Friday, 14 August 2009

Blue Dawn

A new Premiership season is on our doorstep. For City fans, it is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated season in the club’s history. Do we step forward into a new, exciting era? Or has nothing really changed? Will we forever be consigned with the ‘typical City’ disease? The answers are coming.

In the league, I predict that we will finish in 6th place. Our first opponents, Blackburn, will represent a tough test. Indeed, Allardyce and his men are already talking of a tough battle that lies ahead.

If Hughes had bought fresh talent from the likes of La Liga / Serie A / Bundesliga, then I could understand the threats currently being levelled at City’s newcomers. What we all know of course is that Hughes has done the exact opposite. The assertion that Blackburn will ‘kick lumps’ out of City does not completely stand up given than they will be facing a team of weathered Premiership professionals. Clearly the game is City’s to lose and the key question mark hangs over the team’s ability to understand and gel with each other under competitive Premiership conditions.

The biggest unknown
There’s been a lot said over Mark Hughes’ job prospects. There is no doubt that there is big pressure now on the Welshman and his team. Many – including an increasingly irate David Moyes for one – would probably like to see us fail. Hughes will know this, just as he will know that as a manager, these are the moments that you have to seize with both hands. No other club in the world has the resources that he has at his disposal. These are the kinds of chances that only come along once.

There are many unknowns ahead. Yes, this is now Hughes’ team, but in a sense we are starting again. It is a whole clean slate up front and, to a certain extent, in the engine room.

It could be perceived that in these first few games Hughes may, strangely enough, be at his most vulnerable than at any other point during his tenure at the club. I would tend to agree with this assessment.

But the realm of perception can be misleading and does not give us the answer to the biggest unknown: if things don’t go according to plan, just how far will the Khaldoon-Mansour-Cook axis go before it wields the knife? Everyone naturally assumes the worst because the law of football these days is based on return for investment. No return for investment equals the sack, at least that is the convention. But since when have City been conforming to the norm? How then, are we to gage Mansour’s flexibility, or what his reaction will be if we are adrift of the top five a couple of months into the season? As always with City, we are left guessing. It is a season of great promise and excitement, but also a campaign of murky unknowns.

Until the first ball is kicked in anger, there is nothing more to say except to wish Hughes and his squad the best of luck.

Here goes nothing.

Monday, 3 August 2009

This is Our Hated City

It’s taken a while. A few years in fact, but finally Sir Alex Ferguson is talking about Manchester City again. For the record, let me just say what a privilege it is. We should all feel honoured.

Within the space of a week, the manager of the red half of Manchester recently delivered a number of tongue lashings for Mark Hughes’ City. It seems the pulpit has now well and truly reopened across Greater Manchester. And not only across the GM region either. Over the course of the last few weeks Rafa Benitez and David Moyes have both sniped at the actions of Manchester City Football Club. It’s nice to know that we are back on the radar.

Ferguson’s salvo

United’s pre-season tour has seen Fergie speak more about those around him rather than his own squad. Perhaps he intends for it to be that way. Speaking from the team’s pre-season tour of Fast East Asia, in one interview the United boss rubbished City’s chances of breaching the top four and then criticised the wisdom of signing three high profile strikers.

Given just after City had signed Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal, the second interview was much more interesting. Ferguson argued that the Togo international had in fact sounded out United and Chelsea after agreeing to join City. Then rather startlingly, when prompted to give his opinion about the recent controversial poster of Carlos Tevez (sky blue background with the title ‘Welcome to Manchester’) that has appeared on one of Manchester main shopping streets, Ferguson came out with this: "It's City isn't it? They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is Manchester United, they can't get away from it. They think taking Carlos Tevez away from Manchester United is a triumph. It is poor stuff."

