Jim White

Who’s the daddy now?

Jim White

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Invited on to a television news show to discuss the takeover of Manchester City by Arab oil money, the spokesman from City's supporters' group was very pleased with himself.

Asked whether this now made City the biggest club in Manchester, he replied: "City have long been the only club in Manchester."

The presenter seemed somewhat surprised. "I think you'll find," the City bloke continued, "that Manchester City are the only football club within the boundaries of Manchester itself. United are located in the borough of Trafford."

The newsman shook his head. And well he might. Here was the greatest moment in Manchester City's history, the moment they were about to launch themselves on to the international stage, and here was their chosen spokesperson wallowing in parochialism.

He made his statement in triumph, as if it undermined United's authenticity, as if the fact Old Trafford is located in a suburb somehow negated their very existence. And watching him smirk you thought: well, a drowning man would reach out for the thinnest of passing straws in the hope it might keep him afloat.

It was the kind of comment that might have given succour when United were winning everything and City nothing. But now surely City need to show a bit more ambition. Now the language of the club needs rapidly to change.

Watching the City fan in action, you wondered whether the Abu Dhabi royal family had any idea what they are buying into here. Almost certainly not. In fact, they haven't a clue. The family's spokesman - the flamboyant Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim, a character who promises to be a fine addition to the cast of the Premier League soap opera - said that after failing to progress an interest in Arsenal and Liverpool, frankly any Premier League club would do.

It might as well have been Middlesbrough as Manchester for all they cared. What was important to them was to get themselves a foothold in English football in order to project their brand across the globe. City are as useful an advertising hoarding to promote their nation as a leisure and tourist destination as any.

Yet, the question posed by the newsman to the City fan was a legitimate one. Whatever the intentions and purposes of the Abu Dhabi takeover, does this now mean City are a bigger club than United? One thing we can safely say is they are richer.

These are about as wealthy benefactors as you could imagine. Their purpose is not to profit from the club, it is to use it as a promotional tool. They have so much of the stuff, money will be no object. While United are buried up to their necks in dodgy sub-prime thanks to their recent takeover, City have been plugged into a gushing money well.

And let's not kid ourselves: money counts. In the Alex Ferguson era United's domination has twice been tested by a suddenly enriched rival. Firstly it was Blackburn in 1995. Then, ten years later it was Chelsea. Interestingly, the amount of money required to shift the balance of football power has grown inordinately.

Jack Walker may have been fantastically rich compared to you and I, but his wealth was put in the shade by Roman Abramovich's wallet. Now the Russian looks a pauper compared to City's new boys. With all this ready cash, City will be able to buy whomsoever they wish and persuade them to Manchester by astronomical wages.

The shopping list drawn up by their owner is already of an improbable scale: he wants everybody you have ever heard of in Eastlands by the time the next transfer window closes on January 31st.

Of course, buying who you want doesn't necessarily deliver success. Claudio Ranieri failed to translate Abramovich's billions into the title and it took Jose Mourinho's organisational skills to corral Chelsea towards silverware. Fortunately for City they have an excellent manager in Mark Hughes.

The big question is whether the new owners - who appear to know nothing about football, but plenty about celebrity - will leave him to get on with the job. Though he is remaining publicly upbeat, privately Hughes may already be somewhat perturbed by the buying policy of his masters.

The scattergun purchase of marquee names may not help him progress the club. It doesn't get you a team. In fact, it might do the opposite. Robinho will shift a few replica shirts, but he is a known flake, who Real Madrid were pleased to let go because of the disruption he caused in the dressing room.

But even if City are projected by all this cash into a trophy winning position, the ambition that they will seriously challenge United in scale is an unlikely one. 15 years of hegemony built on 50 years of history is not easily shifted.

You only have to go to Spain or Italy and hear the local commentators refer to United by the simple shorthand of Manchester to realise quite how far City have to travel to become recognised internationally. Sure, United underestimate the new City at their peril. But right now, they can rest easy in their beds.

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