Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Anger and defeat in Munich

A disappointing and dark night, beaten by the better team and squabbling amongst ourselves, surrounded by a red mist that that we could not ultimately find a way out of. I think we all need to calm down a bit, analyse this defeat, and move on quickly. If we do not, the knockout stages of this competition will soon be out of reach, if they aren’t already.

Playing in a fantastic stadium against a formidable team – what a night it could have been. Instead, the club is now collectively discovering that the Champions League can be a cruel, hard place. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, Mancini tried to sure things up by substituting Edin Dzeko and bringing on Nigel de Jong, but it only made things worse. If we are not careful, we are going to get burned in this group. We played well against Napoli, we played well in parts against Bayern, but this is a competition of fine lines. Miss a chance here, make a small mistake there, fall on the wrong side of the line, and you quickly become surplus to requirements. Added to this, the result has now become a sideshow. We all know why.

The behavior of Carlos Tevez was unacceptable. A player on hundreds of thousands of pounds, probably the highest earner at the club and he refuses to come onto the pitch. I’ve never seen anything like this before. His excuses fly in the face of all that Tevez has become, all that he has built his image up to be: a great player, someone who works tirelessly for the team, a former captain of the club who leads by example, never gives up fighting, never gives up trying to find a way to win. And the excuse: “I didn’t feel right to play, so I didn’t."

Then today came the inevitable statement. First, an apology:

"I would like to apologise to all Manchester City fans, with whom I have always had a strong relationship, for any misunderstanding that occurred in Munich."

Then, a subtle reminder of what he has given the club:

"They [the fans] understand that when I am on the pitch I have always given my best for the club.”

And finally, the back track:

"In Munich on Tuesday I had warmed up and was ready to play. This is not the right time to get into specific details as to why this did not happen. But I wish to state that I never refused to play. There was some confusion on the bench and I believe my position may have been misunderstood. Going forward I am ready to play when required and to fulfil my obligations."

So we’ve gone from a statement last night where he was saying he did not feel ready to play to a statement today saying that he was ready to play. Which one are we to believe?

A message to Carlos Tevez
Carlos, you are one of the best players this club has ever seen. Last season we wouldn’t have won the FA Cup, wouldn’t have finished third in the Premier League without you. But that still doesn’t give you the right to insult the City fans (yes, the ones who paid good money to watch you week in week out last season and the ones who made it to Munich last night to see your no show) with a statement like this. 

We may have been blind enough to support this club on its schizophrenic journey from the Premier League to the old Division Three to the Champions League, but we are certainly no mugs. If you really want the fans to understand, then let’s have the detail on just what was said last night on the bench. You can’t hide behind the ‘this is not the right time to get into specific details’ phrase. It’s just excuses. You’ve already embarrassed the club and disrespected the fans for not wanting to play in Europe. Don’t insult them further with contradicting statements that make no sense. So lets have the truth.

Why did the toys come out of the pram?
It could be Tevez’s actions represent his disgruntlement at the captaincy being taken off him, perhaps his frustration at how he has become somewhat of a bit part player as Aguero and Dzeko have increasingly staked their claim. Tevez might feel that Mancini has no right dropping him, given the fact that he was joint top scorer in the Premier League last season. On being informed that Mancini sees no future for him at the club, Tevez's comments betray and element of this: “I was top goalscorer here last season, I always act professionally so it is up to him [Mancini]."

It could be of course that Tevez’s actions represent an attempt to make his presence at the club unbearable.  The idea that in refusing to play, the club’s hierarchy and the fans will want nothing to do with him, so he speeds up the process for a move – but this time agitating in a much more destructive way. In effect Tevez' actions could be part of a plan to up the ante against the club and see how far it will go before resorting to selling him.

Even if this is the case, it begs the question: what club would want to take on this type of player? In addition to the baggage that already came with Tevez – massive wages, massive transfer fee, the controversy that has followed him at pretty much every club he has been at – here is player who has been given everything at Manchester City and has now even refused to take the field of play. Would Corinthians, Madrid or Inter want to take such an expensive risk?

