MANCHESTER, England – Manchester City has deposed its city rival as Premier League champions for the second time in three years and still isn't close to usurping United's global supremacy — either as a soccer club or as a brand. For many people, the word "Manchester" is automatically followed by "United."
Even Premier League officials marked the end of the season by assuring United's owners, the Florida-based Glazer family, of the team's enduring power.
"They are the world's largest football club in my view with huge resources, with huge determination and a fantastic fan base," league chief executive Richard Scudamore told Sky Sports television. "Of course their time will come again."
However glum United fans felt as the blue half of Manchester celebrated into Monday morning, it's too early to see the humiliating seventh-place finish as the start of a downward spiral. Declarations that the balance of power has shifted in Manchester would be as premature as they were in 2012, when City last wrested the trophy from United only to end the following season 11 points adrift.
United claims to have 659 million fans worldwide; City hasn't even tried to provide an estimate. United has been valued at $2.8 billion by Forbes magazine — behind Real Madrid and Barcelona — while City is the seventh most valuable soccer team at $863 million.
The big difference this time, however, is that there is no Alex Ferguson to plot the reclamation of the trophy. United's fall from grace included failing to qualify for the European club competitions for the first time in 24 years. There are, however, potential silver linings for United in falling short even of the Europa League spots.
With nothing like the TV revenue or prestige of the Champions League, which United won in 1999 and 2008, the Europa League would have been a grueling slog across the continent to play less-illustrious teams in what seems to be a never-ending competition. While United earned about $50 million from the 2012-13 Champions League, it would have generated less than $14 million from UEFA for even winning the Europa League.
Furthermore, missing out on those competitions provides another — possibly much more profitable — way to cope with the loss of TV and ticket revenue. Taking advantage of its massive popularity abroad, United has considered using the midweek breaks to play lucrative, trouble-free exhibitions in the Middle East, which also would provide a paid-for warm-weather break.
United, with Louis van Gaal most likely replacing the fired David Moyes as manager, can focus its resources on the Premier League, and seek to emulate Liverpool's ascent from seventh to second in a year.
However, a prolonged absence from the elite European competition could dissuade transfer targets from joining English soccer's most successful club or drive up the wages they can demand.
Globally it is difficult to assess the impact City has made, but it will take more than a couple of years of silverware to capture any fickle fans from rivals. When Barcelona fans came to Manchester for a Champions League match against City in February, many flocked to Old Trafford to visit English soccer's most famous club stadium.
United has a history of success, with 20 English titles and three European Cups alone. City's history is largely based on near-misses and tales of the plucky loser forever in United's shadow. Despite more than $1 billion being injected into the club by Abu Dhabi's ruling family since its 2008 takeover, City only managed to win its fourth title on the final day of the season on Sunday ahead of a Liverpool side that has made a fraction of the investment.
City's principal problem is its spending. Or overspending, as UEFA sees it, in breach of Financial Fair Play regulations. City should be able to celebrate its newly elevated status in world soccer and the admirable investment in youth teams and a new training complex springing up next to the Etihad Stadium, but the club's leadership struggles to promote this grand vision to the world. Perhaps wary of having their accounts even more heavily scrutinized, City's leaders — not just owner Sheikh Mansour but every executive — remain silent in public in England.
City is embarking on a contrasting global strategy to its local rival. While United's commercial team is gobbling up sponsors of every product imaginable across every major continent, Mansour is amassing soccer clubs.
There's a team in New York that expects to start playing competitively in 2015, an existing club in Melbourne taken over this year, and Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi, but there will be little traction for these sides beyond the local markets.
United, with its brand strength, vast following and years of success to fall back on, should not be too bothered by its neighbor. Wary perhaps, troubled no. If their contrasting fortunes are repeated next season and United's share price in New York slumps, the Glazers might start to worry about their cash-rich Gulf rivals.