Sunday, 10 May 2009

Morality emerges from the millions

The financial clout of Manchester City makes the coming months intriguing to say the least. As the season draws to a close the dreaded ‘S’ word has come to the fore: speculation. In particular, speculation with regard to City’s transfer activity. If I were a betting man, I’d bet my mortgage (if I had one to bet) that every transfer window for the next few years will be exactly the same.

We are at a very specific stage of City’s development, a very early stage, a stage where no-one – fans and players alike - knows the depth, longevity and intention of the owners’ reach. We are in the realm of the word, not the deed. We are dealing in the semantics of speculation.

The project
We are hearing a lot about the word ‘project’. Mark Hughes has used it from his first day in the job. Garry Cook has used it in explaining his (failed) attempt to bring a certain world-class player to the club last January. Recently, the camps of certain players across the world have been using the word too. In the words of his agent, Fabio Cannavaro, the Real Madrid and Italy centre-back “wants to aim for an important project as he nears the end of his career, one that I would call phenomenal.”

Reflecting on his own uncertain future, Manchester United striker Carlos Tevez mused: “It's not only Real Madrid and Inter who want me and I need to study the options now, not just from a money point of view, but also because I want to play for a team with a good project and in a country that is perfect for my family.”

The dangers of semantics
City fans and certain elements of the media may well have been too quick to link these uses of the word ‘project’, at risk of missing the real picture. There’s no doubt something big is going on at City, but we are not the only club in the world with big ambitions. The reality of our true shape is revealed by the fact that we cannot match the aspirations of the game’s big players.

Take Lionel Messi for starters. Back in March, City were linked with a £100m bid for Barcelona’s talisman. Let’s step into Argentinean’s mind for a minute. He’s at a great club with a rich tradition and a rich history. Alongside the likes of Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry, he is playing the kind of football that most top players can only dream of. He has just had the privilege of playing a part in famously demolishing Real Madrid 6-2 at the Bernabeu. That’s a result that will go down in the history of the game. So why then, would he want to move to a club like Manchester City?

The same goes for other big names. Although Cannavaro dropped the word ‘project’ into his conversations with the media, he has turned down City because he wants to be considered for the Italy World Cup squad next summer, and to be a contender for a place, he needs to play at the highest level. French midfielder Franck Ribery, currently at Bayern Munich, has also stated that his decision to move to another club in the summer will be based upon whether that club is playing Champions League football next season.

Money talks, but only up to a point
For me it remains unclear whether the millions of City’s Sheikh, repugnant though they are to many in the game, will bring success to Manchester City. Of course, they will certainly make success more likely. It sounds rather dense and obvious, but in order to have success you have to be able to succeed. And that is a lot harder than it sounds. For the top, top players to come, City will have to prove their ability to succeed, because for the top, top players, no amount of money is worth more than playing at the height of the game against the best in the game.

And this leads to a refreshing conclusion for the footballing neutral. The fact that the top, top players aren’t yet coming to City proves that money isn’t the ultimate objective. For the Messi’s, Kaka’s, Cannavaro's and Ribery’s of this world, the romance of the game is still intact.

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