Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Tevez finally turns Blue

It was a poignant moment. Derby Day, the score 1-0 to United. Having just danced around Richard Dunne on the edge of the City penalty area, a pint sized, red-shirted Argentinean by the name of Carlos Tevez unleashed a shot that cracked the inside of the left post and rippled the back of City keeper Shay Given’s net.

The striker reeled away in celebration, but his focus was not wholly on the glory of scoring in a Manchester Derby. Instead, the Argentinean raced to the centre circle and, facing his manager, placed his hands behind his own ears to emphasise to Sir Alex Ferguson the roar of the Old Trafford faithful. The adoration for the red shirt of Tevez was unmistakable.

“I deserve to be signed up” was the perceived message at the time. But now we know the full meaning of the little Argentinean’s actions: “Look at how good I am, and look at what you will be missing”.

It is unclear at what point the normally sublime man-managing skills of Ferguson alienated the South American striker. But that mistake - and no matter what Ferguson may say it is a mistake – has now been capitalised upon by interlocutors of an Arabian hue.

£25.5m later, Carlos Tevez is a Manchester City player. How about that.

The impact for Manchester United
Let’s be straight about this. The loss of Tevez is not a disaster for United. In a tactical sense it is affordable. Ferguson obviously sees more bang for his buck in Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. The fact that he had already forked out for the two of them probably had something to do with why Tevez remained in the shadows last season.

As much as City fans dislike Rooney, they all know about his unusual mix of power, skill and awareness. But the Bulgarian is a different story. Whilst definitely possessing the silky skills to oil the wheels of United’s slick attacking machine (he is probably a slight cut above Tevez in that regard), Berbatov is too sulky and inconsistent to be placed at the fulcrum of United’s attack for my liking. Relying on this offensive formation is a risk.

Then there is the more explicit loss of Tevez’ talents. He is one of a rare breed of footballer that is both technically gifted and prepared to run himself into the ground for the team. This is a valuable combination in the modern game, and especially so in the English game. Anyone who says Tevez will not be missed by United needs to reappraise the situation.

Finally, there is the loss of image and prestige that has been referred to previously on this blog. In Ronaldo and Tevez, United have lost two significant attacking talents, with the most likely immediate replacements seeming to be Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen. Irrespective of what Valencia and Owen achieve this season, there was a time when United did not let their top, top talent leave. It says something about the new realities of modern football that they have been unable to do this.

One new reality is in the realm of aspiration, the premise that it is now no longer good enough to win trophies at Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo illustrates this, with the petulant winger leaving because he had bigger Iberian dreams to pursue.

Then there is the new reality of finance. Carlos Tevez left because he did not feel wanted at the club. That alienation probably derived in part from United wrangling over his price tag. Ferguson did want Tevez to stay at the club – that much is clear – but he could not make a deal happen because the price was too steep. The price was too steep because United’s pockets have limits. Of course, the same does not now apply on the Eastern side of Manchester.

The impact for Manchester City
Things are rather more simple for City. For starters, there are no drawbacks attached to the move. Money is no object – ten more £25m signings could be made and it would not make a jot of difference to the club’s super financial state. How boastful this sounds, but it is simply the new reality of life as a City fan.

Tactically there appears to be no problems either. I would’ve thought that Tevez’s aggressive, direct style fits perfectly with both Mark Hughes’ training regime and the work ethic that the City manager is trying to encourage on the pitch. The tenacity of Tevez will also provide a much needed boost to our efforts on the road. Let’s face it, those efforts were on life support for the majority of last season. The Argentinean’s engine and work rate will hopefully set a shining example to the rest of the team as to how to play well and win away games in the Premier League.

Most obviously, the new acquisition bodes well for our attacking options. Tevez can be the foil for the big man that we already have (Roque Santa-Cruz) or the big man that may well come (Emmanuel Adebayor). I think he can also be employed in the formation we used last year, though I have more to say about tactics in upcoming posts. Of course, underlying all of this is Tevez’s goal scoring ability. The goal against City in last season’s encounter at Old Trafford says it all.

Another defining moment?
Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t be surprised with the signing of Carlos Tevez. We are, after all, a club with money, a club with a new vision, but to a certain extent I still can’t believe that he is sitting in a press conference with Mark Hughes. I guess that for a time, the vision of our new owners hasn’t quite felt as special as it was during September 2008, with the signing of Robinho. That we couldn’t attract the likes of Kaka and Eto’o I guess dented that vision for me.

I guess I was settling for a summer of good, solid acquisitions, players who knew the ropes of the Premier League and could get us into a position where we were able to knock on the door of the top four. To an extent we are still doing this – and I am completely fine with that because it is a realistic target. But the signing of Tevez feels different and it is a signing that I am very excited about.

At root, Tevez is just another reminder of the true intent of our owners. All the recent negatives: Kaka, Eto’o, finishing out of European qualifying in 10th place – they do not matter like they would’ve done in the past. Why? Because the owners are still there, forcing the club over its setbacks, driving the club forward because that is the only way it is going to go.

