On June 10th, 2023, Manchester City secured a historic treble by defeating Inter Milan in the Champions League final. But how exactly did City blossom into the behemoth it is today?
The first – and so far only – English team to win the treble was Manchester United in 1999. And their success felt somewhat illogical. After going trophyless the season before, United needed a plethora of lucky breaks, Fergie Time, and in the very end, a few corner kicks to complete one of the greatest comebacks in all sports history.
City’s success never felt similar. We are talking about a team that won five of the last six Premier League titles to go with six cup competitions (two FA Cups, four League Cups) during that same period. They made the Champions League final in 2020/21 as heavy favourites only to bottle it against Chelsea. They have been dominating world football for half a decade now.
And only now did they get over the hump. Which begs the question: what was the most important moment in City’s quest for the Holy Grail? Were the successes set in stone already in 2008, when Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi United Group took over?
Maybe it became inevitable in May 2012, when City snatched their first Premier League title in 44 years? Or late 2012, when former Barcelona directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were brought in to build up the club? Perhaps the summer of 2016, when Pep Guardiola joined? Or last summer, when City bolstered their ranks with the striker-slash-monster that is Erling Braut Haaland?
The first foreign takeover
All great and probably correct answers, to be honest; all of them fantastic puzzle pieces that were set down at just the right time. But one could argue that the most important year in the history of Manchester City, barring maybe their founding in 1880, was 2007. The gap year connecting the before and the after. The year of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thai businessman Shinawatra, who local fans later nicknamed “Frank” after a certain Sinatra – notice the resemblance? –, had moved to London while escaping a precarious situation in his homeland. A former Prime Minister of Thailand, he was overthrown by a military coup in September 2006 and forced into exile with the threat of prison time.
Shinawatra was a football fan who had tried to buy Fulham and Liverpool in previous years, but both deals fell through. Now residing in England and out of a daily government job, he bought City for £81.6 million and promised a brighter future, although he had around £830 million worth of assets frozen in Thailand at the time.
City, financially stable at the time due to reasonable bookkeeping by previous ownerships, had returned from the oblivion of League One football in 1998/99 to the Premier League in 2002/03. But they were mostly a lower mid-table side, barely surviving in the league without much hope for finer days. They did not even have a trophy cabinet, because why bother?
The gap year
With Shinawatra now on board, everything was all sunshine and lollipops at first. Former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson was appointed to be the new head coach and acquiring the popular Swede was seen as a shrewd move. The fans already loved it and wanted to believe in Shinawatra coming good.
City were unusually active in the transfer market as well, spending a then-substantial total of around £50 million on eight new players. Martin Petrov, Gelson Fernandes, Vedran Corluka, Rolando Bianchi, Valeri Bojinov, Javier Garrido, Geovanni, and Elano all joined, with Felipe Caicedo and Benjani following in January.
Brazilian international Elano, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk, was the star of the show while his compatriot Geovanni grabbed headlines early by scoring the goal to beat United on August 19th; after three games, City had nine points to United’s two. But while United went on to win both the Premier League and the Champions League that season, City nosedived into turmoil quite soon.
They kept up with the top four until December, but the second half of the season was a disaster with just four wins in their last 17 games. The dressing room was in disarray by that point, and the season ended with a nine-goal thriller against Middlesbrough’ … with Boro scoring in the 16th, 37th, 58th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 85th, and 90th minute to win 8-1. It signalled the end for Eriksson.
The second foreign takeover
Despite splashing around £19 million on Jo, a Brazilian striker from CSKA Moscow, City were reportedly on the brink of financial meltdown in the summer of 2008. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Tal Ben Haim, Pablo Zabaleta, and Vincent Kompany also came in, but the latter found out that not even coffee was served at the training centre while the dressing-room toilet did not even have a door.
Shinawatra had no shortage of personal problems to resolve at that time, but would have preferred to keep the dreams alive with City himself – at first, he tried to sell minority stakes to have funds for investments. Not a single interested party seemed to want to work together with the controversial entrepreneur, however. And so he had no option but to sell.
The Abu Dhabi Group were evaluating other clubs over the summer but preferred a project to an already established club like Arsenal, Liverpool, or Manchester United. They reportedly held talks with Everton and Newcastle United, but for different reasons, no deals were sealed. And then the situation at City played into their hands perfectly.
In the end, the dodgy position and stubbornness of Shinawatra caused havoc while also making it possible for the Abu Dhabi Group to sweep in on September 1st, 2008. Brazilian superstar Robinho followed that same evening, and pretty soon, a brand-new coffee machine and a door for the toilet arrived. As for the trophy cabinet, they certainly need one now.