New York City Blues

Posted by Simon Curtis

Unless you have been sleeping under a bush for the past 24 hours, you are well aware that Manchester City have expanded their activities into the U.S. by acquiring a majority stake in New York City FC, the newest franchise in MLS.

The team with the iconic name will become active in the 2015 season. With $100 million set aside for the project, it is a serious step into an American market hitherto dominated by the Premier League's traditional big hitters, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Having spent a good portion of the money-strewn Premier League era playing the likes of Bury and Stockport in league matches, City have some serious catching up to do if they want to be seen in the same light as the aforementioned megaliths, but this is surely a step in the right direction.

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City's reach in the American market so far can be described as relatively weak. Everyone loves a winner, however, and in a sports-mad country such as the United States, raising your profile in this way can lead to swift and conclusive brand recognition. While financiers, battalions of marketing gurus and spin doctors no doubt will hover around this deal for rich pickings, it will be interesting to see how a club whose major claim to fame the past 30 years has been messing things up goes down with a sports-mad public, which likes its heroes big, brave and successful.

Across the pond in windswept Blighty, the speedy development of City into a serial Champions League participant is still taking its own time to sink in with a support whose previous idea of European competition had been to participate on trips to the Faroe Islands in a trawler and to squeeze into Lokeren's shoe-box ground to marvel at the press as they took their seats in a carved out double-decker bus. Excuse us then if all of this takes a little while longer to sink in.

There is a vague feeling the whole club has been lifted off its hinges and catapulted into a future that not one of us could see coming. When Nicky Weaver watched a terrible, nervous penalty by a wild-haired man called Adrian Pennock sail off toward the hordes of nail-biting City supporters massed behind him at the tunnel end of the old Wembley Stadium, then managed to fall in the way of another nerve-racked effort from Guy Butters, there can't have been many in that jigging frenzy of humanity that would have given you anything other than a withering glance if you had explained where City would be less than 15 years later.

This was Gillingham, Tony Pulis, the old third division, a rain-sodden penalty shootout to escape the third tier, in dreadful conditions, with Tony Vaughan carrying sky-blue hopes on his rounded shoulders. Vaughan, a journeyman defender prone to attacks of bad temper and even worse positioning, was the best City could manage at left back that season. He and Terry Cooke, a castoff from Ferguson's golden crop of Nevilles, Beckhams and Scholeses, Andy Morrison, a bull-necked defender from Huddersfield with serious anger management issues, and Jeff Whitley, a Manchester scally with electric hair. Up front, the dream pairing of Paul Dickov and Shaun Goater sounded more like the kind of pressing ailment for which a vet might have been called to Old MacDonald's farm.

City's brave new world does not include veterinary surgeons, but the club does possess most other things these days. Owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi and employed as a vital organ in their grand strategic body, the deal now is to make this one-time lame duck a financially sustainable beautiful swan in the limpid waters of world football. To this end, indefatigable City CEO Ferran Soriano continues to pop up left, right and centre to spread the gospel. "Mindless colonialisation," as one reporter put it, is not the order of the day here.

As Soriano explains: "In England we run a football club which takes its place in the community very seriously. It embraces its community, listens to its community and that will be exactly the same approach we would aim to take over here. We will listen to people. This is not a marketing trick, this is about soccer. It begins and ends with playing good soccer and we will do our best to be the best."

The Spaniard has completed a lap or two already in dealing with similar matters, responsible as he was for developing the worldwide favourite football brand now recognised as "Tiki Taka Barcelona" from a relative low point at the start of this century, when the club was not held in anywhere near the astonishingly positive light it is today.

Naturally, the likes of Louis van Gaal and Pep Guardiola must take a slice of the praise for this surge in love for everything the Catalan club does, but Soriano's vision brought the business in line with the sport, a vital factor in today's football market. Soriano then, already is talking the good talk on behalf of his Abu Dhabi paymasters, and City themselves will be hoping that this bold American dream will aid MLS to continue to swell in popularity while securing a very visible U.S. presence for Manchester City.

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