By Chris Hatherall
Manchester City face Newcastle United today on the 10th anniversary of the most significant moment in the club’s history — not the lifting of a trophy or a title win but the day that Sheikh Mansour first announced his Abu Dhabi United Group had bought the club from Thai owner Thaksin Sinawatra to begin one of football’s great projects.
For City fans those 10 years must have whizzed by in a whirl of excitement, drama and delirium; but looking back on the highlights, the giddy list of ups and downs, the trophies, the goals, the celebrations, the deadline day signings, and the ever-changing scenario behind the scenes, it is quite remarkable what has been achieved — and how much has changed in the space of a decade.
Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak rather summed it up when releasing the club’s most recent accounts in November last year, saying: “In the context of more than 120 years of club history, this is a relatively short period of time, but it has been one of significant growth, with much learned, and much gained on a journey that still has a long way to go.”
That statement gives an insight into the remarkable ambition of City’s owners and the strategic skill behind the club’s seemingly inexorable rise.
Not content with nine trophies, including three Premier League titles, their plans for the future extend beyond the next 10 years and beyond domestic domination.
For now, however, City fans should be allowed to take their eyes off the future for once and enjoy the memories of a decade that has given them almost everything they could have dreamed of.
The Champions League, of course, remains elusive — for now — but a trip down memory lane can only strengthen the sense that Manchester City is a club which never stops moving and never stops trying to improve.
It may be best for Rafa Benitez to look away now…
Manchester City: A decade to remember
A takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group — buying out previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra — is completed on September 1, the last day of the transfer window, and new owner Sheikh Mansour, with an estimated fortune of almost €20bn, immediately spends nearly €40m on Brazilian star Robinho to prove his intent, beating Chelsea to his signature from Real Madrid.
It was a British transfer record fee — and a sign of things to come.
Later in the year, Khaldoon Al Mubarak is appointed as chairman as a new era begins and the new owners begin a complete overhaul of the club.
Mark Hughes’ side reach the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup before a huge sponsorship deal with Etihad and a kit deal with Umbro is announced.
On the pitch, Hughes is sacked in December after seven successive draws and Italian legend Roberto Mancini takes over. The year will also be remembered for the day City signed Carlos Tevez from deadly rivals United — and put up a famous ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster.
The noisy neighbours were starting to shout louder.
City reach their first semi-final since 1981, losing to Man United on aggregate in the League Cup despite winning the first leg 2-1 with two goals from Carlos Tevez. They narrowly miss out on qualification for the Champions League, ending up fifth — but it’s still their best ever Premier League finish and includes a double over champions Chelsea.
In the summer, Mario Balotelli, Jerome Boateng, David Silva, Yaya Toure, James Milner, and Aleksandr Kolarov all arrive — at a combined cost of almost €150m.
Off the pitch, the owners spend €13m to revamp the Platt Lane youth academy.
City win the FA Cup — lifting the trophy for the first time since 1969 as Yaya Toure scores the winner against Stoke at Wembley. They also reach the Champions League by finishing third in the Premier League, thanks to a a vital last-day victory at Bolton.
Sergio Aguero arrives at the club in August for a club record fee, almost €50m, from Atletico Madrid, and Sami Nasri signs up, too.
Plans for a new €130m training base and academy on the Etihad Campus are announced and chief football operations officer Brian Marwood calls it “the most important investment this club has ever made.”
City win the league title for the first time in 44 years thanks to a dramatic and never-to-be-forgotten last-day victory over QPR which is still one of the Premier League’s most iconic moments.
City trailed 2-1 in the 90th minute and bitter rivals United, who had already beaten Sunderland 1-0 to go temporarily top, were already celebrating up in the North East. But then Edin Dzeko and Aguero scored in injury time to leave City as champions. They didn’t stand still in the transfer market, either — Fernandinho arrived in the summer as Balotelli was shipped out while Txiki Begiristain, prised away from Barcelona, was appointed Director of Football and Ferran Soriano named CEO.
City can’t defend their title and finish as runners-up to United. They also fail to get out of the Champions League group stage, putting manager Mancini under big pressure at a club that now demands success.
A shock defeat against Wigan in the FA Cup final eventually sees him sacked and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini. Big name arrivals in the summer include Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo as the team is strengthened in response — and City Group also start their collection of clubs by buying New York City and setting up a women’s team.
Another massive season for City as they win the Premier League, scoring 156 goals in all competitions, and lift the League Cup after beating Sunderland at Wembley too.
It’s the first time the club has won two trophies in a season since 1970 and there’s a famous 3-0 victory at Old Trafford and a 6-3 thrashing of Arsenal to boot.
The only disappointment comes in the Champions League, losing in the last 16 to Barcelona. Summer arrivals include Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala, and Bacary Sagna.
Off the field, the club’s owners buy Melbourne Heart and invest in Yokohama F Marinos. Permission is granted to extend the capacity at the Etihad to 62,000.
Runners-up in the league behind Chelsea and another defeat to Barca in the Champions League slow City’s progress.
But the team finish the season strongly and the club reacts by signing 16 players in the summer including Raheem Sterling from Liverpool — for more than €50m — and Kevin De Bruyne for more than €60m from Wolfsburg.
The bar is suddenly set higher and the club’s global appeal is growing with millions spent on social media outreach.
The year begins with victory in the League Cup in February following a penalty shoot-out victory over Liverpool in which Willy Caballero saves three spot-kicks.
But Pellegrini’s days are still numbered — because the very same month it is announced Pep Guardiola will take over in the summer, agreeing a three-year deal from Bayern Munich.
City end up fourth in the league and lose narrowly to Real Madrid in the semi-final of the Champions League, 1-0 over two legs.
New arrivals are quickly brought in ready for the new Guardiola era — Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, and Bernardo Silva — as City splash out more than €200m in one summer.
There are no trophies for Guardiola in his first season as City, despite the new signings and a re-designed club badge as part of a club brand re-vamp, finish third in the league league behind Chelsea and Spurs.
They also lose to Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final and to Monaco in the Champions League.
The club responds with a huge summer project — shipping out 22 players and spending another €250m on the likes of Kyle Walker, Danilo, Benjamin Mendez, Aymeric Laporte and, crucially, goalkeeper Ederson.
Club Atletico Torque in Montevideo and Girona in Spain join the City Group family.
City beat Arsenal 3-0 to win the League Cup and then go on to clinch the Premier League in style — breaking records all the way.
These include record number of points (100), most points ahead of second place (19), most wins (32), most goals (106), best goal difference (+79) and most consecutive victories (18).
The season, in which Aguero became City’s all-time top scorer, is recorded for posterity in a behind-the-scenes Amazon documentary, spreading the City brand to new markets.
Riyad Mahrez is brought in to help lead the defence of their title in 2018-19.