The Definitive Guide to Multi Club Ownership, Episode 2: City Football Group

Episode 1: Introduction to MCOs + The Pozzo Group

Whilst you may not have heard of the Pozzos, you’ll likely have heard of the City Football Group. The City Football Group technically begun with the purchase of Manchester City by billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan back in 2008, whilst the subsequent story about Manchester City’s rise to the top of the game doesn’t particularly need recapping, it’s the developments abroad that are worth investigating and are likely to be the foundation of any success of Manchester City in the future.

The CFG was actually created in May 2013 when Manchester City announced that they’d be forming an MLS expansion team named New York City FC, who started playing in the 2015 season with marquee signing David Villa impressing. So far, there hasn’t been a lot of crossover between NYCFC and MCFC, with Frank Lampard signing on loan for Man City from NYCFC and a few youth team players moving in the opposite direction, however it’s clear to see the CFG’s intentions with the club, having formed an academy that has since won the Generation Adidas U16 cup earlier this year. It’s obvious that CFG sees football in America taking off in a big way in the future, and are hoping with their resources plan to be at the front of the line for any talent that may come through, however, America is not the only booming football market they’re targeting…

6 months after the acquisition of NYCFC, in January 2014, the City Group purchased a majority stake in A-League side Melbourne Heart, the team was promptly renamed as Melbourne City FC with the clubs logo and kits changed to reflect the sky-blue colours of Manchester City. A year and a half later Man City purchased the remaining 20% of the club.

Melbourne City have come under flak for exploiting a loophole that gives them a significant advantage in the A-League that no other team has – it’s against competition rules for a player to be transferred for a transfer fee between A-League clubs. CFG have been buying promising or good players with Manchester City before immediately loaning them back to Melbourne City (which they’ve done twice this season). Other A-League clubs have complained this is unfair (as Football League clubs did with Watford’s loanees) and gives Melbourne City an advantage, but as they aren’t breaking any rules it’ll be hard to stop, and again shows the advantage of owning multiple clubs.

Along with America, Australia is one of the fastest growing markets for football with a study finding there was a 46% increase in participation between 2001 and 2016. With a population of over 20m and a good infrastructure within the country, it’s quite likely that in the next 10-15 years a few fantastic Australian players will be produced and the CFG are in a prime position to get their hands on them first.

City Football Group continued their rapid expansion, purchasing a 20% minority stake in Japanese J-League side Yokohama F. Marinos in May 2014, whilst nothing of note has happened with Yokohama Marinos yet (as in player movements or much behind the scenes), I wouldn’t be surprised if CFG acquire the controlling stake within the next few years.

In April 2017 saw CFG add yet another club, purchasing Uruguayan second division club, Club Atletico Torque. CFG have said that the purchase is to help assist with the signing of South American players alongside that they have promised significant investment into the academy with a new sports complex promised, with the aim of establishing the club into the first division of Uruguayan football.

So whilst CFG are quickly and rather quietly becoming the dominant force in MCOs, it’s very apparent when you research CFG that they are forging a new era in football. The owners have openly stated that they won’t be throwing money at players in the same way they have done in the past and their deals and acquisitions are proof of that. As well as purchasing clubs CFG have been striking deals with clubs all over the globe, negotiating a deal with Portuguese club Sporting allowing them first dibs on any players out of the Sporting academy, similar deals have been struck with the famous Right To Dream academy in Ghana, and a deal with the Ghanaian FA allowing them access to the scouting data which will surely mean they’ll be first in the queue for any future Ghanaian talent.

I have no doubt that the CFG are very very clever, and are targeting purchases in areas where football is booming which should pay off in terms of players further down the line. Further expansion is almost guaranteed, I’d say a club in either Belgium or Holland is most likely next for CFG – the lack of work permits and good standard of players make it a no brainer (CFG already have a deal to send players on loan to Dutch side NAC Breda so I wouldn’t be surprised if a bid were lodged to make that official..). Countries such as France or Portugal would also be an attractive prospect due to the good standard of players produced and competitive leagues. One thing is for sure though, the City Football Group is here to stay and whilst their master plan may take some time to bear fruit when it does I’d expect them to be a dominant force in world football for the foreseeable future.