Sunday, 15 November 2009


Who emerges as the dominant forces down the channels may well prove to be one the most interesting squad battles of the 2009/10 campaign. The abundance of talent that City now have in the channels will bring new tests for our players and indeed for Hughes himself. To keep the squad morale afloat, different combinations of wingers will have to be used at different times. For this, Hughes man-managing abilities will have to be spot on. The wingers themselves will have to get used to increased competition.

Bellamy’s form
Different wings are giving rise to different problems. At the moment, it is the left that is giving rise to the most debate. The form of Craig Bellamy has surprised a lot of people – and a welcome surprise at that. His blistering start the season, combined with the injury sustained by Robinho, likely blew out of the water all pre-season conventional thinking about the left

The big question is whether this situation is going to be sustainable. Even if his good form continues, Bellamy’s troublesome knee may well put pay to his aspirations of cementing a left wing birth. If this happens, it will be a great shame. The Welshman’s performances have not only stood out because of his goal contribution, but because of his work ethnic and therein the quality of his defensive wing play. I think it will turn out to be a case of a vicious circle for Bellers: he is a first choice winger because his overall play matches the demands of the Hughes regime, but these demands will probably end up taking a toll on that knee, making injury and time out of the team more likely.

The gathering storm around Robinho
The current predicament of another one of our left wingers, Robinho, is threatening to turn into a saga. Rumours of a move to Barcelona, ebbing and flowing for months, have now stepped up a level. The Guardian seems to think this it is a question of not if, but when the little Brazilian moves to Spain.

To what extent has Robinho been pushing for this move? Stephen Ireland has recently come out in support of his team mate, stating that Robinho is a ‘changed man’ (Ireland goes on to attribute this to players like Elano leaving the club, making it less cliquey and encouraging Robinho to interact more with the rest of the squad).

Whether or not this is true, I don’t think it will have a big impact on Robinho’s intentions, which appear to be a law unto themselves. Footballers can sometimes speak in mysterious ways, but I find it difficult to believe that Robinho is not angling for a move. For me, the alarm bells began to ring when he went on record as saying: "I'm very happy about the interest that Barcelona have in me. I'm not forcing a hypothetical exit from England and nor do I have problems with my coach. Playing in the Nou Camp it is much easier to be the best player in the world than at City."

Mixed messages? Yes. But there’s definately smoke here I and suspect there’s fire too. Particularly irksome is the final sentence. The bottom line is that Robinho should not be talking about Manchester City and Barcelona in the same breath. Why would the player do this other than for the sole reason of fanning the flames speculation to engineer a move?

A strange co-incidence is the fact that more wood has been thrown onto the fire this week with Hughes’ stand off with the Brazil National team. The root of the problem here is the national team’s open consideration of playing Robinho against Oman next week. City, concerned about the Brazilian’s recovery from injury, say they struck a deal with Brazil to allow the player to train with the national squad but to not play in the international friendlies.

With speculation growing that Robinho and his wife are apparently sick of the sight of Manchester, the club’s spat with the Brazilian national team will only serve to give the winger another stick with which to beat City with.

In terms of our own interests (because at the end of the day this is what this whole thing should be about, not the interests of one player), this needs to be nipped in the bud asap. I have never been the Brazilian’s greatest fan. The lad is immensely talented – that is beyond doubt – but if he were to leave tomorrow, what could we say we got out of one of the most talented players in the world? Half a season (during which he scored the majority of his 15 goals) at best? For me it’s always been a question of commitment with Robinho. We are at the point now where he either needs to be brought in check or sold on and replaced with someone who wants to play for Manchester City.

Petrov’s window?
With Bellamy injury prone and Robinho’s future uncertain, a window of opportunity has opened for Martin Petrov. The Bulgarian has always impressed me with his attacking play and crossing of the ball from the left. If he can improve the defensive side of his game to the level of Bellamy, there’s a real chance of him cementing a left wing spot. Petrov also provides another striking outlet and has already scored some important goals this season. This aspect of his game will also need to be sustained if he is to make the desired impact. Despite his contribution to the team so far (delivered in the context of limited appearances, it must be said), I still think Petrov’s biggest barrier could be winning over the manager. The recent speculation surrounding Benfica winger Angel Di Maria moving to Eastlands could well turn out to be an indictment on the Bulgarian's future at City. If there's substance to the Di Maria move, it sends the message that Hughes views left wing position as out of Petrov's reach.

Problems of the right
Competition for places down the right channel is a different ball game. For now, the right wing position belongs to Shaun Wright-Phillips. We need more competition down this flank for the reason that Shaunie is not being pushed hard enough. SWP is a cracking little player. He has a balanced game, he plays for the shirt and is willing to track back. We all know he has an eye for goal too. But I believe he has played within himself this season. I can’t put my finger on it – perhaps it’s a lack of confidence or a lack of concentration, but his final ball is not really there at the moment. Also, his dribbling skills are not coming off in the way that they used to. I think a bit of competition for SWP is the answer here – it will certainly be interesting to see what Hughes does in this department in the next transfer window.

Of course, the growing presence of academy product Vladimir Weiss is relevant here. Weiss looks really promising. Going forward he is a very exciting prospect – the kind of player that gives you the sense something is going to happen when he gets the ball. Whether he is ready to make the step up to a starting place is another thing entirely. Personally I think we need to see him make more substitute appearances in Premier League games before making a judgement on how ready he is.

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