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Man City chases global success but struggles at home

March 21, 2016

LONDON (AP) — Manchester City is on a mission to become soccer’s global power, with a network of clubs sweeping up trophies from east to west.

There’s one major stumbling block in the grand project being masterminded from City’s sprawling Manchester campus: The parent team can’t even dominate at home.

With an aging squad and lame-duck manager, Manchester City is regressing in the Premier League while it is ambitiously expanding internationally with off-shoot clubs in New York, Melbourne, Yokohama and another mooted in China.

The City Football Group, run from Manchester but owned by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was valued at $3 billion when a Chinese consortium took a 13 percent stake last year.

“Each one of these (teams) are different but all of them are progressing,” City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said last year. “All of them, I guarantee you, are going to be a journey of progress, growth and — above all — success.”

It’s just taking longer than expected.

City did win the Premier League in 2012 and 2014 but meekly surrendered the trophy on both occasions. This season, City isn’t even a contender as Manuel Pellegrini keeps the hot-seat warm for the incoming Pep Guardiola and even Champions League qualification is in the balance.

The squad Guardiola inherits after swapping Munich for Manchester from July is in desperate need of a revamp. City’s shortcomings were visible in Sunday’s home humbling by United, its apparently ailing neighbor.

The 1-0 loss was its third consecutive game without scoring; a barren run not seen at City since its destiny was transformed in 2008 by a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family deciding to invest billions of dollars into awaking a dormant team.

Sunday’s wretched derby afternoon was encapsulated by Pellegrini’s explanation for substituting Martin Demichelis early in the second half. It didn’t reflect well on the coaching abilities of Pellegrini, the man who restored calm to City after the chaotic reign of Roberto Mancini.

“He was nervous,” Pellegrini said of an experienced international who played for Argentina in the semifinals at the last World Cup.

The 35-year-old defender’s lack of pace was brutally exposed when 18-year-old forward Marcus Rashford went past him with ease before scoring the only goal of the game at the Etihad Stadium on his derby debut.

United didn’t just secure local bragging rights but barged back into contention for the fourth Champions League place.

It is not completely bleak in the blue half of Manchester, however, with the League Cup already collected and a first-ever Champions League quarterfinal game to come next month against Paris Saint-Germain.

But City’s grip on the top four has never looked more precarious, as West Ham and United sit only a point behind with eight matches to go.

This isn’t just a blip but a trend that will be causing alarm not just in the boardroom but in the current Bayern Munich manager’s office. Guardiola is preparing to leave Germany’s ultimate power for a club 15 points behind Leicester, which has surged to the top of the Premier League with a modest outlay on players.

Pellegrini’s plans have been hampered by an expanding injury list.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart (calf) and forward Raheem Sterling (groin) now face a month out after being injured on Sunday. City’s defense has already been shorn of captain Vincent Kompany while the midfield trio of Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph and Samir Nasri remain sidelined.

“It is a really sad weekend,” said goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who came off the bench to replace Hart. “It is really hard to lose one or two players again. We are in the fourth position and we need to keep it.”

Little this season justifies City’s presence in the top four.

City hasn’t beaten any team in the top six, taking only three points off them: Draws against Leicester, West Ham and United in the away derby.

Delving deeper into the table doesn’t show City’s well-paid collection of internationals in any better light. Southampton is the only team in the top nine they have beaten.

Does Guardiola know what he’s let himself in for by taking his first job in the seriously competitive Premier League from next season? Medals won’t be a certainty.

This is the man who won a hat trick of Spanish titles and the Champions League twice among 14 major honors between 2008 and 2011 at Barcelona. In Germany, he is on course to leave after another treble of domestic titles although the European Cup has eluded him so far at Bayern Munich.

Guardiola will be hoping his final match in charge is the Champions League final in Milan on May 28 when an intriguing scenario could play out.

Current form points to City missing out on the top four. So qualification for the Champions League next season could rest on advancing to this year’s final and becoming European champions for the first time.

That would ensure Guardiola is in charge of a Champions League team when he arrives at City next season. But it would see him leave Bayern without a European honor.

One thing is certain, Guardiola will be watching City’s current displays with anxiety, knowing he will soon have to turn this inconsistent group of players into a force to be reckoned with.


Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

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