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The Sky Blues have fast-tracked their way to the top table of club football.

After revolution comes evolution and now they face the challenge and the realities of FFP.

Can Manchester City continue their evolution?A look at Chelsea’s development possibly offers some clues as to where they go next.

Manchester City’s story has been a fascinating one. Clubs that have used new found funds to catapult themselves to success are typically disliked, despised even.

Such however has been the life of a City fan sat so long in the shadows of their neighbours in red that it was hard to begrudge them their moment in the sun, theirs had been a very long torment.

City are funded by the unending wealth provided by Abu Dhabi and headed up by Sheikh Mansour. There are obvious comparisons to make with the previous acquisition of Chelsea by Roman Abramovich.

A look at the two clubs however offers up as many differences as it draws parallels. When the Roman revolution began in 2003, the face of European football was vastly different.

Yes, in most instances the big teams were still the big teams but the concentration of players amongst the very top teams hadn’t quite begun. When Chelsea began to spend, their spending power simply dwarfed everyone else. Abramovich simply didn’t care what players cost, it mattered not a jot.

Chelsea were, at that juncture hamstrung however by the same problem that City have faced. Typically, the absolute top players didn’t want to come. The likes of Ronaldinho, Luis Figo and Zidane cared about status more than money or the buzzword of a ‘project’.

Chelsea also differed from City in that they had already been competing regularly in Europe, had enjoyed previous Champions League campaigns and had won the European Cup Winners Cup as well as domestic cups before Abramovich showed up. They had a central defence of Terry and Desailly. Frank Lampard was already at the club and the fans were used to the likes of Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen and Lebeouf.

When Abramovich rolled up, Chelsea were already geared up for success on the pitch even if they were a basket case financially off it. It seems curious that a period of previous success is imperative or even matters but it clearly does. City have made great strides in the Premiership but have struggled terribly in Europe with little sign of progress.

In Abramovich’s first season at Chelsea, they made it to the Champions League semi-final only for Claudio Ranieri’s bizarre substitutions and tactics see them come up short against Monaco. In the immediate seasons that followed they made the round of 16 twice, were quarter finalists once, semi-finalists three times and were beaten finalists before finally winning the competition. It is an impressive record and City will need to improve hugely to get anywhere near it.

Chelsea also benefitted from the simple fact that they had far longer to get their house in order before FFP came along. Many criticisms can be made of Chelsea’s (mis)management during the past twelve years but a lack of awareness and preparation for FFP is not one of them. One consequence – intended or otherwise – of FFP is it reinforces the status quo. The big clubs with the big revenues benefit hugely from the smaller clubs no longer being able to get a leg up.

Chelsea have by luck or design (I suspect the latter after several failed other experiments) developed a business model where they combine an aggressive commercial policy (everyone learned from Manchester United) with a far more aggressive policy in terms of acquiring the best young talent. Those players are picked up theoretically cheaper with a view to playing in the first team at some stage or being sold on for a profit.

Chelsea’s previous transfer dealings were fairly dismal incurring mammoth losses on Shevchenko, Torres, Hernan Crespo and Wright-Phillips to name but a few. Their transfer policy of late however has shown vastly more nous with the likes of Oscar and Hazard worth far more than when they joined. Schurrle, De Bruyne and David Luiz were all sold for decent profits also and the squad has a good blend with definite residual value all adding towards FFP criteria.

Chelsea’s youth system is finally (at least we are told) bearing some fruits with several highly rated players amongst the ranks. The club whilst still heavily reliant on Champions League revenues, at least appears to finally have a sustainable business model.

Timing is of course everything in life and City are now in the situation where they have the planet’s richest owners at a time when they can no longer simply bankroll them as they wish. It is like a teenager unable to access his trust fund willed by his late billionaire parents. That is not to say that City have not attempted to do much to address this issue. They have spent hugely on youth facilities with the excellent Patrick Vieira heavily involved.

They have also employed the services of Txiki Begiristain – once of Barcelona – directing footballing matters and Ferran Soriano offering business savvy. Except it isn’t working, and it didn’t either for Chelsea for some time. After any rapid progression, be it a country in revolution or a human being crash dieting, there is always a period of regression and inertia. The question is whether there is further progression to follow – or a return to the mean.

