On the wall above Vicky Kloss’ desk is a picture of Paul Dickov, the legendary Manchester City striker who scored the last-gasp goal that put the club back into the second tier of English football back in 1999.
“I still believe that if he had not scored that goal, the chain of events that have led us to this moment would not have happened,” Kloss says. “We could have been condemned to another year in third-tier football, the sponsors might have gone, and even the fans – tremendous though they have always been – might have started to feel that the novelty of going to places like Macclesfield and Wycombe was starting to wear off.”
Kloss – the club’s chief communications officer - is a City fan born and bred. From the age of seven to the present day, stints at university and her previous job as a detective apart, she has been a regular on the terraces throughout her life. She has also, in her decade as a club employee, seen four previous owners and six managers come and go at City, and seems well-placed to judge the change that has taken place over the last three years.
Looking back at the takeover, which took place in September three years ago, Kloss smiles at the memory that she had been planning to take a holiday on the day the announcement was made.
“I got the call early that morning, from Garry [Cook, the former CEO] and others, telling me that I needed to get in as the club was being taken over,” she says. “I went through four mobile phone batteries that day, and in that same day we also broke the British transfer record.”
But given her experience of past owners, how did Kloss feel when she heard the news?
“I was in fire-fighting mood that day, and didn’t have the time to do any due diligence,” she recalls. “But later on, I was thinking – have we gone out of the frying pan into the fire? Is this another false dawn?”
Luckily, that mood swiftly changed when members of City’s new board flew in from Abu Dhabi within a week to meet and get the measure of the club’s employees.
“I felt this enormous sense of relief – it clearly wasn’t about the money, and I felt these guys actually knew what they were talking about,” Kloss says.
“There was a real sense of wanting to safeguard the people who were already here, and a real interest in finding out who was actually working here.”
Kloss adds that the experience was in stark contrast to a previous administration, which had seen owners make no effort to meet the staff, and give no consideration to the club’s lengthy tradition. Another week later, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who was now the City chairman, also flew in. Kloss says her first impressions of the chairman were “innate, measured confidence and intelligence, keanness to understand and respectful" – a world away from her previous experience.
Three years on, and there’s a brightness in the new City headquarters – located in the shadow of the Etihad stadium – that can’t just be attributed to the fact that it’s the first day of a new season. Kloss describes the transformation from the past - where employees were effectively told that there were thousands of other people in the area who’d be delighted to take their place – as “incredible”.
Nowadays, staff at the club work cross-functionally, private health insurance is included and a platform of staff meetings and forums have been introduced. For Kloss, those small, incremental improvements add up to a great deal.
“I think that’s what separates us from the other teams,” she says.
“I think you can have success and still retain your soul. And if you didn’t retain your soul, I would be desperately sad as an employee and as a long-term fan.
"We have got so much more professional over the years, but I didn’t want to change that Mancunian warmth; it doesn’t mean you’re parochial, it means you can be aspirational, have soul, and still win.”
“My observation would be that it’s not necessarily about the resources – those are well-documented,” Kloss says. “You can have as much money as you want, but if you don’t have the right people to execute it, with the right intentions, and with the respect and willingness to listen, than you might as well not bother.”
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