When Manchester City were taken over last Autumn by foreign investors with pockets deeper than their oil wells, there was hysteria across the footballing world. The media whipped up a frenzy feasting on a seemingly endless list of managerial and transfer targets encouraged by ambitious and occasionally ridiculous club transfer targets.
Manchester City’s performance last season and failure to sign a cohort of superstars showed that money cannot buy you everything instantaneously. Whilst I am confident that Manchester City will become a Champions League calibre team within 3 years; much will depend on realistic ambitions, sensible planning and consistency by the owners.
Therefore it is evolution, not revolution, that is required. Despite the Kaka saga in January, things seem to be moving in the right direction for the Eastlands club.
The backing of Mark Hughes despite a poor campaign is a sound decision. Whatever a team’s status, a manager must be allowed time to build a team and style of play. Frequent manager changes have played a clear role in the inability of Real Madrid and Chelsea to reach levels of Barcelona or Manchester United, whilst links can be made to the downfall of Newcastle United with managerial turmoil.
Manchester City cannot allow themselves to be sucked into the trap of trying to appoint a ‘brand name’ manager at the expense of progress; whether Hughes can deliver a title is unknown, but his success at Blackburn and ability to build a team make him the right man for the hot seat.
Hughes has shown that he is building a team, the headline signing of Robinho shows the clubs intent, but the signings of players such as Craig Bellamy, Shay Given, Nigel de Jong and Wayne Bridge show that the club has been realistic on many levels in the short-medium term. These players are not superstars but proven performers that the club need to build towards Champions League football.
Although parallels have been drawn to the Roman Abramovich takeover at Chelsea the Abu Dhabi consortium did not inherit a team anywhere near matching Chelsea’s in terms of league position or squad depth at takeover.
Without a Premier League or Champions League campaign on the horizon, attracting sufficient talent to Eastland’s to take the club forward is always going to be a challenge.
Enticing players at the pinnacle of the game will be difficult until the team qualifies for the Champions League; players at the top of the game are already millionaires in their own right and are more likely to be motivated by winning than money.
Obviously money will always be a factor and a bargaining chip, but why would players already living superstar lifestyles swap warmer climes and cosmopolitan cities such as Milan, Barcelona, Madrid or London for cold January mornings in Manchester without the carrot of on-field success?
Detractors may point to Manchester United’s stars or Robinho’s presence but it is Manchester United’s on-pitch success in the Premier League era that has allowed them to attract elite players It can be argued the Robinho signing is more a circumstantial anomaly than a general pattern, but if Kaka joins Madrid after snubbing Manchester City in January it will reinforce this view.
The strategy the club has adopted needs to be continued, obviously headline signings of star players of Robinho’s undoubted quality (if not his temperament), should be pursued there is a requirement for a squad nucleus built on realistic ambition to complement the superstars.
It is for this reason that Gareth Barry seems to be a very good signing for Manchester City, a versatile player with extensive Premier League experience, he is just what the doctor ordered. As an added bonus a reported fee of just £12m is 33% cheaper than the fee Aston Villa were demanding during last seasons ‘will he/wont he?’ debacle with Liverpool.
Surprisingly Manchester City were not forced to overpay for Barry unlike previous transfers, the ‘sugar daddy effect’ where players prices double on hearing of interest from a club with unlimited funds will plague Manchester City’s efforts to sign players.
To summarise, Manchester City have added an interesting facet to the make up of English football and indications show that despite their ambitions the owners seem to understand what is required to build the club. Whilst I expect that there may be approaches for many big name players this summer I also expect there to be a few more modest purchases.
Manchester City can only develop if ambitions and timelines are realistic. Money can buy most things but sometimes no matter what your resources, getting what you want takes time.