City Football Group: The 2016-17 Season Review – City Watch

City Watch

The City Football Group (hereafter CFG) was founded in 2014 by Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour and City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. The holding company, run by the ADUG (Abu Dhabi United Group) as well as part-owners CITIC Group (a state-owned Chinese investment company) and China Media Capital, a venture capital firm, is meant to create a global network of football clubs, connected by the City brand. The CFG’s aspiration to create a truly globally represented sporting brand has been a pioneering one and takes place by the investment in and collaboration with different clubs on an international stage.

To increase the outreach of the brand, the CFG has invested in numerous clubs and areas in varying ways. This article is not meant to give an analysis of the remarkably interesting economic processes surrounding these commercial endeavours, but rather gives an overview of the clubs City has been investing in and how these teams have performed recently.

New York City FC

League: MLS

Location: New York, USA

League position: 2nd in the Eastern Conference in 2016/2017 and eliminated in Conference Semi-finals. Conference position as of 24/06/2017: 3rd

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2013

City’s crown jewel in overseas investment has certainly been NYCFC. Founded in 2013 in collaboration with the New York Yankees, NYC did not start playing until 2015. Signings such as David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Frank Lampard ensured media coverage and public interest. Until now, NYCFC (which still does not have a football-specific stadium) has one of the highest attendances in the MLS, averaging at 27,196 in 2016.

Despite the initial hype, the first season resulted in disappointment and saw the club’s first head coach, Jason Kreis, being replaced by Patrick Vieira, who had coached City’s EDS side before taking up the role in the Big Apple. Results improved under Vieira and saw the club reach the play-offs for the first time, where the team suffered two crushing defeats against Toronto FC, losing 0-2 and 0-5. Vieira’s ideas of building from the back nonetheless had an impact. Led by David Villa, who has lived up to his world-class reputation since moving to New York, NYCFC has become more stable in results and continues to deliver some of the best matches in the MLS.

English winger Jack Harrison impresses critics in the US as well as left-back Ronald Matarrita, who reportedly had offers from Dortmund and Hamburg. Playmaker Maxi Moralez has been a great addition to the team but Italian regista Andrea Pirlo, who increasingly struggles with the physical demands of the MLS, has found himself benched by Vieira. His replacement is 20-year old Yangel Herrera, purchased by Manchester City in January and immediately loaned out to NYCFC. Herrera is another player to look out for, captaining the Venezuelan national side to the final of the U-20 world cup, where they were defeated by England.

Melbourne City FC

League: Hyundai A-League

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Standing in the 16/17 season: finished 4th, eliminated in the playoffs

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2014

The CFG acquired the Australian franchise Melbourne Heart in 2014, outlining its global ambitions. The following season, Heart was renamed as Melbourne City FC while also changing its colours from red and white to sky-blue and white. The franchise system in Australia prevents the CFG of investing unlimited amounts of money in the club, which resulted in two years of relative disappointment. In summer 2016, Manchester City purchased playmaker Aaron Mooy and sent him directly to Huddersfield. Mooy impressed in the Championship, playing a pivotal role in Huddersfield gaining promotion. City made a handsome return on their investment when The Terriers signed him on a permanent basis in late June 2017.

The past season has been an ambiguous one for Melbourne. The departure of Mooy meant a massive loss in quality that was not levelled by the acquisition of former Everton player Tim Cahill. The season ended it in disappointment when Melbourne lost 0-2 to Perth Glory in the Australian post-season. The playing style was perceived as inflexible and too reliant on Cahill and captain Bruno Fornaroli. Melbourne nonetheless won its first title, beating Sydney FC 1-0 in the FFA Cup final.

The season in Australia does not start until October. As a result, the team seems somewhat unready: many players, including former Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sörensen, have departed the club and have not been replaced adequately yet. Melbourne also has a new head coach – former Wigan Athletic coach Warren Joyce replacing interim manager Michael Valkanis. Due to these changes, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the club in regard to the upcoming season.

Yokohama F-Marinos

League: J1 League

Location: Yokohama, Japan

Standing in the 16/17 season: finished 10th, league position in 2017/2018 as of 24/06/2017: 15th

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2014

The CFG only holds a minority share in the Marinos after acquiring 19.95% in May 2014. The deal with the club of former Celtic-playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura also created a partnership with Japanese car manufacturer Nissan. The Marinos were originally founded as the company team of Nissan Motors, a company massively advertised by CFG clubs since the deal was struck. There does not seem to be as much of an investment in the performance on the field, and the deal has been consequently interpreted as an attempt to establish a wider CFG-presence on the Asian market. This is interesting to consider in regards to the comments recently made by CFG chief commercial offer Tom Glick, who reckoned that the holding could target either India or China for the establishment of the next club affiliated to the organisation.