That new culture can only be good for us. By the same token, it can only be worrying for our rivals.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Blue music

Anyone who has checked out the City Links section on the right hand side of this page will no doubt know about a certain four piece band that go by the name of 'The Tinkling Spoons'.

These four lads all hail from Greater Manchester and have been busy laying down some very original City songs that should not missed at any cost.

The lads describe themselves as a 'cyber band' (as they're not really here). Sporting tunes such as the classic ' Dunney's Gonna Get Ya' and 'The Istanbul Song', The Tinkling Spoons' music crosses the boundaries of blues, samba and afro-beat.

The band's official website is at Citymediauk.com, where their tunes are available to download for free. They also have a page on myspace.

There's new material in the pipeline too, including a Superman-themed Irish jig that has been inspired by City's player of the year Stephen Ireland.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Do not underestimate the determination of a gambling man

Michael Owen’s fall from grace resembles a slow and painful death, like a bullet in the stomach.

As his career has progressed and as he has tried to rekindle the glory of the Anfield years, the striker has only attracted more failure. And now the former European Footballer of the Year – still only 29 years old – has moved to Manchester United. It is a move that has generated much attention amongst City fans (we all want to see Owen flop) and much interest in the wider footballing world.

On the way up
Owen is the classic example of a sublime English talent that blossomed and then strangely withered away. He scored close to 120 goals in just over 200 appearances for the red side of Merseyside. He won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup with Liverpool in 2001 and went on to receive the Ballon d’Or the very same year. Soon after Owen was rewarded with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, where he played alongside the likes of Raul and Ronaldo.

But all of these accolades cannot top Owen’s performance against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. I will never forget the fear in the eyes of the Argentinean defenders as Owen picked up the ball in the halfway circle and then unleashed his pace, him driving forward, the Argentinean defence in disarray, drawing further and further back until it was too late. The ball was in the back of the net. Twenty seconds was all it took for Michael Owen to announce his arrival on the world stage.

Earthly pressures apply to all men, but with Owen they seemed to be applied quicker and with more effect. The striker’s move to Newcastle United will probably turn out to be the biggest mistake of his career. With sleeping giants, there is always the danger of being lured into thinking that the club is about to wake up. Well, as City fans well know, some clubs can take time to come to their senses.

Indeed, some clubs never stir at all.

Soon after Owen’s move Newcastle began to enter the era of paralysis that saw them relegated last season. The fortunes of club and player seemed to mirror each other. As Newcastle lurched and stuttered from one failure to the next, Owen fought his own battles in the guise of groin, ankle, thigh, hernia, metatarsal and knee ligament injuries, the latter of which I remember seeing in slow motion against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup. It was agonising to watch.

Gambling men
And then there was the question of Owen’s mindset. Was he more interested in betting on horse racing than in winning football matches? Was he more interested in the big pay packet at Newcastle rather than the strict training regime of David Moyes’ Everton? I find it impossible to deny. For me, mental and physical fitness are tightly bound together. If your head is not in the game and if your heart is not in the training, then you will not be resilient enough when the hard challenges come. That can only equal injury and moreover, the inability to recover quickly from injury.

So has Michael Owen really lost the spark that we all saw ignite against Argentina in 1998? Possibly. With all those injuries, he has certainly lost his speed.

But speed does not count for everything. No matter how much of a crock Owen really is, he will never lose that instinct for the net. His bread and butter is scoring goals and for as long as he plays, at whatever level he plays, he will always threaten to poach.

What if Owen had chosen the Blue side of Manchester? Something tells me that I would not have been filled with confidence. I would be expecting another injury plagued season. Maybe he would’ve been expecting it himself. Let’s face it, it would certainly have fit with the ‘typical-City’ tag that Shaun Wright-Philips spoke of shedding recently.

No such tag has existed at United for the past twenty years, and that is probably the reason why we see pictures of Owen holding a red scarf above his head finding it impossible to contain his joy. Perhaps he senses that he has finally found the environment he has been seeking ever since he left Liverpool in 2004.

But nothing is certain. Ferguson and Owen are both known gamblers. And they have both thrown the dice again with this transfer. Ferguson apparently always saw Owen as the one talent that got away, and being the old footballing romantic that Ferguson is, it is no surprise that he has gambled – perhaps for the last time – on this move. BBC sports journalist Phil McNulty summed it up well when he asked the question: “Is this a sign of desperation creeping into United's transfer dealings or another piece of inspiration from the gambler Ferguson?”. I am sorry to be the pessimist, but I fear that Owen’s move may well be the latter.

We should not underestimate how much of a gamble this is for Michael Owen. This is most definitely his last throw of the dice. Perhaps this shows more than anything else that Owen’s spark and determination have returned? It is quite simply all or nothing. If Michael Owen fails at Old Trafford, his glory days will be well and truly behind him. But if he succeeds, come next May he will most likely be entertaining the thought of securing his first Premiership title. Who knows, a month later he could even be on that plane to South Africa.

