From Manchester to Montevideo: Abu Dhabi’s City Football Group targets global domination

Manchester City have at last reached the Champions League final after a decade of Abu Dhabi investment, but the global ambitions of the club’s owners stretch far beyond England’s northwest.

The English champions are the jewel in the crown of the City Football Group (CFG), a network of 10 clubs across five continents from Melbourne to Montevideo.

CFG’s stated aim is to become the “first truly global football organisation”, putting into place CEO Ferran Soriano’s plans for the “Disneyfication” of the football industry.

Pep Guardiola’s men can complete a treble if they beat Chelsea in Porto with a fourth consecutive League Cup and fifth Premier League title in 10 years already secured.

But it is not just in Manchester that CFG’s investment and expertise is paying off on the pitch.

Formed just seven years ago, Mumbai City became champions of India for the first time this year, while Melbourne City finished top of the regular season table in the A-League.

In Europe, Troyes have been promoted to France’s top tier and Girona are on course for a return to La Liga via Spain’s second division play-offs. But success for CFG is not measured purely on results.

“Every club owned by City Football Group has individual objectives because every team is different,” Javi Noblega, Montevideo City Torque’s business director, said. “You cannot ask of Montevideo City the same commercial objectives as New York.”

The South American clubs, in the Uruguayan capital and Club Bolivar in Bolivia, are used as talent spotters and recruiters.

“The point of the infrastructure is to attract the best young talent in Uruguay and the wider region,” added Noblega. “We’re working on other business models that can help us to achieve our objective, which is to attract young players to our academy, to get to the first team with Montevideo City and then sell them to other clubs within the City Football Group or other clubs.”

Even if a player never makes the grade to be deemed good enough to grace the Etihad Stadium, player trading can be highly lucrative.

The 10 million pounds ($14 million) sale of former Melbourne City midfielder Aaron Mooy to Huddersfield in 2017 reportedly earned CFG more than they paid to buy their stake in the Australian club.

‘Learning from the best’

By merging a global brand with interest in local markets, CFG aim grow City’s commercial income to the level where they will not be dependent on Abu Dhabi investment to compete financially with traditional giants such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

After CFG bought a stake in Nissan-controlled Yokohama Marinos in 2014, the Japanese car giant agreed a sponsorship deal with all CFG clubs.

“The investment is in every way. Obviously economically, which is very important, but (also) in know-how,” said Noblega. “The communication in the City Football Group is daily, not just in economic terms but in marketing, communication, in sponsorship, in other areas. It’s an organisation that is managed very horizontally. We have contact with the most important people in the City Football Group in those areas. That makes us feel truly valued... we’re learning from the best.”

CFG’s commercial growth has attracted outside investment. The China Media Capital consortium paid $400 million for a 13 per cent stake in 2015 and private equity firm Silver Lake Partners purchased 10 per cent for $500 million in 2019, placing a $4.8 billion valuation on the group.

Sheikh Mansour paid just 210 million pounds to take control of the club from former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2008.

Back then, City were not even the big attraction in their own city, with the blue side of Manchester living in the shadow of United.

Come Saturday they could be champions of Europe for the first time with a worldwide fanbase grown from franchises in every corner of the globe.



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