Category Archives: Manchester City

Why Mario Balotelli Will Be Better at Liverpool Than Manchester City

Mario Balotelli is back in England with Liverpool, and he’s still attracting headlines everywhere he goes.

Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Kenny Jackett had to take to the media to reject widespread suggestions on social media that Balotelli was involved in a clash during a behind-closed-doors friendly last week, via the Mirror.

Balotelli himself will be expecting more of the same rumor creation and spreading during his time at Anfield, as the media and fans continue to operate under the mythical persona that they have all combined to create.

But as he prepares to make his home debut in Red against Aston Villa this weekend, there are reasons to believe that while he will still be subject to constant scrutiny. Mario Balotelli will be a better player at Anfield than during his time with Manchester City.

Here are five reasons why.

 

He’s Four Years Older

It seems as if Mario Balotelli has been around forever. After all, we’ve heard all about his temper tantrums dating back to his days at Internazionale, his racism controversies during his time in Italy, then his folk legends at Manchester City.

That he has been in the spotlight since 2007 when he made his debut for Inter is a testament to his talent and potential, which led to Roberto Mancini giving him his debut at the Giuseppe Meazza.

When he arrived at City for £22.5 million, he brought a considerable reputation with him—yet he was only just 20 years old.

Four years on, Balotelli has become Italy’s starting striker, with a stint as AC Milan‘s starting striker sandwiched in between.

At just 24 years of age, Balotelli should finally come of age as a professional footballer, and he will be maturing and growing into his prime years at Liverpool.

 

A Young and Driven Dressing Room at Anfield

A Young and Driven Dressing Room at Anfield

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

 

 

In the teams he has previously played for, Balotelli was one of the most well-known, probably attracting the most controversy. Yet he was undisputedly one of the youngest stars on the team.

At Anfield, he will be playing with a group that will be hitting their peak roughly at the same time as he will—the likes of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo, all starting options in Brendan Rodgers’ team, are all younger than Balotelli, while Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho are all in the same age bracket.

Last season was evidence that Rodgers has cultivated a driven and confident dressing room culture at Anfield, and Balotelli will be taking to the training field every day with colleagues all eager to prove themselves as professional footballers.

With an Anfield crowd as adoring and patient towards new and young stars as they are famous for, he will know that time is on his side at Liverpool even when the world of Mario Balotelli seems to always be spinning much faster outside football.

 

He Can Concentrate on His Own Game

Upon Balotelli’s signing in late August, his agent Mino Raiola stated that his client wasn’t born to be a leader, and that he had “searched for a team where he can be an important player without being asked to lead,” according to the Daily Mail.

Often treated as the main man of AC Milan’s attack, coinciding with an alarming slide in the Serie A powerhouse’s fortunes and performances, Balotelli is also at an “all or nothing” stage at his age and period in his career, according to Raiola.

That Rodgers has actively looked to recruit leaders and club captains in his transfer business will not have been lost on Raiola or Balotelli himself, and the Italian striker will be surrounded by other vocal presences and leadership figures in the Anfield dressing room.

Raiola also stated that Steven Gerrard will protect him and allow him the freedom to concentrate on his own game, providing him a platform to excel at what he does best.

 

A Tactical Setup Allowing Him to Excel

A Tactical Setup Allowing Him to Excel

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

 

 

And what Balotelli does best is excel as an all-round forward with strengths in almost all areas of the attacking game.

With Rodgers appearing to settle on a 4-4-2 diamond formation as his preferred setup for most weeks, Balotelli will be a regular starter alongside Sturridge with the excitingly talented Raheem Sterling supporting the attack behind them.

A Reds side coursing with pace, energy, composure and off-the-ball pressing sets a platform for a relentless attack to excel, and Sturridge has on many occasions shown that he is much more dangerous in a strike partnership than as a lone striker.

With Sturridge, Sterling and Co. providing the pace and ever-improving tactical intelligence to occupy opposition defences, Balotelli will be given the space and freedom to create and score goals.

 

Brendan Rodgers’ Tutelage

Despite records that Balotelli has enjoyed a decent strike rate so far in his professional career, critics are coming around to the fact that he is not all that potent in open play, with his composure from the penalty spot contributing to his goal tally.

Yet this is where Brendan Rodgers comes in, a manager who worked on Luis Suarez’s finishing and goal-scoring output, transforming him into one of the deadliest strikers in world football just a couple of seasons since he was derided for wasting Liverpool’s chances in Kenny Dalglish’s team.

Add to that Rodgers’ increasingly famous knack for providing the man management, motivation, technical and tactical coaching to resurrect players’ careers, turning them into potential superstars. This suddenly becomes a mouthwatering prospect for Liverpool fans.

