Melbourne City’s success “validates” CFG business and football model – Khaldoon Al Mubarak

One of the most powerful and influential people in football, City Football Group (CFG) and Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak says that Melbourne City’s success represents further validation of the CFG model of club ownership and operation. 

Seven years on from the announcement that CFG had purchased then-A-League strugglers Melbourne Heart, the artist now known as Melbourne City secured its first-ever piece of A-League silverware a fortnight ago: downing Central Coast Mariners 1-0 to secure the Premiers’ Plate with three games in hand. 

At the time of its $12 million acquisition, CFG’s Melbourne-based outpost represented the third club under its banner alongside Manchester and New York-based entities, a stable that has since grown to include sides in China, India, Belgium, Uruguay, Spain and more in the intervening years.

Born of the impressive resources and facilities made available by the CFG acquisition, the club had long been a powerhouse in the women’s and youth football ecosystems in Australia but until the 2019-20 season had consistently flattered to deceive — an FFA Cup the lone bright spot in an otherwise barren men’s trophy cabinet in Bundoora. 

The arrival of CFG consultant and former Yokohama F Marinos boss Erick Mombaerts ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, however, served to rejuvenate the men’s side as it finished second and qualified for its first-ever Grand Final. While the COVID-19 pandemic subsequently forced Mombaerts to return to his native France, his assistant Patrick Kisnorbo, who previously served as a youth, women’s and men’s assistant at the club, took over the reins and led the club to silverware. 

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Speaking to Manchester City’s website, Khaldoon said that the long-awaited arrival of silverware in 2020-21 served to endorse CFG’s vision for the club.

“I think that the business of football and the business of CFG has been validated as the right development,” he said. 

“I think people are now following that, and there’s no better compliment to show that you’re on the right track than when other people are following suit. 

“But it’s not just about the financial side of it, it’s also about the footballing side of it. Does the football work? Are we able to emulate the success that we’ve had in Manchester in these clubs around the world? And the answer is an absolute yes. You look at what we’ve achieved this year, as an example. 

“Melbourne has had its journey and today it’s one of the most important clubs in the Australian A-League. 

“It’s a member that is now considered one of the best run, and to finish first in that league right now and be entering the playoffs first for the first time, but to do it with a club that’s created its DNA, created an academy [referring to City’s coming academy in Casey], building the women’s team, building it’s own age group teams that support that first team. 

“[It has] a coach [Kisnorbo] that has gone through the evolution of being part of every one of these teams and then now coaching the first team. 

“And now, finally, being in first place — the results matching the objectives and now entering the playoffs and hopefully in a very strong position for that. 

“I think it’s a great credit to and a great example of how that model has worked and continued to work and is financially both viable and sustainable and on the footballing side shows consistent success.”

Across the course of the interview, Khaldoon also outlined his vision for the CFG in three of its rapidly growing bastions: America, China and India. 

“I have a belief that this model started with a lot of risk but was sound in terms of its thesis,” he said. 

“Over the years, this model continued to grow. Again, a lot of lessons learned, we’ve improved, we’ve grown and today we have a global footprint. East, West… of course, Manchester City at the pinnacle but then, when you look at the markets we’re in, the countries we’re in. 

“Let’s start with a couple of points. Do you believe that football is the fastest growing and most popular sport in the world? Yes. Do you believe that the business of sport is a business that is going to grow and that live entertainment is going to be always linked to sports? Yes. What are the two largest economies in the world? The United States and China. What is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world? India. 

“You look at the population of China, you look at the population of India, you look at the economy in the United States and the size of the population in the United States. In all three of these, football has a huge way to go.

“We have a belief as a group that football has a great growth trajectory in the United States. 

“In India, it is the sport that is going to be the fastest-growing. Obviously, cricket is the main sport in India but you have a population of a billion people, the largest growing middle class in the world, one of the largest GDP growth of an economy in the world and you have football that is growing in popularity and is going to become that solid second. 

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“And then you have China: the second-largest economy in the world and the biggest population in the world. Football is becoming more and more the number one sport in the country. So for us, investing in a team in each one of those countries with that 20-year horizon that we look at is a no-brainer, an absolute no brainer.”

The CFG executive also expressed his regret surrounding Manchester City’s attempt to join the much-hated and ill-fated European Super League (ESL).

In April, Manchester City was revealed to be one of 12 founding clubs of the proposed ESL, joining rivals Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal as English representatives in the competition. 

But a swift mobilization of opposition from a wide-ranging coalition of opponents – ranging from UEFA, to national governments to fan groups – quickly led to the league’s collapse. 

“It was a mistake,” Khaldoon said. “In hindsight, the decision, from the beginning, should have been a decision not to participate in this league. 

“For many reasons, I think we looked at it – and I’m not going to sit here and defend the reasons why we did it. What I will do is I will own it. We took a decision… I took a decision ultimately on this, and I take full responsibility. 

“It was a mistake and what I tell the fans on this is, to get to where we are today, throughout the years, we’ve done a lot of things right, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes. And it’s part of growing and improving. I say that always, you have to have the courage to make mistakes and then to own up to these mistakes to go forward. 

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, this will improve and strengthen our position as a club. What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do. Our fans, I hope, will understand when we make such a mistake like this our heart was in the right place. Our assessment was wrong.”

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Header Image Credit: Melbourne City

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