Comment: Man City are set to dominate Man United for a generation - but it started long before Pep Guardiola arrived
Man City's succession planning has set the club up for lasting success
Manchester City are flying high above rivals Manchester United – and not just in the Premier League table.
While on the pitch the Blues are getting lauded from all angles for their stylish play that has them competing for four major trophies this term, it’s their silky skills off the pitch that mostly highlights the difference between them and their neighbours.
While the Reds can rightly claim to be the biggest football club on the planet (they boast 659 million fans around the globe - one in eleven people on earth ‘support’ Manchester United - and they turn over more than any other football club annually at £560m), City are beginning to show that those mouthwatering statistics can mean little or nothing in the grand challenge of winning football tournaments.
It, of course, can be claimed that City won the billionaire’s lottery when Sheikh Mansour splashed out £200m to buy them outright in 2008. His claims that City could be as big as United were sniffed at back then, but not many are laughing now. While it would be nigh on impossible for City to be as recognized as their neighbours globally, at least in our lifetimes, it’s not inconceivable that they may win more silverware than United over the course of the rest of our breaths.
And if they do, it will all come down to the most simplest of forms; succession planning. And it is in the contrast of ‘planning’ that has Red Devils fans fearing a sizeable shift in the city. Simply put, City have been planning towards the success they are currently enjoying for a decade, while within that timeframe United have stagnated their forward thinking.
This is how City have leapfrogged United in recent years.
Sheikh Mansour founded the ‘City Football Group’ back in 2014. This group consists of six football clubs spread throughout the world; Manchester City, of course, (both a men and a women’s team), New York City FC, Melbourne City FC (both a men’s and a women’s team), Yokohama Matinos (in Japan), Atletico Torque (in Uruguay) and Girona (Spain). Most of these football clubs play in Sky Blue and all fall under the umbrella of ‘City Football Group’. More importantly than name or colour, all of these clubs are tasked with playing football the same way - The Pep Guardiola way. And they have been doing so long before Guardiola became the manager at the Etihad Stadium.
The plan for all of this began in earnest in 2008, when Sheikh Mansour took the reigns at City, but started to come to fruition in 2012 with the appointment of Txiki Begiristain as the club’s Director of Football. Begiristain was brought in to begin the process of turning City in to a Pep Guardiola team.
The Spainiards are best friends and Txiki’s biggest task was to convince his mate to move to Manchester. It was always on the cards. What City are producing on the field now has come to fruition through years of succession planning. When Pep considered his move to City too premature in 2013, Txiki appointed Manuel Pellegrini as the club’s head coach. This wasn’t on a wim. Pellegrini approaches the game in much the same manner as Guardiola and was told upon his appointment: ‘You are here until Pep comes’. Pellegrini was open to the media following his dismissal by the club in June 2016. He admitted: "I had always known since I arrived that Guardiola would replace me one day, because the club had been very clear about it from day one."
When Pep arrived at the Etihad Stadium, everything he could ever dream of was fixed around his management style. City have plenty of assets; Pep being one, Kevin de Bruyne being another, Sergio Aguero. David Silva. Raheem Sterling. A trillion pounds in the bank. Brian Marwood, Txiki Begirstain. The Sheikh himself.
But their biggest asset is the thorough succession planning the latter three have fixated on for many years. In fact, they even have plans in place post-Guardiola. Patrick Vieira was sent off to manage New York City, playing the Pep way, in the hope that he may be the number one choice when Pep calls time at the Etihad. But Vieira faces competition. Pablo Machin (currently in charge at City Football Group’s Girona FC – and overachieving in La Liga), who is said to mirror Pep Guardiola in every facet of player management, is also under consideration.
As is Guardiola’s current assistant manager Mikel Arteta who apparently told friends recently that Arsenal’s plans to replace Wenger with him are a non-runner because he is certain of his abilities to succeed Guardiola at the Etihad. It is no coincidence that City have these young, talented coaches lined up to replace Guardiola who is still years off leaving, because their succession planning is that precise.
This is in massive contrast to what’s being going on across the City at Old Trafford.
While the City Football Group was being formed, looking years ahead, Manchester United were counting down the dreaded days until Sir Alex Ferguson would finally spit out his last chewing gum. When he did, in the summer of 2013, they turned to David Moyes. We all assumed at the time that this had been the plan all along. After all, Ferguson always planned his squads three seasons ahead. United’s succession planning was second to none, right? Nope.
