“The empire on which the sun never sets,” is a statement originally attributed to Charles I of Spain to describe his country’s reach around the globe in the 16th century.
But it is a claim that could now be made by another Spaniard, Ferran Soriano – the Barcelona-born CEO of the City Football Group.
Sorriano currently sits in charge of 10 clubs as part of the powerful CFG stable, where from New York City FC to Melbourne City, via Mumbai City and the jewel in the crown, Manchester City, the sun is shining on a national champion.
There are other examples of multi-club ownership, such as the Red Bull Group, but none are close to being as successful as the CFG.
Take this week, when Manchester City are expected to overcome Portuguese champions Sporting CP after a 5-0 first leg victory, to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
That game will kick-off less than 24 hours after NYCFC’s last-eight first-leg victory over Guatemala’s Comunicaciones in the CONCACAF equivalent.
Mumbai and Melbourne, meanwhile, will kick-off their continental challenges in the Asian Football Confederation’s edition of the Champions League in April.
Japanese giants Yokohama F. Marinos – who finished second in J1 League last season – and Chinese side Sichuan Jiuniu represent the CFG’s other Asian interests.
It is now eight years since the business first moved beyond the city of Manchester, when the CFG bought a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, although Soriano had been considering the possibility of a stable of clubs since his time in a similar role at Barcelona.
He had looked at the franchise model of Disney and how customers had a level of expectation whenever they experienced a movie, store or theme park. The idea could be transplanted to the world of football, where fans could visit a sister club on any continent and be assured a high level of entertainment.
Arriving at City in 2012, that vision has now become a reality with the help of the vast wealth of City owner Sheikh Mansour, as well as significant minority shareholdings held by global equity firms Silver Lake and China Media Capital.
Europe remains the focus, but having a foothold across the world gives the group the advantage of being able to maneuver should the footballing landscape change.
Interest in the sport is rising massively in Asia, and Soriano also sees North America as a growing market.
“For us, City Football Group, the US is the bigger market than UK,” he told ESPN last month. “There are more Americans watching soccer than in the UK. Of course, there are more choices, but the market is huge.”
As well as having a presence in various markets, the benefits are big too from a footballing perspective.
The obvious example would be from a playing viewpoint, with the potential to gather the best players at a priority club.
In reality, that has not come to fruition, with movement of playing staff more centered around the development of young players, with prospects moving to Troyes, Girona and Lommel – the smaller sister clubs in Europe.
That has helped those teams to grow and progress, while offering players such as Douglas Luiz, Angelino and Yangel Herrera valuable game time, with the first two having now been sold on for a healthy profit.
But there is also a big benefit to move off-field staff around the group to offer their expertise from a commercial or business angle, and there are also opportunities for coaches.
Among those to have moved around the CFG are Patrick Vieira and Domenec Torrent, who joined NYCFC from Manchester, and Mumbai City boss Des Buckingham, who worked previously as an assistant at Melbourne City.
“For me and my family to live in New York is an amazing journey and it’s been a lot easier to transition because I work for the same organization,” NYCFC assistant Nick Cushing, who was previously in charge of Manchester City Women, tells GOAL.
Walk into the Etihad City Football Academy in Orangeburg in Rockland County and you could just as easily be at the Etihad Campus in east Manchester. Everything from the locker room to the signage is universal. It is the same from Montevideo City Torque to Melbourne.
Similar too, is the ideology in how clubs approach their footballing philosophy, from recruitment to ambition.
Playing styles vary depending on the coaches and squads involved. In Manchester, Pep Guardiola’s influence has cascaded down into all teams that train at the City Football Academy, and it is understandable that others would want to tap into that knowledge, even if it’s not as simple as copy and pasting his strategy di lui.
“We share the same values, we work the same way, the alignment that we have through our football clubs across the group means that it was almost a seamless transition coming from Manchester into New York,” Cushing adds.
“We share the same methodology around how we work, playing style, the way we prepare the team, we share that across the group.
“But if we need to get some experience or get another point of view, we can connect with Manchester, we can connect with Melbourne, we can share those ideas.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this year Manchester, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York all won their championships, because from a coaching perspective, we connect regularly on different parts of the game, different phases of the game, different experiences around play in opposition styles, and that really helps. “
It is not unthinkable that future Club World Cups could feature several sides from within the CFG. Manchester City got close when they reached last season’s Champions League final but were beaten by Chelsea.
Guardiola’s side are among the favorites again this time around, and should reach the last eight for a fifth straight year unless they suffer a catastrophe in their second leg with Sporting.
New York, meanwhile, have a 3-1 advantage ahead of their trip to Guatemala and a chance of reaching the semi-finals in North America.
Across eight time zones and five football federations, the empire is growing more dominant. The sun never sets on the City Football Group.