At £16 million, an off-the-shelf Balotelli should already prove to be good value; if he thrives in the environment that Rodgers has created at Melwood and the feel-good optimism at Anfield, he might even be able to one-up his time at Manchester City.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

The Business of Football Kits: Sponsorships, Technology, Branding and Beyond

As we enter the final few months leading up to this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the national teams taking part in the tournament have been unveiling their new kits to ride on the wave of growing interest in international football.

Brazil, England, Germany, Spain, Argentina and France have all released new kit designs for the summer, with various big-name sportswear companies and top international stars at the helm of high-profile launch events and flashy marketing campaigns. (The Mirror has a collection of some newly released kits here.)

As with most commercial activity in football, however, not all the recent kit launches have been met with universal acclaim: Ben Curtis’ article on the Mirror is a cynical rant at the hype machines that these events have become, while Lizzie Parry’s on the Daily Mail highlights just how expensive replica kits, launched over increasingly short time periods, have become.

In February, we explored the importance of stadiums in the overall commercial strategies of football clubs. As top-level football increasingly becomes big business and a huge revenue generator, let’s take a look at another money-spinning side to the sport: football kits.

 

Vincent Yu

 

Sponsorships

One of the first things that comes to mind when football kits are mentioned these days is the staggering amount of money they can generate for football clubs, both from the merchandising side and from the corporate sponsorship side.

While club merchandise is generally dependent on the popularity and on-pitch success of the clubs themselves—and the annual Deloitte Money League results generally attest to that—the larger context is the money that sportswear companies actually pay to be the official kit providers of football clubs.

In recent years, just in the Premier League, we’ve seen many instances of eye-watering commercial deals involving kit suppliers. Liverpool’s 2012 deal with Warrior Sports, the latter’s first foray into football, would, according to Andy Hunter of the Guardian, net the club at least £25 million a year.

Just this January, Arsenal announced they would be changing their kit maker from Nike to Puma, in a five-year deal reportedly worth more than £30 million a year, per the BBC. And, as ever when it comes to business deals, Manchester United shocked the world this March with their world-record 10-year deal with Nike, which, according to Simon Mullock of the Mirror, will see the Old Trafford club earn more than £60 million a year.

Besides contracts with sportswear makers, the other big player in the football kit boom is the corporate sponsorship deals that have taken center stage in recent years. This 2013 J.J. Colao article in Forbes listed Manchester United, Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Real Madrid as the biggest shirt sponsorship deals in the world.

Another interesting marketing tactic has been employed by Tottenham Hotspur this season, as they featured different sponsors on their shirts in different competitions, with Hewlett Packard their Premier League front and AIA their cup shirt partner. According to Kevin Palmer of ESPNFC, however, even Tottenham will revert to the traditional “principal partner” model at other big clubs, having agreed a lucrative £20 million-a-year deal with AIA for the next five years.

 

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Technology

But with all the money that goes into the kits, and their burgeoning price tags, do those who get to wear them actually benefit?

Specifically, do the footballers themselves get anything out of the constant kit changes, or are they just excuses to step in front of a camera for yet another photo shoot?

Just ask the Italian national team stars. According to the BBC, the high-tech football shirts they will be wearing at the World Cup this summer will be able to deliver massages during the game. The shirts contain a special tape that provides “micro-massages” for their wearers and “maximise muscle power” by allowing the body to recover from exertion more quickly.

Away from the luxury options provided to footballers these days, far more important is the shirts’ ability to keep their wearers warm in extreme cold temperatures. This article from PRNewswire.com lists a few examples of temperature-regulating technologies that are present in football shirts on the market.

Different sportswear manufacturers—the same who enter into the lucrative long-term contracts with football clubs and will rely on such technology to win such bids—integrate different functions into their shirts, but the underlying principles are the same: adding layers onto shirts that keep players comfortable, dry, warm or cool depending on the surrounding weather conditions.

With the digital space increasingly at the center of the football fan experience, besides featuring on shirts themselves, technology has also crept into the marketing side of football shirts and kit launches, so much so that organizing such events can be considered an industry in itself.

See, for example, this analysis on Liverpool’s new kit launch in 2012 on Dan McLaren’s TheUKSportsNetwork.com. Liverpool’s multichannel marketing and promotion strategy, across different social media platforms, was all about putting out a united front for the kit launch, which also had to match the club’s corporate branding.

But, as they’ve tended to do so in social media in general, Manchester City will take home the technology and marketing hybrid approach for football kits as well.

They’ve since switched to Nike as their main shirt sponsor, but City’s launch of their Umbro kits for the 2012/13 season, as covered here by SoccerBible.com, took fan engagement to a new level when they invited fans to decide how the new kit would be officially launched.

