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Another victory? Manchester City have just won the FA Cup against Manchester United, and now the team is playing for the Champions League championship

Photo: Will Palmer / Allstar / Sportsphoto / IMAGO

Erling Haaland (22), Jack Grealish (27) or the German international İlkay Gündoğan (32) – the list of stars at Manchester City is long. In the final of the Champions League against Italian opponents Inter Milan on Saturday evening at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, many see the English football champions as winners of the coveted trophy.

But despite this role as favourites, it would be the first time that the "Cityzens" win the highest award in European football if they win. Because in the first final two years ago, coach Pep Guardiola (52) failed with his team against the London club Chelsea FC, which at that time still belonged to the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich (56). Man City's greatest success to date, winning the European Cup Winners' Cup, dates back to 1970.

The fact that this could now change is mainly due to the "United Group for Development and Investment" from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The private equity firm owned by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (52), a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, joined Manchester City in 2008 and has since poured billions of dollars into the team and training facilities.

Will a state-sponsored club triumph?

An entry that is controversial not only for reasons of sporting fairness, but also because of numerous financial inconsistencies in recent years. In 2014, for example, Manchester City violated the "Financial Fair Play" introduced by Uefa and narrowly escaped a ban on international football in 2020 for similar reasons. But now it could happen that for the first time "a state-sponsored club triumphs in the world's most famous club competition," as the Bloomberg news agency puts it in a major analysis of the economic background in European football.

This would be the culmination of a development in which investors with huge riches are influencing the sport. What once began as fun and prestige gain from local sponsors has long since become a game of profit and power. According to the Bloomberg study, investment firms and sports management groups are already owners or main shareholders of twelve clubs in Europe's top five leagues. As recently as 2005, there were no foreign investors at all in the Italian, German or Spanish league.

But especially in England and France, all dams seem to have broken, well-known names such as Newscastle United or AC Milan have changed their owners. Newcastle went from relegation candidate to Champions League participant in one and a half years after the entry of a consortium led by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. City local rival Manchester United, on the other hand, has been up for sale for some time, British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe (70) and Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani (44) from Qatar, among others, are considered possible buyers.

Real Madrid owned by the club's members

But there are also exceptions to the "money wins" rule. Real Madrid have recorded the most Champions League victories in the past ten years, with the "Royals" triumphing five times during this time. Although the Spanish building contractor billionaire Florentino Pérez (70) is at the helm, it is elected by the members who still own the successful club.

This year's final opponent of Manchester City, on the other hand, is owned by Zhang Jindong (60), CEO of a Chinese retail group. He borrowed a lot of money from an American asset management company for a majority stake in the 19-time Italian champion Inter Milan and appointed his son Steven (31) as club boss on site. An investment that could now pay off – the only thing left to do is to defeat the favourites Manchester City in 90 or 120 minutes.