Manchester City: the Gift and the Curse.

Much has been made of Manchester City’s unlimited reserves of wealth since 2008 when their new owners from Abu Dhabi bought the club. Their middle-eastern sheiks have incredibly invested well over £1 billion into the blue half of Manchester, in an attempt to break the monopoly of the established elite in the Premier League, and become a European force.

It is every fans dream. This gift of money (which dwarves every investment made by other billionaire owners at other clubs) sent the City fans into paradise. During the Premier League era, their team had always struggled to stay in the division, never mind compete near the top. Now, Manchester City could build a team to match some of the most passionate, loyal and proudest supporters in Britain. Years of that loyalty was about to pay-off; from sticking by their team through thick and thin as they bounced between divisions, suffering relegations whilst their bitter rivals from the red-half of the city won everything in sight, to now being able to compete for the signatures of the world’s star players whilst challenging for every major title available. They deserved this gift.

City set about attempting to sign many major players straight away, and no other club could match the wages that they could offer. The problem, initially, was that City only had the gift of money to offer these major players – whereas the established elite could offer the glamour, and a proven track-record of competing for, and winning the biggest honours in the game. A point seemingly proven early on by Dimitar Berbatov when City’s attempt to sign him failed: ‘I don’t play for the money. If I want to play for the money, I would have accepted Manchester City’s offer’ the Bulgarian said, choosing instead a move to City’s neighbours Manchester United.

Money is a powerful tool however. Step forward Robinho. The Brazilian star was City’s first major coupe, ending his disappointing spell at Real Madrid by signing a deal that would earn him a whopping £160,000 a week. When City could only manage a 10th place finish that season, they had to pursue a similar tactic the following summer – signing the likes of Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz, Joleon Lescott, Adebayor and infamously Carlos Tevez from across the city, on massive wages – Tevez alone, now said to be earning around £200,000 a week. Domestically, this tactic also served another purpose – it ensured no other rival could strengthen by signing these players, and hoped to weaken the teams they signed from.

The following season City narrowly failed to qualify for the Champions League again and changed their manager which brought about a squad restructure. More signings came – David Silva, Adam Johnson, James Milner, Mario Balotelli, and Yaya Toure all arriving for massive fee’s and wages. Toure’s deal in particular is said to be astronomic, with the player allegedly earning in excess of £220,000 per week…plus bonuses!

To some, their progress has been surprisingly slow. What do City have to show for all this investment? One FA Cup…so far. Last season’s cup victory may have been their first silverware in over 30 years, but it also culminated in them finally qualifying for the Champions League (finishing 3rd in the league), earning them extra revenue and competing with Europe’s elite. The gift of money is now beginning to pay off.

But herein lies the curse. The money that’s gotten them this far could now become a burden. Uefa’s Financial Fair Play directive comes into effect this season and marks the start of a three-year monitoring period when clubs can afford to post losses of no more than £45 million. Last checked, City’s was running at £121 million. The need to reduce the wage-bill is paramount and after three years of crazy spending Manchester City have a huge squad, with most players earning money they wouldn’t receive elsewhere. Roberto Mancini’s choice to restructure his playing staff since taking the helm is also being felt. Some of the players he deemed surplus to requirements were loaned out, only to be returning to the club this week, with any tempted suitors possibly put off by the wage demands. Some unwanted players in the squad may not even feel the urgency to leave after getting used to such high wages – why leave to earn less, when the major reason in signing was to earn more in the first place?

Of course not all players are like this. They are professionals after all and most act as such. But it’s a sign of the times that in today’s football, money rules, and some players would rather sit back and collect a wage rather than look to enhance their careers and play for the glory.

The gift, could yet become a curse.