- Oct 16, 2008
- Reaction score
- Kansas City, Kansas
- In Flux
The new season begins this weekend!
Man City's goal is to make Top 4.
Man City's goal is to make Top 4.
City ready to challenge Big Four
Just three years ago, the Blues were an afterthought, if not a joke. Manchester City was terrible. They played at the cavernous Eastlands, rarely selling out games. They hadn’t (and still haven’t) won a thing since 1976. And for one ignoble spell in the late 90s, they were relegated twice, tumbling into the third division for the 1998-99 season.
Sure, City enjoyed some high-profile fans -- musicians Mark E. Smith (the Fall) and Liam Gallagher (Oasis) both took an almost perverse pride in their terrible team -- but they weren’t even close to being in the same league as their bitter rivals, the hated Manchester United.
These two teams shared a city -- but little else. $300 million dollars in transfers later, that’s changed. Manchester City has emerged as the team to watch this season.
Fueled by the seemingly limitless resources of Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited, which bought the team in 2008, City has been turned from a punchline into what may be the world’s most financially powerful team. With a mandate to spend on talent, City is trying to prove that they can do in soccer what the New York Yankees have regularly done in baseball -- buy a championship.
Manchester City has some powerful competition in a league that has become one of the wealthiest, and paradoxically, least stable, in the world. The Barclays Premier League is in the midst of a financial arms race that has seen Russian cash take Chelsea to the top, just as American mismanagement and debt crushed Liverpool. Portsmouth was just the latest team to be hit by bankruptcy, as it is clear that despite the power of English football’s worldwide brand, that much more money is being thrown at teams and players than is being made off of it.
Football has always been a rich man’s toy, but the days of merely wealthy men owning clubs -- think Mohamed Al-Fayed, the former Harrod’s magnate who owns Fulham -- are gone. Today, football is a multibillionaire’s game, and entire nations are getting involved. City, of course, benefits from the Emirates’ enormous sovereign wealth and they may be soon joined by Liverpool, which is being bid upon by a consortium said to be backed by the Chinese government’s fund.
Still, what City is doing is giving their rivals fits. They spent over $150m in last year’s transfer market, and are closing in on that mark this season, picking up some of the game’s top talent along the way. Yaya Toure ($43.5m), David Silva ($37.5m), Jerome Boateng ($16.5m) and Alexsandar Kolarov ($24m) are the latest new faces on a team already rippling with so much talent that one of the highest paid players in the world, Brazil’s Robinho, may be sitting in the stands this season because he is out of favor with the club.
City is not done: They are said to be close to inking Aston Villa’s James Milner and Inter’s Mario Balotelli, which would swell their squad size to an astonishing 40 players. In effect, manager Roberto Mancini will be able to field not one but two first-choice sides. It’s arguably a dream situation in a league where the best teams are played to death, and depth is key. It’s also a potential nightmare, for with big money comes big egos, and that wealth means little if you can’t get your team to play together.
Chelsea’s success was due in large part to the brilliant, and joyfully egotistic Jose Mourinho, who proved himself to be one of the best man-managers the club game has ever seen. Mourinho is special -- only Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have come close in the modern English game -- and Mancini’s predecessor, Mark Hughes, couldn’t manage his stable last year.
Mancini --who seems to have many of the flamboyant qualities of the Special One, right down to his sartorial hallmark, the scarf -- has a well-deserved reputation for getting teams to play together under all sorts of constraints. At Fiorentina, he took over a club that would go bankrupt and still managed to win the Italian Cup. At Lazio, he took over another financially-strapped side and turned its meager resources into a UEFA Cup semifinalist. With Inter Milan, he won three scudetti in a row but was sacked because he couldn’t win the Champions League. Last year, he replaced Hughes in a switch that struck many English commentators and fans as seamy. In fact, Hughes, now at Fulham, is still hitting back over the move, telling the press last week that Mancini underachieved.
But despite a late season fade that saw City only win one of their final five matches, Mancini did inject immediate stability into a team that had drawn seven straight matches and at one point would slip as low as 8th. Despite the doubts, Mancini was able to swiftly corral a team that already boasted some big personalities. Mancini’s immediate mandate is to get City into the Champions League, a goal that seems very achievable. Unsaid -- but dreamt of by Blues faithful -- is their desire to win the Premiership, something City has never done. Its last top-tier title came in 1967-68, in the old English First Division.
It’s clearly possible: Mancini has depth at every position, and several players who can be water-carriers. But City will still be running up against formidable opposition in preseason title favorites Chelsea and the usual contenders Arsenal and Manchester United. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool figure to make it difficult, as well. Of course, no matter what happens, there certainly is one thing that will give City fans some puckish pleasure. Once broke, their lucre now seems limitless.
Across town, the shoe is on the other foot as Manchester United’s fans are engaged in an increasingly bitter war against that club’s owners -- the Glazer family -- over the $1bn in liabilities taken on in the purchase of the team. But unless City finishes in the top four this season, even that schadenfreude won't be enough.