Sunday, 15 August 2010

The darker side of progress

Its been coming for a while but now, as the spending really begins to take affect, we are seeing traditional club heroes – and good players - being forced out of the club. Why? For the sole reason that we can buy better players who can do more things, more consistently and to a higher quality. Like the laws of nature, at Eastlands these days we increasingly see a situation where only the strong can survive and the weak must fall by the way side. This is the price fans must pay if they want to challenge for the Premiership title.

The imminent departure of Stephen Ireland

It now looks increasingly likely that Academy product Stephen Ireland will leave the club as part of a cash plus player deal for Aston Villa’s James Milner. For the sentimental fans amongst us, the departure of Ireland will be a sad loss. Ireland was voted player of year for the 2008-09 campaign, impressing in the League and in City’s UEFA Cup run to the Quarter Finals. After emerging from the Academy, Ireland broke into the first team but always seemed prone to acting unusually, for the most part off the field of play and sometimes on it. But he grew up and learned to banish that side of his game, becoming the accomplished player we all hoped he would be, providing the link from midfield to attack, providing the creation and guile from central midfield positions. Fans labelled him ‘Superman’ because of his performances. The club placed a banner over the dugouts to show this appreciation. And I wrote of his great talent, determination and new mental toughness. We all hoped he would push on from there and become a top class midfielder.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Mark Hughes, who I think got the best out of the Irishman – was sacked. Ireland has argued otherwise, saying that Hughes played him out of position, and speaking indirectly to his manager’s preference for Carlos Tevez in the attacking midfielder / deep lying forward role.

After Hughes’ sacking came injuries and more loss of form, resulting in time on the substitutes bench. The appointment of Roberto Mancini tightened the screws on Ireland’s City career. The Italian proved to be much more cautious than Hughes, preferring two – and at some times – three defensive midfielders as opposed to an attacking mindset in the engine room. Once again, threats from central positions tended to emanate from Tevez. And so when Ireland was called upon, he continued to play out of position, exacerbating his loss of form and probably sending his morale to lower depths.

In truth, Ireland’s central weakness was that he did not have enough tools in his locker. Of course he was good, and he proved this by linking well with exceptional players such as Robinho. But perhaps he was never good enough to the level where Mancini would allow him the freedom to play the central role that he wanted. And then, he was never flexible enough to warrant selection in other positions, such as holding midfield, left wing, right wing. We now have the De Jong’s, Silva’s and Adam Johnson’s of this world to do those jobs for us.

This I feel was the real nail in Ireland’s coffin, the simple fact that he could not do it all. Mancini has looked at the midfielder, asked whether he is good enough for where we are headed, and has answered in the negative

It is a sign of the club’s sheer ambition that, even for all the Irishman’s talent, for all his endeavour, and for all of his unquestionable commitment to the Blue shirt of Manchester down the years, he has – in effect – ended up being used as bait. This is ruthless, but this is where we are at Eastlands now. Holding out for a £2m payout will ensure that the Irishman is not remembered fondly, but the Club does not want the player, and so the player will do all he can to get the best deal for himself. Moreover, this is far from the point, but £2m is a drop in the ocean for the Club. He and his agent both know that.

Sadly, this is the detritus of a once fruitful relationship, and for the latter I thank Stephen Ireland. He gave us some great memories and I wish him the very best for his future.

No room left for Craig Bellamy

The flying Welsh winger, who last season enjoyed probably the best campaign of his career, is also on the verge of an exit. Personally, I have always thought Bellamy’s future to be welded to that of his fellow compatriot, Mark Hughes. When Hughes left the club the winger’s days were always going to be numbered no matter what he did on the pitch.

And on the pitch, I felt Bellamy’s form dipped slightly towards the end of last season, but not by much. He was still playing at a relatively high level, but he started the season on such a rich vein of form that there was only ever going to be one way to go.

But form is not the problem nor the issue. Bellamy’s enemies are now age, injury proneness and personality - the latter of which we found out a little bit more about this week. We all know that it hasn’t been plain sailing between manager and player. Screaming rows over the treatment of Bellamy’s knee, the player’s refusal to train, an internal investigation over comments Bellamy allegedly made in support of David Moyes after Everton’s defeat of City at Eastlands, and most recently, claiming that Mancini hadn’t spoken to him since February and doesn’t speak to Carlos Tevez.

Wherever the blame lies for Bellamy’s disgruntlement, a stream of discontent has trickled – and sometimes flowed – throughout his career. At City it now appears to have caught up with him again. This Wednesday he was left out of Mancini’s 25 man Europa League squad.

Much like Ireland, despite his excellent performances and stated commitment to City, Bellamy is another gifted player that appears to have been cut away from the hull of a club where competition for places is now fast on the increase.

1 comment:

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