'Gulf' in class between Man City and Newcastle shows what 10 years of investment can do

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Newcastle United travel to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday dreading the unenviable task ahead of them.

The Magpies go up against the reigning Premier League champions after a poor start to the season during which they’ve gone winless in four including a 3-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest in midweek, eliminating them from the Carabao Cup.

Rafa Benitez, who was left frustrated by the club’s lack of investment in the squad during the summer transfer window, must somehow devise a plan for his injury-hit team to miraculously resist Manchester City‘s overwhelming attack.

The hosts on the other hand, look in ominous form and are favourites to retain their Premier League crown despite a hiccup away to Wolves last week. City were unfortunate at Molineux, having conceded a contentious goal that appeared to go in off Willy Boly’s hand, been denied a penalty and seen Sergio Aguero strike the woodwork twice.

The Argentine will nevertheless be brimming with confidence as he lines up against Newcastle. Having scored 14 goals against them in just nine outings, they are comfortably his favourite opponents over the course of his career. City relish Newcastle’s visits as well, scoring at least three goals against them in six of their last seven meetings at the Etihad across all competitions.

The gulf in class is palpable but how easily the shoe could’ve been on the other foot.

Over a decade ago, the Abu Dhabi United Group owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were considering expanding their interests into England’s top flight and weighed up Newcastle as an option, as well as Everton, before settling on City.

It’s perhaps fitting that on the 10th anniversary of their £210 million takeover, the team faces Newcastle – a club riddled with underachievement and battles with relegation, encapsulating what City might have been – and indeed were – without the significant investment of the owners.

That overpowering financial muscle was immediately flexed in 2008 when City signed Robinho from Real Madrid for a then British transfer record £32.5m soon after the takeover was complete. Several marquee signings followed in the succeeding transfer windows. After their fair share of poor acquisitions as well, it was Roberto Mancini who put the final pieces of the puzzle together and won the club’s first league title in 44 years.

Champions in 2012: Manchester City.

Champions in 2012: Manchester City.

In the grand scheme of things though, that was not the most significant step for the club in 2012.

“We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars,” Sheikh Mansour declared in 2008 and after winning the league four years on, City appointed former Barcelona’s executive duo Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to reshape the club’s business model and football strategy.

The Citizens began to steer away from a path that Chelsea have stubbornly persisted upon since Roman Abramovich’s takeover. The Londoners’ model based on immediate success is a risky one and requires copious, and continuous, amounts of investment in the squad to sustain – not to mention a revolving door at Stamford Bridge to facilitate the comings and goings of several head coaches. City, had other ideas.

Having already been set on the right course, investing £200m in a cutting edge training complex and academy, their decisions – football and business related – in recent years have defined the club and their desire to build a dynasty.

Built for success: Manchester City's training complex.

Built for success: Manchester City’s training complex.

The appointment of Pep Guardiola was inspired and could well be remembered as one of the most significant moments in the club’s history. The Spaniard was already a renowned visionary and built a stellar reputation during his trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

In Guardiola, they attained a revolutionary manager capable of delivering on both fronts. Not only has he assembled a team equipped to sweep all before them, but he’s also laid the foundation for the club to dominate English football for years to come.

City were undeterred by his trophyless first season in charge, and instead backed him heavily ahead of the next campaign, spending over £133m solely on his requirement of three new full-backs and it has paid dividends.

Guardiola has silenced critics who suggested that his possession-based style of play would not thrive amid the physicality of the English game. In doing so, he has contributed heavily to the club’s identity going forward, one they should persevere to maintain long after his eventual departure.

Another in a long line of emphatic home victories is there for the taking at the Etihad on Saturday, and with it, a celebration of the behemoth this football club has transformed into.

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