more revenue is important, with a club’s budget being closely correlated with success on the pitch, though there is often an exception to the rule, namely last season’s champions Leicester City, who only earned £104 million.

City stood at sixth place (for the third consecutive year) in the Deloitte 2015 Money League, only behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich. This is obviously excellent, but City face three major challenges here (in common with other English clubs):

(1) The leading clubs continue to grow their revenue apace, e.g. Real Madrid and Barcelona have reportedly agreed massive new kit supplier deals worth north of £100 million a season.

(2) The weakening of the Pound since the Brexit vote means that continental clubs will earn much more in Sterling terms, e.g. the 2015 Money League was converted at €1.31, while the current rate has slumped to around €1.12. At the latest rate, Real Madrid’s €620 million is equivalent to £554 million, while Barcelona’s €612 million (net of player sales) would be worth £546 million.

(3) The Money League highlights the increasingly competitive nature of England’s top flight with no fewer than 17 Premier League clubs in the top 30 – even before the lucrative new TV deal.

If we compare City’s revenue to that of the other nine clubs in the Money League top ten, we can immediately see where they had the largest problem, namely match day income, where City were behind all their rivals, e.g. they were £57 million lower than Arsenal (£43 million compared to £100 million), so the additional money from the stadium expansion in 2015/16 is much needed.

On the plus side, City look to be fine on broadcasting, even before last season’s increase, and pretty good on commercial. City’s spectacular commercial growth means that they are ahead of most clubs, though are still lower than those that have traditionally been successful in monitising their brand: Bayern Munich £38 million, Manchester United £27 million, Real Madrid £14 million and Barcelona £12 million. The £52 million shortfall against PSG is largely due to the French club’s “innovative” agreement with the Qatar Tourist Authority.

The growth in broadcasting income in 2015/16 means that this now accounts for 41% of City’s total revenue, though this is still lower than commercial income 45%, which has risen from just 21% in 2009. As a consequence, the importance of match day income has diminished from 24% to only 13% in the same period.

Commercial activity is particularly important to the two Manchester clubs, accounting for nearly half of their revenue, compared to 39% at Liverpool, 34% at Chelsea, 31% at Arsenal and 30% at Tottenham.

City’s commercial income grew by less than 3% to £178 million in 2015/16, which is a little perplexing, given that this has been a key element of their growth strategy. There has been some speculation that the major commercial deals are being spread around the other clubs within the City Football Group empire, while another possibility could be due to the Premier League’s Short Term Cost controls.

This form of domestic FFP restricts annual player wage cost increases to £7 million a year for the three years up to 2018/19 – except if funded by increases in revenue from sources other than Premier League broadcasting contracts. In other words, future wage growth could be funded by higher commercial income, so maybe City are keeping their powder dry here.

Whatever the reason, City’s commercial income growth has clearly slowed, rising by just 24% in the last three seasons. Of the top six English clubs, only Tottenham have a lower growth rate (and they are yet to announce 2015/16 figures). In comparison, United’s commercial revenue has increased by 76% over the same period.

Domestically, United’s £268 million is £90 million more than City’s £178 million, though in fairness City are £60-70 million ahead of the next three leading clubs (Liverpool £116 million, Chelsea £108 million, Arsenal £107 million) and £120 million more than Tottenham.

To further place this into perspective, City £178 million commercial income is higher than the total revenue at some famous clubs like Schalke 04, Milan, Atletico Madrid, Roma, Inter, Galatasaray, Napoli and Ajax.

Critics will argue that City’s commercial success is built on friendly deals with Arab partners, but the fact is that City are now signing up many other deals not linked to their owners, as sponsors simply like to be associated with success on the pitch.

"Raheem into Action"

City have also opened new offices in Singapore and Shanghai, taking the total of regional offices to eight, helping to sign six new Chinese sponsors. Brand Finance have rated City as the fourth most valuable brand in world football at $905 million, an increase of $105 million from the previous year.

