By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
“How to spend $2 billion” isn’t a problem most of us will ever have to deal with, but hey, it is always good to be prepared, so let’s delve into the hypothetical.
In actual fact, the solution is easy. Just buy a European soccer team, stock it with the best players you can possibly imagine, and set yourself the target of trying to win the UEFA Champions League.
And, if that still doesn’t satisfy your need for retail therapy, don’t worry, for even such an eye-popping sum of money doesn’t guarantee success in the toughest club competition in the sport.
Case in point — Manchester City.
On Wednesday, City continues its latest attempt to claim the Champions League, the standard by which every elite European team judges itself. Since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nayhan of the Abu Dhabi royal family bought the English club in 2008, the spending on new players has been lavish, and unceasing — hence that $2 billion figure (OK fine, it’s only $1.86 billion according to the latest exchange rates), according to Transfermarkt.
By now, reason would suggest that at least one Champions League title would be safely stashed in the trophy room at City’s Etihad Stadium.
To win, it requires a lot of things, so the prevailing logic goes. You need a star-studded squad, a coach with the right blend of tactical know-how and prior experience, and, more than anything else, an absolutely mind-blowing treasure chest of money, at your ready disposal.
Over the past decade, City has been able to tick all of those boxes with frequency, and never more so than now.
It is the first club in the world to have a current first-team squad valued above $1 billion. Transfermarkt rates it as having six of the 24 most valuable players on the planet, headed by outstanding Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and 21-year-old English dynamo Phil Foden.
Pep Guardiola is regarded by many as the finest coach in soccer and has won the Champions League twice before with Barcelona. And the money is still there, more spending every summer, a who’s who of international superstars being ushered in whenever needed — and sometimes when not.
If players don’t work out, however expensive or hyped they were when they arrived, they’re moved on, to be replaced by new, fashionable recruits.
Yet City has still not been able to sew a Champions League star beside its crest. Going into Wednesday’s semifinal second leg against Real Madrid, the closest it has come is in reaching the final a year ago, when it fell short against Chelsea.
All that spending has secured three English Premier League crowns in the past four years and probably another one in a few weeks’ time, but regular disappointment has marked the concurrent Europe campaigns, adding some pressure for Guardiola and his players.
“Always we are looking for proof from outside that what you are doing is right,” Guardiola told reporters recently. “I agree with those people who say ‘but we didn’t win in Europe, we didn’t win the Champions League’ and maybe they are right. To get this recognition from everyone outside, in the world, you have to conquer Europe.”
Before the arrival of the Abu Dhabi ownership group, City had historically lived in the shadow of its higher-profile neighbor Manchester United, and despite boasting a huge fan base had too often been undone by poor decision-making and, sometimes, bad luck.
City supporters had to sit by and watch as United dominated the end of the 20th century and the start of this one, including a golden run of 12 EPL titles in 21 years. However, Sheikh Mansour’s arrival, and the financial might he brought with him, turned City into instant and permanent contenders.
Success begets attention, and City is now established as a truly global brand, with the organization having drastically increased in value while building a huge international fan base.
However, to complete the picture, a Champions League victory is needed. It won’t be easy. The first leg of the semifinal was one of the most entertaining games you could ever wish to see, though City cannot shake the feeling that the margin of success should have been greater.
Having gone ahead 3-1 with goals from De Bruyne, Foden and Gabriel Jesus, the end result was a 4-3 win, meaning City will take only the slimmest of leads to Madrid on Wednesday. FOX Bet rates City a -500 shot to advance, with Real Madrid at +300.
City’s European story is one of the most interesting plots of the season. For all the power that money confers, on a European scale, they are still the outsider looking in, trying to access the most exclusive club of all.
Real has been crowned kings of Europe 13 times, more than any other team, and the Spanish giant feels like it holds the keys to the kingdom. Real will be trying to protect its turf and delay what is perhaps the inevitable for a little longer, denying City a prize that even $2 billion hasn’t been able to buy.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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