Manchester City were scrapping for Premier League survival 15 years ago – a battle they would eventually lose under manager Joe Royle, who had transformed the club in the darkest days of its rich history.
Back-to-back promotions from Division Two to the top flight had made the man affectionately known as ‘Sir Joe’ by City fans – in response to Sir Alex Ferguson’s knighthood – a club icon. But the rigours and demands of Premier League football were too much to handle for a squad assembled on a relative shoe-string budget.
Fast-forward to the present day and City now face one of the biggest games in their history at Parc des Princes against Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain. The club is about to embark on the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time ever and progress has always been key for the blue half of Manchester’s wealthy owners.
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While transfer activity was immediate and at the forefront of Sheikh Mansour’s plans to turn this once troubled and often maligned club into one that could challenge for silverware on all fronts, progress on the pitch has been steady.
Roberto Mancini delivered the first trophy with an FA Cup triumph over Stoke in 2011 and also secured Champions League football for the following campaign with a third place finish.
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Then City arrived. The 2011/12 Premier League title win will remain the most dramatic in history and it was another step in the right direction for a club deprived of success for so long.
A barren season followed in Mancini’s last campaign with City before ‘This Charming Man’ Manuel Pellegrini took over the reins and his dynamic brand of attacking football brought a league and cup double in his first season at the Etihad. But, more importantly, there was progress on the European stage with an appearance in the knockout phase for the first time.
Again, City faltered the season after clinching the league, but once again made it through to the last-16 of the Champions League and were unlucky to be drawn against eventual winners Barcelona for the second consecutive campaign.
Now, with PSG standing between them and a place in the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition, who would bet against just a little bit more progress on the pitch from Pellegrini’s side? This is a club that has continued to prove the doubters wrong over the years; a club that has been cannon fodder for the critics because of the seeming inability to deliver consistently.
What must not be forgotten is that this is a work in progress; an intriguing and lengthy project that might never be completed.
On Sunday 8 April 2001, City were beaten 3-1 by Everton at Goodison Park with Jeff Whitley scoring their only goal. Premier League safety was quickly fading and the prospect of European football – even the UEFA Cup, as it was back then, was little more than a pipe dream.
Even if City don’t progress to the next round of the Champions League, have little doubt that this club has arrived and is here to stay.