City Football Group, the holding company that owns Manchester City and New York City FC, plan to set up a franchise in the booming Chinese Super League as the next step in their global expansion, club sources have told ESPN FC.
The group's aim is to have a network involving one team with the title 'City' on each continent, creating unique commercial opportunities while greatly strengthening their flagship Premier League club's identity, and China is viewed as the natural next destination.
The Chinese Super League has seen an unprecedented explosion in expenditure over the past two months, with its clubs spending almost a quarter of a billion pounds on players like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ramires and Alex Teixeira, marking it as the fastest growing league in football. That follows an announcement in December that Chinese consortium CMC had invested £265m in City Football Group, establishing a link between club and country.
The network already own Melbourne City FC in the Australian A-League and have a stake in Yokohama J Marinos in Japan, as well as owning the Premier League and MLS outfits.
"Shanghai City" have been mooted around the Etihad Stadium as a potential franchise but, although no destination has yet been decided, the first steps in the plan have already been taken.
The City Football Group also envisage eventually owning clubs in Central and South America, as well as Africa, although have no interest in another European franchise due to UEFA regulations banning ownership groups from having more than one club in their continental competitions.
The idea behind the plan is that it would give the City identity a unique and tangible presence and visibility in football markets, fostering loyalty to all the clubs, and giving them more commercial opportunities as a consequence.
City sources have also told ESPN that they have been giving Chinese Super League officials advice on running clubs, and ensuring the model is sustainable beyond the recent explosion in spending.