In any case, the groundbreaking 10-year £400 million deal with Etihad Airways, covering shirt sponsorship, stadium naming rights and the campus development, now looks to be under-valued, as other clubs have since raised the bar.

It is estimated that the shirt sponsorship element of City’s deal is worth £20 million a season, which would put City’s deal way below their competitors: Manchester United – Chevrolet £56 million (at the June 2016 USD exchange rate); Chelsea – Yokohama Rubber £40 million; and Arsenal – Emirates £30 million.

There has been talk of City renegotiating the Etihad deal upwards to reflect their higher commercial value after two Premier League titles and regular Champions League participation. Some reports have speculated that the value could even double to £80 million a season. That might be a little ambitious, but there should be a fair bit of upside. Certainly, UEFA would find it more difficult to object these days, given some of the recent deals at other clubs.

There are also rumours that City are trying to negotiate upwards their £12 million kit supplier deal with Nike, even though their current six-year contract only started in 2013. There is certainly room for improvement, as this is now well behind other clubs’ latest deals. It is dwarfed by Manchester United’s extraordinary £75 million deal with Adidas, while Chelsea will switch to Nike for £60 million from the 2017/18 season, and Arsenal and Liverpool also have far better deals, respectively £30 million (PUMA) and £28 million (Warrior).

At the time it was signed, United describe theirs as the “largest kit manufacture sponsorship deal in sport”, though it has since been reportedly overtaken by new agreements signed by Barcelona (Nike) and Real Madrid (Adidas), which would be worth £125 million and £115 million respectively (at the current exchange rate). Therefore, the ball is very much in City’s court for a better deal.

City’s share of the Premier League television money fell slightly to £97 million in 2015/16 after finishing fourth compared to second the previous season. Nevertheless, they actually earned £4 million more than champions Leicester City, as the smaller merit payment for finishing three places lower was more than offset by higher facility fees for having ten more games broadcast live.

This is even before the increases from the mega Premier League TV deal in 2016/17. Based on the contracted 70% increase in the domestic deal and an estimated 40% increase in the overseas deals, the top four clubs will receive around £150 million, while even the bottom club would trouser around £95 million.

Although this is clearly great news for Premier League clubs, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword for the elite, as it makes it more difficult (or at the very least more expensive) to persuade the mid-tier clubs to sell their talent, thus increasing competition.

Despite City’s fans being less than enamoured with UEFA, often booing the Champions League anthem before home matches, their flagship tournament was good to them last season, as their UEFA broadcasting income rose by £28 million (86%) from £33 million to £61 million.

This was mainly due to City reaching the semi-final before being eliminated by eventual winners Real Madrid 1-0 on aggregate, but is also influenced by the increases in the 2016 to 2018 cycle, namely higher prize money plus significant growth in the TV (market) pool, thanks to BT Sports paying more than Sky/ITV for live games.

The Champions League market pool payment is partly influenced by a club’s progress in the tournament, but it is also dependent on where it finishes in the previous season’s Premier League. In this way, City’s 2015/16 revenue was boosted by finishing second in the 2014/15 Premier League, but will be adversely impacted in 2016/17 by their fourth place, though offset to an extent by the stronger Euro exchange rate.

Although some have played down the value of Champions League qualification in the light of the massive new Premier League TV deal, it is evident that it is still financially beneficial, especially if it is compared to the Europa League, where Everton, for example, only earned €7.5 million for reaching the last 16 in 2014/15.

It has clearly helped City, who have earned €215 million from Europe in the last five seasons, only behind Chelsea in England. It has thus become a major revenue differentiator against their domestic rivals with City earning substantially more than them in this period: Arsenal €43 million, United €60 million, Liverpool €159 million and Tottenham €185 million.

Match day income rose 21% (£9 million) from £43.3 million to £52.5 million in 2015/16 following the increase in the Etihad Stadium capacity to 55,000 after adding a third tier to the South Stand and three new rows of pitchside seats, exacerbated by playing one more home game (28 vs. 27).

