Continuing our series charting our rise from Division Three, we take a look at the season that changed everything – 2008/09.
It is safe to say that the first season of the Thaksin Shinawatra era didn’t go exactly to plan. Sven Goran-Erikssen sacked after just one season and the Thai’s financial assets frozen meant City’s future was even more uncertain than it had ever been. Still, the blues set about planning for the new season. Mark Hughes was brought in as manager from Blackburn Rovers, and the club were active in the transfer market from the moment the window opened. Brazilian striker Jo arrived from £18m from CSKA Moscow at the beginning of July, and while further signings were to follow, this would be the only one before City’s season started.
The blues qualified for the UEFA Cup, but entered right at the beginning, which meant their first competitive match was on 17th July at EB Streymur from the Faroe Islands. The blues won both ties 2-0 to progress. City then signed Tal Ben Haim from Chelsea for £5m prior to their next match at home to FC Midtjylland. The blues lost the home leg 1-0, just three days before the season started at Aston Villa, which was to prove again just how much City needed to strengthen their defence.
City lost 4-2 at Villa on the opening day. 0-0 at half time, City were 4-1 down with 14 minutes to go, before pulling a goal back. To try and solve their defensive issues, City spent £6m on Vincent Kompany from SV Hamburger. The blues faced West Ham for their first home league game of the season, and dispatched the Hammers 3-0, before heading to Denmark for the UEFA Cup second leg match. The blues were minutes from exiting the competition, when an own goal gave the blues a 1-0 win. City went on to win the penalty shoot-out to set up a first round match at Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia. On the same day, City re-signed prodigal son Shaun Wright-Phillips from Chelsea for £10m. Three days later, SWP made his second City debut at Sunderland and scored twice as the blues won 3-0. Pablo Zabaleta then joined City for just £6.45m and another Brazilian, Glauberarrived from FC Nurnburg. But the following day, everything would change.
1st September 2008, news broke that City were the subject of a takeover bid from Abu Dhabi United Group, spearheaded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. ADUG promised to make City one of the biggest teams in the world, and to underline their ambition, immediately set about proving their value. Brazilian star Robinho, who had long been courted by Chelsea, arrived at City for a British transfer fee record of £32.5m. Blues fans had to rub their eyes in disbelief at the size of the deal. With investment from ADUG, the blues could finally compete and the fans looked to the future and saw silverware.
But first, back to the Premier League and ironically enough, Robinho’s first match in City blue would be at home to Chelsea. And typically enough, it was the Brazilian that shot the blues into the lead on 13 minutes. But the blues couldn’t hold it and eventually lost the match 3-1. It was ultimately a disappointing start for the new regime, but City put themselves in a commanding position in the UEFA Cup, winning 2-1 in Cyprus. Jo scoring his first two goals for the club.
And the striker was looking worth every bit of his fee when he scored the opening goal as City beat Portsmouth 6-0 at Eastlands, with Robinho scoring his second for the blues. But City once again proved their unpredictable nature when they visited Brighton in the League Cup. City were 1-0 up after 64 minutes, but conceded an equaliser on 89. Brighton then went in front five minutes into extra time, but the blues equalised with 12 minutes left. For the second time, City faced penalties and lost 5-4 to once again bow out at the first hurdle. The last game in September saw the blues visit Wigan. Once again, City lost, this time 2-1. After winning three and losing three, the blues sat in 8th place in the league, but it was good enough for City as they sat three places above United.
October began by beating Omonia 2-1 at Eastlands to progress to the group stage of the UEFA Cup, but then threw away a two goal lead at home to Liverpool to lose 3-2. Robinho was again on target at Newcastle as he gave the blues the lead, but then had to come from behind to come away with a point. The Brazilian bagged a hat-trick in a 3-0 home win over Stoke, then travelled to Middlesbrough, eager to avenge their 8-1 drubbing from the previous season. It wasn’t as bad but the blues still lost 2-0.
It was an identical score at Bolton in the first game of November, before the blues faced their first UEFA Cup group game against Dutch side Twente Enschede. SWP opening the scoring, but the visitors levelled on 17 minutes. The blues went 3-1 up by 62 minutes, but as usual, they made it difficult by conceding three minutes later, but held on to win 3-2. But the blues woes in the league continued as they had two players sent off, with the visitors having one dismissed as the blues lost at home to Spurs 2-1. City twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Hull, before the blues recorded a 3-0 win at home to Arsenal.
