Monday, 21 September 2009

David Conn on behind the scenes changes

One of the great untold stories of the ADUG transformation of Manchester City is the money which has been spent revamping the club's training, medical and office facilities. After years of underinvestment under both the Thaksin and John Wardle regimes Mark Hughes - and, three months later, Sheikh Mansour - inherited infrastructure that was simply not up to the task of supporting a Premier League football club with any pretensions of success. David Conn's second Guardian article, which focusses on the mess the club were in last summer, picks up the story soon after the takeover:

"I must say I was extremely surprised," Khaldoon recalled. "I took a tour with Mark and I couldn't believe what I saw. It was not the minimum level of infrastructure required for a top-tier club.

"When I returned I immediately went to Sheikh Mansour, showed him pictures of the facility and he was very straight to say, 'this is unacceptable'. There were some quick fixes, quick wins, we could do at City, like fixing the gym, the medical facility – we had to do it quickly, because it was simply unacceptable."

The combination of Mark Hughes' drive and expertise and Sheikh Mansour's limitless cash meant that the facilities could finally be dragged up the required standard. And now City are fortunate enough to have the structures in place to support the playing staff as much as they need:

Where before there were a handful of stationary bikes, a couple of treadmills, no dedicated weights room and desultory gloom, now there are 20 bikes, all the weights and the multi-gym Hughes' staff wanted for training and rehab, a six-bed medical centre, refurbished hydrotherapy plunge baths, a new kit room, and motivational messages slapped optimistically on the walls. One is Muhammad Ali's famous quote: "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."

A very similar story applies to the organisation of the administrative and commercial side of the club. Years of underinvestment, amateurism and complacency had seen it fall way behind the standard required:

Khaldoon was also taken aback by the holes he found in the organisation. A businessman schooled in corporate systems, chief executive of an Abu Dhabi fund with more than $10bn of government assets under investment, he found City had no personnel department, no finance director.

"I found it shocking," he reflected. "In the famous Premier League, to run without basic functions like these. I'll be frank, I expected it to be more structured. One of the big surprises was how amateurish it was."

It's a story of a transformation as remarkable as that from Gelson Fernandes to Gareth Barry, or Benjani to Adebayor. In the darkest moments of last season the club leadership - Hughes, Cook and Khaldoon - always stayed on message: the club is going through transformative changes behind the scenes, there are likely to be teething problems, but our focus and our commitment to the current management is clear. I took them at their word, and am pleased now to have had my faith vindicated by evidence of what was going on.

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