There’s plenty to dislike about Manchester City and the way they’ve gone about their business in the last year.
If, after Roman Abramovich’s arrival, Chelsea were the equivalent of a newly-monied city worker gazumping prospective flat buyers all across town, City are doing the same but also buying the whole building, just for the hell of it.
In erecting a poster of Carlos Tevez bang in the middle of Manchester just to remind their Red rivals that they had snapped up one of their key assets City showed a distinct lack of class and sophistication.
When they incessantly and unashamedly pursued a rival’s best defender in the Joleon Lescott affair they sent out the message that they would eventually succeed in getting their targets, by hook or by crook.
By letting promising youngsters like Ched Evans and Daniel Sturridge go they sent out the message that youth development wasn’t on their minds nor was patience an asset they possessed. Success was demanded immediately.
But whilst they have made plenty of enemies in the process and a lot of football fans will be hoping they fall flat on their face, there’s no reason why they should. As lovers of the game we’re entitled to say that what they’re doing is not good for football but as punters we should be impartial and judge them not on how they’ve gone about building their squad, but how good it actually is.
Shay Given is one of the two most important signings they’ve made since the new era began. The Irishman has been the Premier League’s most consistent goalkeeper over the last decade and is worth an extra six points a season. I’ve always held the view that if he was a couple of inches taller he would have been up there with the true greats.
In different circumstances Micah Richards and Wayne Bridge could have been England’s first-choice full-backs but in the case of the former a few teething problems (mostly related to positioning and lack of concentration) got in the way, and the latter was unlucky to be in direct competition with a man who this week is set to become the highest-paid left-back in the world in Ashley Cole. Either way, they’re both cracking players.
Kolo Toure is solid and as soon as Lescott has trained with the squad a few times, Mark Hughes will have to tell Richard Dunne that he’s no longer first-choice centre-back. Dunne’s record-equalling eight Premier League red cards are more a reflection of the fact he’s a very slow player rather than a very dirty one but Lescott is by far the better defender.
Gareth Barry is Hughes’ other crucial signing. In a side where everyone wants to attack he’ll be the guy who sits back, shields the back four and does the simple things well. He has plenty of Premier League and international experience and would be my choice to take over the captaincy from Dunne.
Stephen Ireland is the team’s Frank Lampard, chipping in with goals and deft passes whilst Shaun Wright-Phillips and Martin Petrov provide width and pace. On a day when pretty football isn’t paying off, getting the ball out wide for these two to provide service for the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz may be a very handy Plan B.
Ask a manager in most workplaces what they look for in their staff and in addition to punctuality and being no stranger to the tea room, they’ll talk about diversity – different people bringing something different to the table. And diversity is exactly what City have upfront. Raw pace (Craig Bellamy), aerial and physical presence (Adebayor), aggression and hard work (Tevez), genius (Robinho) and plenty of goals (Santa Cruz).
Mark Hughes’ toughest challenge may well prove to be keeping some of these players happy but it’s a long old season and despite there being no European football at Eastlands this year, good runs in both cups should ensure everyone gets enough games to stay content. Well, everyone bar Bellamy anyway.
Hughes has never won a trophy in his career as a manager, nor have Manchester City come close to winning the Premier League, so the assumption is they’ll find it hard to handle the pressure and will falter.
But any sort of silverware this year will be proof that genuine progress is being made at Eastlands. Remember how keen Jose Mourinho was to secure this exact same trophy in his first year at Chelsea in case his Premier League bid fell short.
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