Monday, 15 June 2009

And so it begins…

With the £12m acquisition of Gareth Barry, Manchester City’s summer of transfer activity has begun.

Since the last window closed in January, it’s been widely predicted that City’s dealings will be wide in scope and frenetic in pace. The £56m sale of AC Milan playmaker Kaka and £80m sale of Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid now makes those predictions seem all the more solid.

The millions laid out by the Spanish giants will likely be the straw the breaks the camels back, causing a transfer chain reaction that sees clubs being able to move for big money signings. Clubs flush with cash will now ride into the slipstream of Madrid’s pace-setting activity.

Hopefully City will be a major beneficiary of this recent cash-splashing. It will be a much needed tonic for what is an otherwise a frustrating reality for City fans: although we have unlimited funds at our disposal we cannot attract the top stars because we do not have the pull of a top-echelon club. The repercussions of the Kaka-Ronaldo transfers may well free up targets that, whilst not at the height of their game, could certainly do a job in the Premier League.

As big players move, clubs will be more likely to let their lesser talent leave. Lesser players could become restless by lack of playing opportunities, and because of the new fluid state of the market clubs may be more confident of landing the players they want and therefore more amenable to letting existing personnel leave. Of course, this kind of talk is dangerous and potentially stupid because it is highly speculative. But this is an area where City could snap up some good deals given the right conditions.

So what of City’s transfer activity to date? There’s already been success, but (spoken in true City style) failure could loom further down the road.

Barry buys into the dream…

So far that success has come in the form of signing the £12m man from Aston Villa. I was surprised with the speed at which Barry was acquired. I’m probably not alone in saying that I was not even aware he was a target until I saw the headline on the BBC website.

Signing the England international is an excellent move. Initially, I envision him in a defensive midfield pairing with Nigel De Jong, which would see Vincent Kompany move into the back four. Kompany, Dunne and Onuoha would then compete for the two centre back positions. For years competition has been lacking in this vital area of the team, but the knock-on effect of Barry’s signing changes the defensive landscape.

More advantages come in the form of Barry’s positional flexibilities and ball skills. He’s played in left back and left midfield capacities and I seem to recall he’s been asked to play at centre back when needed. In addition he’s a talent from dead ball situations. In a sense we already have that with Elano, but in a League where consistency is the order of the day, the Brazilian’s free kicks do not cut the mustard over the long term.

There’s a lot of talk flying around about why Barry chose City and not a top four club. There’s a few things that go into the mix here. Obviously he’s been given the ‘project’ spiel and is impressed with where City are attempting to go. Then there’s the likelihood that he’ll be on a lot more money than at Villa. At 28 he’s not getting any younger and in this game you have to earn while you can – if that be earning big then so be it.

He’ll also be one of the first names on Hughes’ team sheet – and that’s dead important in a World Cup year. In not joining a top four club, Barry has come under fire for lacking ambition. But as Graham Taylor has stated, if Barry headed to the top four he’d have much less of a playing guarantee than he now has at City. Being part of a top four club might’ve ended up denting his South Africa 2010 hopes.

And then of course there’s the issue of whether the top four even wanted Barry, or indeed whether they would’ve been able to afford him. In this sense the red half of Merseyside have been the keenest but Liverpool are not exactly flush with cash at the moment.

Irrespective of all these questions, Gareth Barry is the kind of signing we want at City. He comes with a lot of skill and a lot of Premier League experience, the latter of which will bring more consistency to a City midfield that (on paper at least) is shaping up to be quite formidable.

…whilst Sturridge flirts with an altogether different one

The behaviour of our 19 year old wonder kid Daniel Sturridge has been both frustrating and troubling. It was not so long ago when the young striker was receiving the plaudits of the great and the good. After setting up two of Robinho’s goals against Stoke earlier in the season, the £32.5m Brazilian proceeded to shine Sturridge’s boot in celebration.

