Ferran Soriano leading Man City to global success following Disney model
On a freezing February night in London in 2006, Samuel Eto'o's late header secured a 2-1 win for Barcelona in their Champions League clash with Chelsea. A 1-1 draw two weeks later at the Camp Nou saw them safely into the quarterfinals and they would go on to win the trophy for just the second time in their history.
It was the beginning of a golden era for the club -- they won the Champions League three more times in the decade since, alongside plenty of other silverware -- and watching in the stands at Stamford Bridge was Ferran Soriano.
The Barcelona native had been elected to the board three years earlier when the club were suffering a four-year trophy drought and were in debt thanks, in large part, to some huge player salaries taking up much of their finances.
As Barcelona vice-president, Soriano helped transform the club's fortunes off the pitch as they followed his plan to grow them into one of football's biggest global brands.
Hours before that win over Chelsea, seven miles away from Stamford Bridge at University of London's Birkbeck College, Soriano had spelled out his vision in a lecture to students, along with journalists from The Times, Financial Times and The Guardian.
Professor Simon Chadwick (now Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford) organised that lecture and was struck by how different Soriano's ideas were to other more conventional financial models in the football industry.
"For us as the University it was a big thing. It's not often you get the finance director of Barcelona coming to talk to your students. Barca brought an entourage and it was all managed by a global PR consultancy," Prof. Chadwick told ESPN FC. "The way he came across was a very normal, down-to-earth, but nonetheless thoughtful and intelligent, man."
Soriano resigned from the club in 2008 after a disagreement with former president Joan Laporta, and then became CEO of Manchester City in 2012. Today he surrounds himself with much of the same backroom team that transformed the Spanish giants -- not least manager Pep Guardiola, director of football Txiki Begiristain and a host of coaching and other staff.
And Chadwick believes much of Soriano's business philosophy at City is unchanged from 10 years ago.
"At that point, he'd already begun to transplant his business acumen into running a football club," he said. "I'll stop short of saying he was a businessman. The business seems to be about generating revenue but Ferran was more entrepreneurial, more creative. He was taking ideas from business to think of football in a different way.
"He talked about the history of the club being a strategic asset. You don't throw it out of the window, you think about how you can work with that.
"Ten years ago people were beginning to express concern about a headlong dash into commercial opportunities -- he came across as someone who approached it in a different way -- much more strategic, longer-term and creative thinking."
At the time, Barcelona didn't have a shirt sponsor and tried to express the club's values when they signed a deal with international children's charity UNICEF.
"They were trying to position their brand as more cerebral," Chadwick adds. "Ferran was very much at the forefront of that. It was in stark contrast to the Glazers at Manchester United, who are more likely to say: 'This is our club, we do what we do.' But the Barca approach was much more open and engaging. So they were actively seeking to engage with audiences."
Soriano also spoke about building a bond between the club, fans and the local community. The famed La Masia academy and Mini Estadi were already in place in Barcelona before Soriano arrived, but they can be seen as the template for City's investment of over £200 million in their new Etihad Campus, next to the Etihad Stadium. (Their old Carrington training ground having been on the outskirts of the city.)
The local area has benefitted hugely from the investment but it hasn't all gone swimmingly -- there has been a backlash from some supporters over the increase in ticket prices, which have risen steadily as the team has delivered success on the pitch. But Soriano's biggest vision was to make the whole experience more about entertainment than just football and to take the brand truly global.
Chadwick said Soriano had spoken about the franchise model of the Walt Disney Corporation and how customers had a level of expectation whenever they experienced a Disney movie, store or theme park.
The game has grown massively with the rise of social media where football highlights are as accessible as downloading music or any other brand of entertainment. But franchising is a unique concept that has finally becoming a reality 10 years on with the City Football Group, who now have clubs in New York, Melbourne and Yokohama as well as Manchester.
"The most prominent thing that stood out was that he didn't talk about football as such, he talked about entertainment," Chadwick adds. "At that point, his view was that football was part of the entertainment industry. He had the vision that sports and entertainment would be blurred.
"In particular he spoke about Walt Disney. What he particularly seemed to like about Disney was they were global. And in Disney the lines are blurred. Is it about entertainment? Retailing? Is it about theme parks? My sense is this is how he saw football. It's not just a football stadium. Now you have bands playing outside the Etihad for example.
"The other thing was the whole notion of franchising. I think Manchester City, New York City, Yokohama, Melbourne City, this is all part of this. Ten years ago this was an emerging view and what we're seeing now is the crystallisation of all those thoughts coming out in terms of Manchester City's franchise plan. There were football investors around the world 10 years ago but what differentiates from that now is that you have a parent group, which is the City Football Group.
"There's brand consistency because they're all City and they all play in light blue and conceivably one day they're all going to have the same shirt sponsor."
Potentially all these groups could become even closer in their branding and it's important that they are competing at the top of their game, but Soriano's groundwork has already been laid.
"In the three-and-a-half years that I've been here, I've seen lots of great things," he told around 400 supporters in March during the Supporters Club Annual Dinner. "One of the most important is I've seen the birth of a family. We have a club in New York, we have a team in Melbourne, we have another sister team in Yokohama in Japan.
"I was in New York last week for the first game of the season, and there was somebody from Manchester with me that at some point in time said, 'why are we creating a team in New York?' And I can guarantee all of you, if you had been with me, in New York last Sunday, with thousands of people dressed in sky blue rooting for the team, New York City, you would have felt something very special.
"So I said to my colleague who asked me why are we doing this, I said 'okay, think about it, how would you feel if you were walking around a stadium in New York seeing 30,000 people dressed in red supporting New York United?' What we are doing is great and it helps Manchester City, and it takes Manchester City to the 21 Century. It takes us to be global why we are still and always will be local and rooted in Manchester."
It is obvious that City's plans of global domination are being handled by a man who has a clear vision of what he can achieve.
Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.