x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Manchester City will not be built in a day

Turning a club from Premier League champions into a global brand is harder than it looks, reports Paul Oberjuerge from Austria.

Carlos Tevez, right, is still not a big name enough to entice the Austrian crowds to come out and pay to watch them in friendly games.
Carlos Tevez, right, is still not a big name enough to entice the Austrian crowds to come out and pay to watch them in friendly games.

When the bell began to toll, Manchester City might reasonably have wondered if it were a sign that their 2012 World Tour might not go according to plan.

England's champions have taken up residence in a former monastery in the town of Seefeld, a quiet village near the German border. Good so far.

However, the hotel is attached to the local church, and at 7am each morning the parish priest rings the church bell.

The Austrian newspaper Heute reported Roberto Mancini, the coach, has complained that the clanging bell keeps his players from getting their rest. But the priest, Egon Pfeifer, was quoted as saying he would continue to ring the bells "even if the queen of England wants them to stop".

City rule the Premier League for the first time in 44 years, and their next goal appears to be conquering the football world, and that may not come easily, if Father Pfeifer is any indication.

The English champions began their preseason tour with a friendly in Innsbruck on Friday, and neither local football fans nor the Saudi side Al Hilal seemed particularly impressed, the former by not showing up for a match priced at a modest 15 euros, the latter by scoring the only goal in a match they dominated.

City's tour continues with matches here against Dynamo Dresden and the Turkey club Besiktas, then jumps over to Beijing at the Bird's Nest - the main stadium for the 2008 Olympics - for a high-profile friendly with Arsenal on July 27 and concludes in Malaysia on July 30 with a match in Kuala Lumpur versus a local select side.

This "global brand" thing is harder than it looks. It requires more than an ambitious itinerary and one recent FA Cup and league championship.

It apparently requires years at or near the top, preferably with several deep runs in the Champions League, characteristics which have generated near-universal recognition for names like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea.

City also seem short of a few intangibles associated with the planet's most popular clubs.

Mancini is winning accolades as a coach, and he may have the best hair in the world football coaching fraternity, but he does not command the attention, even awe, of a Sir Alex Ferguson, or Arsene Wenger, or Jose Mourinho. He is not quite there as a personality who can be commodified.

And the team, too, seems to miss a certain something, for global consumption.

Who, exactly, are the stars here, the personalities who attract fans? Not Carlos Tevez, certainly. Not Vincent Kompany, the bland captain. David Silva has never shaken the reputation as wing man to Spain's greats. Mario Balotelli is more infamous than famous. Sergio Aguero has possibilities, but a couple more years and a few more big goals would be helpful.

The clubs who sell shirts and draw eyeballs to TVs halfway around the world have That Guy in the team. Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Van Persie. Can City acquire one of them? Or create their own from current stock?

The match against Hilal was interesting on several levels.

One was the sluggishness City brought to the match. None of their regulars showed much energy and several of them appear to have gone well above their fighting weight during the banquet season, notably Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Abdul Razak and Tevez. City want their players to be hungry, but not quite in the way they were ahead of this camp.

Another was the intensity Hilal brought to the match, which could be a foretaste of what lies ahead for City in the Premier League. They are about to find out what it feels like to be Manchester United, whose defeats all but make the seasons of lesser sides. A third was the complete absence of City merchandise for sale at the stadium.

Or perhaps the club already knew that Hilal would command most of the fans in the Tivoli-Neu Stadium.

Hilal celebrated as if they had won something meaningful, and City can take solace in that. The Saudis were still on the pitch hugging and taking photos 30 minutes after the match. The goalscorer, the tiny forward Nawaf Al Abed, may be the most popular sportsman in Riyadh today.

City are about to embark on the season or seasons that lead to global acclaim.

They could pull it off.

So far, however, they are not getting the kind of ringing endorsement that they seek.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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