In some ways, the revelation that Pep Guardiola is to take over as manager of Manchester City in the coming summer is the most unsurprising news of the football season. As the club admitted in its press statement yesterday, City have been chasing the current Bayern Munich manager since 2012 and, arguably, this is the managerial move its owners have been heading towards since they took over in 2008.
In other ways, however, it’s no exaggeration to say confirmation of Guardiola to Manchester City sent shockwaves across the city when it was announced yesterday.
Despite all the success, despite all the investment, City fans are very much a ‘glass half empty’ bunch, and for those who have lived in this city for longer than I, memories of scrapping in the lower leagues of English football are still very fresh in the memory. Whether or not Guardiola goes on to achieve the levels of success at Man City almost everyone now expects he will is, for the moment, a side issue: right now, the very fact City have been able to attract a name like Pep is massive, massive news.
And it’s not massive news for just City either, but rather the city of Manchester as a whole. Aside from United fans, most Man City detractors who talk of the club “buying the league” and being nothing but big spenders are unaware of the impact Man City’s relatively new found riches has had on large chunks of the city. It’s true to say that Eastlands, Man City’s current base, came to life before the club moved there in the run up to the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The Etihad started life as the Games’ official stadium, and its construction kickstarted the regeneration of an industrial wasteland that was home to little more than abandoned buildings and housing estates.
The Commonwealth Games sparked the initial flame, but the full on fire that’s now burning in the east of Manchester is almost wholly down to Manchester City. In the last couple of years, the club’s owners have not only upgraded and expanded the Etihad Stadium itself – upgrades that still have a year or so to go – but they’ve built a mass of training facilities, a world leading academy, a sixth form college, a sports centre and new stadium for City’s EDS (Elite Development Squad) and Women’s team that’s big and slick enough to rival many of those playing host to Football League matches.
Indeed, the formation of the Women’s team is itself something the club can be proud of, but it’s Manchester City’s desire to spread the club’s influence well beyond the beautiful game that means more to residents like me. A couple of years ago, Manchester City Council announced that Man City’s owners were to invest £1 billion to help build 6,000 social and private homes in a corridor in East Manchester, helping to both expand and lift the quality of affordable housing in the city for residents – existing and incoming – for years to come. It would be naïve to suggest that there’s no benefit to City here; aside from drumming up some positive PR, it’s in the interests of Man City’s owners that Manchester – a city that’s been in a constant, almost frantic state of regeneration and progression for the last 20 years – continues to evolve at the pace it has been to date.
Though those in the south of England fail to see beyond the undeniable beacon that is London, those who have taken the time out to explore Manchester know that it is a dynamic and often radical, multicultural and creative city with a realistic grip on its place in history and an unshakeable desire to push itself forward even further in the future. ‘Manchester does things differently’ is one of the city’s mottos and, having gone from complete newcomer to self appointed evangelist over the course of the last seven years, I know this to be true. It’s why Manchester City’s drive to take what was still one of the most deprived parts of the country and turn it into a base capable of playing host to the likes of Agüero, Toure, Silva and De Bruyne is as crazy as it is ambitious. The will of City’s owners demands that Manchester City be one of Europe’s giants, and they’re determined to bring the city the club is tied to along for the ride.
And that’s just as it should be. When I moved to Manchester in early 2009, I did so out of a love for the city. I moved here without any allegiance to a particular football club (despite a love for the game) and with an entirely open mind. Within weeks I was naturally drawn to City because, living on the Manchester side of the Manchester-Salford border, MCFC was rooted into the city’s very streets. Comparatively, United had no presence here. Not even a shop in the city centre, or any notable support that I could see within Manchester proper, rather than Greater Manchester as a whole.
City’s owners have been aware of these roots since day one and, unlike other foreign owners who either fleece their clubs dry or simply pump cash into them with little thought for the supporters or the community around them, Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners have always seen investment in MCFC as more than just flooding a football club with money. On the one side you have the corporate reality – the desire to take the ‘City’ brand and expand it into New York, Melbourne and Yokohama. On the other side you have the sense of community, and the decision to lift Manchester as a whole rather than just the Etihad and its immediate surroundings.
Those who continue to fill column inches by talking of Manchester City “buying” trophies do so in complete (and wilful) ignorance of just what the club and its owners are doing for Manchester and the people that live here. Ironically, despite the amount of money that it has no doubt cost City to bring Pep Guardiola to the Etihad, his appointment at the club – and the seemingly classy way Pellegrini’s departure has been handled when compared to the deposition of his predecessor Mancini – is likely to soften many of Man City’s critics. If you’re a football fan, you can only be pleased that Pep has chosen to come to England, whatever the club.
However, Pep’s appointment is about far more than snapping up one of football’s most accomplished managers. It’s about building a legacy, it’s about City cementing its place at the top table, and it’s about ensuring that the club continues to grow and buries its roots deeper and deeper into the city it calls home. Welcome to Manchester, Guardiola.