How a football empire set a new Aussie benchmark & where the Melbourne outpost ranks globally

Melbourne City’s journey within the City Football Group has been a success, becoming a dominant force in the Isuzu UTE A-League. KEEPUP puts their work in Australia into a global context.

Melbourne City have gone where no other team has ever gone before in the history of the Isuzu UTE A-League – three successive Premierships.

Throw in a maiden Championship in 2021, an Australia Cup title plus the ongoing emergence of local talent, and it is a far cry from the days of wheelie bins and makeshift ice baths outside the training facility at La Trobe University, when they initially entered the competition under the guise of Melbourne Heart in 2010.

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Since joining the expansive City Football Group umbrella in 2014 – headlined by Premier League juggernaut Manchester City, they have relocated to an elite training location at Casey Fields and the Melbourne outfit have become the benchmark in Australian men’s football with their consistency and three consecutive Grand Final appearances.

This season, star-studded City – boasting Socceroos stars Jamie Maclaren, Mathew Leckie, Marco Tilio and young gun Jordy Bos – are eight points clear atop the table with two regular-season matches remaining as Rado Vidosic builds on the work of Patrick Kisnorbo, who departed for fellow CFG outfit Troyes in France.

“It has taken a little bit of time and we have learnt a lot,” CFG’s managing director of global football Brian Marwood told KEEPUP in June last year.

“This was a club that was, at the time, the second club in Melbourne.

“It was a very young club. It was fair to say it was in and around the bottom of the A-League Men. We knew that when we took over we had a lot of work to do.

“It wasn’t just with the first team, it was facilities, it was people, it was building up the academy, it was developing multi areas of the club because it was so new.

“I think as time has gone on, we have done that and we have worked very hard with the first team and the academy. We are very proud that the last few years have been particularly successful.”

An Australian benchmark

City have set a standard after their Heart days. In the season before CFG’s takeover, the club finished 10th and bottom of the A-League Men table.

The CFG era signalled immediate improvement – the arrival of Aaron Mooy, Damien Duff, Robert Koren and Harry Novillo helped catapult City into the finals, while David Villa’s guest stint provided a sugar hit of two goals in four matches.

City haven’t missed the finals since joining the CFG family; a Championship, a Premiership three-peat and two runners-up appearances are the highlight for the ever-evolving club. The success also extends to the women’s team, who have secured four Championships since 2016.

But how does the team from Melbourne (100% owned by City Football Group) rank within the CFG family, which includes Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, New York City in MLS, Indian Super League’s Mumbai City and Kevin Muscat’s Yokohama F.Marinos in J1 League?

Focusing just on the last three seasons to coincide with Melbourne City’s three straight Premier’s Plates, parent club Manchester City clearly lead the way with two Premier League titles and an EFL Cup.

In India, Mumbai City (65% owned by CFG) have scooped one ISL Championship and a pair of Premierships. Over in the United States, New York City FC (80%) won the 2021 MLS Cup.

Unlike the above teams, CFG only have a 20% stake in F.Marinos, who won the J1 League title last season and celebrated their first Japanese Super Cup triumph this year.

Over the past three seasons – including play-offs, Melbourne City have earned 157 points from 81 games, with an average of 1.94 points per game. Aside from Premier League champions Manchester City (2.35), only F.Marinos (2.01) have averaged more points per game.

Again, excluding Manchester City, the only other team to accumulate more points in that period has been F.Marinos (161 in 80 matches).

Melbourne City do stand alone as the CFG outfit to finish first in each of the past three seasons – Manchester City were runners-up in 2019-20.

“Like all of our clubs, you never rest on your laurels and you never think for one moment that it comes automatically as it doesn’t,” Marwood told KEEPUP previously.

“You have to work at it every day, you have to sense when you feel that there is any complacency, or people are losing motivation. You have to continually keep very close to it and I think that we do that.

“… The coaching staff are really good in the first team through to the academy, the women’s team have had a lot of success as well.

“But we also know that we have set a benchmark that we cannot drop below and we need to make sure we maintain those standards every year because we know we are going to be challenged.

“We used to be the hunter and now we are the hunted. It is a different dynamic and so to stay in and around the top takes a lot of work, smart thinking and changes, but also to keep improving on everything that we are doing and that is something we will continue to do.”]

Digging a little deeper

It’s not just about substance at Melbourne City, but winning in style.

Whether it is Patrick Kisnorbo or Rado Vidosic, the brand of football is consistent throughout CFG – an entertaining and possession-based vision.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidosic.

And the proof is in the numbers. In their 81 league games to date across each of the last three seasons, Melbourne City have scored 173 goals with an xG of 159.0.

To put that into context, only Manchester City have surpassed those figures, through 106 games (260 goals with an xG of 224.0). New York City have scored 136 goals in 83 fixtures (135.5 xG), Mumbai City have found the back of the net 131 times in 65 outings (102.9 xG), while F.Marinos have an xG of 149.2 thanks to 166 goals in 80 matches.

“I think we work very well in the sense of both local and global collaborations to create successful outcomes,” Marwood added.

“When I say that, I think all of our clubs have a local operation, but we have a global, central organisation that supplies the methodology, the advice, the guidance to all of these clubs. We try and keep a form of consistency across all of the clubs which I think is one of our biggest successes.”

Recently-capped Socceroo Aiden O’Neill (C) celebrates with his Melbourne City team-mates.

The methodology Marwood mentioned centres on possession and attacking football. It is evident throughout the numbers across Manchester, Melbourne, New York, Mumbai and Yokohama.

Melbourne City average 55% possession with a passing accuracy of 78% – excluding Manchester City (86%), only F.Marinos boast a better accuracy (80%).

Then when it comes to attacking, their average goals (2.1) and xG (2.0) are second to none other than Manchester City (2.5 goals and 2.1 xG).

Vidosic’s team are also relentless in their pressing. Their interceptions (945) and average interceptions (11.7) both rank second within CFG, just shy of New York City (952 and 12.2).

“One of the ways that is played out is the style of football. If you are watching any of our teams you should, very quickly, get a sense of the identity and which team that group belongs to,” Marwood said.

“We try and maintain that as a cornerstone of what we do. That is only one of multiple things that we try and do. We try and keep that consistency and understanding of ‘that is our identity and that is what we want to be’. But also respecting the local culture that we are in and obviously the players that we have and the budgets that we have to work with.

“They are all factors that come into our thinking. We are working with 11 clubs around the world and we have learnt a huge amount during that time since 2013.

“I think we are in a much, much better position because we have learnt a lot and made some mistakes along in way. In general, I think we are in a pretty good position with all of our clubs.”