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A tale of one city


POWER CENTRE: David Silva and James Milner celebrate a convincing transfer of power in the Premiership

The world famous Manchester derby last weekend saw the unprecedented goalfest by the underdogs over the world giants. As the final whistle confirmed City's 6-1 rout of United, the excessive column inches which had been devoted to hyping the fixture turned attention to dissecting the meaning of the result;could it be that Manchester City are finally a real threat for Manchester United? Is this result a one-off or a sign of a changing tide? Are City starting to take off globally?

A tentative answer was supplied by City manager Roberto Mancini, who, with uncharacteristic humility, immediately after the game treated it like any other game: "I'm satisfied because we beat United away and I don't think there are a lot of teams that could win here. But in the end there are only three points - we don't take six points. "

"This is important for our confidence, but we should appreciate the mentality United have. United are too strong for this (to affect them). They know, like me, there are only three points and this is only one game, " he added.

One game it may be, but what a game. Manchester United boast a third of a global fanbase, and have been consistently topping league tables and Cup ties for decades. Their reputation as the world's most commercially successful sport business has come under scrutiny recently, in light of the huge debt amassed by the Glazers, their American owners. But even considering their high borrowing, their accounts add up.

They boast a healthy combination of home-grown players and star purchases, sell out their state of the art stadium to capacity week in week out, and enjoy the consistency of philosophy and approach provided by the longest serving manager in football history - Alex Ferguson - replicating the legacy left by Matt Busby. History, fan loyalty, and marketing savoir faire;how many can boast as much?

Not that many, for sure, and certainly not in the Premiership. When Seikh Mansour took over the rivals from across town in 2008, he pledged to turn Manchester City into a world super-power, or at least a Premiership force to be reckoned with. He pumped money into the club, lots of it, but it took a couple of seasons before the club attained the much-coveted champions League place.

Off the pitch, fans rarely fill the stadium, and the books - although heavily subsidised by the trillionaire benefactor - are a far cry from United's balanced cost and revenue tables.

David Conn, British football finance expert and a City fan to boot, compared and contrasted both clubs: "United are the Premier League's richest club by far, their income a record £331m in 2010-11, boosted by huge figures for match-day and broadcasting revenue;but their financial power is hampered by their owners, whose borrowings, now down to £308m net, cost the club £51. 7m in interest last year. City's turnover in 2009-10 was £125m, less than half United's in the same year. In the effort to compete immediately, signing star players before the club is financially strong, City are making huge losses -£ 121m last year (which is) bankrolled by Mansour".

Conn believes the 2010-11 accounts expected this month will reveal a loss certain to be the biggest in football history. While many pundits accuse United of "buying success" it appears undeniably the case that City are attempting to do the same. And why not? The game of beauty, strategy and poetry comes hand in hand with cash-flow on the global stage: if a club wishes to partake in the elite party these days, nothing short of world class internationals and marketing aimed at all five continents will do.
In this sense, City are clearly achieving what they set out to do. The only worry is how they will manage when Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules come into effect. Caps on spending will hamper the endless injection from the Sheikh, while internal problems may cause rifts before the board has settled into its own.

Mancini is no Ferguson, and while United certainly need to consider a future after Sir Alex (although maybe not immediately), the challenge for City is far greater. Their chief executive Garry Cook's resignation, over an email leak scandal, earlier this year has left not just a vacant position but a big question mark as to what kind of an organisation they want to be.

United are well established in this respect. The Glazers may not be popular, but they certainly don't interfere with the dayto-day football business within the club.

This is left in the capable hands of David Gill and Ferguson. And in spite of the huge losses incurred by the Americans' debts, in the 2010-11 accounting period they declared a £29. 7-m profit.

Spending less than you earn is the mantra not just of good business practice but of Uefa's proposals: the Financial Fair Play rules are designed to ensure clubs live within their means. Conn hints that this may rock City's boat: "Mansour's freedom to spend like this is seriously threatened by Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules. They are designed to ensure that clubs in 2014-15 European competitions have been living within their means. City, who will say 2010-11 was their 'bottoming out' year after which income has risen and costs will stabilise, have huge work to do to comply. "

So, even after a single evening of triumph, six goals to suggest that anything's possible, City appear to be light years away from the kind of solid supremacy United enjoy.

Although an online survey conducted earlier this year suggests Manchester United have become the UK's most hated company (topping even the user unfriendly airline Ryanair, which is some achievement!), the club can take comfort in the fact that the relatively small sample - a 1, 000 fans - does not reflect the actions of millions in terms of what they decide to do with their disposable income. United shirts and other merchandise are still spotted around the world, from Asia to South America, and crowds flock to games. In short, sales are good. Sympathy from the consumer weighs more heavily than emotional responses from non-fans, it seems.

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