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Manchester City buy A-League club Melbourne Heart

Melbourne Heart fans Oisin, Darcy and Fionn after Manchester City announced it would buy the Heart.

Melbourne Heart fans Oisin, Darcy and Fionn after Manchester City announced it would buy the Heart. Photo: Wayne Taylor

For the world’s richest football club, Manchester City, there was only one choice when it came to investing in a franchise in the Asian region.

Melbourne’s reputation as Australia’s sporting capital, with the prospect of fan growth and strong financial returns from a city of some 4 million people,  tipped the scales easily in Melbourne Heart’s direction even when clubs who have enjoyed more on field success – like Western Sydney Wanderers – were on the market in cities with a similar demographic.

Melbourne Heart players acknowledge the fans after the team defeated the Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park last weekend.

Melbourne Heart players acknowledge the fans after the team defeated the Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park last weekend. Photo: Getty Images

Ferran Soriano, Manchester City’s chief executive, says there were other factors in Melbourne’s favour too: a strong A-League regulatory framework, the option to help build up the developing competition and the relative lack of corruption – compared to many leagues in this part of the world –  in the Australian game.

‘‘The league here is well organised and the restrictions that it has (salary cap, rules on squad sizes and number of foreign players) are positive,’’Soriano says.

‘‘There are other leagues where this does not exist, and there is corruption. We are early in the history of the league, and maybe we can help develop it. We have experience in the Premier League, but Txiki Begiristain (City’s director of football) and I have been with Barcelona as well. We never considered Western Sydney.

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‘‘When you look at the number of people in the city who like football, play football, the number of people living here there’s enough to fill this stadium every week.’’ The deal which sees Heart sold for a figure of around $11.5 million to the City led consortium also includes the ownership group of the Melbourne Storm as minority shareholders with a 20 per cent stake.

Bart Campbell, chairman of the holding company Heart Consortium Group and chairman of NRL club Melbourne Storm NRL, said “partnering with City to co-invest in Melbourne Heart will further strengthen the sporting landscape in one of the world’s greatest cities and bring a range of new capabilities to AAMI Park.

‘‘It is our shared ambition to replicate the model that City created with the New York Yankees around New York City FC and for both organisations to benefit as a result,” Campbell says.

City’s move on struggling Heart has already set the social media agenda buzzing, chiefly with questions about name and colour changes for the club.

Soriano and his colleagues smiled but were non committal when the question was put to them as to whether Heart would abandon its red and white stripes in favour of City’s Sky Blue, and whether it might change its name to Melbourne City FC, sharing initials with their parent company’s MCFC acronym.

‘‘This is day one for us. We want to take our time and listen. I think everything is open,’’ says the chief executive, who was formerly the vice chairman at Barcelona earlier in his career.

For Heart the sky is now the limit.

Soriano spoke of the chance of sporting synergies not just with City in Manchester, but with  its affiliate in the US, New York FC, for which they have just bought a license as part of the next MLS expansion.

‘‘We have experience in football performance, medicine, sports science, and of course tactics and technical development,’’ he says.

‘‘We also know about player recruitment and have large scouting networks all over the world to look for players for the Melbourne team as well as the others.

‘‘We want all our teams to take benefit from our global organisation.’’

Heart fans shouldn’t however, hold their breath waiting for the likes of Yaya Toure or Sergio Aguerro to be making guest appearances down by the Yarra.

"We won’t be sending Manchester City players because they are City players. We will be sending the  best players this team needs,’’ Soriano says.

That could mean players from the MLS franchise, although Marwood, who has been one of City’s football development staff during the Sky Blues rise, did not rule out the chances of some of City’s younger and fringe players being sent over to Australia for loan deals to boost Heart’s playing stocks.

‘‘Why not ?’’ the former Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal winger says.

‘‘It’s a league that’s competitive and we send out young players on loan all the time. What an experience it would be to send them out here to play.’’

Another major benefit for Heart is that the City investment will allow the peripatetic club to develop a training base and headquarters which it can truly call its own.