However, as there were some seating restrictions in 2014/15 due to the building work, perhaps a more relevant comparative would be the 2013/14 revenue of £47.5 million, meaning a growth of £5 million (11%). Although the revenue increase is lower than the attendance increase (15%), it’s consistent if we consider that one game more was played in 2013/14, meaning that revenue per game also rose 15% from £1.636 million to £1.876 million.

That said, even after the growth, City’s £53 million is still only around half the money generated by United £107 million and Arsenal £100 million. This is partly due to lower corporate hospitality/premium seating revenue and City season tickets being among the cheapest in the Premier League.

In fact, even though some fans baulked at the £60 tickets for the Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain, City offer the second cheapest season ticket in the Premier League at £299 (only above Stoke City). It is true that there have been some large increases at the higher end, but City describe the commitment to affordable pricing as “unwavering” and have frozen ticket prices for the 2016/17 season.

City’s average attendance is now more than 54,000, which is the third highest in the Premier League, only behind United 75,000 and Arsenal 60,000, having sold a record 40,500 season tickets. City have also received planning permission for potential further expansion up to 61,000, which would make the Etihad the second largest English club stadium behind Old Trafford.

The wage bill increased by 2% (£4 million) from £194 million to £198 million in 2015/16, lowering the wages to turnover ratio from 55% to 50%, which Soriano described as “a figure which is among the best in the football industry.” It is indeed one of the lowest in the Premier League, only surpassed by United’s 45%, though it is notably better than Arsenal’s 56%.

This is the fifth year in a row that City have succeeded in reducing the important wages to turnover ratio and is a far cry from 2011 when their wage bill was higher than their revenue by £20 million.

The magnitude of City’s wages reduction has raised a few eyebrows, as it has come down from £233 million in 2013, especially given the reduction in headcount: football staff have been slashed from 222 to 150, while commercial/administration staff have fallen from 227 to 170.

This is essentially due to a group restructure whereby some staff previously paid by City were transferred to other group companies, which provide services to all the CFG football clubs. They then charge those clubs, including Manchester City, for the services provided, meaning that City’s wages are lower with a corresponding increase in other expenses.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of City’s approach, their wage bill is now far behind United’s £232 million after their rivals’ £29 million increase in 2015/16 and Chelsea’s £216 million from the previous season, though it is just ahead of Arsenal’s £195 million.

It should be noted that one of the restrictions in UEFA’s FFP settlement with City stated that they could not increase their wage bill during the next two financial periods (2015 and 2016) – though performance bonuses are not included in this calculation.

Of course, there is still a big gap to the other Premier League clubs with the nearest challengers (in 2014/15) being Liverpool £166 million, Tottenham £101 million and Aston Villa (yes, really) £84 million.

City’s wage bill in 2016/17 will be impacted by their new arrivals this summer, including John Stones, Leroy Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Claudio Bravo and Nolito, not to mention Guardiola’s sizeable compensation. Some of this will be offset by some high-profile players being loaned out, e.g. Samir Nasri, Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony, though it is unclear how much of their wages is still being funded by City.

Although there is a natural focus on wages, other expenses also account for a considerable part of the budget at leading clubs, especially at City with a 13% increase in 2015/16 from £76 million to £86 million, only behind United £91 million, but ahead of Arsenal £83 million. These cover the costs of running the stadium, staging home games, supporting commercial partnerships, travel, medical expenses, insurance, retail costs, etc.

As we have seen, in City’s case there is also the impact of the restructure whereby some staff are now paid by group companies with the costs included in external charges, as opposed to wages. This helps explain the steep growth in external charges, which have risen from £42 million in 2013 to £77 million in 2016. If we were to assume that most of the £35 million increase related to wages paid by other companies, City’s total wage bill would be very close to United’s.

