Ten years ago Manchester City held their Christmas party and in keeping with the spirit of largesse at the club, manager Sven Goran Eriksson bought drinks for all the 100 staff present.
At another function around that time, at the Bem Brasil restaurant in Ancoats, Eriksson picked up the tab when an excitable lady from ticketing ordered a bottle of Cristal champagne for her birthday. It set the Swede back £600.
But this was Manchester City 2007 and this was the mood.
After years on the periphery of English football, an £80million takeover by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had placed City front and centre.
Thaksin Shinawatra's purchase of Manchester City in 2007 was the start of a crazy season
The former Thai prime minister appointed colourful ex-England boss Sven Goran-Eriksson
Despite a tumultuous year, Sheikh Mansour swooped in to make City a superpower in 2008
That summer, Eriksson — rebuilding his reputation after managing England — had spent more than £40m on eight foreign players. This was a lot for a club that had spent a total of £2m on outfield players the season before.
All eight were presented at the same press conference in July and a source recalled: 'The theme that day was revolution rather than evolution. It was exciting. We felt as though we had arrived.'
City had already taken steps forward under the rejuvenated Eriksson. They won nine of their first 14 Premier League games — including victory over champions Manchester United — and that Christmas night at the Aurora Hotel, Eriksson was enthused.
'Thaksin says I'm getting £50m to spend in January,' Eriksson told a club employee. As it turned out, Eriksson got nothing like it.
Shinawatra came in promising big money but his £800m fortune in Thailand was frozen
By the end of March, Shinawatra had decided to sack the Swede with City players subsequently threatening to strike in protest.
Shinawatra, meanwhile, had failed to negotiate the release of an £800m personal fortune frozen in Thailand as he faced corruption charges. In the end, the City owner was forced to secretly borrow money from former chairman John Wardle to keep the club afloat.
By the season's end, City were in disarray, lurching towards administration and, ultimately, into the arms of Sheik Mansour of Abu Dhabi. This is the story of a year that changed English football.
At his first staff meeting at City in June 2007, Thaksin Shinawatra pointed to a photograph of a dog on a chart and said: 'If a dog can bark, good. If it can't bark then shoot it.' Those in the room felt the analogy was appropriate. Thaksin's minder wore a thick black belt round his waist in which some presumed rested a gun.
'If you made Thaksin a cup of tea, that guy would be one foot behind you to watch what you put in it,' recalled a former City staffer.
Shinawatra was a controversial figure. He had been accused of corruption and human rights offences in Thailand and ousted as PM by the military. But he seemed to have what City needed: money.
Back in the summer of 2007, City were a progressive club with values. City had a fine stadium and successful youth system. Daniel Sturridge, Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier were all in the pipeline.
There were some high-quality summer signings such as Martin Petrov and Geovanni
Shinawatra also drafted in three unheralded Thai players to boost City's popularity back home
But chairman and owner John Wardle desperately needed a buyer if City were to progress on the pitch. A move from the hedge fund SISU — later to buy Coventry City — had sensibly been rebuffed and there was even talk Noel Gallagher had been approached. 'I would have been too busy trying to write B-sides,' the Oasis star said later.
So, despite red flags raised by the likes of Amnesty International, City took Shinawatra's money.
The 58–year-old had little previous interest in football and no knowledge of it.
One of his new board members, Mrs Sasin Monvoisin, watched Liverpool players warming down after a City game and asked: 'Are they going to play another match now?' But Shinawatra needed publicity if he was to regain popularity in Thailand and ownership of an English football team was one way to get it. Initially, he seemed eccentric but harmless.
'He was engaging,' one former executive told Sportsmail. 'He had some daft ideas but it was up to us to dissuade him.'
Early on, two pot elephants and some crystals were buried beneath the City of Manchester Stadium pitch. Shinawatra then banned the club from wearing their purple away kit — saying it was a bad colour in Thailand — and demanded Thai masseurs be hired to treat a squad he labelled unfit.
Things started well under Eriksson, Brazilian playmaker Elano began the season in fine form
That particular request was ignored, but when three hopeless Thai players arrived on free transfers to give Shinawatra some column inches back home before a Christmas election, Eriksson had no choice but to play along.
None had a hope of playing in England, but Thaksin swept into the club from the Presidential Suite at the Hilton the day they signed to personally give the trio thousands of pounds in cash as a welcome gift. They were then loaned out to Swiss and Belgian clubs, for whom they played a total of six games.
