The Team of the Decade
By Joe Bernstein for The Mail on Sunday
· After 34 years without a trophy, Manchester City enjoyed a decade to remember
· City excelled as they won four league titles, two FA Cup and three League Cups
· The club managed to attract Pep Guardiola and a host of top quality players
Manchester City began the decade trophyless for 34 years. They end it with more Premier League titles and points than anyone else.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
‘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.’
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.
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 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.