It has been a superlative laden season for Manchester City football club in the English Premier League. Pep Guardiola's side won away from home on Wednesday night at Newcastle United, extending their run to 18 consecutive wins in the league and stretching their lead over the rest of the division to 15 points after only 20 games played. The numbers alone, record-breaking as they are, do not do justice to the exquisite brand of football the team have played for much of this season.
The “City project”, the term often applied to the 2008 purchase of the club by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s Abu Dhabi United Group, has also attracted its share of criticism, especially from a group of commentators who suggest that the club’s owners have bought success at the expense of the finer principles of the beautiful game. That narrative neatly ignores any other team in the history of world football that has invested heavily in their playing staff and, of course, that high value purchases do not guarantee success on the pitch.
City were also coming off a decades-long low base when the purchase of the club was agreed in August 2008. Long-suffering fans of the club will remember that 30 years ago City were in the second tier of the English leagues, 20 years ago they were about to fall into the third tier and, in 2007, by now back in the Premier League, the team failed to score at home in the league for five months.
The story of modern-day City extends well beyond expenditure on new players and the recruitment of a top coach, as Ferran Soriano, the club's chief executive, reminded those gathered at the 12th Dubai International Sports Conference earlier this week. As The National reported, the club is committed to developing football in this country through its coaching academy. Mr Soriano said "our biggest and most successful football school in the world is in Abu Dhabi. We have faith in the talent that can be developed." The next step, he said, is for Emirati players to come through the ranks and forge successful careers overseas.
City’s on-pitch achievements this season have found their way into the record books. The question remains whether their off-pitch strategy will be similarly lauded in years to come. With so much momentum behind the “project”, it might be foolish to think otherwise.