Fate delivered to the Manchester clubs opposites of ownership. United are a huge club whose owners drain fortunes out; City are much smaller financially with an owner putting millions in.
The Florida-based Glazer family bought United in 2005 with £525m of borrowed money, which they then loaded on to the club itself to pay. The Glazers have put not a cent in for investment; instead their takeover has cost United a staggering £473m, paid to banks in interest, fees and charges. Their fans, understanding this, have garlanded the Glazers with protest, the green and gold movement building huge support last year. Yet with Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill as manager and chief executive, the Glazers' United have enjoyed their most successful period, winning four Premier League titles and a Champions League, and reaching two more finals in Europe's premier club competition.
By contrast, Sheikh Mansour is taking not a dirham out of City, pouring a barrel of his inherited oil fortune in since buying the club in September 2008 and signing Robinho on the same day as a declaration of intent. He is said to be committed long term to building City into a top Premier League and European club, which his executives argue will ultimately be financially sustainable. Far from protesting, City fans have put up a welcome banner: Manchester Thanks You, Sheikh Mansour – although the owner has been to only one match, last August's 3-0 victory over Liverpool, to see it for himself.
United's greatest asset since the Glazer takeover is recognised to have been Ferguson, who has won 27 major trophies since joining the club in 1986. The one shadow looming over otherwise gilded United is that Ferguson, after his near-retirement in 2002, will be 70 in December and has to retire sometime. Gill has said succession planning is difficult, and that Ferguson himself will be deeply involved in it, yet however plum the job is for Europe's top coaches, the manager's eventual vacancy will be United's greatest test.
At City it is impossible to imagine Roberto Mancini lasting 25 years as Sir Matt Busby did, and Ferguson has, at United. Yet the manager has already been at Eastlands longer than some predicted, and with City having won the FA Cup, qualified for the Champions League, and top of the Premier League, his position is more stable. Mutual trust appears to be solidifying, and the whole club up to Mansour supported Mancini in the battle of wills with Carlos Tevez. After that, a relaxed Mancini said he would like to be at City when the new training "campus" is built, scheduled for three years' time. It is now more likely than ever that he will be in east Manchester that long.
A story of contrasts. United are the Premier League's richest club by far, their income a record £331m in 2010-11, boosted by huge figures for matchday and broadcasting revenue; but their financial power is hampered by their owners, whose borrowings, now down to £308m net, cost the club £51.7m in interest last year.
City's turnover in 2009-10 was £125m, less than half United's in the same year. In the effort to compete immediately, signing star players before the club is financially strong, City are making huge losses, £121m last year, bankrolled by Mansour.
The 2010-11 accounts, expected this month, will reveal an even more enormous loss, certain to be the biggest in football history.
Mansour's freedom to spend like this is seriously threatened by Uefa's financial fair play rules. They are designed to ensure that clubs in 2014-15 European competitions have been living within their means. City, who will say 2010-11 was their "bottoming out" year after which income has risen and costs will stabilise, have huge work to do to comply.
United will qualify comfortably – in 2010-11, despite the Glazer debts, they made a £29.7m profit.
Football people say the Glazers' smartest move – after buying the famous Manchester United with borrowed money and getting the fans to repay the debt – was to leave Old Trafford largely alone. With Ferguson supported by Gill, respected as a top administrator, the owners knew not to fix what was not broken.
The commercial operation, selling sponsorships around the world, is run from a London office, headed by the chief of staff, Edward Woodward, and the commercial director, Richard Arnold. The five Glazer children sit around the boardrooms of parent companies ultimately rooted in the US.
At City, the board and management have been overhauled since Mansour's takeover. The board itself is tight-knit, chaired by Khaldoon al-Mubarak, assisted principally by Simon Pearce, communications consultant at Abu Dhabi's strategic executive affairs authority, and Martin Edelman, a New York lawyer.
City stayed loyal to Garry Cook, whom they inherited, but since his resignation last month are hunting for a chief executive capable of steering the Abu Dhabi project through the organisational, financial and political challenges City face. They are looking beyond former English football chief executives such as Peter Kenyon and Rick Parry, for candidates with broad commercial and international experience. That appointment will be key to City's future.
The 80-acre, £100m-plus training "campus", plans for which City unveiled in September, represents more than England's most extravagant facilities. The complex is a statement of Mansour's commitment, central to City's ambitions, and key to complying with Uefa's rules, by aiming to develop young talent, rather than buy it.