Mancini has rightly said that for him Tevez is finished, and whilst we do want to sell Tevez at the right time and for the right price, we must also be aware that of how corrosive this situation might become and the effect it might have on the rest of the squad. The decision will ultimately lie with Khaldoon but sometimes, you just have to cut your losses. If Tevez is to be involved again, the club will have to deploy a media strategy of the highest order to win the fans back. Even then, that probably won’t be enough. You can just imagine the reaction at Eastlands as Tevez warms up, approaching the South Stand – the place from which the atmosphere of the whole ground is often generated.

Mancini and defeat itself
A bad tempered night at the Allianz didn’t end with Tevez either. Dzeko showed his displeasure at being substituted in the 55th minute but gesturing a sarcastic thumbs up. Well sorry Edin but that’s not acceptable either. Mancini has rightly said that he will bench the Bosnian during the next game no matter what happens. And then to cap things off, linked to the Tevez incident Mancini was reported to have an altercation with Pablo Zabaleta, the Italian thinking that Zabaleta had said something in defence of his countryman. To Mancini’s credit he quickly admitted that he had made a mistake and had put it right with our dependable utility man.

The Tevez incident, combined of course with the nature of loss against what must now be one of the favorites for the competition clearly fuelled a series of angry responses from Mancini towards Dzeko and Zabaleta. The Italian must also be aware of having to eat his own hat a little, given the confidence he seemed to hold after the Napoligame that we would defeat Bayern in their own back yard: "We will do better in Munich. We will be calm, more than tonight and we can win there. They are a fantastic side but we have a team that can win anywhere."

I back Mancini with his reactions against Tevez and Dzeko. In my opinion, the manager has got to be king – he needs to keep on stamping his authority on the squad and telling players what they can and can’t do – but the Zabaleta incident shows how things can get out of control in the heat of the moment. The Italian needs to check himself here.

All of this clouds the fact that we were second best on the night and that Bayern deserved their victory – full credit to them. They will look upon this result as proof of their now 10 game unbeaten run not being a flash in the pan. I thought we would certainly put an end to Bayern’s 9 games without conceding a goal, but sadly that wasn’t to be either. Before the game Ribery spoke of how Bayern were getting close to Barcelona  – now of course they’ll start to truly believe that. To be fair to them they achieved this victory without the threat of Arjen Robben. Impressive stuff.

Bayern also had an old Blue within their ranks. Daniel Van Buyten was signed on loan by Kevin Keegan many moons ago. Since then he's racked up 120-odd appearances for Bayern, but when the commanding centre back cast his gaze on the City team sheet I bet he didn’t recognise a single name. We have metamorphosised since then, but not yet to the point where we can put away a top European team in their back yard. Tevez was not the main reason why we lost this game. The distraction caused by his refusal probably dented our efforts to get back into it, but it was the 11 players on the pitch that were the problem. At the end of the day we have the players to do the damage, but we came up short. We were 2-0 down at half time, both opposition goals scored from rebounds after a promising first 30 minutes. Dzeko missed an early chance. Tevez had nothing to do with these things.

It means now that anything less than a win against Villareal and we will crash out of the competition at the first hurdle. And if that happens at this stage it will hurt – for the fans, the players, Mancini and Khaldoon. It will also leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The greatest signing of them all

This week saw the club layout of the specifics of a planning application that will see the construction of a new youth development and first team Academy, situated right next to Etihad Stadium. I’m impressed, both in terms of the process and the eventual outcome that this application will produce – if of course we have it granted.

The club really seems to have gone about this in a professional manner, making sure to canvass the opinions of local residents and feeding those views into the planning application itself. The plans have also been informed by the club’s research on top sports development centres across the globe, and also research into youth development best practice.

The club say that this is the single most important investment made to date, and I completely agree with them. The new development, in combination with the stadium, is intended to form the Etihad Campus. The campus will be spread across 80 acres, and located somewhere with this stretch of land will lie to key to our footballing future.

As part of the club’s football development strategy, the campus will have space to house 400 young players, 11 or so youth development pitches, 4 first team pitches, accommodation and classroom facilities for 40 young players, a designated first team building decked out with all the mod cons, and finally, a 7,000 capacity stadium for youth team matches. To cut a long winded paragraph short then, all the ingredients we need to be successful over the long term.

