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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Perennial Bottlers Play For Right To Bottle It

"Yay! An election!"

Breathe easily friends, as we are finally approaching the end of ‘ungainly election metaphor season’, a ghastly trend which everyone (me included) found hard to resist. How perfect then, just before I put my crowbar away, that City play Spurs tonight. We can acknowledge the desperation of the ‘blues’. We can comment on their desire to become a force once again after years in the wilderness. We can enviously dislike them because they’ve got loads of money. However, the metaphor is best ended here, ahead of involving Spurs, given that everyone knows it’s frowned upon to give the all-white party any recognition at all.

Regardless, it’s been apparent for some time that change is on the agenda (IN FOOTBALL). It could be a very different type of change depending on who wins at Eastland tonight. If City secure Champions League football, they will possess the ultimate bargaining chip. Not only will they be able to outbid this season’s main losers, Liverpool, but also compete on an even footing (if not overshadowing them) with everything Chelsea and Manchester United can offer the world’s top players. If Spurs win – and lest we forget, they are similarly ill-inclined to be thrifty – the transfer market will open up to them.

If they don’t get a seat at Europe’s top table, City, despite attracting some quality players since Mansour took over a season and a half ago, will be the season’s underachievers. That might seem harsh, especially considering they are already guaranteed to finish at least four places higher in the league than last season. However, if they do finish sixth, as is their worst-case scenario, the pressure on rebuilding (again) will be intense. Mentally, this is a difficult mindset to overcome, particularly when you’re returning to it for the second time. Every big-name signing is a little bit more of a gamble. Every big fixture becomes more nervy, instead of the excitement and optimism that drives new adventures on the continent (see: Fulham). Wealthy owners are not given to promoting stability when a top four finish is the minimum return acceptable from their investment. Instability, in turn, does not build a successful club. This is City’s best chance: this first full-season attempt. Fail, and it’s back to flailing around with all the money in the world, but nothing to spend it on that would constitute an improvement from the pool of players available or willing to move.

What makes tonight so interesting is that this may be the closest Spurs come for some considerable time as well. Should City prevail, it’s hard to imagine them doing anything other than spending their socks off all summer and leaving Spurs, Villa, Liverpool et al all eating Arabian dust. Should Spurs win it’s not inconceivable that they’ll carry on spending as they have in the past, though they can’t match City. Perhaps it’s in this situation we’ll find out what the all-important offer of Champions League football is really worth. Miss out, and Spurs will have to decide whether to stick or twist. Consolidate, or spend millions more?

So who’s going to win it? Is the league going to welcome a big-spending behemoth to the top four if City prevail? Can Spurs win and compete with Europe’s elite? Or will they ‘do an Everton’ and be ushered onto the red carpet before falling over their dress, going arse over tit and never getting remotely near ever again?
In the past few weeks, particularly against Chelsea and Arsenal, Spurs have looked the sleeker, more dynamic side, though they lost their way against United as Redknapp tried his hands at those ‘tactic’ things and were profligate against Bolton. City have laboured, but imperiously saw off Villa at Eastlands on Saturday. At home, they are always a fairly formidable prospect. Ironically, Spurs are suffering a goalkeeping crisis just as City imported Marton Fulop to solve theirs. A lot, as ever, depends on Ledley King. It’s going to be a week of fine margins both on and off the pitch. Nowhere will they be finer than in Manchester tonight. Rob MacDonald

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