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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Like Blues In A China Shop

In the summers between football seasons, most of us do similar stuff: go on holiday; enjoy beer gardens; pretend we don't care about transfer speculation when in fact we love it; and try not to read too much in to pre-season friendlies. This summer though, I've been doing none of that, because I've been trying in vain to work out exactly what the fuck is going on at Manchester City.

With their opening Premier League fixture now under two weeks away, City have a senior squad of 38. This is quite a lot, but it's not unheard of, especially when you consider Rafael Benitez’s small village of a squad (62 players). However, it shows no signs of shrinking, regardless of the number of players that will miss out on the 25-man Premier League squad Roberto Mancini will have to compile by the end of August. Even then though, having a few players who are 'bit-part' isn't THAT unusual. What IS unusual is when you career around the world buying players you don't need for money they aren't worth. I bet they haven't even bought a longer bench. Where's Joleon Lescott going to sit?

Of course, City have time to sort it out between now and the end of the month (for some unknown reason, the deadline for the squad lists is after the season has started). But they appear to be treating the job of trimming the squad like a teenager treats cleaning their room. “Will you get up there and do some hoovering?” “YES. IN A BIT ALRIGHT? I’m too busy filling it with more crap”.

City's spending this summer has now reached £79mn: Aleksander Kolarov, founder of Compare the Meerkat, has arrived from Lazio for around £19m to join David Silva (£24m), Yaya Toure (£25.5m) and Jerome Boateng (£10.5m). It could reach around £130m if efforts to sign Mario Balotelli and James Milner (both £24m) are successful. Now two things stand out in that list. One is the incredible valuations of the players. The other is whether City need any of them at all.

Why Yaya Toure? Unplayed at Barcelona, is he any different from Gareth Barry or Patrick Vieira or Nigel de Jong? Why Balotelli? Unproven and only 19, but demanding £160k a week. Why Milner at twice his actual value? Is he better than Barry in the middle? He's certainly no Martin Petrov on the wing and if City are to persist with two wide men up front, he is nowhere near as penetrative as Craig Bellamy. The signings of new full backs (although rampantly overpriced at £30m for two) and David Silva make some sense but the rest are just following the same sort of thought patterns I did when I was playing Championship Manager aged 14.

It’s a bit of a scattergun approach; like Mancini is trying out some cluster-signing to see who he can realistically tempt. The problem is he can’t yet persuade real title-winning footballers to join the club, because City missing out on fourth last season means the club can’t offer Champions League football. None of City’s raft of signings so far are world-class – they’re not so much marquee as gazebo. The Eastlands club might be linked with everyone from Torres to Terry – even though Torres will not be playing Champions League football this year – but take away the lure of top-level club football and you are left with only the notorious City ‘project’, which is rapidly becoming a negative association. Imagine how often the embarrassment with Kaka has and will be repeated around the world this summer.

Mancini’s is an impossible task. The Italian isn’t tinkering with a team of established players, but attempting to build one from scratch. City have become the most exaggerated and bloated example of how ruinous the ‘results business’ can be – last season’s costly near miss could become a recurring feature and may ruin several young homegrown careers (step forward Micah Richards, Joe Hart, Nedum Onuoha, Stephen Ireland, Adam & Michael Johnson) – as they misconstrue ‘fighting for their place’ as ‘getting on the bench’ – as well as several managers. City are becoming a caricature and I would be very surprised if they can better their finish last season. A little pragmatism and restraint might help everyone. Rob MacDonald

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