At that time, there was also a trial for Saudi Arabia's Nashat Akram.
He was a particular favourite of Sasin Monvoisin, who was one day seen bouncing along the touchline at training telling Eriksson's assistant Tord Grip to 'just look at his skills'. Akram lasted a week.
Chain-smoking Croatian Vedran Corluka got caught speeding by the same camera five times
Asked why he’d been flashed by the same speed camera five times, Corluka said: 'I thought it was the paparazzi'
Against this background of chaos and eccentricity, City prospered on the field. The eight summer deals had been done by agent Jerome Anderson and there were some good ones.
Two Brazilian midfielders, playboy Elano and god-fearing Giovanni, were gifted, while Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov and chain-smoking Croatian Vedran Corluka had pedigree.
The latter's defending was better than his driving and, asked by the club why he'd been flashed by the same speed camera five times, Corluka said: 'I thought it was the paparazzi.'
This was exciting territory for a club that needed something to smile about. Stuart Pearce's team hadn't scored a home league goal beyond January 1 the previous season and City were so far in the slipstream of the really big clubs back then, it was a wonder they could even see them.
Sir Alex Ferguson used to call City's stadium the 'Temple of Doom'. So if the club bought into the Shinawatra dream a little too readily, this lingering sense of inferiority was, in part, why.
'The place had a new, happy feel about it,' said one source. 'We were optimistic.'
At an event in Thailand, Shinawatra declared: 'Next year Manchester City will be just like Manchester United.'
That was never going to happen so soon, but seemed a reasonable aim. At least it did until the money ran out.
Despite some bizarre goings on off the pitch City looked good before Christmas
To this day, there is nobody from Manchester City, past or present, who will say a bad word about Sven Goran Eriksson. One employee said: 'I served 17 managers at that club and he was my favourite. A special man.' His first post since his England tenure, Eriksson was Shinawatra's second pick after Claudio Ranieri.
Fresh from a split with Nancy Dell'Olio, the Swede was obsessively secretive about his private life for fear of upsetting his parents. Spooked when pictures of him viewing a Cheshire apartment appeared in the Manchester Evening News, Eriksson made the Radisson Edwardian Hotel's Valentino Suite his home. At £2,400 a night, it was not cheap.
'It allowed him to entertain certain friends without the world knowing,' said one City insider.
To that end, Eriksson rarely used credit cards, always cash. He had a free Volvo he never drove and spent much of his free time in his favourite restaurant San Carlo.
Stephen Ireland's pants down moment came a couple of months after he lied about two deaths
Stephen Ireland had a hair transplant, made up the deaths of two grandmothers and asked someone to take his driving test
Eriksson lifted the mood at City. Players found themselves staying in better hotels on away trips and the manager himself appeared on BBC's The One Show, helping out at a tea dance. Fundamentally, though, Eriksson was a committed, old-school manager. He would regularly watch the Under 18s and thought he was building for a future with a talented squad that was not without characters.
One player was phoned at the same time every morning to make sure he was out of bed. German Didi Hamann was struggling with the early stages of a gambling addiction. And then there was Stephen Ireland.
In the course of that season, the young Irish midfielder had a hair transplant, invented the death of two grandmothers to excuse himself from international duty and asked a club official if they could find someone to take his driving test for him. 'Sven loved Stephen,' a source told Sportsmail. 'But he thought the whole grandmother story was hilarious. He was crying with laughter about it.'
City's players liked Eriksson and for much of the season they responded, finishing eighth.
Captain Richard Dunne recalled: 'On pre-season Sven said: "Have a couple of beers, be back at 12 o'clock". But we were 'delayed' getting back and as we came in we were all trying to sneak around corners. Yet there was Tord Grip sitting playing the accordion. I thought, "These guys are gonna be all right for us", and they were.'
City bounced along under Eriksson through the first half of the campaign, even if some staff members were never sure about the owner. Few could spot a phoney quicker than kitman Les Chapman and he took to dressing up as Shinawatra at training. One week he appeared wearing handcuffs and — faking Shinawatra's American-Thai accent — said to the players: 'One day this club will be bigger than Mansfield.'
Shinawatra told Eriksson he must win the league and before one game told the players: 'You have to pretend this game is a World Cup final'. Once the door was closed, Eriksson shrugged and turned to Chapman. 'Chappy,' he said. 'I think your version of Thaksin knows more about football than the real one.'