Significantly, youth and first team facilities will be in close proximity. This is something that has to happen, as Patrick Vieira – our new Football Development Executive – has already said:

“It will be fantastic for the youth because they will be next door to the first team. That will make them think 'if I want to make it, I will have to act like them'. They will take the first team as a fantastic example. It will be important for the first-team players as well, to show the way to the youngsters."

To add to the football dimension, the campus will bring regeneration and community advantages to the local area. Much better than planting a great big super casino in the east of Manchester.

The really exciting element to all of this is the youth development. Some will say that we’ve had one of the best if not the best youth Academy of England over recent years. I’m not so sure. We certainly don’t come in the top two. Apart from our standout graduates – Daniel Sturridge, Micah Richards and Michael Johnson in my opinion, we’ve produced a handful of good solid players who can play at Premier League level – the likes of SWP, Stephen Ireland, Joey Barton, Nedum Onuhoa, Vladimir Weiss etc.

But whilst good, these players are not on the same level as some of those that other clubs have produced. In the 1990s, West Ham developed a mass of talent in the form of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole. The cream of United’s academy came in the form of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and David Beckham – more recently Giuseppe Rossi is also of the same ilk, and has gone on to do well at Villareal.

All of this of course is massively eclipsed by what has been achieved on the continent. Ajax set the first benchmark in the 1990s, with the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Denis Bergkamp, Frank and Ronald De Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert all coming through the ‘Jong Ajax’ academy. More recently Jong Ajax has produced the likes of Rafael Van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and our very own Nigel de Jong.

We all know of course that this benchmark has now been raised by Barcelona. The Catalan club’s ‘La Masia’ has been at the core of Barcelona’s recent domination of the club game, producing the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Bojan Krkic, Carlos Puyol and Victor Valdes. Not to mention of course Mikel Arteta and Luis Garcia – who made the grade elsewhere. And all these players are just the recent crop. In the 1990s the likes of Pep Guardiola, Ivan De La Pena and Albert Ferrer were also produced.

The Etihad Campus must surely be looking at matching and one day eclipsing the achievements of Yong Ajax and La Masia. Let’s face it – wouldn’t it be excellent to see five or six English lads – or even better, Manchester lads getting into the first team? I think that would eclipse signing the best the world has to offer. There’s nothing better than watching a local lad come good – if anything I think this would strengthen the bonds between the club and the fans even further. Over the long term it would probably increase our performance on the pitch too – there’s nothing more formidable than a talented player truly playing for the shirt.

As Brian Marwood says, the aim must be to bring through home grown players with the ability to play in the Champions League, but facilities alone will not produce this kind of player. Only the right personnel, imbuing youngsters with the right philosophy – and of course welded to the right environment, will bring the results we need.

The foundations of this philosophy are already being built. I watched a reserve team game at Hyde last season and they played very similar to the way Mancini set out his first team, at the time a kind of 4-2-4, four at the back, two defensive midfielders and an attacking diamond up front.

It’s also good to hear how the club have been treating our young players off the pitch. Club Ambassador Paul Lake has been taking the squad on tours of West Gorton and Ardwick to give the youngsters a sense of the history of the club. Aside from our recent past, there’s a lot to be proud of and some great past players that our current youngsters should want to emulate and surpass. Clearly this is about building pride in the shirt, and about realising what it means to the fans to give your all to the Blue shirt of Manchester. I’m reminded up a banner that has been known to drape from the stands of the Etihad Stadium: “We dream of playing in the shirt. Today God chose you. Play like we dream.” That is the kind of mentality we need to be giving these youngsters, because when it comes to the top, top level, a large part of football is all about mental strength.

If given the go-ahead, the challenge for the Etihad Campus is to develop a set of players with the right mix of technical skill, tactical awareness, physique and mentality that will form the foundation of the club’s long term success. This is the only way for this club to move forward and is bigger than any signing we can possibly make.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Some City fans never learn

Whilst listening to this week’s edition of BBC Manchester’s Blue Tuesday, I nearly fell off my chair when I heard the criticism being levelled at some of the squad.

