Twelve days ago, Manchester City still nervously awaited the arrival of Queens Park Rangers to their Etihad Stadium, mindful that victory over the relegation-threatened club would secure their first league title since 1968.
Meanwhile, Chelsea were bookmakers’ massive underdogs to complete an extraordinary turnaround in fortune under Roberto Di Matteo by adding the Champions League trophy to the FA Cup they had secured a week earlier.
Of course, as we know City nearly blew it (as only they could) before staging a remarkable injury-time comeback to beat 10-man Rangers 3-2, so repaying a slice of the £900 million invested in the club by Abu Dhabi United Group since the government-backed concern acquired it in 2008.
In many respects, Chelsea’s Champions League final display last Saturday night was even more worthy of our admiration, their tenacity and obstinacy eventually seeing them crowned European champions.
Most importantly for their Russian billionaire owner who has spent more than £1 billion since buying the club in 2003, Chelsea finally earned the right to be known as a ‘Big Club’.
In the space of six days, billions of petrodollars and enormous sums of money generated from Russia’s indigenous mineral wealth have effected the biggest sea-change in English football since the Premier League was formed in 1992.
Flushed with success, silverware and a newly-acquired status which less than a month ago seemed likely to elude the pair, Manchester City and Chelsea could, with their respective owners’ unlimited access to cash, dominate the domestic game for a decade. Both will maintain that their business model, which involves spending colossal amounts of money on players and managers, eventually works.
Significantly, as UEFA’s ‘Financial Fair Play’ rules are about to come into force, the timing of the duo’s success could prove prescient. Across Europe, perhaps only three clubs (Paris St-Germain, Malaga and Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala – each backed with mountains of either Gulf or Russian-generated money) can match their financial firepower.
The day after Manchester City had claimed the title, their manager Roberto Mancini called upon the club’s owners to “spend a lot of money” like Barcelona and Real Madrid to ensure they can launch a credible Champions League challenge.
He has already identified Arsenal’s Robin van Persie as an ideal replacement for any one of Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli or Carlos Tevez, each of whom appear destined to leave the champions this summer, while as “back-up”, Mancini has earmarked Napoli’s Edinson Cavani despite the Italian club’s £40 million valuation.
Mancini is also interested in Athletico Bilbao’s 23-year-old defensive midfielder Javi Martinez who is understood to have a £28 million release clause in his contract.
As well as securing an improved contract for himself (Mancini earns a reported £3.5 million a year), City’s manager senses that his chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, is prepared to spend whatever it takes in pursuit of Champions League glory.
Following their dramatic league title win, al Mubarak said the club’s popularity had soared. “This club now has a popularity base that is growing in an incredible manner,” he told reporters.