City recorded a 2-0 win in Germany over Schalke 04, but lost a home derby against United 1-0. United had five players booked and Ronaldo sent off, while the blues had two booked. Despite the investment in the squad, City had dropped to 14th, and were just two points above the relegation zone. Not exactly going to plan.
December started with a 0-0 draw at home to Paris St Germain, then drew 1-1 at Fulham as their struggles continued. City then left it until the second minute of injury time before losing 1-0 at home to Everton, followed by a 3-1 defeat at Racing Santander. Despite this, the blues still topped the group to set up a last 32 match against Copenhagen. But in their final game before Christmas, the blues lost 2-1 at West Brom. The defeat left City in the relegation zone, which prompted the song ‘we’re going down with a billion in the bank’ from the fans.
On Boxing Day, the blues were desperate for a win and Hull provided the perfect opposition. By half time, City were 4-0 to the good, and despite Hull pulling a goal back, the bleus scored a fifth with 8 minutes left to play. A trip to Blackburn was next and the blues looked like suffering defeat again, as Rovers were 2-0 up after 84 minutes. But an 88th minute goal by Daniel Sturridge and an injury time equaliser rescued a point for the blues. City ended the year out of the relegation zone in 13th place and a home FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest could be just the thing to kick start City’s season.
On the day City lost that FA Cup tie in a shock 3-0 home defeat, the blues signed Wayne Bridge from Chelsea for £10m. City then beat Wigan (yes really) 1-0 at Eastlands, then signed Craig Bellamy from West Ham and Nigel de Jong from SV Hamburger for £16m. Bellamy scored on his City debut as City beat Newcastle 2-1, but then lost 1-0 at Stoke to end January in 10th position. Although five points above the relegation zone, City never looked in danger of being dragged into a scrap with the bottom clubs.
But January will be remembered for one of the boldest moves in the history of Manchester City. The blues apparently submitted a bid of £107m to AC Milan for Brazilian star Kaka, even offering wages of £500,000 per week. Kaka turned the move down, and the bid upset UEFA, who referred to their proposed FFP rules by quoting ‘one club who had suddenly become very rich.’ They never clarified who they were referring to, but I think we can guess!
Bellamy scored the winner in a 1-0 home win over Middlesbrough, but lost 2-0 at Portsmouth the following week, before again travelling to Denmark for the UEFA Cup match against Copenhagen. The blues twice lead, but conceded an injury time equaliser to take two away goals home with them. Back to league action and Bellamy was on target again as the blues took the lead at Anfield. Just when the fans thought we might get that elusive win at Liverpool, the home side levelled with 12 minutes remaining, but a 1-1 draw was better than nothing. Back to the UEFA Cup and Bellamy continued his goalscoring form, grabbing a brace as City won 2-1 and progressed to the last 16.
March started with a 1-0 defeat at West Ham, but that was followed with a 2-0 home win over Aston Villa. In the UEFA Cup, City were again drawn against a team from Denmark. Aalborg Bk were beaten 2-0 in the first leg, then lost 1-0 at Chelsea in the league as they continued to struggle domestically. The blues then lost 2-0 at Aalborg, and for the third time this season, City faced a penalty shoot-out. The blues won 4-3 to set up a tie against German side SV Hamburger, the former club of Vincent Kompany and Nigel de Jong. March finished with a 1-0 home win over Sunderland as City remained in 10th position.
April started with a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal, followed by a 3-1 defeat in Germany. The blues started brilliantly, with a goal in the first minute by Stephen Ireland. By half-time, it was 1-1, but conceded two goals in 10 minutes to lose the first leg, but the away goal meant City needed to win by two clear goals to progress to the semi-final. Preparation for the return leg saw City lose 3-1 at home to Fulham. City lead at the break, but conceded three times to lose again at home.
SV Hamburger arrived and took the lead in the 12th minute. Elano equalised from the spot five minutes later and Felipe Caicedo gave the blues the lead five minutes after half time. City pressed for a third goal but it didn’t arrive as City exited the competition, nine months after starting it.
City conceded a two goal lead at home to West Brom, but made up for it by scoring another 2 to win 4-2. Robinho and Ireland then scored at Goodison as the blues won 2-1 at Everton and the blues won their third game on the bounce as they beat Blackburn 3-1 at Easlands. The Manchester derby at Old Trafford ended 1-0 to United and the Spurs inflicted a double over the blues by winning 2-1 at White Hart lane. The final game of the season saw City at home to Bolton, with the blues ending with a 1-0 that saw them finish 10th in the league.
It wasn’t the ideal start for the new owners, and they soon realised it would take some major investment in the team if they were to get anywhere. It would soon be delivered.