The show, presented by our man inside the BBC - Ian Cheeseman,  and one of our greatest ever players - Paul Lake, is a fantastic weekly snippet of all things City and I always try to download the podcast. Apart from the televised games they show here in Jakarta, Blue Tuesday is a great way of keeping your finger on the pulse of the club. It’s a credit to the programme that it chooses to air the plethora of City fans’ views out there - I acknowledge that football is full of opinions and every supporter has a right to express what he or she thinks, but this week some of the opinions aired on the show through various social media sites weren’t just incorrect and ill thought out, they were harmful to the atmosphere surrounding the club.

Two particular comments come to mind. One ‘fan’ commented that Vincent Kompany had been terrible since the Community Shield. Another commented that Yaya Toure ‘contributes nothing at all to the team’. Yet another described the Ivorian as ‘lumbering’.

Let’s take Yaya first. I certainly didn’t see him ‘lumbering’ towards goal when he scored winner against United in last season’s FA Cup Semi. Last season he powered forward on numerous occasions and was unstoppable 95% of the time. And what a touch he has. This season, because of the new signings Yaya has been playing in a withdrawn role at the base of the midfield (much like he did for Barca when they won the Champions League). But we saw at White Hart Lane how he can still play a key attacking role, both in terms of counter attacking and in terms of overlapping from wide areas.

On the charge that he 'contributes nothing to the team', on the contrary, Yaya contributes an awful lot to the team. His contribution last season culminated in winning us the FA Cup for god’s sake, and his experience in Europe will be priceless if we are to progress in the Champions League. Yaya suffers a little because, playing in the midfield department, perhaps fans tend to compare him to all our action midfielder Nigel De Jong. Anyone with half a brain knows they are two different players who approach the game in different ways. Also, we’re not a one man team. Of course De Jong is quality and he is one of the first names on the team sheet etc etc, but the recent draw against Fulham wasn’t down to his absence. It was down to our slack concentration.

Then we come to Vinnie. What a player. Arguably the best centre back in the league. Yes he had an off day in the Community Shield, but let’s face it, the whole team did – we never showed up at Wembley and got our backsides kicked. Kompany fully deserved to be our new captain. He’s a talker, committed in the tackle, has great positional sense, is great defending our box etc etc. He’s a true modern centre half in the sense that he can pass well, bring the ball out into midfield, is comfortable playing in a defensive midfield capacity. In fact I’m surprised that Barcelona didn’t come in for him in the summer, given their problems in the centre back department Aside from these qualities Kompany loves the club – something that all our riches can’t buy as Tevez has proved. The lad makes a mistake and all of a sudden people are on his back. Consider everything that Kompany has given us – and will give us in the future – and you know that this talk of dropping him is utterly out of touch.

And not only out of touch, but reckless. We have enough enemies outside the perimeters of Eastlands as it is. We don’t need to create more inside the fort by turning on our own players – in this case two world class players – and making them feel unwanted. These kind of comments are a microcosm of our recent, shambolic history. Jumping to conclusions far too quickly, the stuff of making knee jerk reactions that has seen so many good personnel at the club jettisoned far too early.

I don’t check the message boards, but I hope these kinds of comments are snippets in a wider sea of rationality. Two draws, one against an excellent Napoli side who are Serie A contenders, and the accusations start flying. This kind of short termism has destroyed us in the past – it was a key ingredient of the ‘typical City’ era. Let’s not allow that kind of sentiment to develop again.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Cook falls on a sword, but it is not his own

This week Garry Cook resigned as the club’s Chief Executive Officer. A sorry end to a sorry affair that could not have concluded any other way.

A debacle whichever way you look at it

By now I suppose readers know of unfortunate details. It seems as if Cook had sent an e-mail to Brian Marwood (City's football administrator) about Nedum Onuhoa’s agent/Mother, apparently mocking her battle with cancer. Unbelievably, Onuhoa’s Mother (Dr Anthonia Onuhoa) was copied into the e-mail. She recently went to the papers (the actual e-mail was sent months ago) and suddenly alarm bells were ringing in Manchester and, most importantly, in Abu Dhabi.

