Football Features

Every club in City Football Group’s growing global empire

By Chris Smith

Published: 12:26, 8 June 2020

Since the Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover in 2008, Manchester City have firmly established themselves as one of the elite clubs in English and European football.

Although the Citizens have not yet managed to progress beyond the Champions League semi-finals, they have mopped up titles domestically, winning four Premier Leagues, two FA Cups and five League Cups over the past 12 years.

However, their influence certainly doesn’t stop at the gates of the now-named Etihad Campus. Oh, no. With the formation of the City Football Group, their brand and ethos has now spread around the globe, with no fewer than eight clubs currently under their influence.

Of course, Manchester City are at the top of the pyramid, with all those beneath them essentially there to serve their long-term cause. However, that hasn’t stopped these “feeder clubs” from attaining success of their own.

So, who are the eight (and counting) clubs under the influence of CFG? Here’s everything you need to know.

New York City FC 

Country: United States

When Ferran Soriano was appointed Man City‘s CEO in August 2012, MLS commissioner Don Garber contacted him regarding the formation of a “New York City FC” team. Although this process was kept quiet for as long as possible, NYCFC became the 20th MLS club in May 2013. Former Manchester City midfielder Claudio Reyna was installed as sporting director — a role now filled by David Lee — while Jason Kreis was the club’s first head coach. The connection between the two clubs at dugout level has run strong, though, with ex-Man City man Patrick Vieira and Pep Guardiola‘s former assistant Dome Torrent both serving as head coach in recent years. On the pitch, Yangel Herrera is among the most notable players to have been loaned out there to gain experience, while Frank Lampard also represented NYCFC after a spell at Man City – a move that was embroiled in some controversy.

NYCFC first competed in MLS in 2015 and have made the Eastern Conference semi-finals in each of the past four campaigns, while they even topped the Eastern Conference last season, overhauling fierce local rivals New York Red Bulls, as well as the likes of Atlanta United. This is despite the departure of David Villa — who scored 80 goals in 129 games for the club — to Vissel Kobe in 2019.

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing off the field, with NYCFC still yet to secure their own stadium and having to share Yankee Stadium with Major League Baseball side, New York Yankees among a number of other venues. Squeezing a football pitch onto a baseball field has proved problematic, with players having to operate in narrow dimensions, while you can often see turf being ripped up by a slide tackle. The stadium issue now sits firmly atop the club’s agenda as they seek to gain more validity in New York and in the wider MLS market.

Melbourne City FC

Country: Australia

While NYCFC was a brand new start-up, CFG’s next club was acquired and rebranded when Melbourne Heart were bought for $12m back in January 2014, thus becoming “Melbourne City FC”.

Playing at AAMI Park, Melbourne City have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success since their takeover, reaching two FFA Cup finals (2016 and 2019), winning the first, while they’ve never finished lower than fifth in the table having been unable to surpass sixth during their days as the Heart. The City Group also acquired Melbourne’s youth and women’s teams as part of the takeover and although the former is now defunct, the latter has won two W-League Premierships and four W-League Championships.

Melbourne City’s most notable former players include the likes of Tim Cahill and Damien Duff, while Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani have moved up the City Group to Manchester City before going on to represent the likes of Huddersfield Town, Brighton and Celtic, showing there is a clear pathway for players to progress through the organisation.

At the time of writing, Melbourne City lie second in the A-League table — eight places and 20 points clear of rivals Melbourne Victory — and with the league’s top scorer, Jamie Maclaren leading the line, Erick Mombaerts’ side seem well equipped for the playoffs, once football resumes in Australia.

Yokohama F. Marinos

Country: Japan

CFG’s push into the Asian Football Confederation continued in May 2014 when they acquired a 19.95% share in Japanese J1 League side, Yokohama F. Marinos. That investment, along with a partnership with car company Nissan, has seen a clear increase in playing quality for Marinos, who won the J1 League in 2019 — the first time they had lifted the title since 2004.

Although Marinos’ ties with the City Group aren’t fully formed just yet, Mombaerts did move from there to Melbourne City in 2018 while, last year, Manchester City visited Japan for the first time to play a friendly with the club — which the Premier League side won 3-1.

