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10 years of Sheikh Mansour: The 10 signings that paved Manchester City’s road to domination

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It’s 11 May 2008 and the Manchester City players are trudging off the field of play after completely capitulating against a relentless Middlesbrough side – said no one ever – who have just recorded an 8-1 victory to round off a season of education for Sven-Goran Eriksson and his new-look side. The pain of a harrowing defeat would soon be replaced by a fresh feeling of cautious optimism for the future just a few months later, with the announcement that City were to be taken over by billionaire Arab investors following just one year of transition under the man who planted the seeds of revolution: Thaskin Shinawatra.

Ten years on and the club, the city of Manchester and it’s blue fan-base are truly unrecognisable from the one which could hardly even fathom the prospect of reaching the semi-final of a domestic cup back then, never mind competing for the Premier League title and better still, the Champions League. Circa to the Stuart Pearce era which is infamously remembered for a distinct lack of firepower- and by a distinct lack of firepower I mean 8 consecutive home games without scoring a single goal – I posed a genuine fresh-faced question to my dad and his equally realistic friend: do you think that City could win the title in the next ten years?

The delivery of his response exuded a feeling somewhere between pity and envy for my blissful ignorance as, with a wry-smile, he told me that City probably wouldn’t win the league in the next ten years. A shame. But what was I expecting? Wait, there’s a plot twist… more than a decade later I sit here to report that City have indeed won the Premier League title, 3 times, along with 1 FA Cup and 3 League Cups – the Champions League remains elusive, for now at least.

The man responsible for one of the most compelling transformations that the footballing world has ever seen is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, head of the Abu Dhabi United Group. Underneath him is a chairman who quite simply oozes class and is widely-regarded as the brains behind the operation: Khaldoon al Mubarak. Together, along with many important figures working behind the scenes, the hierarchy have taken the club on a journey which, ten years later, sees Man City punching well about its traditional weight alongside some of the biggest hitters in European football – and the journey has only just begun.

Not only are City now one of the greatest football clubs on the planet and managed by arguably the most intelligent tactician of the modern era, they sit at the epicentre of a global enterprise compromising of 6 part, or fully owned clubs across 5 continents under the City Football Group. The people behind Manchester City’s transformation have not only revolutionised the club, they have revolutionised world football forever.

Sheikh Mansour was by no means the first billionaire to invest heavily in a football club, but he was the first who genuinely appeared to sense that – despite the commonly held belief that football ownership was merely a past time of the super rich – there is scope for making huge profits in the world’s most universally loved sport.

It’s clear from the manner in which Khaldoon al Mubarak conducts himself in the press that there has been, and will always be a long-term goal in mind which ultimately is profit-based. That concept in itself is a product of the modern game which City’s owners have brought to the table; the establishment of the CFG is unlikely to be the first of its kind, but Sheikh Mansour may well have built the foundations for the most profitable and sustainable football club ownership based company on the planet.

It must be noted that City have not always had it all their own way in the transfer market; they have been forced to move along a steep learning curve during the last ten years on their quest to supremacy, and perhaps the most apt example of how their decision-making has been rather farcical at times lies within the spending spree which followed their first title victory in 44 years.

Before City kicked off their title defence in the 2012/13 season, Roberto Mancini signed Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Maicon and Richard Wright – won more titles than Robin Van Persie – for a total of £55.76 million. Hold up, where in this world did the recruitment team jet off on holiday that summer and which rabble of clueless schmucks were appointed to build upon the foundations of City’s monumental achievement?

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it’s easy to criticise the men who were tasked with the incredibly difficult job of sanctioning multi-million pound deals in the summer of 2012, but the failure of that window was a necessary blunder to encourage a more meticulous approach to the transfer market, rather than an erratic scatter-gun tactic which the club have consciously moved away from ever since.

The attitude of the City hierarchy this summer has served to illuminate the new strategy with Riyad Mahrez the only major signing to report so far. The hierarchy are firmly aware of the positions in which they need to strengthen and the personnel whom they want to bring in, but the u-turns performed by both Jorginho and Alexis Sanchez this year suggest that the club cannot always flex its financial muscles to get its own way in the transfer market.

The strategy of the summer window so far is a far cry from how the club have conducted themselves for a large-part of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership. Times have changed and the transformation can be considered complete with the ten-year anniversary of City’s takeover looming on the horizon.

Following a decade of rapid transformation, crushing heartbreak, unparalleled joy and ultimately, resounding success, it’s an ideal moment to assess the transfers which have moulded the club’s journey and set them on a path to global domination, so detailed below is a list of the 10 players who have made the biggest impact at City amid the full-scale revolution.

When I sat down to compile a shortlist of candidates I was expecting to be left cutting down 30 signings to 10, but the reality was far different. Only 17 players were under put under intense consideration for a place on this esteemed list of talented individuals, so a little trim was all that was necessary. Without further ado, here are the 10 signings who have enabled City to become a global player since they were taken over almost 10 years ago, listed in order of importance from 10 down to 1.

