The Guardiola Game: Pep’s appointment says more about Man City than football’s elite realise

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.

The Etihad’s new South Stand, unveiled at the start of this season

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.

8 thoughts on “The Guardiola Game: Pep’s appointment says more about Man City than football’s elite realise

  1. Terrific article. It is a shame to still see criticism about how City “bought the title”. The truth is that City deserves every success. City is now arguably the fastest growing football club. They built the whole franchise from scratch : from state of the art facilities, star players to top coach, sky is the limit for them.

    1. Indeed. I think the M.E.N put it best yesterday when they compared the ambitions of City with the ambitions of Manchester as a whole – something I’ve tried to hint at here. From the outside looking in it’s very easy to see City’s owners as little more than rich folk buying the best players, but the money they’ve invested in Manchester outweighs that they’ve spent on purchasing new players – they are investing in Manchester, which is something I can only applaud.

  2. Manchester United had no presence in Manchester when you came? No shops? City had to open the City Shop because they couldn’t turn over enogh shirts in JD sports IN MANCHESTER to justify giving them any shelf space. And your argument is circular – if they were that good, they wouldn’t need to recruit Guardiola to attract the soccer world’s attention. And as for their input to social projects? They want to build a casino and a leisure complex to make money. The social innovation has got nothing to do with philanthropic goals- its called Town Planning. For which you and every citizen who pays their rates can thank the City Council – not City’s board.

    1. Umm, no chap. There has been a City shop in town since before I moved here. It has moved around, yes, and actually expanded twice, but they’ve had a presence in Manchester for quite some time. It would hardly make much sense to open up a dedicated City shop if the shirts weren’t selling in traditional retail outlets, would it? That would be a pretty terrible move. Whatever the reasons behind that are pure speculation on both our parts, of course, though to me it’s evidence of how the club is rooted in Manchester and United is based out of Salford.

      Not sure what the casino and leisure complex your talking about is – none have popped up or planned to my knowledge. There’s a supermarket and cinema due to be built in New Islington, but that’s nothing to do with City. And, I’m sorry but, the money that will be spent by the council to build these new 6,000 homes comes from City’s owbers – there’s no escaping that, whatever you might think about the club itself.

  3. The 6000 new homes come from City’s owners -true. Do you really think that when Tesco build another superstore, the extension to the school nearby, or the traffic calming measures outside are funded by them out of an overwhelming need to please the community? Nope…. They have to paid for out of a Social Fund. Something that practicality every Planning Authority has insisted on for a couple of decades. And yes. If you are only selling two shirts in 14 outlets a season or 3 blue mugs with “feed the goat” transferred on them a year, then it makes perfect sense to reduce your overheads and put all your miniscule sales in one store. The one on Market Street had only two staff. Unless there were more hiding in the stock room/wc listening to Utd on their transistor radios

    I agree with you about the effect that the Sheiks money has and will continue to make on the brownfield sites of Greater Ashton and it’s been quite an inspired investment to sink his Shekels in Manchester because he’ll get far more for his money than he ever will in London.

    But, come off it. Drop the philanthropic tack, it’s an INVESTMENT. He expects a return on his money and if you don’t believe that. Ring up Mancini or ask Pellegrini.

    1. Yes, supermarkets regularly have to build social services as part of gaining planning permission – the Tesco in Gorton, for instance, had to build the indoor market in order to gain its planning permission. The money for the 6,000 homes provided by City’s owners, however, is not tied to any project either in planning or completed. It’s a voluntary venture struck up between the council and City’s owners – it has absolutely no link to anything that’s been built for the club, nor anything down the line. You might want to read up on this.

      As for the City store in town, you’ve got your argument backwards. If you’re selling City shirts through a store like JD or Sports Direct, you have no retail overheads – the retailer does. If you actually open up your own stores, yes you take a greater cut from the sales but you also have to pay rent/electricity/staff wages, so you need to sell a lot more than you were doing previously. The very fact there are two City stores in Manchester, both significantly expanded in the last few years, completely disproves your theory. And you might want to check out the Market St. store – it has two floors and a t-shirt printing operation, employing far more than two staff. Indeed, right now they’re advertising for new positions on the front windows – maybe you should check that out, too. Must be doing some pretty good business I’d say, no?

      And yes, the owners expect a return on investment, but they’re doing so by actually investing in Manchester and its people, unlike their near neighbours who have saddled the club with debt and are stripping the brand for all it is worth. I’d love to know what exactly in Manchester that United have been behind in the last decade. Even Hotel Football was put together by Neville and co., rather than United itself. If you’re looking for the club that is really pushing the city it sits in forward, it’s most certainly not Manchester United.

      1. Hello Keith.

        I hope that you are enjoying these verbal jousts as much as me. But if not, just ask me to stop. Its not my intent to Troll you.

        But that said…….


        My eye!

        It’s a temporary ten year investment vehicle that allows Abu Dhabi the facility to plan and build around our City Council’s serpentine Sustainability requirements and each party gets something from it.

        The Council get to dictate such issues as green spaces, infrastructure, apprentices, local employment, transport etc and Abu Dhabi gain a fast track through the morass of planning requirements that stifle the development of new build for years. It’s the same sort of quid pro quo arrangement that the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury have entered into for years. Only bigger.Major house builders and RSL’s were entering into similar partnering deals like this too until austerity slammed the breaks on. Where do you think Sisk acquired the experience that got them on the tender list?

        But…I’ll give ground to you on your comparison with United, who have consistently failed to keep up with their noisy neighbours in this regard. Ever since they sold Maine Road and moved it to Ashton.

        And yoire right, it’s all good for the whole of Manchester too, which is something that the Glasers will never countenance.

        But Keith, put down the rose tinted glasses. These contributions have been wrought from MCFC by a shrewd council. There’s no room for such fripperies as philanthropy in the board room. Not in Stamford Bridge,Old Trafford, Anfield or even Potters Bar. It’s just thinly disguised modern day commercial practice. The same as ever.

        Only when the ten years is over and this partnering deal dissolves, only then will all intrigue end, and only then will Islington and Ancoats get to see and feel the Sheik’s true intent; which I doubt will feel benign.

        So drop the philanthropy bit, huh? If it walks like a duck,quacks like a duck, and dives like a duck, then it’s Francis Lee. Ask Peter Swales.

        Have a great day.

      2. I’m not saying it’s a philanthropic gesture – there’s obvious advantages for City. The point of this article, however, was to inform those who take pot shots at the club from outside Manchester unaware of the impact MCFC has had on East Manchester since the acquisition, and why the club has become a symbol of the boldness that Manchester has long been famous for.

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