With their historic third trophy win, giving them a full treble, Manchester City have confirmed their hegemony over Europe. Yet this level of achievement is recent, and the result of a rapid, costly, and controversial project.
A complicated return to the top tier
In the late ’90s, the Citizens suffered a series of major setbacks, including a spell in England’s third tier during the 1997–1998 season. The team only returned to the Premier League for good in 2000. In the years that followed, Manchester City’s results were erratic — until the club’s history turned around.
In 2008, Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, an Emirati politician, billionaire, and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, spent 256 million pounds to take over the Manchester City team. The club became extremely wealthy overnight, now boasting an exorbitant budget. The club’s financial clout attracted world-class players such as Brazilian forward Robinho and Argentinian striker Carlos Tevez.
By 2009, their results had improved significantly, and the club finished fifth in the Premier League, having only lost seven games throughout the season. The club finished third the following year and then became English champions for the first time in 44 years at the end of an incredible 2011–2012 season.
In the years that followed, Manchester City confirmed their renaissance and in 2019 completed a domestic sweep, winning the league, the FA Cup, EFL Cup, and Community Shield. The Citizens put in a string of good performances but were unable to reach the next level — success in European competitions.
Pep Guardiola and the pursuit of records
In 2016, the club announced Pep Guardiola as their new coach. Guardiola — who is considered by many to be the best coach in history — is the driving force behind Manchester City’s recent success. He has gradually built a remarkable team, demonstrating clear tactical mastery. The Spanish genius enabled the team to reach a level of play never seen before in the club’s history.
By accumulating victories, Guardiola’s Manchester City has won a total of five Premier League titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups, and two Community Shields. No manager in Manchester City’s history has won more than Pep Guardiola. His team holds impressive figures, with more shots on target, successful passes, and possession than any other Premier League team, including a 74 per cent win rate this season. However, the Sky Blues still failed to win the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Champions League again and again, creating one disappointment after another.
2022–2023: The year of celebration
The season began with the addition of a major asset to the team: Erling Haaland. The Norwegian rising star is a serial goalscorer with stratospheric statistics. In his first season at the Mancunian club, he scored 52 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions while bringing verticality and efficiency to the team’s play.
The arrival of Manuel Akanji in the club, and the repositioning of John Stones in midfield, have also resulted in a more solid and compact team. The incredible depth of their bench, with top-quality players in every position, is another factor that makes this team extraordinary. This led them to their third English league title in a row this year, the FA Cup, and finally the UEFA Champions League after beating Inter Milan at Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium. With this first Champions League title, they join Manchester United as the only two English teams to ever achieve a treble.
The fruit of a controversial and criticized project
Manchester City is a model of club management that’s become increasingly more present where wealthy investors take over the club. Paris Saint-Germain FC and Newcastle FC are recent examples of this model. However, this ‘club-state’ model is highly criticized, as money is an essential component.
The large expenses incurred by teams like Manchester City have been termed “financial doping” by critics. Since its takeover in 2008, Manchester City has been the biggest purchaser of players, spending over 1.5 billion Canadian dollars. The UEFA even took the club to court for breaching financial fair play rules, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport ultimately ruled in favour of the Mancunian club. It’s also pertinent to mention that the club is currently under investigation by the Premier League, facing accusations of breaching financial fair play regulations from 2009 to 2018 by presenting false financial information.
This new model has reshaped the face of modern soccer, creating success for a struggling team and fanbase. Yet at the same time, the growing focus on the importance of money, including sponsorship and branding, has made the sport inequitable, as it means that significant outside factors now impact the game.
Nevertheless, Manchester City’s treble this season makes them unquestionably the best team in the world — and for some, the best team in Premier League history.