Manchester City, the Premier League’s dominant team for most of the last decade, announced last week that it spent more on player wages last season than any team in British football history, paying more than $500 million (R $2.4 billion).
Backed by the generous spending of its owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the UAE ruler, last season City won a third successive Premier League title, the FA Cup and their first Champions League title – a so-called triple crown that only one English team had previously achieved.
City’s success has been built on the tactical skill of the team’s Spanish coach, Pep Guardiola, and an array of world-class players, but also on a seemingly limitless supply of money.
Norwegian Erling Haaland is the team’s leader on the field. He was the top scorer in the last Champions League, won the Gerd Müller trophy – given to the world’s top scorer – and was a finalist for the Ballon d’Or, won by Messi.
City are now second only to Barcelona in terms of wages paid to players, but unlike the Spanish superteam, City have not suffered a financial crisis as a result. Instead, City also announced record revenues of £712.8 million (nearly US$900 million) – another British record – for the year to June.
In its annual statement, the club also boasted a profit of £80 million, double what was reported the previous year. All the figures highlighted a transformation in City’s economic circumstances, which for years had been defined by heavy losses caused by a level of spending few rivals could match.
However, City’s commercial success and financial progress have been shrouded in controversy for years. A years-long Premier League investigation has resulted in more than 100 rules-breaking charges against the team this year – most relating to allegations of inflated sponsorship deals with UAE companies and misreported salaries. City have disputed the Premier League’s allegations and their conclusions about the club’s finances.
An independent panel acting on behalf of the league spent years hearing the case, which was opened in 2018 following a leak of internal club documents. In 2020, City successfully appealed a Champions League ban imposed following a separate investigation by European football’s governing body. His lawyers successfully argued that the information forming the core of the case was time-barred.
These legal troubles have not distracted the team on the field, where they have become one of the most reliable winning machines in the history of English football. City have won four of the last five Premier League titles and, after 12 games of the current season played, occupy their usual place at the top of the table.
City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, one of the UAE royal family’s top lieutenants, said the team will not be slowing down anytime soon. The club will “reinforce the proven philosophies and practices that have brought us this success”, he said in comments released by the club.
“We will continue to question all industry norms,” he added.