Steve Brenner in New York

Patrick Vieira is attempting to illustrate Manchester City’s global standing with a piece of paper and three pens. “Manchester United and Liverpool are here,” the manager of City’s American sister club, New York City FC, says pointing to the top of his notepad before sliding a finger down the page. “We are here,” he adds. “But we can reach the top.”

While the aforementioned Premier League rivals certainly possess significantly larger fanbases in key market areas such as the Far East and United States, City’s quest to gatecrash the party is relentless. The rich, trophy-laden histories emanating from Old Trafford and Anfield are impossible to recreate, no matter how much money is available from the club’s powerbrokers in Abu Dhabi. History cannot be brought.

The City Football Group (CFG), however, continues to plough its own furrow towards the apex of world football. The unveiling last month of its MLS team’s new training facility in Orangeburg, New York, 25 miles north of Manhattan, is another step towards the mission of establishing the new Premier League champions and their affiliates as a truly global brand.

The first permanent structure since the creation of the MLS franchise in 2013 mirrors similar strongholds in Manchester and Melbourne, Australia. Further links have been established: a 20 per cent stake of the Yokohama Marinos in Japan was purchased in 2014, while a 44 per cent share of La Liga side Girona, whose majority shareholders are led by Pere Guardiola, brother of Pep, was sealed in August.

Four months earlier, CFG snapped up the Uruguayan side Club Atlético Torque. A move into China (the investment group China Media Capital owns 13 per cent of CFG) has been mooted while there are strong women’s teams in Manchester and Melbourne.

CFG has more than 1,000 players at its disposal. The net is ever-expanding, although the aim remains to bring everyone closer together.

The architect who built City’s sprawling training campus in Manchester was summoned to help design the impressive, state-of-the-art facility which David Villa, the former Barcelona forward, describes as the “best I have ever used”.

A video-camera system used by NYCFC’s analysts can be logged into and used instantaneously by colleagues in Manchester or Melbourne. Players are scouted, observations shared. In the case of Yangel Herrera, the Venezuelan midfielder who was signed by Manchester City last January and immediately sent to New York on loan, progress can be monitored.

This functional family of clubs around the globe serve as a sounding board, on and off the pitch, down to the most granular detail — City’s long-serving laundry woman in Manchester was consulted when plans were being drawn up for the kit room in New York.

Establishing strong links via feeder clubs is nothing new, yet no one in world football is laying down a network like CFG, whose chief executive Ferran Soriano, formerly of Barcelona, floated the idea in Spain before getting the green light in Manchester via the Middle East. “City can have visibility on all continents, which is rare in our football world,” Vieira says.

Nothing, of course, would be possible without the money from Abu Dhabi — well more than £1 billion has already been ploughed into their football interests following the takeover of City in 2008. The well never dries. “I thank the club every day,” Villa says. “And, every player should do the same.”

What happens on the pitch, however, is equally important. Pep Guardiola’s swashbuckling Premier League, title-winning team have the kind of flair that CFG needs to help the soccer-crazed masses acknowledge the blue half of Manchester as a serious global force.

“City are the main team, so they will drive the other teams to do well ,” Vieira, who arrived in New York via Manchester City’s academy, says. He is another example of the natural fluidity on show within CFG’s framework. “Winning the title and doing well in Europe is, of course, important, but perhaps more than that is the way they play football. People are noticing that maybe more than winning the League. And that is because of Pep. I think that [the style] makes you win more fans.”

Guardiola’s squad will train at the Etihad Academy, which is situated across the road from a long-standing local youth academy, who will benefit immensely from their arrival (NYCFC donated $250,000 to the town to put towards infrastructure, and have been welcomed with open arms), during their three-match US tour in July.

Yet while the 17-acre facility sets the standard in the ever-changing US soccer landscape, CFG’s aspirations, circumnavigate the globe.

“I had the experience of being in Italy, France and England,” Vieira says, “but, I have to be honest, the way City think and work is different. They raise the level of how to do business and how to be creative. I think they came out with a new idea — having all these teams, using Etihad as their main sponsor, so I think they have a different way of bringing new ideas about how you can make business.”

CFG is undoubtedly making progress — Manchester City have been named in Deloitte’s “Football Money League” top-five for the past two years — with revenue on an upwards trajectory (£465 million in 2017, up from £462 million in 2016).

Yet a quick glance at the number of Twitter followers gives a small, though significant, idea of the size of the battle ahead. City have a following of 6.25 million compared with Manchester United’s 18.3 million. Real Madrid and Barcelona boast more than 29 million each.

“Competing against United or Liverpool in places like Malaysia is difficult because they are already big brands,” Vieira says. “But, we are working in a way to at least get really close to them.”

Clubs owned by City Group
Manchester City
Taken over in 2008
Value: £900 million
Honours since CFG involvement: Three Premier League titles, three League Cups and one FA Cup.
Squad value: £650 million

New York City FC Founded by CFG in 2013
Value: £20 million
Honours since CFG involvement: None
Squad value: £20 million

Melbourne City Bought by CFG in 2014
Value: £8 million
Honours since CFG involvement: FFA Cup winners 2017
Squad value: £10 million

Yokohama F. Marinos Bought by CFG in 2014 (20 per cent stake)
Value: £12 million
Honours since CFG involvement: None
Squad value: £15 million

Club Atlético Torque Bought by CFG in 2017
Value: £5 million
Honours since CFG involvement: Promotion to Uruguayan Premier Division in 2017
Squad value: £4 million

Girona FC Bought by CFG in 2017 (44 per cent stake)
Value: £70 million
Honours since CFG involvement: None
Squad value: £55 million


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