Since their big money, Dubai based ownership took over in 2008, Manchester City have been to the UEFA Champions League exactly four times. Their best finish in those four appearances: the round of 16, despite the fact that twice they entered as the champions of arguably the best soccer league in the world.
While City have won every domestic title imaginable since their influx of foreign capital, their continental play has left something to be desired. After Tuesday’s collapse against Juventus at the Etihad, Manchester City fans are once again thrust into a state of woe, as they wonder why City can’t perform in the Champions League.
Let’s go back to where all good stories start, the beginning. It’s 2011, and City have just beaten Stoke in the FA Cup, their first major trophy since 1976, and the team is heading for the Champions League next season. However, after a loss to Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena and a shock loss to Napoli in Italy, City are relegated to the Europa League, and effectively back to square one. Luckily for City fans, some late season heroics by Sergio Aguero would secure them their first title in 44 years, and give the club and its fans dreams of future European glory.
As reigning Premier League champions, City fans believed they would have a fairly easy path in the 2012-13 Champions League. Unfortunately for them, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While they may not have known it at the time, City was drawn into a vaunted group of death, facing off against Borussia Dortmund (who would later lose in the final to Bayern Munich), Real Madrid and Dutch champions Ajax. Despite winning the league the season before, City wasn’t able to muster anything more than a last place group finish in the Champions’ League, and was left without any continental competition for the season.
The following season, they once again found themselves in a group with Bayern Munich, but also with Viktoria Plzen, the Czech champion, and CSKA Moscow, the Russian runner up. With a relatively easy group, Man City moved on to the knockout phase, but was quickly dispatched by Barcelona 4-1. After three straight disappointing European campaigns, City and its owners started to make European competition a focus.
2014-15’s campaign was a mirror image of the year before for Man City, as they once again entered a group with Bayern Munich, but escaped thanks to victories over AS Roma and CSKA Moscow. Unfortunately, City also met Barcelona in the Round of 16, and was quickly dispatched by the Catalan giants.
While it seemed that money had ended the problems for City when the ownership group took over, four straight early exits from European competition told a very different story.
With all this failure in mind, soccer fans across the globe are left wondering why a world-class team like Manchester City can’t perform in such a high profile competition. The answer is two-fold.
First, though it seems like an excuse, City fans have to blame the draw. Every year, they get matched up with Bayern, Real or Barca in the group stage or Round of 16 and are forced to put on a top performance early on. However, perhaps more importantly, it seems that the heat of the Premier League revs up City in a way that the Champions’ League simply doesn’t. The team that lost 2-1 to Juventus hardly seemed like the same team that beat Chelsea 3-0 just a few weeks earlier.
If Man City wants to be recognized on the world’s stage they have to play well in the Champions’ League. If they’re not motivated, that’s a very daunting task.