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Wed, 05 Mar 2014 12:15:00 GMT | By Alexander Netherton

United still Manchester's biggest club, but for how long?

There was predictable hooting from Manchester United fans and others when Manuel Pellegrini claimed that Manchester CIty were now the biggest club in Manchester


United still Manchester's biggest club, but for how long?

United fans didn’t react in an utterly absurd way - they’re not Liverpool fans - because although seeing City succeed does indeed sting, it wasn’t really true. It was easy to point out why Pellegrini was wrong.
 

Pellegrini had said this ahead of the match between City and Barcelona in the Champions League. Partly, his reasoning was that City were more likely to win the competition than United, and so there was a degree of schadenfreude when City lost due to a hapless error from the defence - typical City. It was compounded by Dani Alves claiming that, five years ago, he had no idea that Manchester City actually existed. That does rather hint that in the Premier League era, at least, City have come out of nowhere, artificially enhanced by state backing. But despite that being true, the question most City fans should ask is, ‘so what?’ Beyond the problems with the human rights abuses, football has been opened up to the vagaries of capitalism and globalisation for so long, that such a takeover was inevitable, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have been City that benefited.

Their fans could speak out more on their owners’ behaviour in their home country, but this is standard fan hypocrisy applied to an extraordinary situation. You can see when United fans - not all of them, clearly - defend the Glazers and Alex Ferguson, that fans will largely believe what they want to believe. The same is true of Arsenal’s defence of Arsene Wenger, on course to win nothing again this season, and Liverpool’s defence of Luis Suarez.

There’s also the history of success that Manchester United have that City can’t compete with. United had amassed more trophies under Ferguson than City had in the whole post-war era. United had two Champions League victories, a couple more final failures, and a reliable chance of success in the Premier League. And now? Well, they are unlikely to get Champions League football next year and they will go out of the competition as soon as they meet a competent side. They might even lose to Olympiakos if they play like they have in the league this year. City, will be going out in this round, having lost to Barcelona, but that’s Barcelona, one of the best teams in the world. City are one of the best ‘other’ sides, just below Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Domestically, they are marginally behind Chelsea in the race for the league.

United fans and City detractors have plenty of arguments to use to establish United as the bigger side. Given City’s history and propensity for comedy stylings, it’s still easy to mock them for their recent history and their occasional blunders in this season. Joe Hart is still a buffoon and Vincent Kompany is in love with himself to an alarming and amusing degree. Martin Demichelis looks like a member of Van Halen, and plays like one. On balance, Manchester United are still the biggest club, in terms of history, global popularity and attendance, but for how much longer?

Manchester United are owned by the Glazers, whose takeover has seen £500 million exit the club, which could have been re-invested in the club and particularly players. That is reflected in the presence of Ashley Young, Tom Cleverley and Ryan Giggs in the first team, and by the implosion of Ferguson’s House of Cards this season. City, on the other hand, have billionaires who are investing in the training ground, the stadium, the first team and the corporate image of the club in order to improve their own cultural PR, and to eventually create one of the best clubs in the world. They have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a first team squad that is unmatched in the league, and there is no sign of the investment stopping until they are the best, or one of the best, teams in Europe, too. Given the easily negotiated FFP rules, the owners will be able to sidestep it and continue to pour oil money in. The future is one where Manchester City are consistently, if not always, the biggest club in terms of talent.

In Manchester, City regularly sell league cup tickets to teenagers for just £5, whereas United aren’t quite so strategic. City might well be creating the next generation of fans who will start increasing their spend on football tickets for the team that let them in as kids. They can afford to do so now as they often fail to sell out the Etihad Stadium, but creating a new wave of fans for the future is clearly financially a sound plan for the longer term. Given the modern young football fan usually chooses one of the top four sides, City could well end up being better supported in England than United are now. What kid would look at David Moyes in an interview and think, ‘he’s the man for me’?

It’s not just Manchester or England, but abroad. Like The Narrator’s dad in Fight Club, they’ve been setting up franchises all over. They have New York FC, branded in City colours, and they’ll be setting one up in Australia imminently. With the exchange of players, and jamboree friendlies every summer, City have identified how to build their brand abroad. They won’t stop at Australia and America if other opportunities present themselves. United claim that they have 600,000,000 fans around the world, and that might be true, but City are clearly trying to chase them down not just in the league, but around the world.

Manchester City are what Manchester United aren’t. Well funded, with an obvious plan for the future supported by experienced executives with motivations larger than just money. United are a cash cow, City have one of their own. City are planning to expand, but the Glazers want to do the bare minimum. United might still be the biggest club, but that could change very soon.

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