Another cost that has had a major impact on City’s profit and loss account is player amortisation, reflecting the significant investment in transfers. City’s initial spending spree under the new ownership saw player amortisation shoot up from just £6 million in 2007 to £84 million in 2011, before falling away in the last three years to £70 million in line with less frenetic transfer activity, though it bounced back up in 2016 to £94 million.

The accounting for player trading is horribly technical, but it is important to grasp how it works to really understand a football club’s accounts. The fundamental point is that when a club purchases a player the transfer fee is not fully expensed in the year of purchase, but the cost is written-off evenly over the length of the player’s contract, e.g. John Stones was reportedly bought for £47.5 million on a six-year deal, so the annual amortisation in the accounts for him is £7.9 million.

This helps explain why clubs like City can spend so much and still meet UEFA’s Financial Fair Play targets, especially as City sometimes give lengthy contracts to their more expensive acquisitions, thus reducing the annual charge, e.g. Stones and Kevin De Bruyne are both on six-year contracts.

In addition, City have frequently extended player contracts, so any remaining written-down value in the accounts for those players has been amortised over the term of the new contract. This has had the advantage of reducing the annual amortisation charge in recent years, but has the disadvantage of extending the period for which these players’ transfer fees are amortised.

Clubs that are regarded as big spenders logically have the highest player amortisation, so unsurprisingly City (£94 million) and United (£88 million) have the largest charges in the Premier League, while Arsenal’s relatively restrained spending has left them a fair way back on £59 million. Furthermore, this summer’s huge splurge came after these accounts were closed, so there will be another big leap in next year’s figures.

After an initial three-year period of major investment following the club’s purchase by Sheikh Mansour, averaging annual gross spend of £136 million between 2008 and 2011, City reduced their activity in the transfer market (relatively speaking) in the following four seasons with gross spend of “only” £80 million.

However, the last two seasons have seen a return to the earlier big spending with average gross spend doubling to £160 million, though City have recouped an average £41 million to give net spend of £119 million. To an extent City have been playing catch up, as UEFA had imposed restrictions on their transfer spending for their FFP transgressions.

Consequently, City have the highest net spend over the last two season of £239 million, though United are also pretty high with £171 million, as Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho have all endeavoured to reinvigorate their squad following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Both Manchester clubs are a long way ahead of the other Premier League clubs in terms of net spend with the closest challengers being Chelsea £118 million, Arsenal £99 million, then Leicester City and Watford with £64 million apiece.

City have stated that they “continue to operate with zero financial debt”, which is true, but their own net debt calculation includes £67 million of debt from finance leases (future obligations for the Etihad Stadium). Nonetheless, this is not a problem, especially as it is offset by £56 million of cash to give net debt of just £11 million.

However, it is worth noting the impact that the transfer market has had on City’s liabilities. They owe an additional £76 million in transfer fees to other clubs, though this is mitigated by the £39 million that other clubs owe City. In addition, the net expenditure on transfers after the reporting date is a hefty £158 million.

Another prominent figure is the £123 million that City have included for contingent liabilities, which is for “additional transfer fees, signing-on fees and loyalty bonuses that will become payable upon the achievement of certain conditions contained within player and transfer contracts”, i.e. number of appearances, success on the pitch, etc.

To place this enormous sum into perspective, contingent liabilities at other leading clubs are significantly smaller, e.g. United £42 million, Arsenal £9 million and Chelsea £1 million.

Where City are doing well compared to their peers is on net financing costs, as their annual payment of £4 million (mainly stadium finance lease charges) is a lot lower than United £20 million and Arsenal £13 million. For more context, it’s also less than West Ham and Tottenham.

Similarly, other clubs have to carry the burden of sizeable debt, especially United who still have £490 million of borrowings even after all the Glazers’ various re-financings (it shot up this year, as much of it is denominated in USD) and Arsenal, whose £233 million debt effectively comprises the “mortgage” on the Emirates stadium.

