A real sliding doors moment as Paul Dickov’s last-minute equaliser in the 1999 Division Two play-off final helps City climb out of the third tier. Dickov’s strike into the top corner to send the game to extra time and penalties (in which Nicky Weaver is the City hero) feels like the flap of a butterfly wing – would City have become the behemoth they are now without the Scot burying his finish past Vince Bartram to break Gillingham hearts at Wembley?
City return to the Premier League
Shaun Goater’s goals help City pip Ipswich Town in Division One and secure back-to-back promotions, with City returning to the Premier League after five years away. Are you even a real City fan if you can’t name the midfield three of Kevin Horlock, Jeff Whitley and Mark Kennedy? This remains a City team, and the first season of Shaun Wright-Phillips’ career.
Kevin Keegan arrives
Relegation back to Division One the following season saw City sack manager Joe Royle and bring in Kevin Keegan for 2001-02. Having given up the England job in 2000, Keegan got immediate results as City bounced back to the top tier as champions with a record-breaking points tally (99), before earning a top-half finish in the Premier League, a stretch that included a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Maine Road, the first derby win in 13 years.
After 80 years as the club’s home, City fans waved goodbye to Maine Road on 11 May 2003 as the club completed the move to what was then the City of Manchester Stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The final game in Moss Side was a fairly drab affair, a 1-0 defeat to Southampton, with Badly Drawn Boy ‘serenading’ the home support on the pitch. There were tears and plenty of grumbles among City fans about the move but it transformed the club commercially, making it ripe for subsequent investment.
The Stuart Pearce years
The boredom of middling league finishes between 2005-2007 are interrupted by some dismal cup performances, the excitement of Pearce putting David James up front (leaving Jon Macken on the bench) and missing out on European qualification (thanks to a Robbie Fowler penalty miss). Things got progressively worse under ‘Psycho’, with City failing to score a home league goal after New Year’s Day in 2006-07.
New money, old problems
The former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra paid £21.6m to buy City in June 2007. After sacking Pearce, a host of players are bought including Elano, Vedran Corluka and Martin Petrov, while the former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is placed in charge.
A year later, with Shinawatra’s assets frozen by Thai authorities amid allegations of human rights abuses, the club is again bought by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG). Shinawatra is later stripped of his honorary club president role after he is convicted of multi-million-pound corruption and sentenced to two years in prison. On the pitch, the 2007-08 season ends with an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough.
The Abu Dhabi United Group purchases the club and transforms it with state-level wealth. Mark Hughes replaces Eriksson as manager, while Robinho is signed on deadline day for a British transfer record of £32.5m. Jô, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given are all added but City slump to 10th in 2008-09, a worse position than the previous year.
Another £100m worth of spending does little to improve inconsistent results at City, and Hughes is sacked for Roberto Mancini, who instantly propels the club up the table. City narrowly miss out on Champions League qualification in 2009-10 but further signings Yaya Touré, David Silva and Mario Balotelli help City to FA Cup glory in 2011, their first major honour since 1976. For the first time in decades, they are credible title contenders.
With Sergio Agüero now leading the line, City start 2011-12 with an unbeaten league run that lasts until December, including a 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United at Old Trafford and Balotelli’s famous question: ‘Why always me?’ The title race with United would go to the last day, with City scoring two stoppage-time goals to beat QPR and win the Premier League on goal difference, one of the most dramatic moments in English football history.
In four years, Sheikh Mansour has ploughed over £1bn into the club. But with financial fair play laws not fully implemented until 2013, City now had a winning squad capable of challenging for every trophy. Off the pitch, Eastlands was rebranded as the Etihad Stadium in 2011, and a state-of-the-art £150m training and academy centre was completed in 2014 inside the newly-constructed Etihad Campus. A holding company, City Football Group (CFG), is created with a number of clubs – initially New York City, Melbourne City, Yokohama F. Marinos, Man City Women and Melbourne City Women – added to the club’s roster. Capacity at the stadium is increased to 55,000.
A calm Chilean steadies the ship
City finish second to United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year in charge (2012-13), but a group-stage exit in the Champions League and 2013 FA Cup final defeat to Wigan sees Mancini removed, with the Italian also struggling to manage Carlos Tevez, who goes awol to Argentina for three months. Manuel Pellegrini is appointed in June 2013, and immediately completes a league and cup double, overhauling Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool side to clinch the title.
Despite guiding City to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2015-16 – a vast improvement on their poor performances to this date – and a League Cup triumph, Pellegrini is shown the door in the summer of 2016. Pep Guardiola, the world’s most coveted manager, is appointed by sporting director Txiki Begiristain (formerly of Barcelona). After an underwhelming first season under Pep – the first trophyless campaign of Guardiola’s managerial career – an unprecedented era of success begins.
Domestic domination and European misadventures (2017-2022)
A domestic double in 2017-18 (and record 100-point tally in the league) is followed by a domestic treble the following year. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool side of 2019-20 are the only team to stop City winning five straight league titles, while Guardiola also adds four consecutive Carabao Cups (2018-21) and an FA Cup (2018-19). Hundreds of millions are spent on Guardiola’s squad, amid concerns over financial fair play, but the club fail to achieve their big goal of winning the Champions League.
Beaten by away goals by a Kylian Mbappé inspired Monaco side in 2016-17, City would be halted by Liverpool in 2017, Tottenham in 2018 (again, on away goals via VAR), before a shock exit to Lyon in 2019. City would reach the final in 2021, only to be beaten by Chelsea, before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Real Madrid in 2021-22, succumbing 6-5 in the semi-finals after leading 5-3 in stoppage time of the second leg. Ouch.
City’s performance off the pitch proves to be more tumultuous. In February 2020, Uefa announce a two-year ban for City from European club competition after “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play regulations between 2012 and 2016, a decision later overturned by Cas, which clears City of “disguising equity funds as sponsorship contributions” and which reduces a €30m fine to €10m. However, in February 2023, the Premier League charges City with breaching its financial rules on more than 100 occasions between 2009 and 2018. A ban, points deduction, and a fine all remain a possibility going forward. City vehemently deny any wrongdoing, and in May 2023, Forbes value the club just under £4bn ($5bn).
The £51.5m arrival of Haaland from Borussia Dortmund proved to be a masterstroke, as the Norwegian striker scores 36 league goals to fire City to yet another league title, making a mockery of the theory that a change in tactical system would hurt City’s results. An Ilkay Gündogan double secures an FA Cup final win over rivals Manchester United, while a comprehensive win over Real Madrid sets up a Champions League final date with Internazionale. City are one game away from their dream of European glory, and a historic treble.