The on-field performance of the Marinos has been mediocre in the past years and does not live up to the past success of the club. The team finished 10th in 2016 and currently sits even lower. Considering the fact that the CFG is only a minority shareholder of the club makes it likely that the holding has rather been interested in the commercial deal with Nissan as well as manifesting a representation in Asia. The CFG’s involvement hence appears to be of commercial nature rather than actively spreading the City-brand. The Marinos are therefore a quite different type of business model, especially compared to the investments in Australia and the United States.

Girona FC

League: Segunda División, promoted to La Liga

Location: Girona, Spain

Standing in 16/17: 2nd

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2016

At this point, Girona is only affiliated to the CFG. This is likely to change in the coming weeks: according to Spanish newspaper Expansión, the club is about to become an official member of the City family. The CFG is reportedly going to acquire 50% of the shares whilst Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep Guardiola, would own the other half. The club would retain its colours and its name, comparable to Chelsea’s involvement with Vitesse Arnheim in the Netherlands.

The increased interest is connected to Girona gaining promotion to La Liga after finishing as runner-ups in the second Spanish tier. Pablo Maffeo was part of the first team at right-back, scoring one of the decisive goals that helped to clinch promotion. Another City player involved was centre-back Pablo Marí. Marí is going to join NAC Breda in the Netherlands in the coming season, another club associated to the CFG.

Girona gaining promotion means that Manchester City has an affiliated team in one of the best leagues worldwide, providing a great chance for younger players to establish themselves before having a shot at the first team at the Etihad. Following promotion, Girona is reportedly interested in bringing seven City players in on loan: Pablo Maffeo, Jason Denayer, Aleix García, Brahim Díaz, Marlos Moreno, and Patrick Roberts. Having a team in La Liga is a massive success for the CFG that could prove pivotal in coming years, especially in regard to player development for a potential future in Manchester.

NAC Breda

League: Eerste Divisie (Second Dutch tier), promoted to the Eredivisie

Location: Breda, The Netherlands

Standing: 5th, gained promotion through playoffs

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2016

Like Girona, Breda has recently gained promotion to the Dutch top-flight, beating Nijmegen in the playoffs. Having a club in the Dutch league has been another success story for the CFG; enabling the holding to send out players to first divisions around Europe. Additionally, the Eredivisie has proven to be a good environment for younger players. A prime example of this is Enes Ünal, who has recently been sold to Villarreal after spending one and a half years in the Netherlands, playing for both Breda as well as Twente Enschede.

Breda received massive CFG support in the past year, with City sending over six players in total: James Horsfield, Thomas Agyepong, Brandon Barker, David Faupala, Ashley Smith-Brown, and Manu García. García particularly turned out to be a great addition to the side and is going to remain in the Netherlands for another year. He is joined by loan-trio Thierry Ambrose, Paolo Fernandes, and Pablo Marí.

Club Atlético Torque

League: Segunda Division (second Uruguayan tier)

Location: Montevideo, Uruguay

Standing: finished 16/17 as 6th, league position as of 24/06/2017: 2nd

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2017

It came as a surprise when the CFG announced that it would invest in Atletico Torque, a second-tier Uruguayan club from the capital Montevideo. Like the involvement with Atlético Venezuela, the cooperation is meant to ease the search for talents in Latin America by creating an early grip on players so that visa regulations in Europe and the United Kingdom can be dodged by already signing Latin American players for the organisation at a younger age.

Torque does not look back on a remarkably successful history. The club has spent the past five years in the second Uruguayan division and currently ranks on the second spot in the league. The deal can be interpreted as a rather long-term investment that is designed to secure local talent.

Atlético Venezuela

League: Torneo Apertura (first Venezuelan tier)

Location: Caracas, Venezuela

Standing: as of 24/06/2017: 9th

Part/affiliation of the CFG since: 2017

Atlético Venezuela became affiliated to the CFG after Manchester City signed midfielder Yangel Herrera, who was imminently sent to NYCFC to play in the MLS. Similar to the involvement in Uruguay, the investment in the South American club is meant to establish a CFG-stronghold in Latin America to ensure the early scouting of promising young players.

Like Torque, Atlético does not look back on a remarkably successful history. Only founded seven years ago, the club has not celebrated any major successes yet and is currently floats around the middle of the Venezuelan league table; a league that is considerably weaker than most of its South American counterparts. The affiliation to the CFG is therefore likely to be a strategic one: ensuring early access to regional talents that cannot be shipped over to Europe yet due to visa regulations.