 

10. Robinho

 

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The first marquee signing from the new owners was a statement of intent that shocked the footballing world to its core. Real Madrid’s forward was famed for his outrageous trickery which is typical of most attack-minded Brazilian players, so his move to Man City naturally aroused plenty of interest in the media on deadline day. Sheikh Mansour was intent on making his presence felt by signing Robinho on a day in which the club also went head-to-head with Manchester United for Dimitar Berbatov. It was a drama-filled, iconic conclusion to the transfer window which ushered in City’s new filthy rich era.

Robinho’s first moment of magic came just 11 minutes into his debut. With the Brazilian taking aim on the edge of the area, one thought occurred to me: he couldn’t, could he? Just when things couldn’t get any better for the club, Robinho stepped up and curled a delightful – albeit deflected – free-kick into the top corner to give City the lead and spark unbridled pandemonium on the terraces. Chants of ‘we’ve got Robinho’ rippled around the then City of Manchester Stadium in a frenzy of utter delight which undoubtedly stands alone as one of the most surreal moments the supporters old and new will ever witness.

 

9. Ederson

 

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That Ederson is the most recent arrival to make it onto the list speaks volumes about the enormity of his impact since arriving from Benfica in the summer of 2017. After cowering every time the opposition threatened to take aim at Claudio Bravo’s goal during the 2016/17 season, Ederson arrived to save the club last summer. It became apparent from very early in his career that his presence had installed a level of harmony into the defensive unit which had been glaringly absent during Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge. An excellent shot-stopper, even better distributor of the ball and, effectively an extra defender, Ederson deserves a large portion of the credit for City’s unprecedented improvement last season. If he is able to emulate his early form for the next decade, there’s no doubt that he is destined to become one of the greatest goalkeepers English football has ever seen.

 

8. Samir Nasri

 

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Nasri gets the nod for metaphorical reasons more so than footballing ones, but that is certainly no disservice to the quality he provided during his City career. The controversial Frenchman’s arrival was indicative of the rapidly evolving dynamic in the Premier League which contributed to Arsenal being handed the unwanted title of ‘Man City’s feeder club’ after switching north London for sunny Manchester.

Despite tearing defenders apart in the Preimer League throughout the season prior to his arrival, Nasri never quite lived up to the standard he set for himself at Arsenal, but a standout moment ensured his place in the club’s history books. With 10 games remaining in the 2011/12 season, City were drawing 1-1 with Chelsea with little over 5 minutes remaining – enter Samir Nasri. In textbook Nasri fashion, he collected the ball on the left before shimmying inside to find Carlos Tevez who slid the ball into the onrushing playmaker’s path and, with Peter Cech baring down on him, he exquisitely produced the most delicate of dinks over his trailing leg which found the bottom corner and sparked wild celebrations both on the pitch and in the stands. Without that goal, who knows how Man City’s future would have panned out.

 

7. Fernandinho

 

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By far the most underrated player of City’s modern era – at least from fans and pundits outside of the club – Fernandinho has been every club’s holding midfield dream. His lack of recongition is actually a testament to the consistency he has demonstrated throughout his career; spectators have come to expect incredibly high standards from him and witness nothing out of the ordinary when he matches the level he set for himself shortly after setting foot in Manchester. The Brazilian has been putting out fires and mopping up in-front of City’s back-four for the past five seasons with his incredible ability to read the game. Unlike plenty of defensive midfielders who are merely destroyers, Fernandinho possesses the flair and vision to complement his work in the defensive third by adding an extra dynamic to City’s attack. The fact that his place in the starting eleven has not once been called into question throughout his time at City demonstrates quite how impeccable he has been, and this list would be missing a crucial cog without him – just like City’s team would have been in the past half-decade.

 

6. Edin Dzeko

 

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A record of 72 goals and 39 assists from 189 appearances for the club illuminates quite how outstanding the Bosnia international was during his City career. What the statistics cannot reveal is the timing and importance of the goals he scored; whenever City needed a man to step up and find the breakthrough in crucial moments, Dzeko was always at the front of the queue to accept responsibility. Naturally, Dzeko will be remembered for his history-defining equaliser against QPR, but it’s important that the supporters remember him for spearheading City’s attack en route to their 2014 title win in the absence of Aguero, scoring 4 goals at White Hart Lane and scoring 2 at Old Trafford in the famous 6-1 demolition. The supporters took time to warm to big Edin, but boy did he win the fan-base over in the end.

 

5. Carlos Tevez

 

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Welcome to Manchester. Need I say no more. Nothing says statement of intent quite like poaching a prolific striker from your bitter, local rival whom have lorded their superiority over you for longer than most would care to remember. The fact that his transfer arrived just one year after the takeover was completed sent shock-waves through the Premier League and transmitted an ominous message to the established hierarchy: City are coming for you. Tevez went on to bag an incredible 73 goals and provide 36 assists from just 148 appearances for the club. Issues relating to his conduct away from the field and a personality clash with Roberto Mancini tarnished his reputation somewhat, but the sheer enormity of his impact both metaphorically and physically is almost unrivalled in ten years of transfer activity.

