Manchester City managed to scoop up the Brazilian star Robinho from under the nose of Chelsea's Roman Abramovich in a record deal.
'Robinho was our statement'
Even in the process of being acquired by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Manchester City managed to scoop up the Brazilian star Robinho from under the nose of Chelsea's Roman Abramovich in a record deal. It's one thing to be an avid football fan, watching the beautiful game from an armchair or terrace; it's quite another to be in a position to buy one of the sport's sleeping giants and shape policy for a club that plays in the world's best league.
Yet that is the position in which Manchester City's chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, finds himself. And while it is a coveted and influential post, Mr al Mubarak admits to a keen sense of responsibility to football and fans. He filled the hot seat last September when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed purchased the blue half of Manchester and gave him the daunting job of running it. "I've always been a football fan and the Premier League was always my favourite league," he said from his Abu Dhabi office yesterday. "Ask any fan what would be their dream job when they retire and it would be chairman of a football club.
"It never crossed my mind that it was ever going to be a possibility though, so when Sheikh Mansour decided to move ahead with the purchase it was amazing." Besides being involved in every aspect of Manchester City's affairs, from transfers to the development of new facilities, Mr al Mubarak is also the chief executive of Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Development Company. Although a busy man, he has continuously shuttled back and forth from Abu Dhabi to Manchester for the past nine months. News of Sheikh Mansour's acquisition coincided with the announcement that the Brazilian international Robson de Souza, known as Robinho, had also been signed for £32.5 million (Dh196m) - a British transfer fee record last year.
"That was a key signing for many reasons," said Mr al Mubarak. "First, Sheikh Mansour comes in, he's the new owner, but for the fans his intentions may not have been clear. People don't know whether it's going to remain a mid-table club, is it going to drift to the bottom or are we going to compete for the Premier League? The other question for people was that even with considerable financial commitment, can Manchester City attract a top-tier player?
"It was a statement of intent from Sheikh Mansour; he bought the club and bought in a top-notch player that Chelsea were on the verge of signing." He added: "It was crazy, put it that way. He was not metres away - I would say inches away from signing for Chelsea and that arrangement with Robinho was a huge coup for us." Following Robinho were Wayne Bridge, Shay Given, Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong, signings that Mr al Mubarak says had an immediate on-field impact.
"First we got Robinho and he was followed by four other players," said the chairman. "The key for us in the January transfer window was to bring balance to the squad." The driving force for any City purchase is the manager, Mark Hughes. Mr al Mubarak said a team had been built around the former Wales international and Manchester United forward to facilitate signings, including the addition of the former Arsenal winger, Brian Marwood, as football administrator.
"Our transfer process is very simple," said Mr al Mubarak. "We have Mark and his team who take football decisions, we have Gary Cook and myself on the management side and Sheikh Mansour as the owner. "Mark decides on gaps in the squad and makes recommendations on players that would fill the gaps. He comes to me and gives me option A, B or C for a certain position. With each player there's a different value and it's up to us to work with Sheikh Mansour, determine a budget and see which player fits best."
Mr al Mubarak said one of the hardest lessons to learn as chairman was to detach from the emotion of the game. "It's very hard to instill a sense of discipline in yourself," he said. "I'm a big football fan, and if you think I'm passionate, then Sheikh Mansour takes it to another level. "He's a sportsman and he understands football, but we realise that when it comes to the club you have to have a business-like attitude. Passion and emotion can sometimes leave you making decisions that are not right."
Instead, a long-term view was required, as was the ability to accept the lows with the highs. "Unlike in business, things are very different in football. In business you can have the right structure, the right positions, the right business plan and you can to a certain extent control how it performs. "In football you can have the perfect 11 players, a home draw on a sunny afternoon with the greatest manager in the world against an inferior side and you can still lose.
"You have to focus on your plan and understand that in the season there will be ups and downs." Yet it is a passion to succeed that drives Mr al Mubarak. "Sheikh Mansour is someone that you would definitely classify as competitive and a winner," he said. "We are not in this to just make up numbers. We are here to win and build a club that is going to compete and be in a position to win trophies. There's no question of that and what we do this summer will set the tone of that very clearly."