Manchester City began the decade trophyless for 34 years. They end it with more Premier League titles and points than anyone else.
While this season has seen bumps in the road, they can reflect on the 2010s with enormous pride as they close against Sheffield United on Sunday evening.
‘Champions four times. We would definitely have settled for that,’ smiles City executive Brian Marwood, who could also have mentioned two FA Cups, four League Cups, a unique clean sweep of domestic trophies in 2018-19 and a run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Manchester City started the decade trophyless for 34 years but end it with much success
What started on January 2, 2010 with a 1-0 FA Cup third round win at Middlesbrough — Benjani scoring the winner in Roberto Mancini’s third game in charge as manager — has developed into something even the Abu Dhabi group couldn’t have dreamt of when they bought the club.
The last 10 years have seen the birth of legends like Vincent Kompany and David Silva, historic moments such as the Aguerooo (sic) goal and a massive rebuild of the previously impoverished east side of Manchester.
They attracted the best manager of his generation, Pep Guardiola, whose previous clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich are part of European aristocracy.
City’s success enabled them to attract Pep Guardiola – the best manager of his generation
Marwood, a former England and Arsenal player, has been present throughout, first as director of football and now managing director of global football as the City brand goes worldwide.
Though Liverpool are 14 points ahead with Guardiola virtually conceding the title after Friday’s defeat at Wolves, Marwood is proud his club have come from nowhere to be England’s Team of the Decade.
‘The club was very different in 2010 to what you see today,’ he reflects. ‘We all felt at the time there was an awful lot of work to be successful, and sustain it. Prior to the new owners (Aug 2008), not a lot of money had been spent on or off the pitch.
The recruitment of players like David Silva early in the decade proved to be hugely beneficial
‘We needed investment in players but also other people, the team behind the team. Any business needs the right infrastructure and behaviour, vision, strategy, values. We were no different. We had to change the mentality so people within the club believed.’
Having rich owners from Abu Dhabi helps. But City are sensitive to the idea success has been bought without any other reasoning. It is worth pointing out that Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have spent more on individual players than them.
Roberto Mancini guided Manchester City to Premier League glory in dramatic fashion in 2012
Sergio Aguero’s historic late goal against Queens Park Rangers ended City’s wait for the title
In the first part of the decade, their recruitment was spectacularly good with Kompany, Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero becoming club icons.
‘We did inherit a core,’ said Marwood. ‘Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta were already at the club. Players with a strong mentality were added; Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez.
‘Then that extra layer of talent; Yaya, Sergio, David. Patrick Vieira was important. His on-field impact was probably limited but he brought an amazing winning mentality to the dressing room every day. It became a winning culture rather than a losing culture with people feeling sorry for themselves.’
The catalyst was lifting the FA Cup in 2011 to end the long trophy drought. The following year, they won their first Premier League — under Mancini — in the most dramatic circumstances. Aguero’s injury-time winner against QPR allowed City to pip Manchester United on goal difference.
At boardroom level, the strategy was interesting. City were not a club reliant on having the same manager for 20 years like Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger, neither did they wish to swap bosses as frequently as Chelsea. They found a happy medium.
Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini came and left as champions and now Guardiola has taken the club to a whole new level, winning the title two years ago with a record hundred points.
‘We always wanted to be club-led rather than manager-led,’ explains Marwood. ‘What I mean by that is we wanted to create a philosophy so there would be no huge disruption if a manager left.
‘Our vision, the DNA of how we wanted to play evolved, and Pep Guardiola is the high priest of that methodology. It was important to find that alignment between the long-term strategy and a coach being to able to manage within that structure. The fit between Pep and the club has been fantastic.’
As someone who has been at the heart of City’s rise, it is significant that Marwood is also keen to give credit to those who might not be mentioned as often as more famous names.
Chief executive Brian Marwood feels sorry for Edin Dzeko, whose goal is often forgotten
‘I still feel sorry for Edin Dzeko who scored our equaliser against QPR. It tends to be forgotten because everyone speaks about Sergio’s amazing 93rd-minute winner,’ he says.
‘My strongest personal memory is seeing Mr Manchester City, Bernard Halford (former club secretary) going up to lift the FA Cup in 2011. I respected him enormously for what he did for the club during difficult times and when we moved stadiums, he was the man who locked the gates for the final time at Maine Road.
‘To see him going up the steps at Wembley will be forever etched in my mind. He stood for everything about Manchester City, the history good and bad. And being a humble, dignified person.’
Marwood’s greatest memory of the decade was seeing Bernard Halford, City’s former club secretary and life president, lifting the FA Cup in 2011
Of course, City are not ending their decade the way they would like. They have lost this season to Norwich, Manchester United, Liverpool and twice against Wolves, and sit third.
Once surefooted in the transfer market, their last four big signings Riyad Mahrez, Benjamin Mendy, Rodri and Joao Cancelo have not yet made the impact of their predecessors.
Guardiola, a serial winner, is being pragmatic. ‘The club has made incredible steps with different players and managers in the last decade,’ he said. ‘Four Premier League titles is not bad considering this league.
‘But there are periods football is not about being up there all the time. We were incredible for two seasons but now in this competition, the Premier League, we have lost more games than then. You have to adapt. You have to analyse and move forward.’
Liverpool won six out of 10 championships in the 1980s. United won five in the 90s and six in the Noughties. Marwood thinks the strength of competition means it is less likely any team will dominate over long periods any more.
It is already happening in the Champions League where Real Madrid are the only club to regain the prize, and City are still looking for their first.
Marwood is delighted with City’s success but admits that the competition now is very tough
Marwood says: ‘There have been teams in the past that have dominated for long periods. We’ve had an amazing 10 years but there will always be challenges.
‘Liverpool are certainly that challenge right now. You would expect Manchester United, Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal to recover. That is what makes this league as enthralling and entertaining as it is.
‘The battle is normally very close between the top two or three, like last year, because there is not a huge difference between a number of teams.
‘For us to win the league with 100 and 98 points was incredible and we had to be like that because of the teams challenging.’
They are the Team of the Decade and they will fight to stay at the top.