Thursday, January 23, 2014

Manchester City Buy 80% Stake in Melbourne Heart

Manchester City Buy 80% Stake in Melbourne Heart
"We will listen, we will learn and then we will bring to Melbourne whatever is needed."
They are words that will make every other club sit up and take notice. Talk about a game changer!

With the announcement yesterday that Manchester City, which also now own the new New York City FC franchise in the MLS, has purchased an 80% stake in the struggling Melbourne Heart, the club has literally gone from rags to riches.

People were lining up to write their obituaries for a club that has failed to find success on the field, and failed to attract fans off it. And with just one win in their last 20 games many were questioning "where to?" for Melbourne Heart? It was a legitimate question.

They answered that question in emphatic fashion. Now it's not a matter of "where to?" but a question of "how big?" can the club become? With the money of Sheikh Mansour behind them the sky is the limit.


Etihad Stadium & Sport City

City are investing hundreds of millions into a new training centre in Manchester, and are doing likewise in New York, with a new state-of-the-art training ground and stadium to be built. You can bet your bottom dollar that Heart won't be training at LaTrobe Uni, using wheelie bins for ice baths, for much longer.

The new owners will be keen to have a permanent footprint in the city, and with no reason the leave the perfect AAMI Park, a new training and admin complex is surely top of the wish list. And this is where the benefits of the new arrangement will be felt, off-the-pitch. With a modest salary cap in place the new owners can't splash the cash and buy a superstar team. Of course they can spend endless amounts on two marquee players, and with the club no doubt looking to make a fresh start and big impact in Melbourne you can be sure any number of high profile players will be linked to the club.

But as I started on before, off-the-pitch is where the real benefit will be seen. State of the art training and medical facilities, the best off-field set-up, the best coaches and promises to lengthy periods spent at the Manchester City academy in England. This as much as anything will attract players to the club.

Across town at Melbourne Victory we've seen them put their mantle as the league's biggest club, with the best off-field set up, to good use, constantly coercing the league's best players to venture south, Besart Berisha being the latest example. It also helps when attracting players from overseas, players who are often used to the creature comforts of the big European leagues.

If Heart do get new training facilities they will match, or most likely trump, Victory for the best facilities in the league. With the glamour that comes from being owned by a multi-billionaire, players will want to be associated with the club. Just look at how they flocked to Gold Coast with the promise of private jet travel and a fancy resort lifestyle. And while that didn't work out, you get the sense City are in for the long haul, and most importantly they have a wealth of football experience behind them. They've shown they're not afraid to spend money.

With no less than 14 players off-contract at the end of the season they have a wonderful opportunity to make over the squad in one fell swoop. They'll have players and agents banging down their door.

But what of the one ingredient that has really been lacking, the fans? Will this new ownership attract new fans to the club?

That's the $64m, or perhaps $11m, question.

Fans in Melbourne often mock their Sydney counterparts for their fickle nature, and while there is some truth to it, the fact is fans everywhere love a winner and they love to be part of something big. When the two combine it's a formidable force, and that is what we have seen at Melbourne Victory.

Can the same now take place across town? The new ownership gives them instant credibility, which is what they've lacked to date. They've lacked an identity. They now have one. If they start winning, play attractive and attacking football and sign a few high profile marquee players then the bandwagon will swell, of that there is no doubt. Just how big it can get remains to be seen, but they're in a much better position today than they were yesterday. And then there's the question of the name.

It really is a no-brainer. The Heart has failed; it didn't obtain any cut-through with the Melbourne sporting public. While it is possible for the public perception of a brand to change, in my opinion it is better to make a clean break and start over. Melbourne City FC has a much better ring to it and just sounds like a respectable football club.

Do they keep the red or do they swap to sky blue like their now-sister clubs? I can't see them not switching. There is precedent in the A-League when Nathan Tinkler took over the Newcastle Jets and changed their kit from gold to red and blue, to match that of NRL side Newcastle Knights, which he also owned. There seems to have been no major fall out from that decision.

Whether that will be the case in Melbourne, who knows, but I think we should start preparing to have two sky blues in the league next season, especially after FFA CEO David Gallop admitted they would be open to a change of name and colours.

With some questioning the league over the last few weeks, this news could not have come at a better time.

Sit back and enjoy the ride, because things are about to change in old Melbourne town (or should that be City!).

Copyright ©  Paul Williams and Soccerphile.com

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