In his published collection of ideas on how to excel in the football business – subtitled The ball doesn't go in by chance – the new Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano lists Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal as the "clubs that aspire to be leaders and global leaders". The side for which he left Barcelona don't feature.
The Spaniard evidently hadn't spotted that precisely as he was composing his book, three years ago, Manchester City were embarking on the training complex, which they view as their operations room for world domination. Having taking the best bits of the LA Lakers, Nike, the New York Giants and Arsenal for the project, City will today announce that contractors BAM have been engaged for this near £200m development, which will be completed by the time that the manager – Roberto Mancini, they hope – gathers his side for pre-season training for the 2014-15 campaign.
City sketched in more details yesterday of the complex – which relocates their current Platt Lane youth set-up and Carrington training base to 79 acres of post-industrial flatlands adjacent to the Etihad Stadium. A total of 16.5 pitches, (the 0.5 is just for goalkeepers) to go with the 7,000-capacity stadium for youth matches, 200 classroom places and a new "Velopark" Metrolink stop, the latter of which is expected to be completed by the new year. There are even 2,000 trees – already being grown at a location in Cheshire – to take their place at perhaps the most ecologically sound football site in Britain. A helicopter tour of the site also revealed the pipes, already laid, through which rainwater on the soil will be captured and reused. "You have to pay for the water that runs away," said a senior member of the construction team. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, whose emirate knows the oil will run out in 50 years, certainly does watch the pennies.
The Manchester City Council chief executive, Howard Bernstein, is beaming – and not without good reason. At a time of reflection about the long-term benefits – or otherwise – of multi-sporting events, it is right to ponder what might have happened to Manchester's own 2002 Commonwealth Games legacy had not the sheikh arrived with his money in September 2008. Mansour's predecessor as City owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, was heading for financial meltdown at that time and would certainly not have been as enthusiastic about ploughing such a substantial amount of money into re-mediating and building on the toxic lands around the football stadium, which have not seen industry since the closure of the local tinworks and coal mine. It took the Commonwealth Games to deliver the stadium, which attracted football club buyers. But it took a big piece of good fortune for that buyer to be Mansour, who only now is helping the slow process of reversing the fortunes of Manchester's depressed east. Youth unemployment in the local Openshaw West district remains pitifully high.
The money Mansour sinks into developing what will be known as the Manchester City Football Academy (£15m has gone just on cleaning the soil) can be spent without counting as expenses in Uefa's Financial Fair Play calculations. The facility's income streams will potentially assist with FFP, too. Its backing by Etihad can help justify the £400m sponsorship deal with the airline and, further into the future, the adjoining 200 acres of land could bring big commercial property revenues. But the development does provide more evidence of an enlightened owner, willing to spend his money on far more than highly paid football players. The Abu Dhabi owners have already spent £25m refurbishing City's current three sites. A near six-acre corner of the new site is being donated to the local community.
With Uefa flexing its muscles only this week with the financial control panel which will police the new FFP financial landscape, City know that they "have to make sure we grow our own footballers," as one senior source put it yesterday. In a sport where every logistical advantage now counts, no one can accuse the sheikh of equipping Mancini to the hilt to do so. Abu Dhabi demonstrated when they built the Yas Marina motor racing circuit their ambition has no limit and, though Manchester United's new £13m medical centre opening in November shows neither of the city's teams is leaving a stone unturned, this City complex will take some beating.
"It is one of the best projects around in all sports," said Patrick Vieira yesterday. "I think these facilities will give all the young players, from the youth to the first team, the chance to improve themselves and to challenge themselves." Vieira's emergence as an articulate football development executive proves that City know an asset when they see one. They can only hope their complex will deliver many more.