The plans, developed after City's project managers travelled to Europe and the US to scout the facilities of other top clubs such as the LA Lakers, New York Giants and Barcelona, include training surfaces with turf to match those at the stadiums at City's opponents, 15 full-size pitches and a 7,000-capacity stadium for junior teams. Uefa's head of licensing, which includes financial fair play, Andrea Traverso, was shown the plans when he visited Eastlands this week for City's Champions League tie with Villarreal.
United have observed City's excavation of so much contaminated east Manchester earth with the same reluctant admiration as all the other Mansour-era developments. Yet they believe their complex down an interminable single-lane track in semi-rural Carrington, the village in Greater Manchester where City have their current facilities, is adequate for attracting and training young hopefuls and first-team players such as Rio Ferdinand.
United are continually upgrading, currently spending around £8m on a new medical centre and other additional facilities, and have no plans to move.
United are the most famous English club around the world, and famous for being famous. City, by contrast, have since 1968 grown an international following measured more in quirky Scandinavians than Asian masses.
Premier League clubs increasingly regard this as their prime growth area commercially; the Glazers and other US money-men such as Liverpool's Fenway Sports Group have been attracted to buy top English clubs primarily by football's global popularity on television and the internet. According to figures from the consultancy Sport+Markt, United now have 354 million followers, more than City, Liverpool and Arsenal put together.
United "exploit" their "brand", as they put it, via sponsorships sold by Woodward's team, producing commercial income of £103m last year. City are nowhere by comparison. United clearly have a fame and fascination which began with sympathy after Munich and was sealed by Busby's 1968 European Cup victory. Mainly, though, they have accrued their worldwide following by relentlessly succeeding in the Premier League, the era of satellite TV and internet accessibility.
If City do buy their way to Premier League and Champions League success, the club believe their following will grow, and that they have an advantage in the Middle East, with a Muslim loyalty to Abu Dhabi ownership.
United, to put that in context, have just completed a £1m mobile phone rights deal, in Abu Dhabi.
United, again, are sorted. Their 76,000-seat stadium, by far the Premier League's biggest, strikes mortal fear into the other clubs. United's vision for developing Old Trafford dates even further back than the installation of executive boxes for the 1966 World Cup. United are blessed with ample forecourts and no residents too close, allowing the club to slap extra tiers on, and fill in the corners, all with cash amassed before the Glazers arrived.
City landed football's equivalent of a lottery win with their stadium, built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games then converted for football with Sport England grants and Manchester city council money. Everton and Liverpool can only look down the M62 with envy. Yet with a 45,000 capacity at the newly named Etihad Stadium, City are still 31,000 seats, acres of entertaining suites and millions of pounds behind United.
Under the new deal with the council City doubled their rent to £4m a year, and the council released its control of naming rights, which City then sold on the stadium, shirts and campus for £350m over 10 years. City have the right to expand the stadium without paying more rent to the council. That will harden into a plan if City's success on the field means ticket demand outstrips broadly satisfied levels at present.
Money determines success because it buys and pays the wages of the best players. The Glazers, like the Edwards family who made £100m out of United before them, understand that they and United make money if the team is successful. They have, though, claimed that success with remarkable economy. The financial analyst and Glazer critic Andy Green has worked out that the £473m drained out by the Glazers is 7.5 times greater than United's net spending on signings since the takeover. Ferguson keeps buying young, including bargains such as Javier Hernández, and is this season renewing with academy graduates, including Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, a considerable achievement for a top club.
City, by contrast, have bought hugely since Mansour took over, and despite the stated intention to marry the world's best with academy youngsters, only Micah Richards is a homegrown City regular, while Joe Hart was signed young from Chesterfield. City stated their ambition, overseen by Mancini and Brian Marwood, the head of football administration, to compile two world-class players in each position, and they believe they are about there, give or take a Tevez kerfuffle. Yet while United's wage bill was £153m in 2010-11, around 50% of turnover, City's, for players such as Richards, was £133m in 2009-10, £8m higher than their entire turnover, wholly reliant on Mansour's subsidy, not sustainable nor compliant with Uefa rules.
So while this season, before Uefa rules come into force, City go to United as genuine challengers on the field, financially the Abu Dhabi owner must catch up on 44 years of worldwide fame, 19 years of modern success, and relentless exploitation of the "brand", amassed by their neighbours in red.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010