From Buffon to Ribery: The crazy inside story of Sheikh Mansour’s Man City

Mark Bowen was Mark Hughes’ assistant when the club was changed forever, and he tells Goal about what was a remarkable time in Manchester

It was just six days before Christmas in 2009 when Mark Hughes was fired by Manchester City.

The Welsh manager had been hired 18 months earlier, charged with ending a wait for silverware that stretched back to 1976.

City were, at the time, the quintessential sleeping giant, having finished ninth in the Premier League the season before Hughes’ arrival. Their campaign had concluded with a humiliating 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough.

Hughes and his assistant Mark Bowen were plotting a long-term overhaul but their plans were obliterated overnight when Sheikh Mansour bought the club on September 1, 2008 and shook the footballing world to its core.

City suddenly went from searching for bargain buys to bidding for the best players in the world, immediately gazumping Chelsea by signing Real Madrid star Robinho for a British-record fee of £32.5 million ($44m) on the final day of the summer transfer window.

“We were playing golf and after every shot Mark’s phone was going,” Bowen tells Goal. “At one point, he turned to me and said: ‘At the moment, we’ve got five bids of £30m or £35m out there’.

“Robinho was one, Franck Ribery was one, [Dimitar] Berbatov was one, and I can’t remember the others.”

No player was off the market. Bowen reveals how he, Hughes and former City CEO Garry Cook took a private jet to Italy one afternoon to try to sign Juventus ace Gianluigi Buffon; at the time the best goalkeeper in the world.

“We arrived at the airport and went upstairs to the business lounge,” Bowen explains. “Buffon wasn’t there but we sat and talked for an hour to his two agents, with astronomical figures being thrown around. Then, we got straight back on the plane and flew back.”

Carlos Tevez Man City GFX

City went on to add a wealth of stars to their squad over the course of the 2009 transfer windows, including Carlos Tevez, an iconic signing from neighbours Manchester United.

Bowen says that many of the players needed convincing that this was not just a short-term pet project. However, the coaches had no doubts about the seriousness of Mansour’s intentions, particularly after the rapid way in which the owner transformed the club’s Carrington training base.

“When we first arrived at City, it was nowhere near fit for purpose,” the former Tottenham and Norwich defender says. “The facilities were poor, it wasn’t an elite environment, and there was a bit of apathy around the place. We tried to shake the place up and raise standards.

“Sheikh Mansour asked us to take the team to Abu Dhabi for a four-day break. Before we left, we spoke to his people and said: ‘The gym’s not good enough, we need something done’.

“When we came back four days later, we had a brand-new, two-storey gym at the training ground, which blew everyone away.

“We were told that the moment we left, an army of people had come in and had worked 24/7 to create it….

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