Returning to Chelsea, Abramovich appeared to go through a phase of disenchantment after a few years – or possibly just the realities of 2008 and the global financial crisis – and it took a while for Chelsea to regain their mojo both on the pitch and in the transfer market. But again, Abramovich was able to make mistakes at all sorts of levels safe in the knowledge that he could simply spend his way out of trouble if he so wished.

Hernan Crespo didn’t work out and Andrey Shevchenko was a £35m flop, so he was replaced by £50m Fernando Torres, it simply didn’t matter. FFP dictates however that City do not have that luxury. Chelsea possibly came far closer to disaster than people realise, saved by that unlikely victory in Munich. Missing out on Champions League qualification would have put a serious dent in Chelsea’s finances – they cannot absorb that kind of hit like Arsenal or United can – and would have meant that almost certainly, neither Oscar nor Hazard would have joined the club.

Had Chelsea dropped out of the top four and given FFP realities, it would have been very hard for them to recover and who knows whether Roman’s interest would have waned? City are of course run by an institution as opposed to the whims of one man but they simply cannot afford to keep wasting money in the manner they have. They have already been punished for FFP breaches this season with their management simply in denial that they would not pass the tests.

Given their FFP status, it seems incredible that they have spent so hugely since on Mangala, Bony and Fernando. None of these players is (so far) an upgrade on what they already had and they are faced with replacing much of their squad over the next couple of seasons. City’s squad again resembles in many ways what Chelsea had a few seasons back. Many of the players are ageing and many of the rest would offer little in the way of resale value versus what was paid for them.

In European terms, many are simply not good enough. Of the City squad, given that Yaya’s best days are behind him and Vincent Kompany has seemingly had one injury too many, only Sergio Aguero and David Silva would be players truly coveted by Europe’s elite.

This gives Pellegrini (or someone else) and Begiristain a huge headache come the summer. City should comfortably finish in the top four but the club is not as easy a sell to the very best players as possibly the City executives might think it is. It is of course far too early to expect an immediate return on the investments made in youth infrastructure but on many levels, City look to have learned nothing from the mistakes that Chelsea made along the way. FFP means that the margins for error are far lower than they were previously.

Fans always sing about ‘having no history’ and whilst that makes no difference to your current squad’s ability to play football, it is clearly a factor in club development. City in their modelling of their academy on La Masia and the hiring of Begiristain were clearly looking to Barcelona and who can blame them for taking them as the yard stick?

The truth is however that no one can imitate Barca, just ask Arsene Wenger who has been trying for years. The biggest clubs do things their own way. Real use unparalleled spending power and covet their Galactico policy, Bayern have a machine like quality, Liverpool had the boot room and Ajax their previously unparalleled youth system in days gone by. One could argue that Barca did imitate Ajax but they did so coming from a position of strength. Johan Cruyff’s influence on the club was huge but even with all Ajax’s European success, Barca were still a massive club in their own right, they simply adopted better methods and improved on it.

City are in truth levels below either Barca or probably even their closest rivals across town. Short cuts to achieving that kind of status and identity simply don’t exist. All of this of course sounds like City should simply know their place and wind their necks back in, we can all recall Ferguson’s complaints over ‘noisy neighbours’. That is of course rubbish and City should in many ways be applauded for trying to buck the trend and rock the establishment.

New money is almost never as welcome as old, the phrase nouveau riche is never uttered without utter disdain. Chelsea in many ways are still only grudgingly accepted at the top table, still seen as product of the Russian Rouble and a level down from clubs such as Liverpool or Arsenal still.

City it should be remembered still have a very good (if ageing) team, a fantastic modern stadium with new added capacity and a shiny new academy. They also have a tremendously loyal and long suffering local support who will support them regardless.

All the pieces of the jigsaw are there for them, the question is whether the management can fit them together and take the club forwards from here. We shall watch the new few years with interest. It is a story with many chapters still to write.

Originally published at voomfootball.com
Post written by Steven McBain

for Voomfootball, Blog: Voomfootball, Twitter: @Voomfootball

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