There have been moments which Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan would not have anticipated when, 12 months ago today, his Abu Dhabi United Group signed the deal which delivered Manchester City from Thaksin Shinawatra's hands into those of the Premier league's wealthiest owners. Foremost amongst them was the indignity of seeing his picture splashed across the front page of The Sun alongside the headline "Sheikh in the Kaka". It accompanied a story highlighting the millions in paper losses that he had sustained on his $3.5bn (£2.15bn) investment in Barclays and his new club's ill-fated attempt to sign Kaka from Milan. Image counts for much in Abu Dhabi. How he must have squirmed.
The sheikh had the last laugh. In June, the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), a government investment vehicle he chairs, secured an estimated profit of £1.46bn after it offloaded Barclays shares in what is widely perceived to have been one of the deals of the downturn. It was at around about that time that renewed attempts to revive the football fortunes started, too, Gareth Barry's £12m arrival from Aston Villa offering first evidence of City's ability to beat the British elite to the punch. It is hard to avoid the conclusion, though, that the sheikh has not been chastened by the tumult which has followed since the extraordinary September Monday in 2008 when he signed Robinho for £32.5m and almost dared believe he might steal Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United, too.
Garry Cook, the club's executive chairman, admits that "my owners call up and say what's going on" when they read headlines pouring scorn on his own and his owners' attempts to apply new corporate principles to the club. "Why is it that the world that talks about the future of the game and indebtedness of clubs and the importance of home-grown players has no interest in the precise detail of who is running a club?" Cook asks. "The ridicule is the part that has broken my heart." The Arabs' £8m investment in the infrastructure of the club has started to change that, accompanied as it has been by a belief among Manchester City fans that Sheikh Mansour is different to those owners whose leveraged buy-outs have been false dawns.
Mark Hughes, whose own low-points include defeats at Brighton and West Bromwich, Robinho's moonlit flit from a Majorca training camp, factionalism in a dressing room where some took less than kindly to his work ethic, believes the difficulties of the past year are a by-product of seeking to achieve in one year "a process that should have taken two or three".
The past 12 months had been "the bad part", Hughes said. "People will look back at this period in Manchester City's history and probably view it with incredulity because of what's happened, the circumstances, and everything we've had to go through. It's been stimulating, it's been frustrating and it's been worrying at times for everybody because no one could quite predict how it would pan out."
When Hughes first sat down and discussed his new-found wealth a year ago, he was still struggling to believe his luck, having bid for six or seven players that Monday – all at once. Who did he want, the Arabs asked. The only strategy available with 24 hours remaining was to bid for those who were the source of transfer speculation, though gradually the arrivals have fitted his mould of players with a work ethic – Emmanuel Adebayor unexpectedly so. In the 12 months since the takeover, City have sold, loaned or released 24 players, plus another seven academy youngsters, and they have signed 15 players. If Richard Dunne and Benjani depart today, as expected, that makes 46 incomings and outgoings over the year – almost one a week.
Never again, says Hughes, will City need to build an entire team like this. "In the future we'll hopefully be like other clubs that will target certain individuals and players for certain parts of the team," he said. "But it won't be wholesale changes like we've had during this time because we feel we've got the blocks in place that we needed. We all feel that we've gone through the bad part."
There is evidence, with City fourth, three weeks into their second season under new ownership, that he may be right – while for Abu Dhabi, an emiracy that, until recently, few outside the region would have found on a map, there has been plenty of the profile they actually sought by buying the club – more than for that Barclays deal, or indeed the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority's move for Citigroup. But whether, as Hughes believes, "the gain is to come after a little bit of pain along the way," we will know soon enough. Arsenal – the first real footballing test – are at Eastlands straight after the international break; Manchester United eight days later.
Blue chip stock: Players on move at Eastlands
Players in (15)
C Tevez (unattached, £25.5m)
E Adebayor (pictured, Arsenal, £25m)
J Lescott (Everton, £24m)
R Santa Cruz (Blackburn, £17m)
N de Jong (Hamburg, £17m)
K Touré (Arsenal, £16m)
C Bellamy (West Ham, £14m)
G Barry (Aston Villa, £12m)
W Bridge (Chelsea, £12m)
S Given (Newcastle, £8m)
S Taylor (Aston Villa, free)
Loans ended: C McDonald (Macclesfield),
K Moore (Millwall), J Vidal (Grimsby)
Players out (31)
Elano (Galatasaray, £8m),
C Evans (Sheffield United, £3m),
D Sturridge (Chelsea, tribunal),
A Cieslewicz (Wrexham, free),
G Fernandes (St Eitenne, free),
K Schmeichel (Notts County, free),
S Williamson (Wrexham, free),
Loans: N Castillo (Shakhtar Donetsk, end of loan), J Hart (Birmingham),
Jo (Everton), F Caicedo (Sporting Lisbon), S Logan (Tranmere), D McDermott (Chesterfield), K Etuhu (Cardiff), C McDonald (MK Dons), D McDermott (MK Dons), R McGivern (Morecambe), A Tsiaklis (Wrexham), S Williamson (Wrexham), J Vidal (Aberdeen), P Marshall (Blackpool), T Ben-Haim (Sunderland), C McDonald (Chesterfield), P Marshall (Port Vale).
Released: D Vassell, D Hamann, D Mills, M Ball, A Tsiaklis, R Martin, G Berti.
Line-ups pre- and post-takeover
31 Aug 2008: W 3-0 at Sunderland:
Hart; Corluka, Richards (Ben-Haim), Dunne, Ball; Ireland, Hamann, Johnson (Fernandes), Kompany, Wright-Phillips (Elano); Jo
30 Aug 2009: W 1-0 at Portsmouth:
Given; Richards (Zabaleta), Toure, Lescott, Bridge; Wright-Phillips, Barry, Ireland (De Jong), Bellamy; Adebayor, Tevez.Reuse content