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City’s European Setback: Just Another Bump in the Road?

Prior to the first leg of Manchester City’s Round of 16 UEFA Champions League clash against FC Barcelona, rumours circulated that fans of the Catalan giants had sold out the Manchester United Museum and Tour experience over two whole days. Despite their recent slump, the Red Devils remain box office fare.

City already have a proud and distinct history of their own, but the long-term plan of the club that Sir Alex Ferguson once dismissed as “noisy neighbours” is to usurp their red rivals, to build a glittering future of their own and to maintain a position as one of the world’s elite football teams.

The Blues were once again handed a tough draw in this season’s Champions League—both in the group and knockout stages. A late surge saw them qualify from their group, only to be drawn to face the mighty FC Barcelona in the next round. In truth, City were dispatched from the tournament with ease over the two legs by a Barça side that featured Lionel Messi in imperious form.

The defeat is another setback to the club in Europe. Never having progressed further than the Round of 16 in the tournament before, there were nevertheless great hopes that City now had enough Champions League experience to help them advance. Yet, despite the blow—and an apparently ageing squad—there are signs that Manchester City’s incredible upwards trajectory over the last few years will still continue.

Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the Manchester club in 2008 precipitated a massive period of change for the perennial underachievers. Two English Premier League titles, an FA Cup and a League Cup have already been delivered since 2011, following a 35 year trophy drought.

Any lingering doubts whether his Abu Dhabi United Group investment company were in it for the long haul ought to have been dispersed by taking one look at the “Etihad Campus” that has been built around City’s stadium. The Eastlands area of Manchester has seen a great deal of development over the last 20 years. Once home to Bradford Colliery, Eastlands was derelict land just outside the city centre. Its renovation ahead of the 2002 Commonwealth games transformed the area.

The Etihad was originally built as the City of Manchester Stadium specifically for those games. It sits as the centrepiece of SportCity in Manchester: a complex which includes the National Cycling Centre, National Squash Centre and athletics facilities. Manchester City have made the ground their home, though, and it is one of the more striking football stadiums in England. Due to their recent resurgence, Man City tickets are always in demand and ongoing stadium expansion work continues apace, which will increase capacity to 55,000 spectators.

Most impressive of all, though, is the £200m City Football Academy complex and training centre has recently opened.

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak spoke at the opening: “At the outset of his ownership, back in Autumn 2008, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, set out his vision for the future of Manchester City Football Club. He pledged to bring success on the field and to nurture young talent whilst at the same time remaining proudly rooted to the community in which it resided.”

The Etihad Campus is a real statement of intent. They might have been cast out of Europe for another season, but City’s true Blue Moon is yet to fully rise.

Stuart Howard-Cofield