There were four other clubs with debt higher than City’s in the Premier League in 2014/15, namely Sunderland £141 million, Newcastle United £129 million, Liverpool £99 million and West Ham £89 million.

The turnaround in City’s financial performance is underlined by the cash flow statement, which shows that the club has generated cash from operating activities in the last three years. In fact 2016 was the first year the Sheikh Mansour had not put any money in since he purchased the club, demonstrating that City have indeed become self-financing.

Of course, City’s development has been largely funded by the owners, who have put in over £1.2 billion since the takeover in August 2008 through £0.9 billion of new share capital and £0.3 billion of loans (subsequently converted to shares).

Most of this has gone into the squad (£729 million net, £932 million gross) with a further £302 million invested into the club’s infrastructure. Around 10% (£125 million) of the money has been used to finance loans and leases with £6 million required to fund (cash) operating losses. This leaves £68 million that has simply increased the club's cash in the bank.

Indeed, City now have a healthy cash balance of £56 million, though this is still a lot lower than United £229 million and Arsenal £226 million.

It is instructive to compare the business models of City and Arsenal in the period since Mansour arrived via their source and use of funds. City have been entirely financed by their owners, while Arsenal have had to rely on cash generated from their own operating activities, meaning that City have enjoyed £564 million more available cash in the last eight years.

In City’s case the vast majority of this money has been spent on improving the squad and infrastructure, £592 million and £230 million more than Arsenal respectively. In contrast, Arsenal have spent £181 million more on debt/interest payments, though they have somewhat bizarrely also increased their cash balance by £66 million more than City.

Financial Fair Play has obviously been one of the most important challenges for Manchester City, including a €20 million (£16 million) settlement in 2013/14. The failure to meet UEFA’s break-even targets had actually resulted in a €60 million (£49 million) fine, but €40m (£33 million) of this was suspended.

Although some mistakenly believe that FFP has been relaxed, City would now appear to have little to fear from UEFA, having reported profits in the last two seasons, even before excluding any allowable deductions. Although there is likely to be cost growth, this should be more than matched by revenue growth from the higher TV deals and potential uplifts in sponsorships.

"Change of Hart"

In any case, City are already looking to the future with the opening of the City Football Academy, built on 80 acres featuring a 7,000 capacity stadium with two thirds of the site dedicated to youth football.

This has delivered “visible signs of early success” as eight players from the Academy and Elite Development squads made their first team debuts last season, including the exciting forward Kelechi Iheanacho, and the youth Academy squads achieved a record number of 15 titles across all age groups, while the U18s reached the FA Youth Cup Final for the second consecutive year.

Soriano said, “This form of sustainability – that of bringing through young talent via our Academy – has always been central to Sheikh Mansour’s vision of a flourishing Manchester City.

"Silva lining"

Of course, City have also invested tremendous sums in the local community, helping the regeneration of east Manchester via the building of academy and sports centre, which is a part of their “Masterplan” that often goes unmentioned.

Off the pitch, City have certainly arrived, as Khaldoon observed, “We have set ambitious goals and achieved many of them faster than expected in the last eight years, but we have never underestimated the scale of the undertaking. I believe that the 2015-16 season marked the end of another important phase in that journey and the beginning of the next exciting chapter.”

"He blinded me with science"

The new phase in City’s evolution is linked to the arrival of Pep Guardiola, described by Khaldoon as “a proven winner with an innate ability to identify, nurture and develop young talent”, adding that he expected the new manager to “transform our team to a whole new level.”

Expectations have once again been raised, so the pressure is on Guardiola to win trophies. While it would not be an enormous surprise if he delivered, the Premier League is new to him and is a far more competitive environment than La Liga or the Bundesliga.

Financially, City have reached a level of maturity that few would have envisaged before the change in ownership. Ironically, given their rivalry with well-known City fans Oasis, the chorus in Blur’s song “To The End” describes the execution of City’s strategy pretty well, “And it looks like we might have made it.” It sure does.
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