The great Manchester City striker hunt

The next seven days could well be crucial for Manchester City’s season. And not just for the fact that they visit Sheffield Utd on Sunday in the FA Cup, before a trip to basement side Derby next Wednesday. Those two games are big games of course, but manager Sven-Goran Eriksson’s activity in the transfer market before the window slams shut next Thursday could well be the difference between a European place, and a place amongst the also rans.

City yesterday waved goodbye to their most expensive summer signing, with Rolando Bianchi joining Serie A side Lazio on loan until the end of the season after failing to find his feet in English football. And whilst Bianchi hardly set the world alight at Eastlands (just 5 goals in 24 appearances), his departure leaves a void in attack that Eriksson will surely be desperate to fill.

For all the praise levelled at keeper Joe Hart, defenders Micah Richards & Richard Dunne, and the creative guile of Michael Johnson, Elano & Martin Petrov, City simply lack a goalscorer. Darius Vassell has been around the Premiership for years without ever really threatening to trouble the leading scorer charts, and has accordingly been used more in a wide midfield role of late, whilst Emile Mpenza is yet to notch 100 career league goals, despite making his debut in 1995, and lacks the physical presence to lead the line alone, as Sven seems to prefer.

Valeriy Bojinov was unlucky to pick up a serious knee injury in just his third outing for the club, and has a lot of talent, but he is yet to live up to his billing as “The Maradona of the Balkans”- given to him after he burst onto the Serie A scene at the tender age of 15. Plus with new signing Nery Castillo picking up a broken shoulder just half an hour into his debut, it makes Eriksson’s need for reinforcements up front much greater.

Today’s press picked out two further names to throw into the ring as potential targets- Luis Fabiano of Sevilla, and Real Zaragoza’s Diego Milito. City fans will no doubt be heartened to hear of these links, although on the face of it they seem a little tenuous. After all, Milito is valued by Zaragoza at around £18m, and is widely considered to be one of the best all round strikers in La Liga- he was linked strongly with Real Madrid last summer after finishing second only to Ruud Van Nistelrooy in the “Pichichi” charts with 23 league goals.

Also, Zaragoza have recently appointed a new manager, Javier Irureta, who would surely be daft to offload their star striker inside his first month at the club. Milito is believed to have a buy out clause in his contract that stands at around £22m, but with the Argentine striker rapidly approaching 30, it would appear unlikely that City would be prepared to meet that.

Fabiano is another forward very highly rated in Spain- strong, quick and an accomplished finsher- and this season he has been in superb form with 22 goals in as many appearances in all competitions thus far. His performances this season have made him very much a fans favourite at the Sanchez Pizjuan, and Sevilla’s boss Marcos Alvarez would again be loathe to sell a player who has finally found his feet in Europe after a troubled couple of seasons following his move from Sao Paolo to FC Porto.

City may well be able to afford him, but with Sevilla by no means desperate to sell, and with no guarantee of European football at Eastlands (yet), it would be a real coup if they could get hold of the Brazilian international.

So where else could Sven look? Well Peter Crouch’s name is often mentioned- Sven seemed to be a big fan of his when he was in charge of England after all, and Crouch surely can’t be happy with the bit part role he currently has at Liverpool. He would probably cost in the region of £9m, which isn’t too bad when you consider Marlon King is going for £5m & Diomansy Kamara went for £6m. Crouch, however, lacks the mobility required to play up front alone (as Sven found out in Germany in 2006) and for me requires a more pacy partner to play off.

Unless Eriksson was ready to rethink his gameplan- which basically involves two holding central midfielders (usually Hamann & Johnson) Elano playing a withdrawn role off a lone front man, with Petrov & either Vassell, Ireland or Geovanni supporting from wide areas- it would seem a move for Crouch would appear unlikely.

How about Michael Owen? Again, Eriksson knows him from his England days, and again he has appeared far from happy at his current club. But again, Owen does not appear to fit the bill as the striker City need. He has struggled badly when forced to plough a lone furrow up front in the past, and has even admitted himself that he plays best when alongside a target man. And with fears over his general fitness, and Kevin Keegan seemingly willing to move heaven and…..well…..armband in a bit to keep Owen happy on Tyneside, that move looks dead in the water.

Indeed Eriksson may well do better to look at one of the target men who Owen so enjoys playing alongside, Emile Heskey. Heskey may not be the mythical “20 goals a season” man that every club apparently has to have, but he works hard for the team, has decent pace, great physical presence and is adept at playing with his back to goal. Steve Bruce is a big fan, but City have the funds to tempt Wigan surely, and they could do a lot worse.

So there you have it. It’s certainly a tricky one for Sven, one that you feel he simply has to get right if City are to remain up in the top six at the end of the season. But he’s closer to the mark with Heskey, Milito & Fabiano than the papers are with Crouch & Owen.

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