x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Local fans hail takeover and signing

Manchester City fans in the UAE hailed the takeover of their club as a move that could drive its success.

Brazilian Robinho's move to Manchester City stunned fans.
Brazilian Robinho's move to Manchester City stunned fans.

ABU DHABI // Manchester City supporters in the UAE hailed the takeover of their club as a move that could push it into the higher echelons of English football. Many fans were still stunned by the news of Monday's sale to the privately owned Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) and the purchase of the Brazilian forward Robinho. "We expected to sign maybe a couple of new players on transfer deadline day, not to sell our club to a new chairman," said Karl Porter of the Manchester City Supporters' Club Dubai.

Fans said the signing of the former Real Madrid star Robinho from under the noses of their Premiership rivals Chelsea was the early statement of intent they hoped for. "To complete the signing on the last day shows they mean business," said Mark Lynch, chairman of the supporters' club. The club earlier had launched a remarkable but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to sign the Tottenham Hotspur star Dimitar Berbatov, who eventually moved to Manchester United.

David Hammett, vice chairman of the supporters' club, said the sale came as a surprise. "We'd all heard the rumours of UAE-based groups being interested, but none of us expected anything to happen on transfer deadline day," he said. "While I remain cautious, my initial reaction is that this is a hugely positive move for the club. We have been facing an uncertain financial future following Dr Thaksin's [Shinawatra] legal problems in Bangkok, so if this gives us a solid financial footing as we move forward, then it is certainly very good news."

Members of the Dubai supporters' club, which has grown to 30 members since it was founded in July, said the takeover could raise the club's profile in the Arab world, much as Thai ownership led to Man City becoming a household name among football fans in Thailand. Many expect the club to establish its presence in the UAE through training camps, football schools and regular friendly matches. Abu Dhabi-based clubs are also expected to tap into the expertise of the club, and coaches from the club will work with young Emirati players. There will also be regular tours by Manchester City youth teams to the capital to help improve standards among local footballers. Fans said they expected ADUG to become Manchester City's shirt or stadium sponsor.

Manchester City has made a positive start to this year's English Premier League season with two victories in the first three league games and the return of the right winger Shaun Wright-Phillips to the club. Fans urged the new owners not to tinker with the current set-up, led by the former Manchester United player Mark Hughes. "I hope we don't just try to buy class and forget the academy and the good young lads that are coming through," said Mr Lynch. "They should give Hughes full running of the team and not buy anyone unless it's his choice."

However, supporters also accepted that a substantial financial injection was needed if the team was to compete seriously with Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. "More investment in top-class players is definitely needed if we are to eventually push into the Champions League places and challenge for trophies," Mr Hammett said. "Hopefully, ADUG and Mark Hughes will be the combination that takes us there." rditcham@thenational.ae