In an effort to save his own skin, or perhaps in an effort to tell the truth (we still don’t quite know) Cook painted himself as the victim. He said that his account had been hacked into and the message in question had been sent without his knowledge. At the time he apologised to Dr Onuhoa and ordered an internal investigation to establish who had been responsible.

It’s unclear at what point the upper echelons of Manchester City (i.e. Mansour and Khaldoon) got wind of this – or indeed whether they knew about the investigation Cook himself seems to have launched. But as soon as the whole thing appeared in the press, they ordered an investigation of their own. This week, that process – to put it bluntly – appears to have smelt a rat with Cook’s explanation.

And so this week Garry Cook ‘jumped’. The more realistic explanation would perhaps be that he was ‘shoved and then jumped’. There can be no doubt over who has done the shoving and on whose sword Cook has fallen.

The values of Mansour’s Abu Dhabi

At the beginning of Mansour’s involvement with City, Khaldoon gave an excellent interview to David Conn of The Guardian. It was part of a trilogy of reports focusing on the birth of a new era at City. In that interview, Khaldoon gave a fascinating insight into how Mansour saw his involvement at City:

“We are acknowledging that how we are handling this project is telling a lot to the world about how we are. This is showing the world the true essence of who Abu Dhabi is and what Abu Dhabi is about.”

Khaldoon went on to talk about the values of Mansour’s Abu Dhabi: loyalty, commitment, discipline, long-term thinking, respect, appreciation of history. Interestingly enough, on the value of loyalty, Khaldoon chose to elaborate. "We believe in loyalty," he said. "We don't leave our men behind, we stick with them.”

These are admirable values indeed, but the Cook resignation proves that – for Mansour and Khaldoon at least – they are finite. At the end of the day these values may form the belief system of Abu Dhabi’s leadership, but they still remain subservient to image of Abu Dhabi itself. This image is synonymous with Mansour, and that is why it must prevail over everyone else - even the man in charge of running the day to day affairs of the club.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that Garry Cook has done a lot of good for the club. Being the head of Nike’s ‘Air Jordan’ brand he clearly came highly recommended and most importantly well connected across sport. Cook has presided over a complete revamp of the club’s image, which whilst uber slick and right up to date with the latest trends, somehow feels like it has remained true to Manchester, the club’s history and the club’s fans. Using the imagery of the Blue Moon has been a master stoke, as has the ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster, and the nod to Neil Young with this year’s classic black and red away kit.

Indeed the club’s image is currently very healthy. I still don’t think we are hated as much as other clubs would be if they had the resources we have. This is in part testament to innovative way the club does things now and how it is expertly marketed. Then of course we have the new City store and the new ticket office – both world class. Ultimately, Cook is responsible for all of this, so he should take the credit.

Cook’s gaffes: a short history

Ironic though that someone so heavily involved in marketing and relations with the public should be so prone to making PR gaffes.

Many of these gaffes were storms in teacups. Cook inducted City legend Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United (!) hall of fame. Robinho made a similar gaffe when he joined the club, but I can’t remember him being berated for it. Then there was the collapse of our audacious attempt to lure Kaka from Milan to Eastlands. Cook accused Milan of bottling the move.

Whilst you would prefer your CEO not to put his foot in it, these are minor errors, rather comical in the case of Rosler, and perhaps a bit of sour grapes in the case of Kaka.

Then there was the quote on the cusp of our Carling Cup Semi derby with United, when Cook talked about how not if, but when City would beat United again. United went on to knock us out of the cup, but this was nothing more than a bit of pre-match jousting.

But there’s always the other side of the coin. In his resignation statement Cook seems to have alluded to a bit of negative attitude against in the nation’s media. That might be correct, indeed the media may have blown up some of Cook’s throw away gaffes (one only has to look at the picture of Cook in the papers to see how the media love to dislike him) but they’ve done this for a reason. The Onuhoa incident is not the first Cook has made a gaffe of a more serious nature.

The obvious one was when Cook remarked what a pleasant guy Thaksin Shinawatra was – ‘a nice guy to play golf with’ I think the exact words were. When attention was drawn to Thaksin’s dubious human rights record, Cook basically said it was of no concern to him. This showed a complete lack of awareness. A club CEO shouldn’t be saying stuff that like that.