Dave Wallace, editor of the City fanzine King of the Kippax, gave the perfect retort. Wallace was speaking in the Manchester Evening News (MEN), directly to those who had splashed the Tevez poster with dots of red paint, but his words are also relevant to Ferguson: "They like to dish it out - like the poster they've got at Old Trafford showing how many years it is since we won anything - but they really can't take it back. It shows just how bitter they are."

With regards to the saboteurs with red sponges, another City fan posted on the MEN website: "Bit of advice lads, get a longer ladder and don't use water-based paints next time, it's been lagging it down today and it's all washed off."

Benitez and Moyes get in on the act

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez took the first dig at City at the beginning of the summer. “The question is do you make the right decisions and do what is best for your career? If it's just for money sometimes you will make mistakes and I've been surprised by some decisions this summer – like Barry. I won't say too much but it was clearly 100% for money. The most important thing for me, though, is the passion of the players."

And then last weekend, Everton boss David Moyes seems to have accused City of tapping up his centre back Joleon Lescott: "It is about showing respect - and we are not being shown that. I've always tried to contact the managers and show respect to them in terms of transfers and no matter how much money I might have to spend I would always want to keep that up. It goes back to the managers having a drink together after the game, to the fact managers will still phone each other up when they are looking for a player. That is part of the way it should be done."

The messages of sniping

It is good to know that all of this sniping – particularly with United - is alive and well. Dig below the surface though, and there are serious points to be had.

Ferguson had a point about the imbalance in Hughes’ transfer policy. But since then, Ched Evans, Felipe Caicedo and Valeri Bojinov have all left the club in one shape or another and now a defensive gap has been plugged with the arrival of Kolo Toure.

However true or untrue, Ferguson’s claim that Adebayor sounded out the top clubs during his move to City suggests that he has come to Eastlands for the money. Benitez echoed this with his criticism of Barry’s move. The big question to ask here is whether these players have indeed come to City just for the money, or is it more than that? Money has certainly got a big part to play, but in today’s game, money is heavily linked to ambition. There is a blurring in this linkage which makes it very hard to gage the true motivations of players like Abebayor, Barry, and Santa Cruz who have not necessarily won big things with previous clubs. The money motivation does come into it much more with the Tevez and Toure signings, players that have been successful with the big clubs but who have now took a step down. Had they signed, Samuel Eto and John Terry would have also come into this category.

As for Benitez and Moyes, well, they ought to step back into reality.

Benitez is still smarting over the failure to acquire Gareth Barry last summer. The charge that Barry signed for money is, I think, a tactic to make himself look better in the eyes of the Liverpool faithful. Who, after all, would want to sign a player motivated purely by money? Apologies Rafa, but I can’t buy into that. You had a whole summer to meet Villa’s asking price, and you failed to do that. Players aren’t going to wait around, and this summer you got burned. You should have acted quicker, its as simple as that.

Moyes’ tapping up accusations are the sign of a manager that does not want to lose one of his prize assets. I like David Moyes and I like the idea of what he has done at Everton, plus what he is trying to do. Had Moyes arrived as a manager a decade or so earlier, he might well have been another Ferguson or Clough, men who built glory through footballing skill, judgment and intuition alone. But the days of building glory in that fashion are behind us. Now, if you’re going to be successful on a big scale, you need the big cash base. Then the skill, judgment and intuition comes into play.

Moyes seems to talk of a time where the tapping up of players didn’t happen. Tapping up, sounding out, call it whatever you want – it has always gone on. Agents will always talk and players will always listen. Of course, that does not make it right. But it is football. Tapping up – in one form or another - is all around us.

For City fans solely, the words of Ferguson, Benitez and Moyes are evidence of how far the club has come this summer. As a club, as a set of fans, we are not used to being hated. Instead we have been traditionally seen as the lovable, harmless club of Greater Manchester, a club to either make occasional fun of, to offer commiserations to, or to simply ignore.

But a new hatred appears to be focusing on Eastlands. They are beginning to hate us for our money. They are beginning to hate us for our ambition. They are beginning to hate us even before we have kicked a ball.