New York City is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Manchester City.
Let me say that again: if you think that New York City is a team in its own right, able to make decisions utterly independent of CFG that benefit only itself, and not CFG or Manchester City, then you're just kidding yourself.
This isn't news. This is the kind of statement that you'd think is self-evident and anodyne, based on all of the evidence that we've seen, both on the field and off the field. Whether or not it's a good thing is open to debate, but it is a thing that is real. Pretending that it's not doesn't do anyone any good.
When I refer to New York City being a development squad on Twitter, that's what I'm talking about. That lack of independent agency. That lack of control over its own affairs. In short: New York City is a minor league team, at least right now.
Again: we can talk about whether or not that dependence is a good thing or a bad thing. But to deny that it exists? I mean: this is how it's defined in baseball:
In baseball, a "farm team" is a minor league team affiliated with a Major League Baseball (MLB) organization. Such minor league teams are under the control of the MLB organization through strict franchise rights.
By that standard, New York City is a farm team.
They share a name (Manchester City/New York City). They share a sponsor (Etihad), colors (sky blue, navy, white), owner (CFG), players (Shay Facey, Angelino, Lampard). Heck, they even share coaches!
That, by the way, is the reason I'm writing about this today. NBC Sports' Joe-Prince Wright essentially recapped an interview that CFG's Brian Marwood -- their Football Administration Officer -- did with Sky Sports. Marwood didn't say anything we didn't already know. He was just up-front about it. Here's what he said about New York City's new manager, Patrick Vieira:
"He began life as a coach with our elite development squad and he’s got the strength, it was important that we wanted to keep him within the family and we want him to grow and develop," Marwood said. "Like we do with all of our coaches, medical teams, scouting team, if you have good people you need to make sure you are developing them. They have to feel that there’s a future here for them.
"It was important for us that we could find the next development stage for Patrick and it was still as part of the group. That opportunity came about in New York, we are really excited, he is really excited and it is exactly the next step he needs. Hopefully at some point he will come back and manage Manchester City. That’s the ambition for him and that’s the ambition for us. He has to go through this learning curve." (emphasis added)
There's nothing here that should shock anyone. What's different is how blunt and up-front Marwood's being about New York City's status as a development team for Manchester City. Like I said: a farm team.
Like I wrote above, we can debate whether or not New York City's status as a farm team for Manchester City is a good thing or a bad thing. But that it is that is not a thing that is in doubt.
But Raf, New York City isn't a development squad! All Marwood's saying is that Vieira is going there because he needs seasoning as a manager. How's that different from Kreis developing as a manager at Real Salt Lake before stepping up to manage New York City? How's that different from Vitesse giving Chelsea's players experience?
It's totally different. Real Salt Lake isn't beholden to New York City in any way, shape, or form. RSL can pick anyone they want to manage their team. Maybe Jeff Cassar does well enough at RSL that he earns a shot at managing the Galaxy, and whomever succeeds him does well enough that they wind up managing Seattle, and so forth. Therefore, RSL earns a deserved reputation as a "cradle of coaches".
That's entirely different from what we're seeing at New York City. CFG needs Vieira to learn how to manage a senior squad. They own a team that needs a manager. That team has no say in picking their own manager. By that light, how is New York City not a farm team? How is it not a development squad?
Let me put it another way. The counter-argument to my assertion here, such as it is, is that right now, MLS is necessarily a second-tier league to the Premier League. Because of that, New York City has to be a second banana to Manchester City. But, in time, that will change for any number of reasons. MLS will therefore be an equal to the Premier League, and given New York City's pre-eminence in the world, CFG will have no choice but to push New York City ahead of Manchester City. And it is then -- not now, but then -- that we will see the genius of CFG's plan.
Ask yourself: how likely is that scenario? Be honest.
I don't. For starters, it assumes that CFG is looking 20, 30, 40 years into the future, and planning accordingly. No club does that. At best, you plan five, maybe ten years out. It's impossible to do more than that; hell, five years out involves an incredible amount of guesswork. It's likely highly informed, but it's still guesswork. Bayern Munich is probably the best club at doing this, for a lot of reasons, and they're probably not doing more than three years out, or so.
But that's not the biggest weakness with this argument. The biggest weakness is this:
What's CFG's incentive to treat New York City FC differently from Manchester City in the future, given the centrality of Manchester City FC to CFG?
There isn't one. Manchester City is CFG's crown jewel. Everything -- and I mean everything -- centres around Manchester City. If anything, the incentives are set up precisely the opposite way. CFG will do everything in its power to preserve the value of its investment in Manchester City. There's nothing compelling CFG to behave otherwise.
Asserting otherwise is simply wishful thinking. There's nothing wrong with that. But let's be clear: that's all it is. We can wish it all we want; it changes not a thing.
Why does this happen? Because, I think, people make a fundamental error here. They look at Major League Soccer and think, this is an American soccer league. From there, they make the presumption that MLS will develop along the lines of every other soccer league, complete with pro/rel. This presumption, of course, collides spectacularly with how MLS is actually set up, and with the stated desire of its owners for stability and relative cost certainty -- neither of which exist in other soccer leagues.
Because of that reality, I've since changed how I perceive MLS. Rather than thinking of it as an American soccer league, and expecting it to fit in with the rest of the world, I'm now perceiving it as an American sports league that happens to play soccer. When you look at MLS that way, everything about it makes much more sense. Starkly put: MLS is simply the soccer version of the NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB.
Just like those other leagues, MLS has roster restrictions, salary caps, trades, drafts, and so on. None of those other things exist in soccer leagues across the world. I'm simplifying greatly here, obviously, but the general point holds. MLS has developed along the same course of other American leagues over the past two decades; there is nothing to indicate that it will, over the course of the next two decades, radically develop in a completely different direction.
Why? Just like CFG, MLS has no incentive to do something drastically different. They've gone from being on the brink of oblivion in 2001-02 to exceptional success in 2015. They're well on track to expand to 24 teams by the end of the decade, and it's a near certainty that there will be 28 MLS teams within the next 10 to 15 years. All that expansion is taking place within MLS' existing framework. That framework might be amended substantially, to allow MLS' owners to spend more and more money, but it's never going to resemble the free-spending anarchy of the Premier League. It's foolish to assume that it will; that's not how American leagues are set up.
But they have to do that in order to compete with the rest of the world! Do they? What's your evidence? American sports team owners seem to spend quite freely, even with the various roster restrictions and salary caps that different leagues possess to control spending. MLS won't be any different. They don't need to be. When Don Garber says that he wants MLS to be a "league of choice", a "top-flight league", or one of the world's "top leagues", he's not saying he wants to supplant the Premier League. He simply wants to be MLS to be in that conversation, along with La Liga, Serie A, and the Bundesliga.
That's not a position that causes conflict for CFG. Their purchase of New York City FC was done expressly with a view towards pushing out the "City" brand out into the world. They didn't buy a MLS team in order to have that team supplant Manchester City; they did it in order to grab a valuable foothold in the American market.
Based on all these facts, there's no reason to believe that CFG plans on having New York City supplant Manchester City as their primary team, other than pride. All of these facts point to New York City occupying a subsidiary, if not straight-up subservient, role to Manchester City for as long as CFG owns both teams.
So: when Ferrán Soriano says at BlazerCon that New York City is maybe "the most important project" for CFG, he's not talking about it replacing Manchester City. He's simply saying that of the three subsidiary teams that CFG has an ownership stake in, New York City is the most important. That's all.
Now: is that a good thing? That's a different debate. It's something that I will explore next.