A Tale of Two Cities

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

Manchester City finished the 2007/08 season ninth, an improvement on the previous season but not enough for Sven-Göran Eriksson (Manager of the Month August 2007) to keep his job. Life at City was never dull under the ownership of Thaksin Shinawatra.

The former Thai prime minister – who avoids visiting Thailand because it’s overrun by drunk holidaying Australians these days – bought Manchester City for £81.6 million in June 2007. He threw money at the club, appointing Eriksson and funding the purchase of players such as Rolando Bianchi.

While Thaksin Shinawatra might have known bugger all about football, in Eriksson’s opinion at least, when Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited came along with £200m he knew what to do. The sale was announced on 1 September 2008.

Coincidentally, that was the same day Robinho was signed from from Real Madrid for what was then a record transfer fee of £32.5m.

Imagine what it must have been like for Manchester City supporters in September 2008. Your club is awash with money, you have a new manager in Mark Hughes, Robinho has just signed and Oasis releases a new album.

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

Kew Jaliens models Melbourne City’s heritage round strip.

Melbourne City started the current season full of hope. There was money. There was David Villa. There was Damian Duff. There was an unusual emotion for erstwhile Melbourne Heart supporters: hope.

The money is still there, but Villa and Duff are not. Villa’s much-hyped loan stint turned out to be a diamond-standard dud. Four games, two goals, and he buggered off to New York as soon as he possibly could. At least this season the club didn’t sign any players who were injured more or less straight away. No – Western Sydney Wanderers achieved that feat this time.

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

When all of a sudden, a limbo competition broke out in the Melbourne City half.

Season 2009-10, Manchester City’s second with oil money, saw improvements on the 2008-09 season. Mark Hughes was given the elbow mid-season, replaced with the scarf-wearing Roberto Mancini. Players like Carlos Tévez, Kolo Touré and Patrick Viera joined the squad. Ched Evans transferred to Sheffield United. The team finished fifth in the league.

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

Wearing two orange boots is so 2014.

Does this mean that John van ‘t Schip will be shown the door next season? If he doesn’t sort out his recruiting, then almost certainly yes. Aaron Mooy has been a shining light for the team this season, with few other bright spots. (Well, there’s Kew Jaliens and his hair, but he joined mid-season thanks to Newcastle Jets imploding.) There is a feeling that the club is sixth by default.

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

Tell me doc, is my hair ok?

Manchester City finished third in the third season of oil money. The club won the FA Cup – its first silverware in over 30 years. This was after spending ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX MILLION POUNDS on players during the summer transfer window.

The following season Manchester City won the league thanks to a dramatic win over QPR in the last game of the season. Four years of pumping obscene amounts of money into the squad finally paid off.

Melbourne City Kew Jaliens

You’re just jealous of my hair, man!

The A-League salary cap limits clubs’ ability to buy a title. This is despite rorting the salary cap being a national pastime. Melbourne City’s oil money is being invested in facilities and youth development. The Melbourne City youth team recently won the National Youth League and the new academy in Melbourne’s north opened a few weeks ago.

This season at least, Melbourne City has wallowed in mediocrity. Crowd numbers are pathetic. Just the same, licensing fees must be paid to the parent club.

According to its 2013-14 financial return, Manchester City provided £246,000 in services to Melbourne Heart in 2013-14 and a loan of £1.598m. Melbourne City contributed £2.183m in revenue and £1.118m in losses to Manchester City – a drop in the ocean compared to the Manchester club’s overall revenue of £347m and its £63.4m loss.

The money hasn’t brought Melbourne City success. The club’s much-vaunted links to Manchester City and New York City FC have brought little other than a pre-season trip to Manchester and a mid-season jaunt to Abu Dhabi.

The salary cap will continue to impede A-League clubs’ ability to compete for talent in the international market. It prevents clubs from “buying” a title, but makes it difficult for A-League clubs to compete in the Asian Champions League.

It is the salary cap that continues to pose the question: why on earth did City Football Group invest in an A-League team?

Photos by Keith McInnes.