Rise of Manchester City a real stunner

Imagine, for a moment, that instead of going to the Miami Heat a year ago, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade elected to join forces and play for the L.A. Clippers.
In an instance, the lowly Clippers would become the in-team not only in the entire NBA but also in the city of Los Angeles, where the Lakers have been far and away the more dominant and supported team over the years.
While that situation may seem a bit far-fetched, something along those lines currently is taking place in soccer’s most popular league—the English Premier League—with the rise of Manchester City to the top of table ahead of their far-more dominant cross-town rivals in Manchester United.
Historically a mid-table squad at best over the years, Manchester City was purchased by the Abu Dhabi United Group in the summer of 2008—becoming the richest club in the world in the process and allowing them access to purchasing almost any player that they want with seemingly unlimited funds.
After three seasons of changes to the team’s roster and to the management staff, Manchester City seemingly has become the top team almost overnight. They are unbeaten in 14 matches so far in the campaign (12 wins and two ties) and currently lead the 20-team league over their more prestigious rivals in Manchester United.
“I think this is easily the most dramatic shift in the Premier League that I have ever seen,” said James Sharman, host of “The Footy Show” on The Score.
“This was a team that had been a journeyman team for years, and had gone up and down through the different divisions in English football,” he noted.
“But then, in come the big-money owners and they have become arguably the best team, not only in the Premier League but in European football, essentially overnight,” Sharman added.
Although City has been dominant over “inferior” opposition throughout the campaign (they have scored 48 goals while only allowing 13 in their 14 EPL contests thus far), the big moment when the club became legit contenders in many fans’ eyes happened back on Oct. 23 when they travelled to historic Old Trafford to take on the then unbeaten Manchester United.
For the casual soccer supporter, United easily is the team that is the most well-known. They’ve been the dominant squad in English football for the last two decades, capturing four of the last five EPL titles while their arch-rivals in City was left in the dust.
Instead, though, on that Sunday afternoon, it was Manchester City which proved to be the better of the two, running United out of their own stadium with a stunning 6-1 triumph that, in turn, changed the complexion of English football overnight.
“It was a huge moment that was not only a statement for City, but also I think the moment that all the other clubs in the league, like Manchester United, realized ‘Oh [man], this team is here for real,” Sharman said.
“It showed that this team was more than just candy floss with a lot of money and pretty skillful players,” he noted. “This was an actual team with a ruthlessness as they poured it on late and embarrassed their arch-rivals.
“We might look back on that game as the moment where the tide changed and say that it was the moment where the biggest club in the game is in Manchester, but it’s not United and it is now City,” Sharman added.
What makes the rise of Manchester City so interesting, as well, is the clash of personalities on the roster, which range from no-nonsense midfield maestro David Silva of Spain to young Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who set his house on fire the night before the Manchester United game by lighting fireworks inside of it.
In addition to that, there also has been the situation this year involving former club captain Carlos Tevez, when the Argentine striker refused to come onto the field during a match in September and seemingly burned his last bridge with the team in that moment.
But through it all, the club has stayed intact, which easily can be attributed to the approach laid out by Italian manager Roberto Mancini.
“When you talk about spending the type of money that a team like Manchester City does, you are always going to have that problem with egos as you can’t assemble a team with the best players in the world because those types of players are usually very selfish,” explained “Footy Show” contributor Brendan Dunlop.
“I think it says a lot about the character of Mancini as he has been able to get many of those players to understand the project that he wants to build, and excellent players like Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri are fully committed to that.
“That’s despite having two hot-rods on the team in Balotelli and Tevez,” Dunlop added.
“But I think keeping Mario together shouldn’t be a problem, and Tevez is going to be out of the mix soon [during the January transfer window] so I don’t see that affecting things.”
If anything could be viewed as a disappointment for Manchester City this season, it’s the fact their squad could crash out of the group stage in the UEFA Champions League today, meaning they won’t have a chance at making it to the knock-out stage of determining who is the best club in European football.
“If you were to tell Manchester City that they were not one of the 16 best teams in all of Europe, they would laugh at you, but that’s why the games aren’t played on paper,” stressed “Footy Show” analyst Kristian Jack.
“But I think if you ask the fans of Manchester City, especially the long-time fans who have gone through all of the highs and the lows with this club, they would tell you that they would rather win the Premier League title first this season as opposed to winning the Champions League.
“This is a club that not only hasn’t won a title since 1968, but they have been beaten psychologically both on and off the field for years by their rivals in Manchester United,” Jack noted.
“And if they are able to beat United over a 38-game season that lasts nine months, it would mean the world to those fans.”
For a North American sports fan, the fact a team like Manchester City seemingly can contend for a title by just spending its way to the top may seem quite strange, indeed, especially when three of the big four leagues on the continent use a salary cap system.
This then begs a question that has been asked by many baseball fans of small-market or small-funded teams over the years. Why would you bother to cheer for a team that doesn’t have the money to compete with the big boys if they have no shot of competing for a championship?
“The game has changed dramatically over the last 10 years,” Jack said. “And if you are a club like Everton or Aston Villa, who believed a decade ago that they could challenge for a title, you now have absolutely no chance of winning the title before the league starts in August.
“So what makes the fans want to keep going to support their team and pay the 30-odd pounds to watch their games?”
As for this season and beyond, all three members of “The Footy Show” believe the EPL title is Manchester City’s to lose, and that it could be the start of a new dominant era in English football.
However, Winnipeg Free Press soccer columnist Jerrad Peters is not as convinced that a lengthy run of dominance by Manchester City is in the cards.
“You don’t become a major brand like a Manchester United, an AC Milan, or a Real Madrid overnight,” he stressed.
“One of the dangers in massive one-time investments by foreign ownerships is that while your owner may make a series of moves to gain quick success, they may not have that same interest to keep doing that over a long period of time.
“If you use [EPL squad] Chelsea as an example, they won two titles in 2005 and 2006 after [Russian] owner Roman Abramovich made huge investments to the side, but now they are at a point where they are almost irrelevant in title discussions.
“I think Man City is currently at that point where Chelsea were back then, and we’ll see in three or four years’ time whether or not the current owners are still interested in running the club and they are still able to attract the players that they are bringing in right now,” Peters added.

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