Then there was the comment about Richard Dunne. Cook said that Dunne wasn’t a name that City should be associated with because the name ‘Dunne’ doesn’t roll off the tongue in places like China and by association is not a shirt seller. Again, this showed a complete lack of awareness, this time of footballing matters. Cook failed to appreciate that Dunne had been City’s player of the year for four seasons on the run and had been a rock at the back for the Blues. At the time Dunne was the captain of the club. Your CEO should not be making disrespectful comments in public to the club captain – completely unprofessional.

One gaffe too far

These serious gaffes were both made under the tenure of Thaksin. The Onohua comment - firmly in the realm of PR – is the first big mistake Cook has made under Mansour.

For Mansour and Khaldoon, this is about the prestige and reputation of Abu Dhabi. Being one of several key overseas investments, like it or not City is an element of Abu Dhabi’s foreign policy, a factor in how the rest of the world sees Abu Dhabi itself.

Mansour and Khaldoon are not stupid. It would have been completely understand if, upon taking the reins of the club, they had said goodbye to Cook (given that he was gaffe prone). The fact that they simply did not jettison Cook proves that they liked what he brought to City.

But in the Abu Dhabi-City connection, business and politics are intertwined, and unfortunately for Cook, his employers are both astute businessmen and politicians. I believe that Mansour and Khaldoon have nothing personal against Cook, but business is business, and at the end of the day, Cook was harming the business of Manchester City and therein the prestige of Abu Dhabi.

When Khaldoon said that Abu Dhabi doesn’t leave its men behind, perhaps what he really meant was that Abu Dhabi doesn’t leave behind the men worth saving.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The age of the 'Manchester duopoly'

Here's a guest post from Murray Withers, with some interesting predications about the future of Mancunian and Premier League football. Check it out below.


Sometimes the scores alone tell a much bigger story; Spurs 1 City 5, United 8 Arsenal 2 or why not Manchester 13 North London 3? Tabloid hacks and broadsheetcolumnists were in unanimous agreement; Sunday 28 August was the start of a new era that would see Manchester placed firmly at the centre of world football (if it’s not already). 

Leaving aside the shrill nature of such a big statement just three games in, both games being live on the same day as well as some specific circumstances helped the media to come to such a historical verdict – Harry Redknapp decided to fight with fire by naming no defensive midfielder (ignoring the fact that we usually have two performing that role, freeing the rest up) while Arsene Wenger, who wouldn’t have expected Djourou to be so easily shoved aside for the first or Van Persie to miss a penalty, of course blamed injuries (only on deadline day has he realised modern football is all about the depth of the squad!). However, that took nothing away from the sheer power and skill on display by Roberto Mancini and Alex Ferguson’s men. All the carping about wages, transfer fees and the general commercialisation of the game went away, as breathless commentators remembered that aesthetics over-ride ethics. Headlines swooned over the performances of Rooney and Young, Nasri and Dzeko.

For City, where we were often criticised last season despite our third place finish and Cup win because Mancini kept the handbrakes on, it all went through Tevez, other expensive buys hadn’t clicked, etc, now there’s varying degrees of admiration, respect and fear from the other clubs as we look the Real Deal. Wewere told our Champions League group was a ‘baptism of fire’ but I saw City as arguably the best of a strong bunch, as did Frank Ribery. Suddenly all the commentators are not looking beyond City or United for the major honours, overlooking the truism that nothing’s decided in August or September.

When Ferguson started as manager in 1986 with the stated intention of knocking Liverpool ‘off their perch’ he could never imagine then that the biggest challenge to United’s two-decade ascendancy would come from City. But for a man as schooled in the game as the canny Scot, he would have realised straight away in September 2008 that the football map was going to change following Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nayhan’s takeover. City have since had their false starts – buying Robinho for a British record only to find him non-committal to playing at Fratton Park and the KC Stadium, trying to buy the likes of Kaka at blatantly inappropriate moments in the club’s development, finishing fifth in Mancini’s first half season. Our semi-final win was a major turning point, to overcome the early let-offs before charging back into the game and denying them a sniff proved a sea change. The final win over Stoke delivered another nail in the coffin of Cityitis. 

