Manchester City's move for Gareth Barry is latest shot in powerstruggle
06 June 2009 02:37
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Look closely at the club crests of Manchester United and Manchester City and perhaps the only thing that the Mancunian rivals share in common – a 19th century trading ship – sits provocatively on both badges.
Provocatively? Any Liverpool supporter with even the merest understanding of their club's age-old rivalry with United will tell you the ship signifies the Manchester Ship Canal, the opening of which in 1894 sparked the decline of Liverpool as one of the world's great port cities and triggered Manchester's emergence as the north's most powerful city.
United and City, by nodding to Manchester's history, are just rubbing it in.
That's the theory anyway but, on the football pitch at least, neither Liverpool nor Manchester can claim to have cemented a position at the summit of English and European football. The pendulum continues to swing either way.
But just as the first vessel sailing down the Ship Canal 115 years ago began Liverpool's economic downward spiral, perhaps City's £12m move for Gareth Barry last week signalled the start of the endgame in Manchester's century-old attempt to emasculate Liverpool.
Who could ever have predicted, though, that the mortal blows would be struck by City rather than United? For so long England's comedy club, the great under-achievers, City are now emerging as a new force in world football thanks to the incredible wealth of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
United and Liverpool have always fought for supremacy, yet City are now going after the pair of them, on and off the pitch.
City's building plans are starting from Ground Zero. Twenty-four hours after United announced a world-record £80m shirt sponsorship deal with Aon, City added to their £25m shirt tie-up with Etihad Airlines by unveiling a 10-year kit agreement with Umbro worth more than £50m.
United remain way out on the horizon, but City are looking beyond their neighbours. Sheikh Mansour's plans for the club are long-term, they involve huge investment and the ultimate aim is for City to be the perfect shop window for the 'can do' mentality of Abu Dhabi.
"If you look at all the moves that they [Abu Dhabi] have made, such as bringing F1 and the FIFA Club World Cup to Abu Dhabi and the investment in Manchester City, they have a plan which is about building the reputation and the name of Abu Dhabi, and creating a country that doesn't have to rely on oil," claims David Pullan, the club's recently-installed Brand and Marketing Officer.
"With City being a Premier League club, Abu Dhabi can build a very clear view to the world of what it is and what it is about. Roman Abramovich was invisible before he bought Chelsea, but everybody in the world knows everything about him now – the good and the bad.
"That's what football gets you. It gets you a platform to the whole world and Abu Dhabi want to use it positively to build their reputation globally.
"It's not about matching and emulating Manchester United. It's the New York Yankees, the LA Lakers, Barcelona – organisations which, over a long time, have sustained a global position. That's the challenge here at Manchester City.
"They [Abu Dhabi] think long-term. On the Abu Dhabi website, there is a 22-year plan for the country. Here, we think about next week and we don't even know who the government could be on Friday, never mind in 22 years' time!
"When they ask where we want to be in five years' time, we tell them, but they say 'great, but go bigger!' You can see from the Barclays deal last week [when Sheikh Mansour sold shares at a £1.5bn profit] that the guy knows what he is doing."
City's move for Barry last week, an almost surgical strike on Aston Villa that resulted in the England midfielder heading to Eastlands, is likely to be repeated time and again this summer.
Samuel Eto'o, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Joleon Lescott are the immediate priorities. Peter Crouch, Edin Dzeko and Thierry Henry are also on manager Mark Hughes's radar.
"Signing the big names will clearly make my job easier," admits Pullan, who was lured from Aegis in March. "One of the attractions of coming here was that the club is going through a massive period of change and everything is improving across the board.
"There is a real sense that, with all the investment going on in the infra-structure and the squad – £100m last season and Gareth Barry already this summer – it's just a fantastic time to be around. There is real, positive momentum.
"We have to be very careful that we don't get into a situation where the marketing tail wags the dog, however. I would never want to get in a situation where I was even suggesting we should sign a player because it would help us from a marketing perspective or help us sell more shirts in country."
Pullan is driving City's move to launch a new multi-media website on July 1 which he promises will 'leapfrog' those in the world of football and entertainment.
But despite City's global ambition, Pullan admits that the club has to remain loyal to the Mancunian fan-base that has sustained it through decades of disappointment.
He said: "In the season just finished, 80 per cent of people who came to our matches lived within 45 minutes of the stadium.
"That beautifully demonstrates the point that City has been at the heart of Manchester and that's really important for us. We have this mission of building a really successful and sustainable football club of the future, but being the football club of the future also means being true to who we are. This is not a club that is going fund its expansion by fleecing the fans."