 

Ray Stubblebine

 

Branding

Using a new innovative campaign to bridge the marketing and technology worlds with branding in football was yet another Manchester City-affiliated project, New York City FC.

Since their official announcement in 2013, New York City FC have caught the attention with their cutting-edge digital-marketing campaigns despite the MLS outfit not yet officially competing in the U.S.’s highest-tier domestic football league.

NYCFC put their fans truly at the center of their business and branding strategy by inviting them to submit ideas for an official club crest, which was met with widespread acclaim and culminated in a win-win scenario where the club also got their hands on an excellent winner, shown here on the MLS official website.

An example of how the football kit itself has become more than just one of the components of a football club’s identity; it’s evolved into an integral part of the football club’s business strategy on the whole.

So eager have clubs and affiliated sponsors wanted to tap into their fanbase for merchandising dollars that they have begun creating hype cycles out of kit launches to boost profits and increase circulation among their followers—at the risk of straying into grey areas and stirring controversies.

In tandem with the ongoing, controversial narrative that football is becoming more and more middle- and upper-class and moving away from the traditional working-class fanbase that gave the sport its following and popularity, clubs and corporations have rushed into a branding frenzy and become eager to associate themselves as “premium” titles.

A major recent example was that of Adidas, who, according to Anna White of the Telegraph, may refuse to supply Sports Direct, one of the biggest sports retailers in the UK, with a variety of World Cup football kits due to concerns over its stores and customer service.

Said Adidas, “Like all manufacturers, we regularly review, season by season, where our products are distributed. We determine distribution channels for all products based on criteria such as in-store environment and customer service levels.”

In other words, sportswear manufacturers are eager for their football kits to be treated as premium consumer goods—indeed, the mooted £140 price tag for the new England kits by Nike almost automatically price themselves into that category—and they’re not afraid to incur the wrath of fans and middlemen retailers to achieve their commercial goals.

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Prior to the World Cup row, Adidas also landed themselves in hot water with Sports Direct over their treatment of Chelsea’s official club kit. In light of the public spat, Matt Scott of InsideWorldFootball.com put together an excellent and in-depth analysis of the changing role of the football kit itself.

Linking the state and rationale of Chelsea’s commercial and branding activities with the area’s wealthy and exclusive reputation, Scott consolidates a list of the London club’s highest-profile official sponsors, who all pride themselves on their elite stature within their respective industries.

The ever-changing face of the football kit, then, is not just an evolution of modern shirt design and an extension of clothing technology into sport, but is a reflection of a shift in the status of merchandise and football itself in the eyes of football clubs, manufacturers and sponsors.

And with seemingly unstoppable momentum behind money-spinning sponsorship deals, it seems that football kits will continue to be at the center of football’s paradigm shift. One only hopes that it doesn’t one day become only limited-edition items due to their exclusivity.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Manchester City: Building a Global Football Empire from the Etihad Stadium

The rise of Manchester City Football Club in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing, and since Sheikh Mansour and the current ownership team took over, they have gone from strength to strength, establishing themselves as a Premier League powerhouse.

Manuel Pellegrini’s impressive setup at the Etihad Stadium had—for a good few months—his City team the runaway top scorers in England, which are currently looking to secure a domestic double with the League Cup already in their hands.

From the outside, City seems like the archetypal sugar-daddy story: After all, didn’t Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and now AS Monaco go down the same path of sudden fame, fortune and success because of mega-rich owners?

That City’s newfound prestige—and that their starting XI boasts the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero—is down to the money injected into the club by their Abu Dhabi owners is undeniable, and in some quarters perhaps spoken of negatively and cynically.

But a quick look at their off-field projects, initiatives and business developments suggests City aren’t just in this for the short term, and they’re not just around to pick up a few trophies.

Manchester City mean business, and they’re well on their way to building a global footballing empire.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Building a City around their fans

From their well-known support of the club even during their lowly third-tier days to their fanatical celebration of a first-ever Premier League title after a 44-year drought, Manchester City fans have long been famous for their undying support.

So it was only right for any City management to focus on their fans—and to their credit, this is exactly what they’ve done.

As fan engagement started to go digital and social media started to take off, City were one of the first clubs to fully embrace these new channels, and as such became one of the pioneers in this arena among the football industry. (Michael da Silva of Alpha Magazine has more in this excellent write-up.)

Along the way, they’ve picked up their fair share of accolades, and for good reason.

Besides their long-admired Twitter channel, they have also become known for offering one of the most comprehensive YouTube librariesin all of football: Their “Inside City” and “Tunnel Cam” series are a rare breath of fresh air in an industry where much of the behind-the-scenes content remain proprietary and available only on paid subscriptions.

