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The Salford City project - How far can it go?

 • by Ryan Baldi
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Football Whispers has teamed up with Vanarama and Motorama in their efforts to raise £150,000 for Prostate Cancer UK across September and October, providing the best coverage of the Vanarama National League online.

Subject of popular television shows on the BBC and Sky Sports, backed by a billionaire investor and five former Manchester United stars and, in the eyes of many, paying their way into the Football League, Salford City, it’s safe to say, are not the most popular club in the Vanarama National League. But they might just be the most ambitious.

Between them owning a 50 per cent share of the club, former Old Trafford colleagues Gary Neville, brother Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt – along with Valencia owner Peter Lim, who holds a 50 cent stake – have set about transforming the side from Greater Manchester since their arrival in 2014.

Matchday gates have risen from an average of 160 to more than 1,600; improvements have been made to the modest Moor Lane home stadium; a youth academy and a women’s team have been introduced; and supporters benefit from subsidised away travel and reasonably priced season tickets.

Three promotions in the four years the club has been under the rule of the ‘Class of 92’ stars have brought Salford into the National League, one step away from League Two. In that time, there was also a headline-grabbing run to the second round of the FA Cup, where they were unlucky to lose to Hartlepool United in a replay.

All of this, though, will have come as no surprise to Salford’s A-list owners, of whom Gary Neville is the most vocal and hands-on. Their stated ambition for the club upon taking control in 2014? To reach the Championship within 15 years.

With 11 years left on that timescale, they are only three more promotions short. Only a fool would back against them achieving their aim, given their means and momentum.

Salford have started the 2018/19 National League season well, sitting ninth after nine games, with five wins to their name under new manager Graham Alexander, the former Burnley and Preston North End defender who replaced the popular duo of Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson in May.

And Salford’s assimilation to life in English football’s fifth tier is even more remarkable considering how far they’ve come and how quickly they have risen. Their continual adaptation to increasingly competitive levels of football is a credit to the recruitment strategy put in place by the owners, who have shown themselves to be savvy in the transfer market and ruthless when required to be.

“It is critical you win the battles to sign the players you want and to do that you have to be ready to move early,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports after Salford’s most recent promotion.

“The squad was built with two-year deals when we went professional, so we’ve been quite clever in that we don’t need to change as much of our squad as most of our players have experience at this level.”

One such move, made this summer, has proven highly controversial. Salford signed Irish striker Adam Rooney from Aberdeen, the second-best team in the Scottish Premiership, for an undisclosed fee, paying the 30-year-old a reported weekly wage of £4,000.

Some have questioned Rooney’s motives for making the move from the Scottish top tier to the English fifth while still within his prime, and accusations of attempting to “buy a place in the Football League” have been levelled at Salford as a result.

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But, if nothing else, Salford’s signing of Rooney demonstrates how serious the club’s owners are about their transformative plans. And, with seven goals in his first nine league games for the club, the nine-cap Republic of Ireland striker appears money well spent.

“We got what we wanted and three promotions in four seasons puts us ahead of schedule,” Neville says of the club’s title win last season. “The big vision was to make the Sky Bet EFL in six or seven seasons, so we now have time on our side to reach that objective.”

At at its core, the ambitious Salford City project professes a commitment to doing right be the most important people at the club: its supporters.

“One thing that stays the same is that we always wanted to be a community team,” says Neville, “with the same people in and around the club and it is absolutely critical that we build around the families who support us.”

While their big-pending ways have drawn the ire of rivals, this ethos can only be admired.

 

Vanarama, and its newly launched personal leasing brand, Motorama, has set itself a 45-day challenge across September and October to raise £150,000 for Prostate Cancer UK. Lease a van, save a man. Find out more here.

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