The criticism around the recent growth of the English Premier League has been the fluctuation in the novelty of owning a football club. Arab Princes and billionaires keen to try their luck at taking little known European sides and making them multi-million dollar entities. Take Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, for example, all medium sized English clubs that under the direction of their cashed up investors have become international icons.
So of course it came as no surprise when Arab billionaire Sheikh Mansour’s City Football Group came knocking on Australian doors to purchase a club Down Under, Melbourne Heart didn’t hesitate when offered a remarkable takeover opportunity.
A thousand miles away from the football hub of Britain and oil driven wealth in the Middle East, there’s a new renewed sense of excitement and expectation around La Trobe Fields. The re-branded Melbourne City are partaking in a final training session before their opening A-League game against Sydney FC.
The intensity is high, the talk on the field is loud and the football is looking good. David Williams is taking shots at goal whilst working on a one-two play with Spanish import David Villa under the watchful eye of coach John Van’t Schipp.
It just takes a moment to realise that a lot’s changed around this club. Since the takeover in January, facilities have been upgraded, scouting bolstered, coaching improved plus a pre-season trip to Manchester, all coated in a re-branded Sky Blue Polo. They’ve even hired a full-time facilities manager to look after their training pitch.
Life is good for the Melbourne Heart convert, whether they like it or not, their club is now the biggest financial backer in the league and has the resources that far surpass any Australian opposition.
On paper City now have arguably the strongest team in the competition. The recruitment of midfielders Aaron Mooy and Eric Paartalu to the club and adds a new depth in central midfield, whilst former Roar striker James Brown adds another option up-front. Foreign imports haven’t been ignored either, Damian Duff, Robert Koren and most notably, David Villa joining City for a stint has City in the box seat for a strong breakout season.
Already the Heart-City transition has put a spanner in the works and set an unprecedented benchmark for performance that Heart struggled to previously live up to during their past four seasons. A horror season last year under John Aloisi saw them earn plethora of unwanted records contributed by poor tactics and lack of excitement in attack. Heart’s only ever made the finals once and only hold a 27% winning ratio over the past four seasons, the worst in the league.
With the horrendous statistics undeniable, Melbourne City have a short window to be reborn and ensure that their horrible history stays in the past.
Coinciding with the launch of Melbourne City, spanish marquee David Villa arrived earlier this week for a 10 games guest loan. 10 games that will have Euro-snobs and general sports fans flocking to City fixtures to see Villa’s silky skills. It’s as much a marketing ploy as a performance based loan, but reinforces the importance for the opening 10 games to be the City’s seasons best.
A challenge that Villa is eager to make a reality; when asked what he wanted to achieve during his time Down Under at the Season Launch, he responded simply with ‘win’.
But you wouldn’t expect anything less from Villa who despite his little English has already showed his enthusiasm on to perform for City’s existing and new fans over the next three months. On arrival, a jet-lagged Villa swiftly made his way out to train with the team, who were grinning from ear-to-ear to welcome their new marquee teammate.
With the experience of World Cups, La Liga and Champions League victories, you get the impression that he’s going to be the touch of class that City need to open up the first chapter in their new tenure. The purchase of thousands of David Villa shirts has begun and tickets have been secured in advance to witness the Spanish striker play.
Already, the Villa effect has swept into City and A-League history. But the question remains for the rest of the Melbourne City squad, are they willing to play their part in a fresh start?
10 impressive performances inspires a new generation of Melbourne City supporters and sets up City to fend for itself with a bright horizon. It’s a unique make-or-break situation that could excel the club forward both on and off the football pitch. 10 games with a chance create a make their own history.
There’s only so much money can buy, but the opportunity that’s been placed in-front of City is one that if not snatched will be regretted for the rest of their Sky Blue existence. Words by Jacob Arnott. Photography by Aleks Jason.