It is not just on the pitch that Manchester City are setting the standard and inviting envy.
They have become the benchmark against which other leading European clubs are being judged in the transfer market and, for those who suggest that is easy when you have lots of cash to splash, you only need to look at what has happened at the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United to know money alone offers no guarantee of success.
Yet this year, in particular, feels like a watershed moment in City’s evolution under Abu Dhabi ownership. Criticism and scepticism will continue to abound over the club’s commercial revenues, with so many key sponsors drawn from the Middle East. But City have become so slick and skilled in their transfer dealings that, 14 years after the takeover that stunned English football, they can strengthen a serial title-winning squad with one of the most coveted strikers in Europe and still find themselves swimming in profit.
City have already raised £232 million (€275m) through sales this year following the departures of Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and a host of promising youngsters and that figure may well hit £250m (€300m) before the summer is out, an extraordinary sum in this post-Covid climate.
As things stand, City are sitting on a net transfer profit of £122m (€145m) in 2022, and while that figure will drop if Pep Guardiola succeeds in adding the £50m-rated Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella to the four players he has already signed this summer, the Premier League champions are still in line to end the year with a net profit of more than £70m (€83m).
Bearing in mind that City have signed the Norway superstar Erling Haaland, England midfielder Kalvin Phillips and the exciting young Argentina forward Julian Alvarez, plus goalkeeper Stefan Ortega as a free agent, it is not as if they have left themselves severely weakened in the process of freshening up the squad either.
City are masters when it comes to forward planning, signing players at the right time for reasonable fees while moving quickly and decisively to offload others at prices that often make people sit up and take notice. It is little wonder that agents talk about them being one of, if not the best-run club in Europe.
This, of course, was the long-term goal all those years ago when City embarked on an aggressive, accelerated recruitment drive in a bid to hasten the club’s transformation and put plenty of noises out of joint in the process as they were stood accused of driving rampant market inflation.
Success on the pitch, naturally, makes that easier and City are operating in a virtuous circle. Players want to play for Guardiola and, equally, rival clubs want City’s cast-offs, knowing they will be buying players with character, quality and a thirst for winning.
In that regard, City have so much to thank Guardiola for. But director of football, Txiki Begiristain, chief executive Ferran Soriano and chief operating officer Omar Berrarda run quite the operation under the watch of chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, who probably does get enough credit for the strategy he sets, and the data analysis and scouting departments are as good as any in Europe.
Despite Sterling and Jesus each being in the final year of their contracts, Chelsea and Arsenal paid £50m (€60m) and £45m (€53m) respectively for the England forward and Brazil striker. Torres joined Barcelona for £55m in January and Zinchenko fetched £32m from Arsenal.
It used to be City signing Arsenal’s outcasts in pursuit of Champions League football. The likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy all moved from London to Manchester. Now the shoe is on the other foot, with Arsenal trying to sign the best of the rest from City in a bid to force their way into the top four.
Yet it is the success City’s academy and the wider CFG are having drawing big fees for youngsters who may never have even played for the club’s first team that is helping to underpin their burgeoning transfer activity.
Southampton, who have recently poached Joe Shields from City to become their head of senior recruitment, committed £29m to sign Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and midfielder Romeo Lavia from City and have had a £16m bid for striker Liam Delap rejected by the champions.
It has not stopped there. The right-back Pedro Porro joined Sporting Lisbon for £7m, midfielder Darko Gyabi went to Leeds for £5m at the same time as Phillips moved in the other direction and Borussia Monchengladbach bought the defender/midfielder Ko Itakura for £5m.
The former City captain Vincent Kompany, now in charge of Burnley, has signed goalkeeper Aro Muric and defender CJ Egan-Riley for fees that could total £4m.
City insert sell-on clauses and buyback options in many of those deals and they continue to prove a useful additional cash generator while also offering some protection in the future in case a player turns out to be a major hit elsewhere. City could be in line to make around £8m from sell-on clauses should Jack Harrison and Ivan Ilic move on this summer.
For the rest, it is a case of trying to catch City if they can – on and off the pitch.
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