Note: This article was also submitted and posted at Goal.com, here.
When Sven-Goran Eriksson took the job as Manchester City manager last month there was one thing he could be absolutely sure of – that his every move would be scrutinised by a skeptical press pack just waiting for an opportunity to confirm the theory that here is a manager who has been living for far too long on past glories.
Whether or not that theory will be proven correct remains to be seen, but Sven can surely feel surprised – and more than a little aggrieved – that his remarkable dealings in the transfer market have been met this week with anything other than qualified admiration.
Severely hamstrung in being appointed to his post with barely a month till the start of the season, Eriksson has taken just three weeks to bring in eight new players – among them arguably some of the brightest young talent in Europe – at an average fee of £4.7m a head.
The prevailing view appears to be that, in bringing in eight foreigners, none of whom have any Premiership experience, the ex-England manager has made a bit of blooper and his failure to sign any English players will surely backfire on him sooner rather than later.
Even Don Howe has been dragged out, blinking, into the sunlight to add his tuppence-worth, remarking on Tuesday:
“I saw Sven on TV the other day sat alongside four of his new signings – and I didn’t know any of them.
“I have been in football a long time and know a lot about the game. So for me not to know who they are just shows how things are changing.
“The high number of foreign players will have an affect on England.”
Given that Howe last managed a club in 1992 (Coventry) and retired from all forms of football coaching in 2003, perhaps he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse as much as he would like to think…
There is one main reason why, whatever travails may await him down the line, the actions of Eriksson so far make complete sense: British players are far, far too expensive. Not a new thought, admittedly, but one worth going into in a little more detail through a closer inspection of a sample City’s summer signings.
Firstly, Eriksson pointed out last week that, far from ignoring the claims of English players, he had actively pursued four members of the England squad – only to be either quoted prices that were “through the roof” or to have his approach dismissed out of hand.
Far from being applauded, however, for refusing to pay the unwarrantable premium that comes attached to any British footballer (Craig Gordon – £9m? Really?) blessed with the ability to pass the ball to a team-mate more than 50% of the time, the rationale appears to go something like this:
Why sign Spanish U21 left-back Javi Garrido for £1.5m when you can pay an extra £4m for English U21 left-back Leighton Baines?
Elano who? The Copa America champion and ‘the new face of Brazil’ according to Brazil coach Dunga, you say? Pshaw – for the same money you could have bagged English committed team-player Nigel Reo-Coker…
What?! You mean you bought 66-cap one-goal-every-five-games Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov for £4.7m, when for an extra million you could have snared 8-cap one-goal-every-ten-games English winger Kieran Richardson? Disgusting.
And as for your strikers, well! You favour Rolando Bianchi (£8.8m), who scored 18 goals last season in one of the most defensively minded leagues in world football; and Valeri Bojinov (£5.5m), the youngest foreigner ever to play in Serie A and who has a goals ratio of one every other game at international level, over unproven Championship strikers Michael Chopra (£6m) and Kenwyne Jones (£5m)? Shame on you.
Apologies for the heavy irony, but you get the point. There is no doubt that the pressure on the new City coach will be cranked up a notch until such time as he has proven his coaching ability by making the team gel, but that is a different debate.
For now, he is to be applauded for saving the chairman some cash whilst managing not to compromise on quality and potential.
As an aside, it is also worth pointing out the possible argument that since City have one of the most successful and productive academies in the country, Eriksson has less need of bringing in British players than other managers since there are already nine British and Irish players in the first team squad, with the promise of more to roll off the production line in the coming seasons.
The other factor that seems to be greatly exercising the minds of sports hacks around the country is the comment from Eriksson last week that many of the new arrivals had been signed without him personally having seen them play live.
Many appeared to take this as an admission that he had adopted some kind of pin-the-tale-on-the-donkey type methodology with all the agents faxes on his desk, or perhaps just made a nice cuppa and settled down to a good afternoon’s Youtube viewing – but anyone who thinks the selection of these players was not the result of rigorous research is being naÃ¯ve.
Eriksson was signed just as much for his vast contacts book as for his profile and coaching ability, and the global game of today often requires a large team of people, comprising scouts, agents, coaches and advisors just to recruit one player.
Stuart Pearce, Eriksson’s predecessor, either didn’t recognise this, or (more realistically) did not have the depth of contacts necessary to exploit the transfer market in quite the same way that the Swede is doing.
Pearce was regularly to be seen jumping onto the back of a motorbike and haring off the to the airport after a match, in order to personally watch some potential acquisition in action – but this ultimately did not make his transfer record a success, as ten goals at home last season will testify.
Eriksson, by comparison, is able to draw on his own lengthy experience and knowledge, as well as the opinions of those he trusts both at Eastlands and in various far-flung corners of the earth.
Progress across the currents of the transfer market may look casual, but the collective legs will surely be going like the clappers under water.
His modus operandum may not be to everyone’s taste but, being the only manager to win doubles in three different countries, and being England’s second most successful manager to date, he surely deserves the chance to show that his way might just work.
Also See: Premiership Transfers Summer 2007