May 14, 2013
Manchester City Football Club will mark five years under Abu Dhabi ownership in September. It is no exaggeration to say that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s purchase of the club in 2008 has transformed the Blues from perennial underachievers into a side regularly chasing honours. Quite how far the club has come in such a short space of time was underlined late on Monday evening when Roberto Mancini, the club’s title-winning manager only a year ago, was relieved of his duties for failing “to achieve any of [his] stated targets this year, with the exception of qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League,” according to an official club statement. City were humbled in the FA Cup final last Saturday by Wigan Athletic and surrendered their league crown to Manchester United last month.
Ten years ago last week City were about to make another significant move.
The club played its final competitive game at Maine Road on May 11, 2003, against Southampton before moving to what would later become known as the Etihad Stadium in the close season. There was no doubt it was time to go. Dubbed the “Wembley of the North” when it opened in 1923, Maine Road was, 80 years later, showing its age. The site is now home to more than 400 houses.
After years of heartbreak – City had endured five consecutive seasons of promotions and relegations up to the start of the 2002-03 season, and decades of mishap before that – the club’s fortunes had been steadied by their mercurial manager Kevin Keegan. Many fans felt the move to a bigger stadium would further improve City’s chances of success.
Typically, rather than giving Maine Road a rousing finale, City slipped to defeat by a single goal against Southampton and failed to fashion a decent chance in the entire game. Seasoned fans, schooled on a weary philosophy of “hoping for the best and fearing the worst”, expected little else.
The game was bookended by a pre-match parade of former City greats and post-match performances by Doves and Badly Drawn Boy, two of the bigger names of the Manchester music scene at that time. City’s form barely improved when they did move grounds – at least not in the short-term.
The club finished 16th in the Premier League in 2004 and largely bumped along in the lower reaches of the top flight thereafter, until major investment from Abu Dhabi turned the side into title winners and frequent visitors to Wembley.
* Nick March