Montevideo City Torque

Country: Uruguay

CFG turned their attention to South America in 2017 when they acquired Uruguayan side, Club Atletico Torque. Less than a year later, having significantly invested in improving the playing staff, the club had won the Uruguayan Segunda Division, earning promotion to the Primera Division for the first time. Although they were relegated straight back to the second tier, Pablo Marini’s side again earned promotion at the first time of asking in 2019.

In January 2020, the club was rebranded as “Montevideo City Torque” and its badge changed to move it further in-line with the City Football Group brand, while new academy and training facilities were unveiled just months later.

“City Football Group and Montevideo City Torque are pleased to announce that the club has carried out a transformation of its identity, changing its name and unveiling a new badge ahead of the 2020 season,” an official statement read.

“Montevideo City Torque, who last year clinched promotion back to the top division of Uruguayan football, has strengthened its connection with the city of Montevideo and Uruguay, as the new club badge features representative elements of both: the Sun, the waves of the Rio de la Plata and the sky blue and white of the Uruguayan flag.

“The new name and badge fully integrate Montevideo City Torque into the City Football Group’s family of clubs, aligning its identity with its twin clubs in Manchester, New York and Melbourne.”

Girona 

Country: Spain

In August 2017, CFG made a huge statement by acquiring a 44.3% stake in Spanish side Girona, with another 44.3% being held by Pere Guardiola — brother of Man City boss Pep Guardiola.

That summer, Girona — who play at the modest Estadi Montilivi — signed striker Cristhian Stuani from Middlesbrough, while the likes of Marlos Moreno, Pablo Maffeo, Douglas Luiz and Aleix Garcia all arrived on loan from Manchester City as the club geared up for their first-ever season in the top-flight. Stuani, who remains at the club today, scored 21 goals in 33 La Liga games as Girona exceeded all expectations by finishing 10th, even beating reigning European champions Real Madrid in October.

The following summer, Marc Muniesa’s loan from Stoke City was made permanent, while young English prospect Patrick Roberts was loaned in from Man City but, despite Stuani scoring another 19 goals, Girona were unable to build on the success of 2017/18, finishing 18th and suffering relegation back to the second tier.

At the time of writing, Girona sit fifth in the Segunda table, eight points adrift of the automatic promotion spots. However, with Stuani once again thriving with 23 goals in 25 league games, promotion is absolutely not beyond Jose Luis Marti’s side.

Sichuan Jiuniu

Country: China

In 2015, Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Manchester and was spotted taking selfies with none other than Sergio Aguero on a trip to Manchester City’s training facilities, while CFG reportedly sold 13% of its company to Chinese companies. By February 2019, CFG had announced a further push into Asia with the acquisition of Chinese lower league side, Sichuan Jiuniu. Wang Hongwei was quickly installed as manager, replacing Croatian former defender Dario Dabac.

Only founded in 2006, Sichuan have spent their entire history bouncing between the second, third and fourth tiers of Chinese football and will spend next season in the former.

Whether this is a genuine attempt to unearth Chinese talent or an effort to increase Man City’s commercial presence in the region remains to be seen.

Mumbai City FC 

Country: India

Indian Super League side Mumbai City FC — who have been managed in the past by ex-City stars Nicolas Anelka and Peter Reid and can count Diego Forlan among their former marquee players — were purchased by CFG in November 2019.

Aside from mirroring Man City in their kits being sponsored by Etihad and manufactured by Puma, Mumbai City — managed by former Barcelona assistant Sergio Lobera — are yet to see much change since the takeover. That said, there is a quickly emerging football market in India and with Mumbai City failing to make the playoffs last year, there is both opportunity and work to do in equal measure.

Lommel SK

Country: Belgium

The eighth and latest club to join the CFG revolution is Belgian second-tier side, SK Lommel, who were acquired as recently as May 2020. This comes despite the fact that Soriano insisted the company weren’t looking to invest in any more European clubs for the foreseeable future with rumours abound of bids for the likes of Boavista, Nancy and Saint-Etienne.

Lommel have spent their entire existence outside the top flight in Belgium but with CFG’s backing, we could see that change in the future.

The relationship between the two is brand new and, thus, little has changed for the club yet. Could we see Vincent Kompany in the dugout soon? Will they switch to sky blue and adopt City in their name? Will Kevin De Bruyne bring his creativity wizardry there one day? Only time will tell.

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