By putting their fans in the center of an all-inclusive, fun and interactive social media strategy, Manchester City have hit the jackpot—and their success has encouraged them to strike up innovative and interesting partnerships to take such marketing and fan engagement methods to the next level.

Take their collaboration with GoPro—known for their work with Red Bull Stratos and Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking free fall from the edge of space—last year, for example.

Announced in August 2013, the GoPro tie-up was a groundbreaking look into “what it’s like to train and play like a professional footballer.” A slight exaggeration, perhaps, given that players wouldn’t have worn the cameras during competitive games—but their viewer numbers of more than two million to date have more than paid off.

Prior to that, their May 2013 partnership with Cisco and O2 turned the Etihad Stadium into the “Premier League’s most technologically fan-friendly stadium,” allowing fans to fully immerse themselves into the digital world while watching a live match unfold before them.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Transforming the City of Manchester

The City of Manchester means a lot to the football club in two different ways.

The first is obvious: Their landmark deal in 2011 with Etihad Airways, which, according to Daniel Taylor of the Guardian, was worth awhopping £400 million, renamed the City of Manchester Stadium to the Etihad Stadium it is known as now.

It was also the largest sponsorship deal in sports at the time and showed the financial powerhouse that Manchester City Football Club were becoming—and the raw commercial potential they had in abundance.

But while the sponsorship arrangement was momentous, arguably more important was what the owners and related stakeholders had in mind for the city of Manchester itself.

The £400 million partnership had significant funds earmarked for the continued development of the Etihad Campus, an area of land around the stadium including a fans’ village and other training facilities. When they put pen to paper on the landmark deal, the landscape and the immediate vicinity was instantly changed.

Two-and-a-half years since he announced the deal, Taylor revisited the topic and wrote more extensively on the “changing football landscape” in Manchester this February (via the Guardian).

With the Etihad Campus due to start its operations within six months and the redeveloped area to include “16 other pitches, accommodation for players, apartments for relatives, a medical center, a boardman, a media theater,” this is truly the beginning of an exciting new era at Manchester City. (The Telegraph have more on the training facility plans here.)

In conjunction with this is the vision at the boardroom level, where Mansour set out a model to incorporate a sustainable future in his plans for the club, which led him to the long-awaited appointment of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, both instrumental to Barcelona’s dynasty under Pep Guardiola.

The Barcelona blueprint was instrumental and central to Manchester City’s own footballing approach, according to Sid Lowe of the Guardian, and has begun to work its magic. As reported by the Independent, Patrick Vieira, the ex-Arsenal legend, was chosen last summer to move from his position as football development executive to head up City’s new elite development squad, who have been flying high in the under-21 Premier League this season.

Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

Cities abroad: A global empire

As Manchester City’s youth players go through a one-club development philosophy and prepare to graduate to first-team level, City’s groundwork has been laid at the local level. Prepare to arm Manuel Pellegrini with a squad that can compete at the top of the European game in the coming years.

Whenever it comes to empire building, the next logical step after sorting out the local setup is to look global.

And City first hit the headlines for their worldwide ambitions with their foray into the United States’ Major League Soccer, joining up with Major League Baseball team, the New York Yankees, to establish New York City FC as MLS’s 20th franchise, as confirmed via SI.com.

Besides forming a fresh new local rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC will also be commissioning a brand new football-specific stadium in the Bronx area, according to the Guardian, while also boasting the highly rated American coach Jason Kreis as their first manager.

They weren’t content with moving to just one continent, either, and in January this year, City confirmed, via the Guardian, they would be dipping their feet into the Australian market with their acquisition of A-League side Melbourne Heart.

These two acquisitions and expansions have been branded as “strategic” investments in two of the fastest-growing football nations: City will have had one eye on their revenue streams and profit margins when they decided to move ahead with these bold ventures.

But just as they’ve done at home, City also have a one-of-a-kind opportunity waiting in front of them, the kind of opportunity that will only present itself to those with the resources and long-term vision to make it happen.

If Mansour and his management team continue their good work in the city of Manchester and decide to invest in boosting the footballing infrastructures in both New York and Melbourne, not only will they develop their new football clubs, but they might also have a defining say in the footballing growth of the US and Australia.

The potential and the possibilities of a Manchester City football empire are as tantalizing as they are awe-inspiring.

They’ve already gone back to their roots: In a classic fan-centric move, New York City FC have released two winning designs for their club badge and put them up for a public vote among their fans.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.

Why Stadiums Are Increasingly Crucial to Football Clubs’ Commercial Strategies

The Santiago Bernabeu revamp, the Etihad Stadium and the Anfield regeneration—it’s been a busy few weeks for high-profile stadium projects for high-profile football clubs.

