When Melbourne City became Melbourne City, the fortunes of the southern capital’s second team appeared destined to change.
After City Football Group spent $12 million to acquire 80 per cent of the Melbourne Heart in January 2014 and subsequently negotiated full ownership in August the following year, a club with a clear and motivated future looked to have arrived.
Since, City has not missed the A-League semi-finals, yet – with six of the ten clubs experiencing post-season action every year – such a record may not be as impressive as it may sound to the untrained ear.
Much is made of the vast sums City Football Group has parted with in its attempt to establish a global presence. With considerable expenditure comes much expectation and in the case of Melbourne City, something of a misconception.
While the group’s flagship club, Manchester City, continues to surge ahead both in terms of trophies and popularity, the salary-capped Melbourne City does not.
For Manchester, there are no bounds and whenever a truly global superstar comes onto the market for transfer, City Football Group chairman Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak can raise his name in discussions with both his board and manager Pep Guardiola quite comfortably.
In essence, if the player becomes a target, the purse strings will be loosened as required to ensure that the Citizens are armed with the necessary arsenal to produce more silverware. So much so that since 2008, £1.2 billion has been spent to build the powerful Manchester machine that has now surpassed and embarrassed its cross-town rival.
The money has produced four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups, however a modest 47.14 winning percentage in European competition has stopped the group from achieving what is undoubtedly its primary focus, the Champions League.
It is perhaps a natural leap of faith to assume that Melbourne City should be riding the coattails of the English giant, enjoying peripheral spending and benefits.
However, with just $3.2 million permitted to be spent on playing talent outside any marquee arrangement, the salary cap does its job and keeps levels of A-League thriftiness under control.
That creates something of a misnomer: the oft and loosely used A-League term ‘big club’. Fundamentally, assets, revenue and income mean little when Australian clubs are restricted so rigidly by the binding cap.
While the 2017-18 Manchester City domestic league winning team may have cost somewhere in the vicinity of £777 million to assemble, the vast majority of the Melbourne City squad will always be worth the maximum cap value – no more, no less.
Sure, the scouting powers and resources of the group have led to many a quality player finding a new home in Melbourne, however the elixir to remedy A-League failure has yet to be found.
Bruno Fornaroli has been the most successful and notable signing, yet Thomas Sorensen, Michael Jakobsen, Ritchie De Laet and Bart Schenkeveld have also shown class. The arrivals of such players always provides great optimism for supporters, those hoping that the powers at be have finally sent them the tools they need to claim their first A-League title.
In reality, winning a championship has little to do with the size of head office’s bankroll.
Aside from the 2016-17 FFA Cup victory, Melbourne City’s cupboard is bare – and that will not change without the latest group of players forging a fresh, attacking and pro-active style under new and well-credentialled manager Erick Mombaerts.
As promising as the arrivals of Englishman Craig Noone, Uruguayans Adrian Luna and Javier Cabrera, as well as the acquisition of former Sydney FC midfielder Josh Brillante appear to be, success for City will be dependent upon far more than pedigree and fresh faces.
The squad had become a stifled and stuttering unit under Warren Joyce. Few players consistently showed their best as negativity and conservatism took root on the pitch.
The freshness for which so many fans have called has arrived in the form of Mombaerts and, despite the disappointing loss of the best defender in the league in the form of Schenkeveld, there is once again room for hope.
City Football Group has it all – well, all bar that elusive Champions League title – however, their wealth and assets mean little Down Under. It has counted for nought as Melbourne City has huffed and puffed away in semi-final series over the past five seasons, only to be extinguished on each occasion.
Changing that in 2019-20 will have little to do with money and far more to do with football.