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Cities take aim at the world: How Abu Dhabi Football Group plans for global domination


Anilud MenonJune 30, 2023 at 08:166 min read

David Ramos/Getty Images

Manchester is delicious moon Year. They’ve won just about everything this past season and are on track for a repeat or three-peat. But talking to Brian Marwood, managing director of global football at City Football Group, you get the sense that the football world – not just the Premier League, not just Europe, but the rest of the world – needs to be very scared. Because CFG is not content with the Champions League, they aim to dominate the world through their network of clubs all over the world.

Consider this: Melbourne has won the A-League once and the Premier League three times in the past three years. In 2019, the Yokohama team won the J-League championship again after 15 years, and won the championship again after that. New York City won the MLS Cup. Mumbai won the Indian First Division double (ISL League Shield and ISL Trophy) in their first year after taking over the club and regained the League Shield last season with one of the most dominant performances of the Indian League season. .

And they’re just getting started.

Marwood joined CFG in 2009, less than a year after City were acquired by Abu Dhabi United, and he almost immediately started the process of City winning the European Treble in 2023. We’re in. When I say this, I don’t want to be disrespectful of what we’ve been through.but [that] It is the benchmark of the previous bosses, that is, they can survive in the Premier League and maybe achieve good results in the cup.this is not our ambition [of CFG]”.

“Change is not easy,” he said. “Some people are excited to be on this journey, but others are very nervous, and others are worried and wondering how this is going to affect them. I’m a big believer in good people making good outcomes. And, it’s important that we get the There is better expertise and people in those areas. But it needs direction, it needs a North Star.”

For Marwood, that’s identity. “When I joined, I felt as a club we didn’t really have a DNA, we didn’t… When I close my eyes and think of Barcelona, ​​I see a style. When I close my eyes, I see a style. A style.” When I close my eyes and think about Ajax, I see this style. When I close my eyes and think about Manchester City, I don’t…we work really hard to create the style that we believe we want to play within the club. And then, that allows us to start looking for coaches that will be a really good representation of that style. “

The first such coach to be identified was Roberto Mancini, who succeeded Mark Hughes in the middle of the 09-10 season. Then Manuel Pellegrini and finally Pep Guardiola, “the high priest of the style”.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Multiple allegations have been made about the behind-the-scenes processes that made it happen. In 2020, UEFA banned Manchester City from European competitions for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations and fined them for failing to cooperate with the investigation. City took the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and had the ban overturned due to technical issues. Meanwhile, midway through last season, the Premier League charged the club with 115 breaches of Premier League financial rules over a nine-year period (2009-2018). CFG declined to answer any questions about the allegations due to the ongoing legal battle against them.

Meanwhile, on the field, they continued to do what they did. Marwood and CFG worked to create a unique style with great success. Think Manchester City’s light blue and you immediately see Guardiola’s possession-obsessed players spinning the football pitch, dominating game after game. This has extended to many of their clubs – including current ISL league shield holders Mumbai City.

“It’s a fundamental cornerstone of all our clubs in terms of playing the City style,” Marwood said. “When I watch videos of the Melbourne academy, the New York second team or the Montevideo team, I see that style and I’m very proud.”

“Mumbai is no exception. Des [Buckingham, manager of Mumbai City] From our club in Melbourne…he’s a big believer in the style.He followed in Sergio’s footsteps [Lobera] Left; because it’s important for us as a club. This is one of the non-negotiable issues. “

Head Coach of Mumbai Platinum Seoul FC.Fahim Hussain/Focus Sports/ISL

If it took concentration to do it at one club, it took a lot more effort to do it across four continents. “Obviously, the effectiveness of this style sometimes depends on the quality of the players,” he said. “Some countries have [different] Conditions under which you must work, such as a salary cap. So you can’t always have the best player playing that style in all the different positions. But frameworks are non-negotiable. “

More specific elements – such as the sky blue first-team colors and “city” names – are easier to change. At clubs such as Mumbai, New York (from scratch), Montevideo and Melbourne, the relatively short histories have allowed these changes to happen smoothly. In Girona, Yokohama Mariners and other clubs, CFG is only satisfied with the unity of football philosophy.

This tends to lead to great success across continents. Marwood is very proud of these achievements, speaking of them fondly, and while he admits the European Treble is something that “takes some beating”, it is here that he stresses that different cogs in the CFG machine will be hit differently. Evaluate.

“At many of our clubs, the measure is fighting for trophies,” he said. “But for some of our other clubs like Lommel [in Belgium]For example, it is about the cultivation of talents. Obviously, we want to be successful, but the measure of success is the young players we put into the club and get them going. Marwood cites the examples of Vinny Sousa (Brazil), Koki Saito (Japan) and Manfred Ugarde (Costa Rica) who first came to Lommel to help them adapt to Europe and then He was successful on loan in La Liga and Eredivisie last season.

Mumbai City FC’s Apuja travels to Belgium to train with CFG’s Lommel SKShibu Preman/Focus Sports/ISL

It would be “an ambition” for Indian players to take a similar route, he said. Mumbai City’s Apuya spent several months at Lommel, giving him a taste of that level of football ahead of last year’s ISL season, but it will be a while before any tangible impact is made. “[Football in India] “It brings more players, more chances, better quality and better playing conditions,” he said. I think as time goes on we will see more and more Indian players come to the fore. But it’s a process, and these things don’t happen overnight. “

Marwood cites Mumbai as an example when talking about cultural differences across countries and continents, which he believes is the biggest challenge facing CFG’s global network. “Players live in hotels, right. So it’s not easy because they don’t have their families around. When the season was short, it wasn’t that bad, and now it’s longer. So, you’re looking at the players. The challenge of being in a hotel, feeling a little bit isolating, trying to make sure their mental health and mental health is good. “

It’s the little things that matter, he said. Starting with a massive change in 2009, Marwood’s focus has been on finer tweaks to an already successful team (and the team behind it). “We can’t be complacent…we have to keep that energy and drive going.”


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