From rebranding, modernization to capacity increases, stadium refurbishments and new stadium projects are becoming headline hitters for the amount of money they involve and the scale of commercial ambition they suggest.

The three examples above are some of the biggest news involving football stadia in recent weeks, but are by no means isolated cases: A big part of the discussions involving New York City FC and David Beckham’s fellow new Major League Soccer venture in Miami also revolve around the kind of venue and arena they select and subsequently develop.

It’s not just about Real Madrid, Manchester City and Liverpool: A look across the top clubs in Europe shows that besides stadium capacity and modern architecture, stadium experience also matters to fans and, increasingly, football clubs.

We’ve always known that the live experience of a football match inside a stadium is a defining part of being a football fan, and one of the key factors that continue to pull in match-day revenue despite rising ticket prices, especially in the Premier League.

But now we’re seeing that football stadia are increasingly crucial to the commercial strategies of football clubs for a variety of different reasons. Let’s explore some of them with a few brief case studies.

Matt Dunham/Associated PressCorporate Sponsorships: Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium

The first example that comes to mind is Arsenal’s move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.

Known as the “Home of Football” previously, Highbury was famous for its small pitch and the proximity of the pitch to the stands, and thus for its atmosphere.

While its peak capacity was in excess of 70,000, Highbury had to be reworked due to the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which recommended that football stadia in England become all-seaters. For the majority of the Premier League era, Highbury was known for being one of the most compact stadia for a top football club: They only seated around 38,000 fans every week.

Naturally, this posed problems for the Gunners, especially as they were building their fanbase and were looking to challenge Manchester United on the domestic front. While Arsenal were scraping by with gate receipts from 38,000 fans a week, Old Trafford had expanded to 55,000 seats by 1996, which meant a corresponding increase of matchday revenue for United.

With Arsenal’s decision to move into a new stadium at Ashburton Grove, so they leapt forward into the 21st century and fully embraced any corporate sponsorship and strategic partnerships as they came forward.

Not only did they start fully adopting a transfer policy of buying young and cheap and selling high to maximize financial return—helped by the astute Arsene Wenger, who holds a degree in economics—but they also explored commercial initiatives to alleviate a significant potential burden in financing their new stadium.

Granada Media took a 5 percent stake in the club by investing £47 million, as reported by the Guardian, while Nike signed a new shirt sponsorship deal with Arsenal for a reported £130 million, according to the BBC. (Puma have since replaced Nike as kit makers in a lucrative deal announced this January by the BBC.)

In 2004, Arsenal added to their coffers with a £100 million naming rights deal with Emirates Airlines, which at the time was reportedly “by far the biggest deal ever undertaken in English football,” according to the BBC.

Out of the total £390 million that the Emirates Stadium cost, three major sponsorships footed at least £277 million, and in January last year, Arsene Wenger publicly stated that Arsenal had finally finished paying off their loans for their new stadium and would be ready to finance big-name signings, as reported by the Daily Mail. He stayed true to his word by smashing the Gunners’ transfer record with the deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil.

As seen from their stadium move, Arsenal transitioned into the corporate age of football and became a commercial giant in the process. With their existing deals set to end and new, lucrative partnerships about to kick in, the Gunners may finally realize their full potential on the pitch with their advances off the pitch. The Emirates Stadium provided a platform and opportunity for Arsenal to become a modern, commercial organization.

Jan Pitman/Getty ImagesTournaments and International Prestige: Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena

This January, Bayern Munich revealed plans to increase its Allianz Arena home stadium from its current capacity of 71,137 to 75,000, as reported by ESPNFC.

The expansion plans will only boost Bayern up the stadium capacity ranks in Germany by one position, above Hertha Berlin’s Olympiastadium and behind Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, but Bayern’s ambitions, as we saw from their summer appointment of Pep Guardiola to take over from treble-winning Jupp Heynckes, aren’t limited to domestic triumph.

Consider the stadium’s use planned from the get-go: Since opening in 2005 with one of the most widely recognized exterior stadium designs in world football, it has been the home stadium of both of Munich’s professional football clubs, Bayern Munich and TSV 1860 Munchen, as well as a frequent host of the German national team.

Then there are the finances. In this 2013 article by the Economist, Bayern’s total revenue in 2012 was the fourth highest in the world, after Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United. The nearest challenger from within Germany was Borussia Dortmund with €189.1 million, about half of Bayern’s €368.4 million.

Yes: The same Borussia Dortmund who finished second to Bayern in both the Champions League and the Bundesliga in 2013 had just half the total revenue of Bayern.

Having conquered home soil, Bayern are going after world domination, and with a new stadium, they can place themselves at the forefront of German football—if they weren’t there already.