But these highs have seldom been repeated throughout the longue duree of the season. The only other contribution that I can remember was Sturridge’s excellent goal and then exquisite diagonal pass – along the floor – to Robinho on the other side of the Blackburn penalty area. The Brazilian’s finish was equally exceptional as City came from 2-0 down to draw the game 2-2.

Clearly Sturridge has massive potential and is a player we should be looking to keep at the club rather than let go. Sadly, efforts at contract renewal seem to have hit the point of no return. The club reportedly offered somewhere in the region of £45,000 a week – a fair amount at this stage in Sturridge’s career - but the lad turned it down. According to some reports, Sturridge is now looking at joining Ancelotti’s Chelsea where he’ll pull in around £75,000 a week. Greed is a word that comes to the forefront of my mind.

“Hypocrisy!” You may well shout. And you may have a point. How can I say that paying £75,000 a week to one of our own Academy lads is outrageous when the club almost laid out £100m for Kaka earlier in the year? How morally repugnant is £100m for the services of one player?

My answer would be that Kaka has proved his mettle. Sturridge on the other hand still has quite a bit to prove.

The youngster is simply holding the club to ransom demanding that kind of money. Would he have done the same during John Wardle’s chairmanship? Highly unlikely because there was naff all money at the club. The bottom line is this: you look at what he has done for us this season – it ain’t much. You look at what we have done for him throughout his entire career and it’s a damn sight more.

Towards the end of the season the lad had lost his form. Against West Brom he was awful, never passing, always shooting wildly. Even when he scored, it was with a miss hit. The fans were on his back big time, and rightly so. That Sturridge has not even made Stuart Pearce’s England squad for the under-21 European Championships speaks volumes. He should be concentrating on getting that form back at Eastlands rather than dreaming about West London.

Whatever happens, Sturridge has now made his bed. If he goes to Chelsea it will be an acrimonious process, with City holding out for a special £10m development fee through an FA Tribunal. Things won’t be that much easier if his deal falls through. Returning to the Eastern turfs of Manchester, he will have to face up to the young, badly advised fool that he is.

Who knows what Tevez is dreaming of

Could a move be just around the corner? Is the pint-sized Argentinean for turning? These are burning questions to which every City (and United) fan yearns for an answer.

The latest is that negotiations are to be opened imminently, with City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea all interested along with an Italian and Spanish club. Tevez’s stated intentions have been written about previously on this blog. He’s looking for a club with a good ‘project’, in a country that is good for his family. These are things that are notoriously difficult to gage. As a City fan all one can do is hope that the signs are half encouraging. There’s rumours that Tevez likes living in Manchester – his family are settled here. There’s also rumours that City are about to offer him big money.

Tevez is supposed to love the United faithful, but with him being supposedly partial to another club in England, the United faithful are not going to love him back for very long. Going to Liverpool or Chelsea wouldn’t go down well at all at Old Trafford. In one sense going to City might not be as bad because we aren’t a top four rival. On the other hand we are a traditional rival – and the hatred from the Red side of Manchester will surely reach fever pitch once we begin to be successful again.

What surprises me most has been Ferguson’s handling of the affair. United can probably afford to let Tevez go in footballing terms but politically Ferguson’s credibility will take some damage now that Ronaldo also looks likely to leave. I would’ve thought Fergie would have had this nipped in the bud some time ago. Instead the saga has been allowed to drag on and Tevez has been alienated in the process.

Either way, acquiring the Argentinean would be a massive coup for Hughes, his team, and the whole Blue side of Manchester. In footballing terms, Tevez could be slipped in at any point across the front row, from a central or wide position. And his tenacity and aggressiveness fit perfectly with the style and ethic that Hughes is attempting to graft onto the club.

As the wheeling and dealing begins, the only certainty is that nothing, in actual fact, is certain in this window until pen is put to paper. Are City in for a summer of success? Or will our winter of discontent arrive early?

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