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Etihad Ten: A new dawn 08/09

Etihad Ten: A new dawn 08/09
There are times, as a football fan, that will always be with you; what you were wearing, who you were with, what the weather was like – it’s all imprinted, as clear as day, into the memory banks forever more.

As Manchester City fans awoke on the morning of Monday 1st September 2008, it’s fair to say that nothing could have prepared the Blues’ unshakeably loyal, success-starved faithful for the news that would change the course of their beloved club forever.

Rumours and speculation became shock, disbelief and exhilaration within the blue half of Manchester and beyond, as it was announced that City had been taken over by Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG); a move that would alter the club’s fortunes in a way that no one could ever have dreamed.

Even without the incredible events of that month, and those that would unfold over the course of the subsequent years, catalysed by the Blues’ new ownership, the summer of 2008 was one of the most turbulent in recent memory – even by City’s standards!

Mark Hughes took over the managerial reigns from Sven Goran Eriksson as then chairman Thaksin Shinawatra sought to improve on the previous season’s ninth-place finish, and a raft of new talent joined the Blues’ ranks.

Amongst the summer acquisitions were Belgian defender Vincent Kompany and Argentine fullback Pablo Zabaleta from Hamburg and Espanyol respectively. The impact that these two players would have over the years that followed would be immensurable.

Shaun Wright-Phillips made a hero’s return after a three-year stint at Chelsea, however, there was to be one final signing that summer that would shake the very foundations of the City of Manchester Stadium.

The deadline day arrival of Brazilian superstar Robinho smashed the British transfer record, and caused ripples through the football world, like those created from a rock heaved into a stagnant pool.

Robinho’s arrival can be viewed as the game-changer that truly announced the Blues’ arrival amongst the powerhouses of world football.

Etihad Ten: 2008/9 review

After a close season of such dramatic upheaval, and an injection of intoxicatingly heady optimism, City fans could be forgiven for having their heads somewhat cloud-bound during the first months of the league season as the glittering promise of “what could be” for their club began to soak in.

City CEO Garry Cook addressed the fans on following one of the most exciting periods in the club's history:

“Manchester City is in the news for all the right reasons at the moment, and everybody is very excited at the club. People may talk about the dynamics changing, but staff at the club are still working very hard and Mark is back coaching the team as normal.”

The Blues’ competitive 2008/9 campaign had actually begun back in July with a UEFA Cup Qualifying Round double against Faeroese minnows EB Streymur with Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium hosting the ‘home’ leg as New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi took temporary lodgings at the City of Manchester Stadium.

City’s European exploits would prove a welcome distraction to a stuttering Premier League campaign where the new-look Blues struggled to replicate their sparkling, samba-inspired home performances outside the solace of Eastland’s’ concrete walls.

There were shining glimpses of the City of the future, though – a six-goal demolition of Portsmouth, a Robinho treble against Stoke and a second-debut brace for Shaun Wright-Phillips at the Stadium of Light, however these showings merely punctuated a sluggish first half of the season where the Blues precariously diced with the league’s basement.

Indeed, at the start of the campaign City fans would never have expected to see their headline-making stars languishing anxiously in the bottom three at Christmas, but another listless away showing at West Brom meant there would be little festive cheer for the blue side of Manchester in 2008.

The domestic cups also proved to be a source of agony for the Blue faithful with early round eliminations at the hands of lower-league opposition. Firstly a penalty shoot-out against Brighton sealed City’s League Cup fate in September, and a New Year home embarrassment at the hands of Nottingham Forest sent the Blues crashing out of the FA Cup. The media smelt a crisis and the knives were out for Hughes and his misfiring charges.

Things had to improve, and thankfully did. Bolstered by January acquisitions Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given, and inspired by Player of the Year Stephen Ireland, City fans breathed a collective sigh of relief as their side began to steadily haul themselves up the league ladder.

Three Premier League wins on the bounce as April turned into May including a collector’s item victory at Goodison Park was the highlight as Hughes’ men finally found something like a level of consistency.

A much improved second half of the season, interlaced with an exciting UEFA Cup run (which ended in dramatic fashion against Hamburg) meant that things were looking up for the Blues as the season drew to a close with a highest-ever Premier League finish, and Europa League qualification now the target.

City eventually finished the campaign tenth with the huge contrast between the Blues’ sterling home form and meagre points tally on the road (two wins and just eleven points) the root of the season’s failures.

Some memorable European nights, and at times, breath-taking football would offer a glimmer of what the future would hold for the club under the tenure of ABUG. 

Nobody said it would be easy, did they?!

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