They have 2020 in their sights. Named as Germany’s candidate city for the 2020 European Championships, which will be taking place across European cities, Munich will be bidding for “Package A,” which includes three group-stage matches and one last-16 or quarterfinal fixture, and “Package B,” which includes both semifinals and the final.

The problem at the moment is that UEFA’s requirements are that stadia must meet 70,000 seats to qualify to host matches in the tournament: As Allianz Arena’s capacity is reduced to 67,812 for international games and UEFA competitions, it currently falls just shy.

Of course, there’s no stadium expansion or corporate super-club that doesn’t have its fair share of commercial deals and strategic alliances: The Economist article quoted above has plenty of coverage of Bayern’s considerable financial might as a result of their sponsorship deals, all the while operating in the Bundesliga context that mandates not more than 49 percent of football clubs can be owned by corporations.

Denis Doyle/Getty ImagesThe Next Level: Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu

For around just £60 million (lower than what Cristiano Ronaldo cost) less than what Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium cost to build, Real Madrid are redeveloping their iconic Santiago Bernabeu stadium for a whopping £328 million (€400 million).

According to the Guardian, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez didn’t mince any words in his proclamations for his club’s goals: “It’s time to face another challenge; we want to make the Santiago Bernabeu the best stadium in the world.”

Currently seating 81,044, the Bernabeu is already one of the biggest in world football, but with the planned redevelopments, according to Marca, it will become the third-largest five-star stadium in the world with 93,000 seats, behind Barcelona’s Camp Nou and the Azteca Stadium.

But it’s not purely about capacity expansion: A quick look at the mockups shown by the Mirror shows the sheer scale of Los Blancos’ ambitions. They will be building an entirely new exterior and adding a retractable roof, in addition to expanding the lucrative VIP areas and corporate box offerings like those at the new Wembley, which Marcasay generate at least €10 million a year alone.

As ever with football stadia these days, the Mirror claim that Real Madrid are looking to negotiate a lucrative naming rights partnership, with Microsoft and Coca-Cola as strong contenders to land a potentially record-breaking deal.

In a league where Real Madrid and Barcelona dominate television revenues due to a lopsided arrangement that earn them about 6.5 times the smallest team in La Liga, according to Bloomberg, despite an impending law that is expected to reduce this inequity, the dominance of Madrid will continue to hold when their redeveloped stadium opens for use.

The politics and implications of reducing the financial duopoly of theel Clasico teams are best left for another article to dissect, but while Madrid may not be able to recoup their eye-watering TV revenues in the short to medium term, their new stadium may provide a very comfortable cushion.

Not that Barcelona will be left behind, though. They’ve already put their own stadium expansion proposal to a vote this April: The upgraded Camp Nou would seat 105,000 fans, surpassing the Azteca Stadium’s capacity and becoming the biggest football stadium in the world. It would cost a whopping €600 million, according to ESPNFC.

The duopoly goes on.

Sharon Latham/Associated PressA Footballing Empire: Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium

Football clubs don’t seem to be content on just winning on the pitch anymore. Our last case study will be on Manchester City, who have caught the eye not just with their achievements in the Premier League and their star-studded squad, but also with their remarkable expansions across the globe.

Their entry into Major League Soccer with New York City FC has already been well-publicized and much anticipated, and just this January they extended their already considerable footballing might into Australia with their acquisition of the A-League’s Melbourne Heart, as reported by the Guardian.

With their tentacles spreading across the globe, City are well and truly building a footballing empire, and right at the middle of this are a few architectural projects back in Manchester.

If Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have all capitalized on their existing fanbases and historical success and catapulted into the 21st-century super-club, Manchester City have broken emphatically into that category in just a few years.

According to the Manchester Evening News, City’s commercial deals in 2012 helped them to increase revenue by 51 percent to become the seventh highest-earning club in the world, behind Arsenal, Chelsea and the aforementioned big three.

Besides City’s well-regarded social media campaigns and money-spinning world tours, they are also going ahead with plans to increase the capacity of their Etihad Stadium from 48,000 to 62,000, which would make it the second-largest stadium in the English top flight and take them into the realm of the European footballing elite.

And just like Florentino Perez of Real Madrid, City’s power brokers have been vocal in their ambitions for their team: Chief operating officer Tom Glick claimed that Manchester would have two of the top-five clubs in terms of worldwide revenues by the end of 2014.

If, as reported by the BBC, the Etihad expansion will be completed by the 2015-2016 season, then City will have with them a mighty financial arsenal in just a couple of seasons’ time. A far cry from its initial capacity of 38,000, and a development fit for an empire.

By that time, however, they might have a new competitor to deal with: Liverpool, who have continued to be a fixture in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League for the past few years, despite being the only club there without Champions League football, look ready to return to the European big time.

