It’s hard to believe that a little under ten years ago Manchester City were somewhat a yo-yo side, with the Citizens dipping in and out of the Premier League and truly existing in the shadow of their great rivals, United.
But as the 2014 Capital One Cup Final approaches, they have the chance to win their third piece of major silverware in just four years, a record that would’ve seemed a little far-fetched at the turn of the Millennium.
What a journey it has been. There have been highs and lows throughout City’s rise to become a genuine European force, with botched takeovers, failed signings and last minute league-winning goals making every day at the Etihad Stadium noteworthy.
To an extent the birth of the City we now have occurred in 2007, as former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra took over the club in a big money deal. The Asian billionaire had grand plans, and after installing Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager and ploughing £45m into the first-team squad, all looked rosy. However the financial power could not address the issues the team had, and midtable finish was all their Swedish boss could muster.
This was greeted with yet more spending and another new manager in the shape of Mark Hughes, who had been impressing with Blackburn. ‘Sparky’ was give free rein of the club’s chequebook, and although he snapped up Vincent Kompany for £5m – which has proven to be one of the very best bits of transfer business in recent English football history – the majority of the arrivals at the club were slightly underwhelming in the summer of 2008. Shaun Wright-Phillips – a former club idol – and Tal Ben Haim were other notable signings, but neither truly set the world alight.
Despite this, there was a real sense of optimism as the season got underway, with Hughes having the experience and the know-how to make City genuine contenders for European qualification. But then came turmoil. Shinawatra’s fortune had been seized and all was not well with the owner. Failed attempts to secure added funding and the fact that his own bankrolling of City had become impossible led to calls for his head, and frustration from the fans.
The Citizens’ supporters had seen many false dawns through the years, and were forgiven for fearing for the worse when Shinawatra’s woes were revealed. So it was almost met with joy from supporters of other clubs when they were saved from the brink by the Abu Dhabi United Group.
At the time the extent of their wealth was unclear, with some predicting that they were merely another set of flash in the pan owners. But their intentions were made clear with attempted deals for the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, David Villa and Mario Gomez. Although this trio escaped the club’s grasp, they did break the then British transfer fee record to sign Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5m – even though he was on the verge of joining Chelsea.
This was followed by news that the principal owner of Sheikh Mansour’s personal fortune was estimated to be around £17billion, and that his family’s true wealth went north of $1trillion. It was now clear that City meant business.
There was no dirge of silverware however, but as the club dismissed Hughes and brought in Roberto Mancini, while paying big money for top players, the wheels were in motion for, arguably, the most exciting moment in Premier League history during 2012.
After winning the FA Cup the previous year, the focus switched to Premier League dominance, and after leading for much of the season a late wobble had handed local rivals United the advantage. If you missed what happened against QPR on the final day of the campaign you must have been living under a rock for the past few years, but we’ll just refresh your memory. Sergio Aguero. The Argentine netted deep into injury time to make it 3-2 and steal the title on goal difference, from an already celebrating United side.
The bubble burst to an extent as Mancini was given his marching orders at the end of last season after they surrendered their league crown to Fergie’s side and slipped out of Europe, but now under Manuel Pellegrini they have the chance to complete the domestic hat-trick by securing the Capital One Cup.
Undoubtedly City are favourites for the Wembley clash against Sunderland, and could well be ascending the iconic steps to lift the trophy after those all-important 90 minutes. It’s been some journey, but there is the underlying sense that this chapter in City’s history is just beginning.
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