• City hadn’t won the Premier League or qualified for the Champions League back then, meaning Munich could agitate and unsettle Jerome Boateng, who eventually left for less than was being asked because it was plain his head had been turned.
• The more money that comes into the game, even from outside through owner investment, the more clubs that can see off predators, the better the competition will be.
Not everything at Manchester City is new. There are still people at the club who remember what it was like before Sheik Mansour came along. They remember the 2004-05 season, for instance. It wasn’t the worst. The club lost its manager, Kevin Keegan, in March because he announced his desire to retire from football. Yet his successor, Stuart Pearce, made a creditable start and only lost out on a Uefa Cup place when Robbie Fowler had a penalty in stoppage time to win a match against Middlesbrough on the last day of the season but missed.
Eighth was a reasonable finish and although the domestic cups were a disappointment — City were beaten in the FA Cup third round by Oldham — the club had the third-highest average attendance in the Premier League and its season revenue was the 17th highest in the world. And they had this little gem: Shaun Wright-Phillips. He had been at the club from the age of 17 and between 2000 and 2003 won its Young Player of the Year award four times straight. That season Wright-Phillips played 37 games, scored 11 goals and broke into the England team. Then Chelsea bought him for £21m in the summer and put him in their reserve team — because they could.
That is what football is like, or it was for City until they acquired the muscle to look after themselves. Now when Bayern Munich come calling for Leroy Sane, City can tell them to get lost, at least until the price suits. That is progress. That is fairer. That is why the elite clubs hate new money and will do all they can to crush it. They do not want your club to be financially strong or independent. They prefer the good old days when the power of a privileged cabal was irresistible. They even liked 2011, Sheik Mansour in charge, but before his investment took effect. City hadn’t won the Premier League or qualified for the Champions League back then, meaning Munich could agitate and unsettle Jerome Boateng, who eventually left for less than was being asked because it was plain his head had been turned.
Maybe that will happen with Sane, too. Yet these days City have the clout to say no and mean it. If Munich cannot afford what City want for Sane, City are no longer compelled to acquiesce. They can resist on principle if they wish. The more clubs that could do this, the more the talent would be spread, the better for football. The elite despise it, of course, and perpetuate the falsehood that clubs can grow naturally, without the protection of a wealthy owner. But that’s a myth. The organic growth of football clubs doesn’t happen in the modern game because before a club has the chance to succeed with its expertly developed or recruited team, it is ransacked by the rich. If Southampton could have grown organically, at some stage it might have fielded a team with Nathaniel Clyne, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Luke Shaw at the back, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama in deep midfield, Jay Rodriguez, Dusan Tadic and Adam Lallana further forward, Sadio Mane up front. That, potentially, challenges for the title. Certainly, it has a swing at a Champions League place. Southampton never came near to playing a group as strong as that, however, because before an XI had time to form it was sold off piecemeal. It was the same at Everton; the same at West Ham. Whatever might have been achieved with Wayne Rooney or later John Stones, or Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Joe Cole, never stood a chance. Big clubs have always preyed on smaller ones, that is football’s way, but no one can argue it is healthy for competition. In an ideal world, just as City have the strength to resist Bayern Munich over Sane, Schalke would have had the ability to keep the player from City in 2016. This is, in part, why Premier League wealth so frightens the upper echelons of Europe. They can’t pick off individuals any more, not even their own. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being linked with a move to China but would be out of the price range of much of the Bundesliga or Serie A. We hear Juventus want Paul Pogba but cannot afford him, Inter Milan want Romelu Lukaku but cannot afford him. And while small clubs will continue losing players to big clubs, the need to cash in at any price is being reduced. Chelsea will sell Eden Hazard to Real Madrid but what if they wanted to replace him with Wilfried Zaha? Would Crystal Palace have to sell? Not until the price was right. Southampton held out for a world record fee for Van Dijk. It isn’t a perfect solution but football is better for advances in financial independence. The Sane negotiation and how hard Munich are being made to work are signs of a changed dynamic. The more money that comes into the game, even from outside through owner investment, the more clubs that can see off predators, the better the competition will be. Put it like this: if Phil Foden had come through 15 years ago, where would he be now? It wouldn’t be Manchester City.