It’s not all about football

February 06, 2012

Football is without question the most popular game in the world. Three years ago, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nayhan bought Manchester City Football Club in England through the company Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).  Whilst the transformation in terms of the football played has been little short of extraordinary, not many people realise the other, arguably much more important, changes that ADUG has started to deliver.

Manchester City has signed some of the very best players in the world - Sergio Aguero and David Silva to name just two of the 24 bought in. The style of football under the guidance of manager Roberto Mancini has resulted in four more goals this season in the Premiership than even their great rival Manchester United, who they also beat 6-1 at United’s stadium. The first phase of ADUG’s strategy was all about the game itself, and this is bringing results.

The radical improvement in the on-pitch performances has resulted in 2bn people worldwide having watched the team; 150,000 tune into each match via the website of the club, and the official Facebook page has 1.4mn fans.

With this increasingly powerful popularity, ADUG have started to plan a long-term legacy. Within five minutes of the Etihad Stadium in East Manchester is one of the most deprived areas in the UK. When I studied town planning at Manchester University from 1975-79, no one wanted to go to this area. A viable solution to the social problems could not be found. Child poverty is at 27 per cent of the population. The land is so polluted that it has a negative value.

ADUG is planning a huge new Etihad Campus, on a site adjacent to the existing Stadium, to be linked by a new bridge. The executive team running City has a blueprint to help regenerate the local community as part of a genuine business proposition. Many thousands of jobs will be created constructing and operating the Campus. The City soccer school officials are already proud that they can reach parts of the community that the police fear to tread. Some 200,000 people have been helped till date by the club’s Community scheme.

The power of the new Manchester City brand helps the executive staff to communicate with local residents, who do not trust what they hear from the local authorities and central government. The value that the brand can generate is simply enormous.

So what can we learn from the Manchester City story and the investments made by Sheikh Mansour? Sport of course suffers from politics and self interests but it can cut through such difficulties and act as a catalyst to bring about change in society. Sport inspires many, and has a worldwide language of its own.

I would like to see more initiatives in Oman following the likes of Oman Sail and the Arsenal Football academy, to help focus the energies of the young in their search to make valuable contributions to society. And I challenge those businesses making healthy profits to channel some more of their corporate social responsibility efforts into developing world-class sporting activities here in our city.