And, according to the Telegraph, they are planning to submit their own redevelopment proposals for Anfield by the end of the 2013/14 season.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

English Football Weekly: Week 10 Recap; Joe Hart’s Fall from Grace; Lloris’ Head Injury

EPL Week 10 Recap: Arsenal Impress; City Run Riot; Cardiff Win Welsh Derby

It was supposed to be a fascinating battle between Liverpool’s SAS and Arsenal’s central defenders, but Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were nowhere to be found, and Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny didn’t need to be present, as the Gunners’ midfield took center stage in a clash that had “Arsenal: Potential title winners” written all over it. This was Arsenal at their best, and Liverpool’s midfield had no answer for the movement and dynamism of Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey. And they still have the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to return. Manchester United, beware.

United won in impressive fashion too, but even that was overshadowed by their noisy neighbors, who turned in a masterful performance in their demolition of Norwich City (not sure if it was City who were brilliant or Norwich who were absolutely abysmal—probably a bit of both). Joe Hart was a spectator, and Costel Pantilimon was virtually another (more on them later), but Sergio Aguero and David Silva showed once again that they have the ability to dominate the Premier League week in, week out. Oh, and how about that free kick from Yaya Toure? Sensational stuff once again.

On Sunday, for the first time ever, a Premier League fixture was played between two non-English teams. So did the much-fancied and much-lauded Swansea beat lowly Cardiff? Steven Caulker headed in the winner in what would’ve been considered a major upset, in a result that gives Malky Mackay extra leverage in his allegedly troubled relationship with club owner Vincent Tan. On the other hand, after a great start to his Swansea career, Wilfried Bony seems to have dropped down the pecking order in a thus-far underwhelming campaign for Michael Laudrup. There’s work to be done in Wales.

Another upset was Newcastle’s win over Chelsea, which represented a dent in Jose Mourinho’s quest to catch Arsenal at the top of the league. A clean 2-0 home win was the perfect way for Alan Pardew’s men to bounce back from a last-gasp Tyne-Wear defeat last week. The much-anticipated clash between Everton and Tottenham ended up a drab draw with no goals scored. Spurs dominated the possession statistics, but Andre Villas-Boas should surely be concerned at the lack of support for Roberto Soldado and the striker’s own difficulties in integrating with his midfield. The upside is that, despite not really getting going yet, they finish Week 10 in fourth.

 

We need to talk about Joe Hart

They weren’t the most troubling of oppositions, to be fair, but Newcastle in the Capital One Cup last week and Norwich in the Premier League this weekend had something in common: They didn’t score against Costel Pantilimon.

It’s been well-documented that Joe Hart has suffered a drop in form for the best part of a year, and when given the chance, Pantilimon has always impressed—though his chances have been hard to come by. So from his perspective, it’s a well overdue chance to show his worth in a first-team, competitive setting—and he’s gotten it, after Manuel Pellegrini’s recent announcement that Pantilimon will start this week’s Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow.

But what about Hart himself? It won’t be easy for him to accept a place on the bench—as much as Pellegrini has said he’s “reacted well”—and what follows now is a massive test of character, not least because City have the financial power to strengthen in the January transfer window. They’ve already been linked with the likes of Iker Casillas.

And what about England? City won’t be too big a problem long-term: Goalkeepers are but one position on the field, and they’ve shown that they’re willing to do what it takes to build a top-class side, but England is a totally different situation. The only realistic option as a replacement is Celtic’s Fraser Forster, but his lack of experience doesn’t bode too well looking ahead at next summer’s World Cup. There aren’t too many others.

It wasn’t so long ago that Hart was rated as the next best goalkeeper in the world. If this spells the beginning of the end of Joe Hart, that would be the latest in a series of high-profile tragedies involving unfulfilled potential.

 

Football needs to deal with the head injury problem

The only incident of note in the otherwise dour 0-0 between Everton and Tottenham was Hugo Lloris being knocked out by Romelu Lukaku’s foot. He was visibly dazed in the immediate aftermath, but refused to leave the field and demanded to stay on. Spurs fans and Andre Villas-Boas will have been thankful for his save from Gerard Deulofeu, but his decision to not take his goalkeeper off has met widespread criticism.

Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: Lloris should be cleared of any blame. As a professional athlete, it’s completely understandable that he would want to stay on the field for as long as possible. Brad Friedel has been rightly usurped as the Tottenham No. 1, but that Lloris might have had one eye on keeping his place in the first team would come as no surprise.

What’s more controversial is the role of the physios and the manager. Spurs have issued a statement noting that Lloris’ post-match CT scan was positive and the on-pitch assessments by their medical team allowed him to play on. Which is all well and good—and fortunate—but what if the CT scan didn’t end with an all-clear? What then?

