In 2008 Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Minister of Presidential Affairs, finalised his takeover of Manchester City. Under the Abu Dhabi United Group, the English football club has transformed into one of the biggest and best in the world.
It is currently dominating the game and last Sunday became Premier League champions for the sixth time. But it wasn’t always this way. It wasn’t that long ago that City was down on its luck. In 2007 it had finished in a lowly ninth position in the Premier League and had not won a trophy for over 30 years. Its last league triumph came all the way back in 1968 and it had only ever won it once before that.
The years between 1996 and 2002 saw the Sky Blues stumble between divisions. They suffered a series of relegations and even dropped as low as Division 2 for a period of time. But they managed to make it back into the big league for the 2002-03 season and then everything changed on 1 September 2008 with the takeover which turned City into the richest side in the world overnight.
The fans could not believe what had happened. All of a sudden the club was being linked with the biggest names in football. Their targets were the highest imaginable and when Robinho walked through the door from Real Madrid for a club record £33 million, everyone knew they were destined to become serial winners.
When Roberto Mancini replaced Mark Hughes as coach, so began one of the most exciting and successful periods in the club’s history. The Italian led them to a fifth-place finish in his first season. Then he won them their first major trophy in three decades by picking up the FA Cup and then secured their first title in 44 years thanks to Sergio Aguero’s injury time heroics.
In comes the game changer
Mancini was then replaced by Manuel Pellegrini who secured them a league-and-cup double, and then in 2016 came Pep Guardiola, aka the game changer.
The Spanish coach has won 11 trophies since coming to England. He has won four Premier League titles in the last five seasons, four League Cups, two Charity Shields and one FA Cup. City’s latest league title takes their total to eight with only Manchester United (20), Liverpool (19), Arsenal (13) and Everton (9) tallying more.
When Guardiola arrived in Manchester he was aware of the scale of the task to win the Premier League. Sure, they had done it before but the game had changed quickly and City were not the front runners for the title. Remarkably, in his short time at the club, he has lifted the coveted trophy four times.
However, for a while during this campaign it looked like rivals Liverpool would pip City to the post. In fact Guadiola’s side started the season in the worst possible way by losing against Tottenham in their very first match. They would be beaten again on match day 10 against Crystal Palace but then came a staggering run of 12 consecutive wins.
They sat pretty at the top of the table and opened up a huge 11-point gap on Jurgen Klopp’s Reds. But it wouldn’t be smooth sailing all the way to the finish line as Guardiola’s team suffered a difficult period. They failed to beat Southampton and Spurs and Palace once again to allow Klopp to reduce the gap.
Then came the crunch tie against the Merseysiders which ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw. Neither side could gain an advantage and so we headed into the final day of the season with the two clubs separated by a single point, and the drama they served up was off the scale.
Guardiola knew all his side had to do was to win their match at the Etihad Stadium against Aston Villa and the title would be theirs. Liverpool were relying on Villa manager Steven Gerrard — the former Anfield legend — to do them a huge favour by stopping City and for 75 minutes he did more than that. His game plan saw Villa race to a two-goal lead leaving the packed Etihad stunned in silence.
Meanwhile Liverpool — who had to beat Wolves to stand any chance of winning the title — had made a nightmare start. They were trailing 1-0 after just two minutes on the clock and Anfield matched the Etihad for pin drop silence.
But, they soon levelled and with City looking down and out they just needed one more goal to clinch the title. But Guardiola was not about to let it slip and proved just how good a coach he is by making several tactical changes to help City stage an epic comeback.
They bagged three goals in the space of five minutes to send their fans wild. City showed great character in the second half with time running out and Villa hanging on and as the full time whistle was blown in both venues, it was Guardiola’s team that finished the season top with 93 points and Klopp’s in second spot with 92.
It was an unbelievable end to the title race. It was a final day of shredded nerves and high anxiety. Judged purely on footballing merit, nobody can doubt that City were worthy champions.
There were many key factors behind their latest triumph ranging from the excellent form of defender Aymeric Laporte who helped the team keep the most clean sheets and concede the fewest goals to Kevin De Bruyne playing a pivotal role once again in midfield.
City have scored over 100 goals in all competitions every season since Guardiola’s arrival but what makes this season’s achievement even more impressive is the fact that they plundered in the goals without a recognised striker in the team. Instead, 16 different scorers chipped in, but the former Barcelona coach has now bolstered the squad for next season’s title defence by signing the in-demand hotshot Erling Haaland.
But domestic silverware is not the only focus, City desperately want to conquer Europe. They suffered a painful defeat to Real Madrid this season in the Champions League semi-final and will want to go one better next time. With the arrival of Haaland, not to mention De Bruyne, as creative as ever and Guardiola on the touchline pulling the strings, the future looks very bright for Manchester City.