Heart’s progress has in part been stymied by the lack of certainty surrounding its training set up. This season it has trained at a number of venues before settling on Epping for the remainder of the campaign.

The City officials said they will build and establish a youth development structure and training set up based on the template of the impressive facility they are building in Manchester, although of course much smaller.

‘‘Our aim is to have a very good training facility. We want all our teams to play with the same principals so we want to get them to train the same way in the same high quality training environments,’’ said Soriano.

Begiristain pointed out that youth development will be a major plank of Heart’s program given that there are so many restrictions on the number of foreign players that can be signed by A-League clubs.

107 comments

  • We are foundation members of Heart. The potential this opens up for the club is terrific.

    Commenter
    Neil (not on radio) Mitchell
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    January 23, 2014, 10:42AM
    • Very excited! This should be massive as far as the resources and professionalism Man City are able to bring to Heart. As a Heart member, I just hope they also embrace the community/grassroots feel of the club, and keep the colours, name etc.

      Commenter
      sav
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 11:58AM
    • Heartbreak...
      according to IP Australia Melbourne Heart registered the name Melbourne City Football Club last Thursday (16/01/2014)

      http://pericles.ipaustralia.gov.au/atmoss/falcon_details.show_tm_details?p_tm_number=1601282&p_search_no=1&p_ExtDisp=D&p_detail=DETAILED&p_rec_no=17&p_rec_all=17

      Commenter
      azur
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 1:59PM
    • Yes Neil - and you can rest assured that Melbourne Heart's welfare will be THE NUMBER 1 item spoken about in all team and board meetings, and that you (and other supporters) will be treated as VIP celebrities every time you come to Etihad. Believe me, this means more to us than winning the Premier League or European Championship this year.

      Commenter
      Go The Blues
      Location
      Manchester
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 4:41PM
    • Two factual mistakes in the first two sentences made it difficult to read on.
      The richest football club may come from Manchester, but it's not City, it's United.
      Australia's sporting capital? Oh, I see, you are playing up to the Age readers who hate being little brother to Sydney. Lets see, who remembers an Olympic games in Australia? Unless you have been claiming the pension for many years, the answer will not be Melbourne. Where is the heart of Rugby in Australia? Rugby League? Where does the Captain of the Australian cricket team come from?
      I could go on, but what's the point, if you don't know the difference between United and City, you don't know much about sport.

      Commenter
      Perthfornow
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 11:32PM
    • @Perthfornow

      Australia's sporting capital - Australian Open, Australian Grand Prix and MotoGP, Melbourne Cup, AFL (bigger than and more national than RL)...I could go on but you don't have a clue about sport

      Commenter
      Roo
      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 10:31AM
  • It's just soooo Melbourne that A-league should be a funnel for younger players owned by larger teams.

    That way when these players on loan from major teams finally make it big in other leagues we can say "I knew them before they were big".

    Commenter
    Web
    Location
    Phloem
    Date and time
    January 23, 2014, 11:16AM
    • Great news. Should be good times ahead for the club.

      Commenter
      Dan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 11:24AM
      • An interesting investment. I do wonder what MC think they're going to gain out of this - profits, potential talent, involvement in Asian market? Other than the initial outlay, I hope MH and Aleague gain something positive too.

        Commenter
        meatatarian
        Date and time
        January 23, 2014, 11:24AM
        • What is to be gained? Well how about part of one of the biggest and richest clubs in the World. EPL team, in 2015 new USA team NYC - FC and now Heart. It's beyond me how anyone could see a down side, apart from some one from another code. They have stated they will be around for a very very long time and will share knowledge and resources across clubs including Youth Teams. They will restructure an ailing club and scout for talent as well, and no one could complain about that. They will also have the experience and money to get the brand across Asia and even get the media in OZ to cover the game extensively. There is no downside and if MC pick up some young talent everyone is better off including the National Team.

          Commenter
          Roary
          Date and time
          January 23, 2014, 11:44AM

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