Manchester City happy to copy United's example
Love Old Trafford or loathe it — and there's been plenty of the latter — the place has been a source of absorption and obsession for the men whose task it has been to transform Manchester City into a global footballing power.
Former chief executive, Garry Cook, read Sir Alex Ferguson's biography Managing my Life from cover to cover and marvelled at the brute toughness which enabled him to survive as a Govan publican.
Current chief executive, Ferran Soriano, ogled at the commercial juggernaut which reduced Barcelona, the club he piloted from 2003 to 2008, to a speck in United's rear view mirror.
Ferguson's eye for a good player can make rivals look foolish, Soriano has always reflected.
With his deep appreciation of which clubs have caught the commercial wave and gone global, Soriano is fascinated by the way that the revenue charts of United and Tottenham Hotspur, who earned identical revenues in 1992-93, diverged in the 10 subsequent years.
By 2003, United were making 2.5 times more revenue than Spurs, a growth curve which can be explained in no small degree by United chairman Martin Edwards' inspired decision to hire Edward Freedman, Spurs' head of merchandising, who went to Old Trafford one day in 1992 to sell his own club's expertise to United and ended up driving the marketing juggernaut United became.
Barcelona were left back in the dust, too, leading Soriano to conclude when he took over at the Nou Camp that: “If United could do it, so could we.”
They could. Soriano's Barcelona ultimately eclipsed United's revenues by taking a huge “bet” as he has called it on building an elite team that would ultimately pay for itself and reap the commercial benefits.
It is safe to say that the challenge at City is even greater and United's head start vastly bigger. United, with their anticipated income of around £360m in the current season, are on course to pull half a billion pounds annually within the next few years, thanks to TV and commercial income.
City's £153m turnover was less than half United's in the last financial year. At a time when the club are moving from the first phase of mending and rebuilding the threadbare infrastructure the Abu Dhabi owners found to a second phase of commercial exploitation, Soriano knows that the challenge is as simple as it is formidable:
City must simply become one of the top five or six clubs in the world if they are to reap the global revenues that United now do.
City's determination to challenge United well beyond the 90 minutes which will play out on Sunday is typified by their six-year, £12m-a-year, kit deal with Nike, which put the club among the game's commercial superpowers in May. But global viewing figures for Premier League sides place all the opposition a huge distance behind United.
In his 2009 analysis of the clubs who “aspire to be leaders and global brands,” Soriano listed United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal and said that “others, like Manchester City” are trying to be in this group.”
It is now his task to take them, though precedent suggests that in him United have an inveterate foe. Soriano has played catch-up once before.