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It's up to you New York

The NY Yankees and Manchester City have joined forces to create a new MLS brand. But is football forgetting its roots?
Last modified: 23 May 2013 19:12

'New York, New York, so good they named it twice'.

I'm pretty sure singer-songwriter Gerard Kenny wasn't referring to football when he delivered this hit record in 1978, but suddenly the game will be all over the city.

New York will be named twice in the US’s Major League Soccer competition when the New York City FC franchise joins the existing Red Bulls in 2015. The Red Bulls actually play in New Jersey but remember the famous old New York Cosmos are about to re-emerge in the second tier of American football ... that's American football not American football, if you see what I mean.

The New York Yankees - who used to be all about the baseball - have joined forces with English Premier League giants Manchester City in a deal worth around $100m, money provided by the EPL club's Emirati owner Sheikh Mansour and his associates. City will be the major shareholders.

A new stadium will be built, a new following will be built (they hope) and an exciting new aspect of the MLS will be born, with Commissioner Don Garber calling it 'a transformational development that will elevate the league to new heights’.

And so the American influence at the top of English football, and vice-versa (kick-started by Mr Beckham) grows ever stronger: Manchester United owned by Americans, ditto Arsenal, Manchester City tied in with the States, Randy Lerner doing things his way with Aston Villa, Chelsea expanding their influence in America on the same post-season tour as Man City, and surely more to come.

When major owners in American sport get together for a conference in Aspen, Colorado later this year, football will be high on the agenda. Very high. 

Evidence of the sure footing the USA is now on with its football pedigree goes beyond ownership. No international team gets less credit for their achievements than the USA, who can reach a World Cup quarter-final and regularly trouble the best while the majority want them to lose. That's just the way it is with America and football.

And it goes beyond competitors.

I am sure you have heard of the Sport Illustrated journalist Grant Wahl, the man who once 'made a play' for the FIFA Presidency. Grant talked sense when he came on Al Jazeera to discuss this very story, but not being from my part of the globe perhaps he may not have appreciated the full impact of a phrase he used: The New York deal is a 'good platform for the brand'.

Perfectly acceptable, in fact a very accurate way of describing the new MLS franchise. But it is a phrase that underlines how football has forgotten its roots.

Manchester City. The clue is in the title. A city in England, Manchester. For the city of Manchester. For the people of Manchester. For the community of Manchester. It's not a brand. Correction, because Grant is right, it shouldn’t be considered a brand. But it is. A brand that stretched to the lavish complex in Abu Dhabi, will probably stretch to the Far East and who knows where else.

Perversely, it seems increasingly strange the 39th game plan didn't happen, because Manchester City has become increasingly less about Manchester and more about the need to represent Abu Dhabi on the world stage. (A 39th game was a proposed extra round of EPL matches to be played in international locations, but was dropped after widespread opposition.)

The fans know that. That's why they love Mancini (I disagree with them on this). He represents the character, the fallibility, the eccentricity, the passion of the fans. He can lose as well as win. City fans relate to that. 

The owners? Well I'll keep on saying, they need to think big. They should be one of the world's top three performing clubs, full stop. And City fans need to take a reality check if they think two cups in three years is good going. For more on this I refer you again to the excellent David Conn, and his book 'Richer Then God'. It's 'closer to home' for him than me.

From the American point of view the City/Yankees deal is typical of the strong management of Commissioner Garber. I've met him a few times and he is ultra-professional and extremely shrewd. He is making the absolute most of the MLS potential, bearing in mind they simply don't have football in the blood the way other nations do. They haven't got the history. They may have the future though.

Garber and his visionaries will be salivating at the thought of rivalries in the New York/New Jersey area. And is it really so far-fetched to think that one day they will take place with the passion of major local derbies in South America?

I'd be interested to hear what the intelligent former American goalkeeper Kasey Keller makes of all this.

I interviewed Keller in 1995 when he was playing for Millwall in England. At the time an American playing here was a big novelty and he took quite a risk signing up. An English teacher in the US painted Keller a bleak picture of Millwall, whose reputation for hooliganism endures, and there was no guarantee he would be able to further his career in the competitive leagues across the Atlantic. Remember there's only room for one goalkeeper!

But Keller succeeded with grace and style, thriving at Tottenham and first choice in the 2006 World Cup (no mean feat when you consider Brad Friedel) 16 years after his international debut. 

Keller eventually returned to the MLS  - how the football world changed during the latter years of his career, when an Englishman playing in America was front page news.

The marriage of Manchester City and the Yankees in the MLS registry office is very, very football 2013. You don't have to like it to have to go with it. Some great old City players still have an involvement with match day entertaining and suchlike. Maybe City won't completely forget where they are from.

Frank Sinatra didn't forget where he was from. Though I don't suppose he was predicting the emergence of New York City FC with his famous words ...

These little town blues, are melting away

I’ll make a brand new start of it - in old New York

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere

It’s up to you New York, New York.

This column appears on the Insideworldfootball.com website where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.