LONDON: For many football fans in the Middle East, their love affair with Manchester City began with Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s takeover of the club in 2008.
It was a moment that transformed the club, turning it into a global superpower.
The last decade has seen unprecedented success for a team that historically had lived in the shadows of neighbors Manchester United.
Four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups have been added under Robert Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola.
Despite a relatively disappointing 2019-20 Premier League campaign, Wednesday night’s outstanding 2-1 victory over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu has left them firm favorites to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, and potentially to go on and win the trophy that the owners and manager Guardiola covet most.
But for some, their affection pre-dates the Abu Dhabi ownership.
Malek Tabbal, Lebanese Manchester City superfan, has become a social media star after appearing in a video that regales his longstanding love for the club, and he is hoping this Sunday’s the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley against Aston Villa will see Guardiola’s men claim the first domestic trophy of the season.
Tabbal has been a Manchester City supporter for over 30 years, and the video followed showed him on a visit to the Etihad Stadium where he was able to meet some of his favorite players.
Pep Guardiola’s side will be aiming to win the Carabao Cup for the third consecutive year on Sunday and Tabbal, founder of the official Manchester City Supporters’ Club in Lebanon, will be glued to his TV as he cheers on the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and the rest of the side.
“Under normal circumstances I would have gone to Wembley to see the Final but unfortunately on this occasion I’m not able to, so I will hopefully gather with the Man City Supporters’ Club in Lebanon,” Tabbal said.
Luckily for him, he has already seen City win the trophy a few years ago.
“The League Cup means a lot to me because back in 2014 I took my son to watch the final between Man City and Sunderland, which we won 3-1,” Tabbal said. “It was a day I will always remember because my son was only eight years old and that was the first time he’d ever been to a game.”
It’s a trophy that for long held a special affection for City fans, it being the last trophy won before the 2011 FA Cup in the Sheikh Mansour era.
“It’s always been important to City fans. The flashback in our minds was always the 1976 final, when Dennis Tueart scored an overhead kick, so for us it’s a great trophy, and in recent years we’ve done really well in the competition.”
Having had to watch Man City on his own for many years, Tabbal decided to set up Lebanon’s official Manchester City Supporters’ Club in order to experience matches alongside like-minded fans.
“Typically, we send an announcement out on social media that there will be a gathering of City fans for a game, and there are normally 20-25 supporters who turn up to watch together,” he explains. “For many years, supporting City was quite a lonely experience, so now to see so many young fans in Lebanon interested in the club means so much to me.”
City’s success, and the quality of players on show, no doubt has made watching the team in recent years a hugely enjoyable experience for Tabbal.
“The actual feeling of supporting City hasn’t changed much,” he said. “But what has changed is the level of expectation, and the feeling you’re above the clouds when City win trophies and play incredible football. It’s a dream come true.”
He is hoping for another trophy to be added to the collection on Sunday.
“It’s a bigger game for Aston Villa than us as they haven’t been to a cup final for a while, so I don’t think it will be easy at all.
“Even though I’m excited, I’m also quite tense, as I would be for a game against one of our traditional rivals such as Liverpool or Man United, but hopefully our quality will shine through and we will get our hands on the trophy again.”