Friday 5 September 2008 takeover article

Football FanCast columnist Emily Brobyn reflects on events at her beloved Manchester City.
Transfer deadline day. A frantic, hectic, nervy 24 hours in football. Where deals can be lost, or thrashed out right up until the chimes of Big Ben at midnight. It is where thousands of fans are glued to their televisions for minute-by-minute dramatic coverage to see the incomings and outgoings at their respective clubs. But this transfer window was different. Not only did the transfer deadline day throw up a couple of huge deals player-wise, it also resulted in Manchester City been transferred themselves. After the constant rumour-mongering and uncertainty surrounding the club, Monday 1st September turned out to be the day that changed the face of football forever.

It had already been an incredible few days for City. The club progressed through to the UEFA Cup proper thanks to a last minute own goal from FC Midtjylland’s Danny Califf and two superb saves from England hopeful Joe Hart. On the same day it had been confirmed that former City midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips was heading back to the Blue half of Manchester in a deal worth £10 million. Add to that the superb 3-0 victory on Sunday against Sunderland, with ‘new’ signing Wright-Phillips netting two and all City fans were feeling confident and excited about the season ahead, despite the uncertainty regarding Dr Shinawatra’s future.

So imagine the feeling being a City fan waking up to the news on Monday morning regarding an Arab takeover. Sky Sports News was, as usual, all over the story that, if it was to be true, would make City the richest club in the world. I think most Blues were just expecting a bit of a last minute dabble in the transfer market by Mark Hughes in an attempt to lure a striker to the club. Instead they got Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, the head figure of the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development (ADUD), buying out Shinawatra for £200 million.

Too good to be true? That’s exactly what I thought. But it wasn’t. Before long, Al Fahim was speaking to the press, stating his ambitions for City. How he wanted to turn City into the top force in the Premier League. This year, a top four finish. Next year: winning the League. By 2011, the Champions League would be City’s. The vast majority of football fans would be revelling and sniggering at these remarks. Before you do, take a look at Al Fahim’s bank statements.

£460 billion. Roman Abramovich’s wealth is estimated at £12 billion. Take a minute to think about how Abramovich’s arrival at Chelsea shook the football world. How straight away the Russian started to play fantasy football by throwing millions at Jose Mourinho, giving him an unlimited pot of gold to play with. Many rival fans were shocked as football was turned completely on its head. Nobody had seen that kind of money in football before as Chelsea’s new found status sent them to the summit of the Premier League. It wasn’t long before the trophies followed.

That was achieved with Abramovich’s £12 billion fortune. Think about that compared with £460 billion. Scary isn’t it. Al Fahim, along with Hughes, made an immediate impact by securing the biggest shock signing for years- a deadline day last-minute deal with Brazilian Robinho for a British transfer record of £32.5 million. The Arab Sheikh described the signing as a ‘Ramadan welcome present’. City fans, along with any football fans, were aghast and in shock. The signing showed that Al Fahim means business. Next on his hit-list are the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and even Cristiano Ronaldo. Paying £135 million wouldn’t be a problem for the Portuguese World Footballer of the Year. It’s loose change to him. Personally, I wouldn’t want him anywhere near the club, but that’s beside the point.

Al Fahim’s arrival has inevitably sent shockwaves through football. The reaction from non-City fans has been mostly resentment and panic. Nobody can quite believe the extent of the new owner’s riches and his much-publicised plans. As for City fans; I for one am still attempting to take it all in. I had a season ticket in the Second Division with City. I’ve been with them through the limited highs and devastating lows. After the home leg of the FC Midtjylland game I will admit that I was beginning to panic about our circumstances in the boardroom. Now I feel like I am dreaming. Every day this week I have pinched myself and read all the headlines in a daze.

But it’s real and it’s happening to Manchester City. Be happy for the Blues, who are always viewed as the eternal under-achievers, the circus act of football. The revolving managerial door is always swinging at Eastlands and the club always seems to be reaching the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Admittedly, Al Fahim looked at Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool, but he chose City. Fortune favours the brave. It’s about time that City fans had something to smile about. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but City are in the UEFA Cup with a squad oozing with potential and quality. The likes of Zabeleta, Jo, Kompany, Robinho and Wright-Phillips will prove to be valuable signings along with younger talent like Hart, Richards, Johnson and Ireland. Previous signings like Elano and Petrov should continue to thrive in midfield and, with a rumoured 18 new faces arriving in January, other football fans and managers should rightly feel nervous.

Isn’t it about time a new face broke into the top four? It was inevitable that one day Middle Eastern money would infiltrate the Premier League and it remains to be seen just how much it will influence football. Yes players should play with pride and passion for their shirts and not just for the amount of DB9’s and R8’s they have parked in their driveway, but that’s the way football is nowadays. It’s a business. Every fan wants success for their club and money is needed to drive that success by purchasing top quality players and improving infrastructure and marketing within the club. Along with City’s famous youth academy, this money could prove to turn Hughes’ men into a lethal driving force within the beautiful game. As always, City fans like me are holding on tight to the magic carpet ride that lies ahead, hoping for many happy Arabian nights at Middle Eastlands.

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