Apologies all round for tainting this blog with the colour of the devil.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The politics of Robinho

After a flurry of rumours in mid-June, all now seems quiet on the Robinho transfer front. But in football, as in so many other things, there is no smoke without fire.

“So far, there have only been speculations,” Robinho supposedly told the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. “There is nothing concrete and I haven’t received any offers. The only thing I can say is that Barcelona are a great team and everybody would love to play for them.”
Days later, another article appeared on the Spanish Sport.es website, quoting a Robinho adviser as saying that the little Brazilian is looking for another, bigger club.

It is not difficult to see the lure of a club like Barcelona for a player like Robinho. It is also not surprising that these rumours surfaced during the Confederations Cup, whilst Robinho was in the presence of his fellow Brazilian team mates. What goes through his mind when he hears Barcelona right-back Dani Alves speak of his team’s treble winning exploits last season? When the squad breaks up after winning the Confederations Cup, what does he think when he sees Kaka jetting off to Madrid to begin an exciting new galagticos era? I would forgive him for feeling a little envious.

A move is not out of the question. According to some sources, Barcelona believe that Robinho is ‘gettable’ due to a clause in his contract that makes the Brazilian available to offers due to City failing to secure European football next season.

But even if such a clause exists, I find it difficult to envisage Robinho leaving Manchester City in the immediate term because his position at the club is highly political. This was evidenced by the speed and manner in which City’s Chief Executive Garry Cook came out and quashed the stories, stating: “Robinho has always been a highly valued member of our team and that continues to be the case. Reports suggesting he will leave the club, either on loan or on a permanent deal, are absolutely untrue.”

If we cast our minds back to the heady days of September 2008, we can see why Robinho casts such a political figure. ADUG had unexpectedly emerged as the new owners of Manchester City, and big bids for the top players were flying about everywhere you looked. What now seems to be a very meagre £40m bid was slapped into Valencia’s lap for David Villa. Manchester United’s move for Dimitar Berbatov was supposedly on the brink of being hijacked. And then there was that other, more ridiculous rumour in the air: Manchester City were about rob Chelsea of their No.1 summer transfer target, a wonderfully gifted Brazilian named Robinho.

We know now that the speculative probing of Villa and Berbatov drew up blanks, but I remember feeling a growing sense of satisfaction at the time that we were actually tabling bids for these kinds of footballers. It was an amazing few days and the future could only be bright.

And then, at about 11:00pm on transfer deadline night, I watched as the famous black writing with yellow background Sky Sports news alert flashed along the bottom of the screen. City had just tabled a £32m bid for Robinho. Half an hour later I stared in utter disbelief when the very same news alert changed to read that we had actually secured the services of one of the most talented footballers in the world. And not a footballer who was on the downward slope of his career either. At 24 years old, here was someone with their best years ahead.

What I am getting at here is the sheer statement of intent by ADUG through the signing of Robinho. The message was loud and clear: we aim to be serious contenders, and soon.

The owners have been at the helm for just under a year now, but the fact is that Robinho remains the greatest statement of how successful they want City to be. Because of this I believe that Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Cook will do everything they can to stop a Robinho move. How pathetic would ADUG appear if their only marquee signing to date were to leave for more successful shores? It would do serious damage on the image, prestige and credibility fronts, serious damage to City's growing foothold in world football.

As for Robinho’s personal wishes, a good point is made on fellow City blog The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll. Even if he were to secure a move to the European champions, Robinho would surely wilt under the weight of what Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola demands from his team every week. The Barca frontline of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry all worked their socks off last season. For Guardiola’s Barcelona, the first line of defence was attack. Whenever Barca lost the ball, the front players were often in immediate pursuit. It turned about to be an effective tactic, and one that was very admirable to watch. Having seen Robinho play throughout an entire season, he simply wouldn’t fit with this work ethic.

I am willing to be realistic. Robinho was effective for City last season. Despite his price tag and likely very high wages, you have to recognise that scoring 15 goals is not a disaster for a player adapting to the style of the Premier League.

But I have never warmed to the little Brazilian. I look at him and I ask the question – is he committed? Does he play for the Blue shirt? The answer is never yes.

And in terms of credibility, that is dangerous ground for the likes of Al Mubarak and Cook. It is risky enough to stake the new statement of intent on one player. But it is almost foolhardy to place it on the slight shoulders of a player such as Robinho. They must know, as everybody else does, that he is far too inconsistent. He must pose a real problem for the likes of Mark Hughes and his team. Is he a player that can be dropped? The absence of Martin Petrov deflected that question for the majority of last season, but with the Bulgarian now fit, it is a question that will not stay deflected for very long. If Robinho does not perform and if, as we are led to believe, Hughes has complete control over team selection, how long will it be before the manager comes under fire - from within - for damaging the club’s global brand through the benching of Robinho?

These are nothing more than speculative scenarios, but they are also entirely possible. Al Mubarak and Cook must know that the only way to avoid such things, and to continue to strengthen the club's global brand, is to produce another marquee signing. And as we have already seen during this summer break, that is easier said than done.