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On September 1, 2008, Manchester City completed the signing of Brazilian forward Robinho for a club-record £43 million, making him the most expensive player that transfer season. The transfer which didn’t come as a surprise to many as the Abu Dhabi United Group led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan agreed on the takeover of the club on the very same day from the deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and used the deal to flaunt their financial superiority. Football already being the most-watched sport in the world has evolved greatly into an industry with booming television rights and great amounts of commercial revenue flowing in through sponsorship deals. With an ever-growing market, billionaires look to take advantage of the multi-club structure to increase their influence in the sport. However, the multi-club structure so widespread today gained momentum when Sheikh Mansour, member of the Abu Dhabi royal family bought Manchester City with the idea of establishing a network of clubs which would define the running of the sport in the future.

In the years following the acquisition, the Middle-East based equity firm funded the club heavily and their investments finally paid off when Manchester City won the FA Cup in 2011.

The following year, Manchester City stunned everyone by winning the Premier League which included the thrashing of local powerhouse Manchester United by 6-1. After early success in England, a second club was added to the portfolio in 2013 with the unveiling of New York City FC as the 20th franchise in the American Major League Soccer (MLS). With the number of teams under the City brand set to grow rapidly and an astounding aim to own at least one club on each continent, the City Football Group (CFG) was established in May 2013 as the holding company of all sports properties owned by the Abu Dhabi based group. CFG then targeted the Australian subcontinent as its next destination for a potential club investment and in January 2014 it completed the acquisition of Melbourne Hearts in the Australian League which is followed by a swift trademarking of the club to Melbourne City FC. South America was the next continent to be bought under CFG umbrella with the purchase of Uruguayan team Club Atletico Torque in April 2017 which was based in the capital Montevideo. A few months later a second European club was added to the ever-growing portfolio in the form of Spanish club Girona FC. Then in 2019 Asia became the next target for the consortium which acquired majority stakes in Chinese club Sichuan Jiuniu based in Chengdu and later in November bought Mumbai City FC playing in the Indian Super League. In May 2020, Lommel SK in Belgium 2nd division became the group’s third club acquisition in Europe.

The City Football Group purchased a 65% stake in Mumbai City FC in Novemeber 2019

The City Football Group invested a significant amount of money off the field on infrastructure ensuring ultra-modern training facilities for its acquired clubs. The Etihad Campus in Manchester is a state-of-the-art training facility and academy consisting of 16 football pitches and 3 gymnasiums which is used by all Manchester City sides. Similarly, a $15 million training facility was constructed for Melbourne City FC soon after their acquisition which could become the home for all their teams including their administration. The consortium continued its spree of investments in infrastructure building world-class facilities in New York and then Montevideo. Such advanced infrastructure has enabled opportunities for scouting and player development while at the same time facilitated the creation and growth of various teams within the club such as the women’s side and the reserves side.

Also, to bring in a sense of resemblance and make CFG sides easily identifiable each acquired club goes through a process of rebranding which involves changes in name, kits or club logo in a way bearing resemblance to Manchester City-their flagship club.

The creation of such a vast global network of clubs also bought the City Football Group a controversial advantage over its rivals allowing the swift transfer of players and staff from any of the clubs within the organization and preventing the violation of rules set by domestic football governing bodies. Anthony Caceres who represented the Central Coastal Mariners in Australian League was bought by Manchester City in January 2016 and was immediately loaned out to rivals Melbourne City FC sparking a controversy as transfer fees are not allowed among Australian League clubs. Still, the teams found a way to facilitate the transfer without defying rules and stayed well within judicial boundaries.

However, such a widespread club network helped establish a strong commercial blueprint and attract valuable sponsorships deals making the clubs self-sufficient. German sports brand Puma in 2019 signed a 10-year deal to become the kit manufacturer of every CFG team except New York City FC in the MLS which is obliged under a deal with Adidas. Nissan, the owner of Yokohama F. Marinos in the Japanese League has also been in partnership with the City Football Group since 2014 when the group bought a minor stake in the club. The commercial ties also extend to the Abu Dhabi royal family in the form of Etihad Airways, the national airline of Abu Dhabi which holds the naming rights to Manchester City’s home ground- Etihad Stadium while also being the primary shirt sponsor for many of the CFG clubs.

After years of mediocre success and relegation battles, the City Football Group has transformed Manchester City into one of Europe’s most elite clubs and similar has been the story of other CFG sides who have seen a drastic change in their fortunes ever since the new ownership took control. They have proven that the multi-club model can guarantee success on the pitch and financial stability off it. With a well-established global presence through its 9 clubs ensuring commercial deals and sponsorship opportunities along with excellent academy operations and far-reaching scouting networks, the City Football Groups seem to have conquered every aspect of club football in its quest for world domination.

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