They weren’t even second to none in their own city by this stage. Moyes was genuinely only told of his appointment three days before he signed his official contract, when Fergie called over to his house on Merseyside to deliver the news. When Moyes didn’t live up to the high expectations Ferguson had set as a manager, the club’s owners, the Glazer family, pulled the trigger on the Scot. Within a few days of his exit, Louis van Gaal was appointed. While Pep looked destined for City and Jose Mourinho having just signed a long deal at Chelsea, the Glazers went in search of the most decorated manager that was available. Again, the club’s lack of planning was transparent. They did appoint Van Gaal on the condition that Ryan Giggs would become his assistant, showing some sort of forward thinking at this stage. The big idea would be Van Gaal would restore United as top dogs in England and after he left to retire in 2017, Giggs would seamlessly slot in to the hotseat.
However, when Van Gaal failed to lift United back to the heights they had been accustomed to, the board began to worry. That’s why, when Roman Abramovich, sacked Jose Mourinho in the winter of 2015, United chief exec Ed Woodward called his agent Jorge Mendes immediately. But these changes of management prove how United have been playing on a whim, whilst City have been slowly and steadily planning years ahead.
Within that time frame of managerial changes, United splashed out £330m on new players, trying to revamp their playing squad. If I had told you in the summer of 2013 which players would come in and out of Old Trafford over the following four summers, you would have thought I was going insane. But read this for clarification whilst shaking your head; in came the likes of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcoa, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, Victor Valdes, Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin and Henrikh Mkhitaryan among many others. Some have done relatively well, while most have look ill-fitted at a club that has totally lost its identity. Rather than succession planning, like their neighbours, United have taken the approach that ‘we are Manchester United, we’ll be okay’.
City are currently the best team in England but they also look likely to be the team who top the table in the coming seasons. Planning, planning, planning.
United are rather fortunate that Mourinho became available. While he has inherited a messy squad, some of it left over from Sir Alex, some of it bought to suit Moyes, some bought to suit Van Gaal and some of it purchased and chosen by Mourinho himself – this United dressing-room is a miss-match of individuals. The fact that they are topping everyone else in England, except – of course – for City is down to Mourinho’s capabilities.
The man is just a born winner. United may be getting more stick than most other teams in the Premier League at present but while the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool are being lauded for their ‘improvements’ over the past couple of seasons, United are being lambasted by every pundit in print and on broadcast. Even United’s ex-players have been scathing of Jose’s United. But within his first season in charge, the Portuguese managed to win the same amount of trophies that both Liverpool and Tottenham have won over the past 12-years combined.
Just let that sink in for a moment. Jose, in one season at one club has won the same amount of silverware as Liverpool and Spurs over a total of 24 campaigns. His team currently have 44-points at the turn of a New Year in the Premier League which is the type of points tally that would – nine out of ten times – have you sitting atop the division. In fact, in his 27-years at the helm, Ferguson only had this amount of points on four occasions at this stage of a league campaign.
Mourinho is doing a stellar job, with such a miss-match of individuals in his dressing-room. However, his main task of winning the Premier League doesn’t just look out of reach for this campaign, it looks out of reach for the foreseeable future. And that’s down to one massive reason; while United were too busy fixating on a season-by-season basis, City were looking way ahead – planning years in advance. The result is this; Pep Guardiola has a squad fine-tuned to his mentality and football approach, Mourinho has half a squad who can’t even carry out the basic football approach he insists upon.
City deserve to be top dogs in England because they have planned towards it. United, meanwhile, deserve to be in their shadow for adopting complacency in the aftermath of Ferguson’s retirement.
Quite when the tide will turn back in United’s favour is anyone’s guess. United need to take a leaf out of City’s book and start planning ahead.
Tying Mourinho down to a long contract and allowing him to shape the squad as he sees fit should be bullet point number one on a long list of succession plans. Talks between Mourinho and the club were reported to have begun in November only to suddenly stop before Christmas – not scheduled to renew until after this campaign. But it’s pivotal for United to hold down a manager long-term. If United continue to hire and fire managers, with the feeling that it’s okay as long as they back them to the hilt in the transfer market by bringing in the next Di Maris/Falcoas/Schweinsteigers etc then Red Devils fans will have to get used to not only watching the Blue Moon Rising, but watching it become a permanent fixture in the skies above Manchester.