Why competition’s richest club Melbourne City are failing to succeed in A-League

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Money is no object to Melbourne City, so why are we still waiting for the A-League’s richest club to make an impact?

While smaller, poorer, clubs bear the brunt of the latest round of scaremongering about the viability of the league, the club with no excuses remains the biggest disappointment. Something needs to change.

Leading into next weekend’s Melbourne derby, City’s crowds (average 7370) are the lowest in the league. In total, fewer than 30,000 people have watched their four home games so far. Woeful. Having disenfranchised so many of those fans who once supported Melbourne Heart, the new owners have failed to add any new fans since the takeover. Indeed crowds have dropped around 20 per cent since the rebranding.

In isolation, maybe this doesn’t matter too much to the City Football Group, who bought the club for $11 million just over two years ago. It’s not even small change for the organisation which owns EPL heavyweights Manchester City, and recently sold a 13 per cent stake to Chinese interests for around $400 million.

With clubs now in New York and Yokohama as well as Melbourne, and a war chest of at least $3 billion topped up by the vast wealth of the Abu Dhabi royal family, CFG are on a mission to dominate world football. But shouldn’t they dominate the A-League first?

The hope, the expectation, was that Melbourne City would become market leaders right from the start.

Sadly, they’ve been more like followers instead. Scraping into the finals in the first season of new ownership, and while they’re in the mix after 10 rounds of this season, they’ve still to convince as serious title contenders. More importantly, the off-field benchmarks are drifting.

There’s been some suggestion the club is still upset that the FFA refused to allow them to play in their preferred colours of sky blue, and until that changes they’re operating a go-slow. Surely not, although the appearance of sky blue socks this season (from white) indicates it may remain a sore point.

Melbourne City shouldn’t be prevented from wearing sky blue because Sydney FC object. They should be stopped because wearing a replica Manchester City strip presents them as a feeder club – no more, no less. One day they’ll figure out why that’s market poison, but if the FFA does relent – and the word is it might – then they’ll have to find out the hard way.

As it stands, on the issues which matter, Melbourne City haven’t yet properly embraced the A-League, nor has the A-League embraced them. Decisions like prising Luke Brattan out of Brisbane Roar to join Manchester City on a technicality – thus depriving another A-League club of a potential seven-figure transfer fee – are bewildering. Retaining Robert Koren as a marquee player when they could take their pick of some of the biggest drawcards in the world is equally perplexing.

Melbourne City not so slick.

Melbourne City may be able to afford to lose big – they’ll probably account for around $7 million of the predicted losses of $17 million across the league this season – but not everyone else can. If the financial might of CFG was used to help build the whole of the business, everyone wins. Including Melbourne Victory, who desperately want their local rivals to offer genuine competition on and off the park.

Perhaps CFG is finally starting to see the light. Last week, disgruntled owners met new FFA boss Steven Lowy to air their grievances. One of the outcomes of a meeting later described by Lowy as “productive” was the appointment of Melbourne City boss Simon Pearce to a new committee to drive negotiations for new sponsorships and the all-important next broadcast deal. In other words, a leadership role at last.

No one wants Melbourne City to fail. There’s too much riding on them succeeding. We’ve seen what a difference a vibrant, robust, second club in Sydney makes to the profile of the A-League. When are we going to get one in Melbourne as well?

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