In the summer of 2007, City were sold to former Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, for £21.6 million. The sale signalled a much needed injection of cash into a City side bereft of quality and success. After just over two seasons under Stuart Pearce’s management City just about maintained their Premier League status on a shoe string budget. The arrival of *then* exciting players from Europe and South America, as well as the appointment of former England manager, Sven Goran-Eriksson, signalled a new era for City: the excitement amongst the fans was palpable.
It is only with hindsight that I’ve realise how misplaced that excitement was. Shinawatra was accused of human rights offences of the worst kind by the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which included the killing, without trial, of people suspected of drug offences and political prisoners, as well as the murder of 2,500 people by security forces.
In 2006, Shinawatra was overthrown as Thai Prime Minister by a military coup and corruption charges were instigated against him. Before he bought City, £900 million of his assets were frozen by the military government. With all of this baggage in the public domain, quite how his purchase of the club was ratified by the Premier League is a mystery. In spite of this, the majority of City fans, including myself, cast aside their moral compasses such was the desperation for success at the club.
As far as the football was concerned, it started well. City occupied the top four for the first few months of the season. Through the winter, City’s form tailed off and slipped into mid table obscurity. The only highlight of the second half of the season was the 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford on the 50th Anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, which completed a League double over United for the first time in 38 years. The victory prompted chants from some City fans at the game of “there’s only one Frank Sinatra” (Frank Sinatra being City fans nickname for Shinawatra after he sang Blue Moon, badly, by all accounts, when he held a buffet for City fans at Manchester Town Hall when he bought the club).
Even though the likes of Elano, Geovanni and Petrov joined City due to Shinawatra’s money, the player of the season was Academy product, Michael Johnson, who made his debut before Shinawatra’s arrival. The final day of the season saw City humiliated with an 8-1 defeat against Middlesbrough on the same day that United were crowned Premier League champions. A few days later Eriksson was sacked after months of speculation.
Meanwhile, Shinawatra’s political troubles persisted and by the summer of 2008 he was on the run after breaking the terms of his bail after charges of political corruption in Thailand. Moreover, City were on the brink of financial ruin. The mayhem that followed can be traced well when Vincent Kompany arrived from Hamburg for £6 million in the August. Reflecting on his arrival he said: “At the time I signed, I was supposed to the meet the owner, but then he had to cancel it to go into hiding somewhere. It was a bit of funny situation.” That’s putting it mildly. City’s then recently appointed Chief Executive, Garry Cook, later declared that the club were getting the point where they couldn’t pay the players’ wages.
Needless to say, City were rescued by the takeover by Sheikh Mansour on the final day of the 2008 summer transfer window. But in retrospect it is astounding and embarrassing to think that Shinawatra was welcomed with open arms by most of the supporters to the club. Such was the desperation for some decent football, Shinawatra was hailed as the saviour of the club, but he really shouldn’t have been. Moral reasons aside, Shinawatra left City on the brink of financial collapse. It is sobering to think that had it not been for Sheikh Mansour’s takeover City would have faced the very real possibility of administration and perhaps non-existence.