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This deal will raise Manchester City’s profile in India. (Photo: AP)
This deal will raise Manchester City’s profile in India. (Photo: AP)

Do Manchester and Mumbai meet?

While Manchester City’s acquisition of Mumbai City FC seems to be a win-win for both parties, there is an unsuccessful precedent

On November 28, an entity belonging to the Abu Dhabi Royal Family that owns a clutch of football clubs around the world—the crown jewel being Manchester City—added India to its collection. Manchester City Football Group (CFG) acquired a 65% stake in Mumbai City FC, the Indian Super League (ISL) franchise co-owned by Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor. While this grabbed the footballing headlines in India, there was a more significant development the day before: US private equity firm, Silver Lake, acquired 10% in CFG for £380 million, making this footballing conglomerate the world’s most valuable sporting franchise.

The CFG juggernaut—with its financial roots in Abu Dhabi and footballing bark in Manchester—rolls on. In terms of size, profits and visibility, the Mumbai-based club is barely a speck in the CFG landscape. More than an assessment on where Indian football is today, the CFG bet is on where it could go and what it could come to mean in an investment matrix where soft power counts for as much as hard cash.

The CFG story starts in 2008 when Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family acquired Manchester City Football Club in a deal worth £210 million. The erstwhile modest and the stubbornly mid-table club saw a sudden spike in fortunes, amid an overhaul of the squad, culminating in the dramatic victory in the English Premier League in 2011-12.

Almost on cue, the club set its sights on shores beyond England. The Catalan Ferran Soriano, who was earlier vice-president and finance director of Spain’s FC Barcelona, was roped in as the club’s chief executive. The club then set out to build a global football empire, and currently owns significant stakes in eight football clubs in as many countries.

The group’s first foreign venture, and also its most high-profile this far, was the establishment of New York City FC in 2013. Top European players such as Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa have turned out for this Major League Soccer franchise. Six more clubs in six more countries followed with three of these clubs in Asia. Amidst this acquisition spree in 2015, during a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the UK, it was announced that a Chinese investor would take a stake in CFG.

The increasingly global profile of CFG is reflected in its growing share of revenues from beyond the UK. In 2012-13, CFG had zero non-UK revenues in its total revenues of £271 million. In 2017-18, of CFG’s total revenues of £585 million, 15.6% came from its bouquet of clubs outside of UK.

Mumbai City FC won’t add much to those numbers. The club was established in 2014 as one of the eight teams competing in the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League (ISL). Much like its ISL peers, the club has struggled financially, reporting losses above 30 crore in each year.

The club could, therefore, benefit from the deep pockets of its new owners. It could also raise its profile: the club currently plays its games at the 8,000-seater Andheri Sports Complex, the smallest stadium among all ISL clubs.

Another potential benefit to Mumbai City FC is player transfers. In the unique CFG model, players routinely move between group clubs. This is what current Chelsea manager and club legend, Frank Lampard, realised when he signed on for New York City FC in July 2014, deciding against playing anywhere else in England out of loyalty to Chelsea.

He started off so well that he was promptly loaned to Manchester City, and ended up playing and scoring against his old club. There have also been frequent player exchanges between Manchester City and Girona FC, which is co-owned by Pere Guardiola, brother of Manchester City manager Pep.

For CFG, the benefits of the deal lie in tapping the burgeoning Indian football market. This deal will raise Manchester City’s profile in India, where the club enjoys a relatively modest fan following compared to other European giants. In addition, the allure of Mumbai as a cultural powerhouse is also valuable to CFG. Its presence in major world cities such as New York and Melbourne is a deliberate strategy to assert cultural influence.

While this deal seems like a win-win, there is also an unsuccessful precedent. Spanish Club Atletico Madrid owned 25% in ISL club ATK from 2014-2016. ATK was the most expensive franchise, and enjoyed great success, winning two ISL titles in this period. However, the Spanish club exited the partnership due to differences with majority stakeholders and lack of returns.

Mumbai City’s performances in the ISL have been largely inconsistent while showing flashes of brilliance. In 2016, they finished top of the league table but stumbled in the playoffs. ISL is a game only for the long haul.

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