Man City owners buy Mumbai City FC
“Namaste,” greeted Ferran Soriano, City Football Group (CFG) CEO, as he began his speech here on Thursday.
And with that, English Premier League champions Manchester City’s parent company announced its acquisition of a majority 65 per cent stake in Indian Super League (ISL) club Mumbai City FC. The existing shareholders of the franchise—actor Ranbir Kapoor and Bimal Parekh, who owns a major chartered accountancy firm—will own the remaining 35 per cent of the shares.
The deal not only gives a shot in the arm to the Mumbai franchise but also the ISL, which was officially elevated as India’s top domestic football competition last month.
India is the eighth destination where the Abu Dhabi-based CFG, which is currently valued at $4.8 billion, has invested in a club. Apart from Manchester City, the CFG has its presence in the US (New York City FC), Australia (Melbourne City FC), Japan (Yokohama F. Marinos), Uruguay (Club Atletico Torque), Spain (Girona FC) and China (Sichuan Jiuniu FC).
Investing in a big market like India was on CFG’s radar for quite some time, but the group only seriously became interested since last year, when they started sending its representatives and scouts to attend ISL matches.
“The first obvious thing (that attracted us to India) is the size of the country,” Soriano said. “But we were not serious about India until we visited here. I watched two games in the stands with the fans, and I saw the passion. I felt it was the time for football in India.”
It was then about picking the right club, and Mumbai City FC—which is yet to win an ISL title—made the most sense because it is based in a city that has similarities with New York, said Soriano.
“We have been very successful in New York. We started there six years ago from nothing, much worse than here; there was no team, no brand. But we did well. And Mumbai is as vibrant a city, and I’m sure football is going to be successful in Mumbai,” Soriano said.
The talks with Mumbai City FC began as early as the start of the year, and after multiple rounds of discussions and delays, it was green lit from both ends.
“This had been in the pipeline for some time now,” Indranil Das Blah, the current CEO of Mumbai City FC, said. “But both sides wanted to be absolutely sure that we were in it for the same thing, and that is developing football.”
That’s not to say that things will change overnight. “For this season, most things will remain the same, including the team, players and the management. It is probably from the next season that the changes will be implemented,” Blah said.
The CFG has appointed Damian Willoughby as the CEO of City Football Group India, who will study Mumbai City FC and ISL’s ecosystem and develop a road map over the next three months.
But they have already outlined a few key areas where they would want to make a difference. One of them is putting the group’s vast scouting network—comprising 65 scouts—from across the globe to help Mumbai and bringing in players that would fit well with the club.
“Our scouts are constantly looking for profiles of players that are relevant to each of the markets where we have clubs, and we have seen huge success with that. We’re confident that they can make a massive impact in Mumbai as well by bringing in quality players that can make a difference to the club,” Willoughby said.
And while the hunt will be on to rope in the right players, the current team will also benefit from some exposure tours, something the group has been doing with all its clubs.
“For example, last week, our team in Uruguay was in Manchester to train for a week at City’s football academy. They had an opportunity to interact with (Manchester City manager Pep) Guardiola and enjoy our facilities there. So, I’m sure at some point, the Mumbai team will be going to Manchester,” Soriano said.
The other focus area is the development at the grassroots, and identifying and grooming the city’s talent at an early stage. Again, it’s a blueprint they want to replicate from their experience in New York.
“Grassroots is our priority number one. We want to get to kids early. We identified and picked up kids in New York at the age of 7-8, and today, they are playing in our team and doing well. There is talent in Mumbai and in India, and we will help find that,” Soriano said.
He reiterated that they will need to be patient with its Mumbai sojourn, and that things will take time to fall into place.
“We are here to stay. The CFG is here to stay for the next decade and more, to see Indian football flourish,” Soriano said.