In that regard, the criticism that has come Spurs’ way is totally justified: Safety first should be the protocol observed when it comes to serious injuries, especially to the head, and the fact that Lukaku’s knee was bandaged and he had to come off after the challenge indicates that it wasn’t a light collision by any means.

But until there are rules put in place to govern such situations, there won’t be any standardized procedure on how clubs and managers should handle concussions and head injuries. It took Fabrice Muamba’s life-threatening collapse to spark the FA into action—and English football fans would surely not prefer to require another such serious case before drastic action is taken—but should physios be relied on for decisions like this, especially when their clubs have an important result at stake?

One suggestion would be to have independent medical staff employed by the Premier League present on standby at every football ground to offer expert consultative advice in cases like this. That’s probably the least that will happen now.

 

This piece was part of my weekly column on SWOL.co, where I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action, related talking points and news surrounding English football at large.

The Football Business Column: Enhanced TV Tech, Total Immersion and Video Games

New season, new technology

It’s a new season in the English Premier League. For American fans, this season’s experience should be vastly different from previous years: NBC has taken on the exclusive broadcasting rights to the English top flight in a way that has revolutionized coverage of football in the US; the marketing efforts that have gone behind promoting this whole new offering, as well as the degree of professionalism and thought put into assembling a top-notch broadcasting team, deserve mention and full credit.

But there have been more subtle improvements in Premier League broadcasting that new EPL fans in America would perhaps have taken for credit. The first is the introduction of goal-line technology. In what’s been a considerable (and frankly surprising) turnaround, the higher powers in the game have approved its use, and HawkEye technology—which is known for its use in tennis—has been installed across EPL grounds this season, and it was immediately put to use on Saturday when Hull City goalkeeper Allan McGregor parried a shot off the line against Chelsea. No goal was given, but a long overdue addition of some simple technology in the game: The lack of emotional and irrational debate on online forums in its immediate aftermath was welcome.

liverpool v stoke city

Courtesy of SI.com

And just like TV viewers will have been able to see the HawkEye analysis and replay of McGregor’s decision, so they too were treated to another simple data set on Saturday. When Liverpool’s Daniel Agger handled inside the box and Stoke City midfielder Jonathan Walters prepared to take the penalty, a brief infographic of Walters’ previous penalty attempts flashed onto the bottom of the screen. Walters had a tendency to shoot towards the keeper’s right, and it turns out that Simon Mignolet had the same information as we all did—just that he’d had it prior to the match—and dived onto his right. A little additional feature for viewers: Nothing too major, but some helpful graphics are always welcome.

GoPro goes pro

In the new era of Manchester City, they’ve been one of the quickest in European football to adopt and embrace the latest in technology. Their social media presence and YouTube features have won rave reviews for their interactivity with fans and depth of coverage, and their latest partnership proves that City are once again on the frontier when it comes to technology in football.

On August 21, City announced that they will be partnering up with California-based video camera-maker GoPro to go even more in-depth into the lives of professional footballers. GoPro has been popular amongst extreme sports enthusiasts, and will now be used to film exclusive behind-the-scenes happenings in and around the football club. Players will be wearing it in training (and have done—see the promotional video) and pre-match routines, similar to Nike’s highly-rated “Take It to the Next Level” commercial series.

With Google Glass the newest hype in American sports—the discussion now is on whether referees in the NBA should wear it on the court—how long will it be before the latest technology is widely adopted in the English game? Exciting times.

The business of football games

Football fans can be divided into two camps: The ProEvo camp (Pro Evolution Soccer, or Winning Eleven) or the FIFA camp. It’s not surprising that EA Sports, the developers behind FIFA, have seized on the world’s most popular game as a huge business opportunity, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, there were once major doubts at Electronic Arts whether to develop the game at all. For a fine, fine piece of journalism marrying video games and football, check out this piece on the story of FIFA.

So how best to capture the worldwide football fanbase? EA Sports have recently entered into partnership deals with Manchester City (yup, them again), Liverpool and Everton to act as the clubs’ official video games partner, which means that their coverage on the FIFA games will be even more extensive. Everton’s Goodison Park will be eligible for selection as a stadium in-game, and the EA Sports team have traveled onsite to capture the likenesses of their players to deliver a more authentic representation of the teams in the game. (Here’s a video of Liverpool players getting their images captured.) And of course, there will be EA Sports-sponsored corners in the stadiums for fans to play with each other—and for EA to promote their FIFA games.

Oh, and there’s a final category of football fans. That all-encompassing category—Football Manager. Take it from me: It is a magnificent game, but be warned, for you might end up spending hours on it. That is, if you’re not already an FM fan. Here’s another fine piece of writing covering the FM mania.

 

This piece was my first instalment of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.