June 2007 was a watershed moment for Manchester City as Thaksin Shinawatra bought the club. It was a false dawn but inadvertently led to turning them into champions.
The former Thai prime minister was a controversial figure for many due to his policies in his homeland, including his plan to rid the country of drugs which resulted in thousands of deaths.
A military coup in 2006 saw Shinawatra forced into exile in London as the new leaders in Thailand affected a number of charges against him. The freezing of his assets didn’t stop him from buying City, having previously failed to gain control at Liverpool and Fulham.
The promise of big-money signings and success made ‘Frank’, as he was known to City fans, a very popular man in Manchester at least after his £81million takeover.
Sven-Goran Eriksson was brought in to replace the much-maligned Stuart Pearce as the club looked to get on an upward curve. Money was spent on the mercurial Elano, the barrel-chested Valeri Bojinov and the well-coiffured Vedran Corluka.
The players all posed with their new manager, alongside a fourth new signing, Javi Garrido, who had just arrived from Real Sociedad following advice from Chris Coleman.
“When I arrived there I couldn’t speak any words of English, so in the beginning it was quite hard. I visited Carrington and signed my contract at the stadium. I thought “wow Javi, this is an important club”, then I started training with all the players. The first year was great, the manager was there, the new president was there trying to make a great team so they could do great things, so I started feeling like something great was going to happen at the club,” Garrido told ITV.
Optimism was in the air in East Manchester as City put together an exciting and competitive squad, something Pearce had been unable to provide under the previous owners who had made the club financially secure but could not offer investment for top quality signings. City had just stayed up the previous season, having failed to score a home league goal in the final eight games at what is now the Etihad Stadium.
Performances and results reflected the feeling in the camp, as Eriksson made all the new boys settle thanks to his man-management skills. Geovanni scored the only goal in City’s clash with rivals Manchester United in the second home game of the season, a result which spurred Eriksson’s team on for the opening few months of the campaign.
“The great atmosphere that the manager made for the players meant everything was so easy. Once we started getting wins in our pocket, the confidence grew, both as individuals and as a collective. I think it was a great start that season and probably in the middle and latter parts the team showed a bit of weakness, but we qualified for the Uefa Cup and it created great memories for me.”
City were in the top four over the opening months only for the second half of the campaign to be an abject failure as many of the club’s imports struggled to cope with the rigours of Premier League football and the added difficulty of a Manchester winter.
Shinawatra signed three Thai players for the club, needless to say, none of them every played a competitive game for the club. Suree Sukha, Kiatprawut Saiwaeo and Teerasil Dangda were all shipped out on loan as none of them qualified for a work permit due to their homeland’s standing in world football.
There were also tours to Thailand at the end of the season, where Eriksson could dream of living out his days with two women in Bangkok, according to Didi Hamann.
“When that type of person is in charge of a club, they can try to make the players from their own country stronger, and I think that is the reason they signed players from Thailand. I didn’t have any contact with the owner, but at the end of that season we went to Thailand just to finish the campaign but apart from that we were kept away from him.”
No one had a bad word to say about Eriksson, although he admit to a strained relationship with the owner, from his time at Manchester City, especially Garrido after he was given his chance to play in the Premier League. The Swede was able to quickly unified a disparate group of players, ensuring they were happy from the moment they arrived thanks to the manager’s personality.
“He’s so normal as a manager, he makes things so easy for the players; when we were training, our minds were just focused on training, and he wasn’t strict, he was very flexible and I think as we had a lot of players from lots of different countries, I think the players will thank him for making things so good and so normal, as you can see everyone who works with him."
The season would end in calamity as City lost 8-1 to Middlesbrough as the squad and fans knew Shinawatra was going to dispense with the services of Eriksson, as the club finished ninth in the league. Despite the farcical final game the club still qualified for the Uefa Cup but off the pitch there was further disarray as the owner was leading City towards financial meltdown.
“It was a very bad, we lost 8-1 away at Middlesbrough and when change is coming, it’s tough for everyone but that’s part of football and life. If you see what came afterwards, you can see it was just an experience for the club.”
Shinawatra’s desperate need to sell attracted interest from Sheikh Mansour, who spent £200million on Manchester City and made them the force they’ve become. Undoubtedly, Shinawatra’s tenure gave the club the platform to build on, making City an ambitious business and giving them a step up on the world scene.
From the likes of Rolando Bianchi and Geovanni arriving one summer, the intent from Sheikh Mansour as an even higher calibre of player started joining the club as Shinawatra’s one-year tenure came to an abrupt end. The Thai was given the title of ‘Honorary Life President’ but that was withdrawn soon after.
City went from strength to strength as Garrido watched the club evolve around him during his three years in East Manchester, as City went on to lift numerous trophies and sign countless stars.
“The big players started coming, like Robinho, Kompany and from within you started thinking something was changing: the facilities, the team was better.
“I was with so many different players during players my three years there, and as I am the sort of person who wants to get the most of out of every player when I am training with them and it was important to find out what the great players can do.”
The Sheikh Mansour era has been a smoother transition but if it wasn't for Shinawatra no one knows where City would be today.