City bounced along under Eriksson, even if staff members were never sure about the owner
In February 2008, City won a special derby at Old Trafford 2-1. It was City's first league double over their neighbours since 1970 and marked the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash.
City and United emerged from a tough day magnificently. Eriksson and Dunne wrote to City fans asking for respectful behaviour and got it. Both teams wore shirts without sponsorship. It was a day that saw Manchester, and indeed City, at their very best.
Sadly, behind the scenes at City the wheels were coming off.
Shinawatra had hoped victory by a party favourable to him in the Thai elections at Christmas would see his £800m fortune unfrozen.
The first bit happened but the second didn't. The politician could not get his hands on his own money and this, ultimately, was the game-changer.
In February 2008, City completed a league double over Manchester United in a special derby
Only a handful of City staff knew but three times — once before Christmas and twice after — former chairman Wardle had to lend Thaksin £2m so that wages could be paid. Financial Armageddon loomed and football results slipped. After the derby, City won one in seven and on April 1 Eriksson read in the Press that he was to be sacked. It was not a joke.
From March, Shinawatra stopped speaking to his manager. After the 3-2 home defeat by Fulham on April 26, Eriksson chased his owner around his hotel, banging on Shinawatra's door before phoning a club staffer and saying: 'That s*** just won't talk to me.'
Within all this, there were moments of farce. Kasper Schmeichel was hauled off to Bangkok to pay tributes to the deceased sister of the King of Thailand. One night the young reserve keeper watched Shinawatra sing karaoke, complete with backing singer to disguise his bum notes.
Kasper Schmeichel went to Bangkok to pay tributes to the deceased sister of the Thai King
With the squeeze on at City, relations were strained. Shinawatra's City-based Thai staff were now operating out of expensive new London offices on Park Lane and blamed chief executive Alistair Mackintosh for not closing down growing dissent from the fans.
Eriksson was finally told by agent Pini Zahavi that he was indeed to be sacked and at Anfield, as City lost their penultimate game, supporters voiced their disapproval.
'Oy, Thaksin, leave our Sven alone,' they sang to the tune of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall. By then it was too late and protest was the only recourse.
Ahead of the final league game at Middlesbrough, Dunne told his boss the team did not wish to play. Eriksson talked his captain down but Dunne was sent off after just 15 minutes as a season that had begun with hope ended in an 8-1 defeat. Ireland refused to travel home on the team coach, telling Sportsmail: 'It was the worst moment of my career.'
Further indignity followed for Eriksson as he was made to take City on a post-season tour to Asia. City legend Mike Summerbee described it as 'shameful'. On that trip Eriksson was finally dismissed, the unfortunate Mackintosh asked to pull the trigger. Out in Asia, Eriksson was photographed with his chairman yet never once spoke to him.
As rumours rumbled near the end of the season that Eriksson could be sacked fans protested
Eriksson went on the raucous post-season tour of Asia where he was eventually axed
I was woken by Sven carrying two glasses of champagne. I said: 'Boss, what are we celebrating?' He said, 'Life, Kaiser. We are celebrating life'
But in the dressing room at Middlesbrough he had promised his players they would all enjoy themselves anyway.
According to those present, there was little sleep taken and little decent football played.
During the second game, City striker Valeri Bojinov sat on the bench eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while early one morning in Bangkok, Hamann arrived at the team hotel after a late night and fell asleep by the pool.
He was woken by his manager carrying two glasses of champagne and in his book, The Didi Man, the German revealed, 'I said: "Boss, what are we celebrating?" He said, "Life, Kaiser. We are celebrating life". He added, "You know Kaiser, I like this place. I think I'll come back here and live with two women. Yes. I think I need two beautiful women".'
By the end of that summer, one of Shinawatra's closest advisors, Pairoj Piempongsant, had led him to Sheik Mansour of Abu Dhabi. Shortly after the start of season 2008-09 City became the richest club in the world.
Without Shinawatra, would City be where they are now? Was he the vital, if accidental, link in the chain? Or would the Sheik have bought the club anyway?
Whatever your view, Shinawatra made £90m from the sale, has homes in six countries and now travels the world on a Montenegrin passport. John Wardle, meanwhile, eventually got his £6m back, still watches City and has a table and seat in the East Stand of the Etihad Stadium. He pays for both.
A new era was coming, the Abu Dhabi United Group would soon arrive with their millions