Yet continued criticism of City’s new found status usually has three lines of attack; ‘no history’; we have just bought success; and no team spirit aka they’re only in it for the money. Well it’s true we don’t have the success of the big three but share trophy space with the likes of Newcastle, Tottenham, Wolves, but a club like Chelsea had even less and that didn’t stop Roman Abramovich. City fans have had to rely on less tangible elements over three decades (the bananas, the loyal support, cult heroes like Kinky, Rosler and Goater, cult moments like the 10-1, 5-1 and Dickov in stoppage time) but that does mean that the wider perception of City as one of the teams that matter has been downplayed in the public eye. To the second we are, er, guilty as charged; the outlay from both Hughes (including in the last days under Shinawatra) and Mancini has been considerable, although inflated by City operating in a price bracket of their own and ultimately only about half the players have worked). The third is just ignorant of how football teams operate; anyone who’s played on a muddy pitch on a Sunday morning will appreciate how vital team spirit is to any side. There may be the odd disagreement between individuals or the odd uncontrollable ego like Tevez but it is swallowed up by the collective will. Make no mistake, it’s not just the paycheck that will make our ‘galacticos’ dig deep for each other.

But the armchair crowd should remember how it was a few years ago. Buoyed along by their Champions league harvest every year, the monopoly exerted by the ‘Big Four’ had become so powerful that ‘organic’ development of a team and club stood no chance of breaking the glass ceiling. Every season it was just a question of where Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United would finish. The cartel needed breaking up by force. As a City fan, I’m just grateful for the chance we have to compete. People who lead perfectly capitalist lifestyles baulk at the beautiful game being thrown to the markets where regulation is a joke and inequality is a given, but that’s what’s happened. This is not the 70s any more. At the top level football is about investment, brands and capitalising on overseas support, survival of the fittest. United started it in the 1990s; the rest of us had to swim with the tide or sink. The business models, as in the real world, may be different, but it’s about the willingness to attract the top players that counts. Everything else is just excuses. Purists can head to the non-leagues if they don’t like it, but the majority just slag it off because their team isn’t the lucky benefactor, all the while praying for similar salvation.

City have stolen a march on the field – the fact that world-class players like Aguero now want to come to Eastlands tells its own story; the ‘project’ is working. There’s professional satisfaction to be had from being part of building up a new force rather than adding to an established presence. However, one thing the real business world usually won’t allow is continued domination and that’s why the so-called Manchester duopoly probably won’t happen as scripted, at least not for very long. Look at Liverpool’s American turnround (despite the odd gem in Suarez, Dalglish seems to have gone for quantity rather than quality), Abramovich’s ongoing investment at Chelsea and the wake-up call at Arsenal. Allow also that serious investment can strike a sleeping giant at any moment. The overinflated bubble cosseting football from the wider economic slump will survive a while yet.

Buoyed by the extraordinary tenure of Ferguson, Reds have had two decades of constant gratification. And just as City fans would love to do a Poznan all over the decline of United, wiser Blues know this isn’t going to happen either. The top teams stay top teams now, rather than burning brightly and fading away. The true test will of course be when Ferguson steps down, but there is much less likelihood of this rupturing the club and leading to a decline. A top-class manager will want to ensure the legacy, and so it goes. But they’ll have to get used to sharing the success.

So though the prospect of Mancunian domination whets the appetite, bet on neither a Manchester duopoly or a City monopoly in the long term. More likely a much wider playing field of a top five or six competing for the pots, and new oligarchs, petrodollar benefactors and American or Asian investors making contenders of other teams. 


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Thursday, 1 September 2011

Readers should check out a new City website that has recently appeared on the City online scene.

The site is called and aims to bring travelling Blues fans tips for all away fixtures this season and beyond, with particular focus on City's Champions League campaign.

Currently on the website are comprehensive guides to all of City's group stage opponents in Europe this term: Bayern Munich, Villareal and Napoli. Fans can find tips on flights, airports, general info on the local city / town - plus expert insider knowledge from locals.

Go to and check out the site now!