Man City’s tone deaf ‘tyranny of majority’ claim is a truly risible delusion

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chairman of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City, Ferran Soriano, CEO of Manchester City and Txiki Begiristain, Manchester City Director of Fooball hold the Premier League title trophy following the team's victory in the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on May 19, 2024
City's peerless dominance on the pitch matches their financial and commercial preeminence in the Premier League - Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

Manchester City’s view of themselves as anti-establishment might just count as the most risible delusion in sport. Here are a club who have gobbled up 12 of the last 21 trophies in English football, including six domestic titles in seven years, all while sitting atop an Abu Dhabi-bankrolled global conglomerate that can boast two teams in the Champions League next season. If this is what outsider status looks like, you shudder to imagine their notion of an elite.

But still a persecution complex permeates every facet of their legal case next week against the Premier League, from their claim to be the victims of “discrimination” to their tone-deaf portrayal of a “tyranny of the majority”. This second wording has seldom had much currency since the 19th century, when there was still concern about a majority imposing its will on a disadvantaged minority through the democratic process. Quite where the disadvantage lies at City, the first club in England to spend more than £400 million on annual wages, is anyone’s guess.

It is a time-honoured pattern, this habit of City’s to find refuge in victimhood at moments when scrutiny of their finances is at its fiercest. We saw it last year, when, in the very week that City were charged by the Premier League with 115 counts of alleged financial irregularity – all of which they strongly deny – Pep Guardiola complained of having the “smallest squad in the league by far”. This was the same Guardiola whose matchday squad value exceeded £1 billion and who could afford to leave Julian Alvarez, a World Cup winner, on the bench.

But even now, with wealth so bountiful that a £100 million player such as Jack Grealish can become surplus to requirements, City insist that their wings are being clipped. Railing against the idea that their sponsorship deals should receive any independent assessment, they want the taps of their oil money to gush forth without impediment. The substance of their case looks shaky, given that they signed up to the rules governing these deals in the first place. The timing is also far from helpful to their public image: with their contesting of the 115 charges – many of which relate to sponsorship – due to go to trial in November, this latest legal wrangle smacks of a pre-emptive strike.

Still, the us-against-the-world rhetoric resonates to a frightening degree with the fanbase. “City are about to take down the entire Premier League cartel,” crowed supporters’ group Real Talk MCFC. “We have just declared war on the football elite. This battle will decide the future of football: either it will be monopolised by the big, traditional clubs or their monopoly will be crushed and subject to fair competition from other clubs.” Sure enough, this moronic statement was soon being endorsed by Liam Gallagher.

“Fair competition”? This is a concept conspicuous by its absence even now, given City’s recourse to an unlimited sovereign wealth fund and ability to use other clubs owned by their parent company as incubators. But if they were to have their way this time, successfully claiming to be constrained by anti-competitive rules, there would scarcely be any competition at all. City would have no restrictions on hoovering up the finest talent and no oversight on their eye-watering commercial partnerships. Their only apparent objective, after a period of already unparalleled domination, is to establish a monopoly of one.

None of this is aiding City’s popularity outside the Etihad. Bleating about being unfairly held back when you have just a fourth straight league crown is rarely the most endearing manoeuvre. Sure enough, more than half of the other 19 Premier League clubs are reported to be willing to provide witness statements and documentary evidence to support the league’s defence. After all, a central foundation is that at least 14 clubs, or a two-thirds majority, must agree to any rule changes. The system was never designed for one, however moneyed or entitled, to strike out on their own.

It is all grist to the mill for guerrilla marketing campaigns. No sooner did the “tyranny of the majority” line come to light than Domino’s Pizza posted a picture of one of their empty cardboard boxes, captioned: “Sympathy for Man City.” On the surface, the club’s achievements should brook no argument, with Pep Guardiola fashioning the most remorselessly effective team the English game has seen. But the machine-like quality of the enterprise, coupled with the unexplained elements of exactly how City’s supremacy has been achieved, leaves them looking alienated. Jurgen Klopp once despaired of how Liverpool could not compete with City in the financial stakes. It is a reality that City now seem hell-bent on formalising.

You want to believe that the story of their phenomenal rise is about more than money. But they do not make it easy sometimes. On the same day that City’s war with the Premier League entered its next phase, Kevin De Bruyne, perhaps their most-admired player, was fluttering his eyelashes at Saudi Arabia, saying: “If I play there for two years, I will be able to earn an incredible amount of money.” While it was refreshing to hear a footballer express an honest motivation for a Saudi move for once, you could not help but wonder if the Belgian, on £400,000 a week the highest-paid player in England, was being just a little greedy. Then again, you could say the same about City, for whom too much is never enough.

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