 

4. Kevin De Bruyne

 

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A revised list to commemorate the 15 year anniversary could well see KDB top the list, and it’s only his relative lack of time at the club which has prevented him from stepping onto the podium. Where can you start with this man? The superlatives have been exhausted over and over again by every man and his football-watching dog. Anybody who has ever been treated to the privilege of witnessing De Bruyne in full flow is able to appreciate the sheer class which he provides in almost effortless abundance. If he sees a 60-yard cross-field through ball which requires a wicked level of spin to arrive at the feet of the onrushing player, you just know that, somehow, that ball will be collected by the desired target without the need to break stride. It’s truly phenomenal to watch. He is probably the best player City will ever have on their books, and the most encouraging factor of all is that he’s only just getting started.

 

3. David Silva

 

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Merlin, El Mago, the little wizard. David Silva is truly a unique footballing genius. His infectious charm as both a character and a football player has earned him admirers throughout the world, but the early stages of his City career did not convince everyone that he was going to shine in English football.

It’s David Silva’s second appearance of the season, the new recruit has been brought on to replace Adam Johnson with less than 10 minutes remaining at the Stadium of Light in a game which City have dominated, but yet the score remains tied at 0-0. He collects the ball on the half-way line in stoppage time and is dispossessed with complete ease by his opposite number, the ball is distributed forward, Sunderland cross the ball in, Darren Bent goes down under a challenge from Micah Richards, penalty given. Bent dispatches the penalty. Typical City… I step onto an unnamed (only to spare the blushes of the football experts who proceeded to write off Silva) supporters club bus to a barrage of criticism being directed in Silva’s direction: ‘he’s too lightweight’, ‘he’ll never make it in the Premier League’, ‘way out of his depth’. The experts couldn’t have been any further from the truth, but they weren’t to know that were they. Silva is third on the list for his beautiful style of football and immensely professional attitude towards the game. Infectiously likeable, an outstanding footballer and now a true City legend, he has proven that true technical quality will always prevail over physical shortcomings, regardless of what the experts tell you.

 

2. Yaya Touré

 

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Unfortunately, Yaya Touré’s acrimonious departure from Man City after eight glory-filled seasons with the club left a bitter taste in the mouth. Yaya has been no stranger to petulant outbursts in the British media throughout his career which almost always depict him as an erratic character: criticism of the club’s hierarchy for failing to buy him a birthday cake in 2014 stands out as the pinnacle of his petulance. But through all of that he was a player who galvanised the club at crucial moments and single-handedly carried City over their first major hurdle to win the FA Cup in 2011.

Following 34 years of misery, taunts from Manchester United fans and iconic banner-hanging at Old Trafford, Yaya changed everything with 2 goals of epic proportions. The first was his 2nd half strike against Manchester United in the semi-final of the FA Cup which proved sufficient to send the club through to their first final at Wembley since 1981. There was a strong hint of deja vu in the air when he slammed home the only goal of the game in the final which followed against a resilient Stoke City side. The football club would never be the same again from that very moment. In his City career he wracked up an incredible 79 goals and provided 50 assists in all-competitions, but it was the timing of his goals and his tendency to step up when his teammates were crying out for inspiration that will live long in the memory of the supporters. The creation of the ‘Yaya, Kolo’ chant which has crossed footballing allegiance boundaries and been embraced with enthusiasm by supporters across the nation would never have existed without his infectious, albeit frustrating personality both on and off the field. Regardless of the manner in which he departed Man City, Touré should always be viewed as a legend in the eyes of supporters.

 

1. Sergio Aguero

 

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The default choice for the top spot arrives at the feet of the club’s new top goalscorer. Who else? The man is a goal-machine of the type that City supporters could only dream of before Sheikh Mansour purchased the club. The Argentine striker made his presence felt on his debut by scoring a brace from the substitutes bench: his first was a tap-in, his second was a rasping effort from the edge of the area which bamboozled Michel Vorm in Swansea’s goal; from that moment it was clear that City had a world class talent on their hands. He hit the ground running from day one and hasn’t looked back since despite his torrid record with injuries; you can’t help but wonder how many more goals Aguero might have scored had he remained relatively injury-free.

It goes without saying that 93:20 will forever be regarded as his finest moment in a City shirt. When Aguero latched on to the end of Mario Balotelli’s pass in the final moment of the 2011/12 season he faced a chance of a magnitude which no player could ever possibly have mentally prepared for. You literally could not write it. Responsibility accepted: Paddy Kenny was well beaten, the back of the net rippled and celebrations which the Etihad will never experience again erupted in every crevice of the tear-filled, emotionally-charged, mind-blown stadium. It was undoubtedly the most iconic moment in the decade since the takeover, and a strong contender for the most iconic in the club’s history. It’s rather fitting that Aguero is not only the most successful goalscorer the club has ever seen, but also the scorer of the goal which ended decades of subordination to Manchester United. Noisy neighbours no more and 44 years without a first division title laid to rest, Aguero’s place in history as the showpiece signing of the new-era has been cemented for eternity.

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