Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Next for Manchester City? First League Title Since 1968?

Life has been one big roller coaster for the long suffering fans of Manchester City over the last year. A whirlwind take over by the Abu-Dhabi Investment Group on transfer deadline day last September has seen the blues become the richest club in the world, and now City look destined to be crowned Premiership champions...some day.

All eyes will be on City next season.

They've only just started their spending this summer by snapping up Gareth Barry for £12m and there are many others expected to join. Mark Hughes, in the City hot-seat for the time being, is a known fan of Carlos Tevez so he could be next on his hit-list, but we'll come back to that in a bit.

Despite spending roughly £120m since last June, Manchester City finished where most bookmakers had predicted before the spending spree started, 10th.

The season was a strange one, electrifying at home and diabolical away, it was widely felt that Mark Hughes was living on borrowed time. But Garry Cook came out and backed his manager in April, and so Hughes should still be in the driving seat come August as City launch a concerted attack on the Champions League positions.

In January, City made an audacious bid for AC MIlan's play-maker Kaka for £100m. The Brazilian turned the deal down, money not being the motivating factor for him wanting to move. Kaka chose to stay because City could not offer him football at the highest level, and for the time being anyway, the were too small a club for a player of such stature to move to.

With the Kaka transfer off, and Garry Cook crying foul, City wisely chose to move for players who were out of the sights of teams at the highest level, but who would definitely improve their team.

Shay Given came in with Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, and Nigel De Jong in January to join Robinho who had joined in September for £32m. And so City began putting a squad together to challenge England's elite.

Still short of class to break the top four

The vast majority of players on their books are still short of the class to stay in the top four over the course of the season, but they are beginning to move in the right direction, even if it costs a lot of money.

Unburdened by European football next season, City will have a great chance to stake a claim in how the top of the table shapes up. Already bookmakers have shortened their odds from 50-1 last week to 33-1 to lift the title.

In reality there is little chance of that happening, but it does show that Manchester City are beginning to be taken seriously. It will still take a monumental season for City to break the top four but they are on course to do so.

And like it or not, City will eventually win the league. They have so much money that they will, in time, hit upon the right combination of players and manager to re-claim the title that they last held in 1968, a year that is best remembered for their city rivals winning the European Cup.

Tension at the Eastlands

Currently there is some tension at the Eastlands. Players like Richard Dunne, the club captain, are on relatively low wages, £20k per week when compared to players like Robinho £175kpw, Wayne Bridge £90kpw, new signing Gareth Barry £80kpw, and even academy graduate Stephen Ireland who recently signed a new £60kpw deal.

Dunne as captain wants parity with the high earners, and who could blame him, but he faces the fact that if he rocks the boat he could be sold, so does he complain? Or should he stay and say nothing? Knowing that he is there on the ground floor as the City elevator is beginning to take off.

Already another academy graduate Daniel Sturridge has demanded inflated wages to stay. The club are reluctant to meet his demands, but the teams that are interested in him are the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, and it would be hard to see City sell him to a team that could come back and haunt them.

What would it take for City to win the league?

The first place to start is their stadium, or lack of one. The City of Manchester Stadium is owned by Manchester City council, so City cannot claim sufficient match day revenue from seat sales of the 48,000 tickets.

The deal they have with MCC states that they only pay rent, if the ground capacity drops below 40,000. So on that side it's a good deal, but MCC still take the vast majority of the capital generated on match days.

Owning the stadium will most definitely be part of ADIG's long term strategy, as will increasing the capacity of the ground. How much it will cost be a complex matter though, because the revenue generated by the stadium is incredibly important to the City Council, especially in an age where the government are trying to reduce spending.

The next place is the squad. There is no doubting that City have better players at the club this year than they had this time last year, but they are still someway short of having the required class to lift the title.

And of all the players they have signed recently, only Given and De Jong and possibly Barry standout as players good enough to play consistantly well in the Champions League.

In bringing Barry to Manchester, City have pulled off their first real coup. The ex-Villa captain had been expected to join Liverpool, but they have moved quickly to gazump the Anfield side.

The reason for Barry signing for City over Liverpool is simple. City "will" win the league in the coming seasons, Liverpool "might."

It is intoxicating for any player to be wanted by a club. But to be chased by a club on the verge of making history is hard to turn down. In going to City, Barry has joined in it's first step, and should they complete the task the transfer will be worth it.

Another reason for Barry joining City over Liverpool is the lack of Rick Parry at the club. Transfers of this stature are usually negotiated over weeks not days, and with Rafa now in sole charge of the comings and goings at the club as well as the day to day management of the club, Garry Cook has moved quickly to show one of the major advantages of a club having a Chief Executive in charge of transfer negotiations.

Barry as a player is nothing special. A good worker, good passer, and a good up and down sort of player, but he is highly consistent, and rarely puts in a bad shift.

His signing is significant, because it shows the shape of Mark Hughes' team. City look like adopting the 4-5-1 formation that is all the fashion with the best teams in Europe at the moment. Which also suggests a centre forward with the stature of a Drogba or an Eto'o will also be chased in the summer.

Other players that Hughes looks like chasing are Glen Johnson from Portsmouth, and Carlos Tevez, both are also known Liverpool targets. So City could deal the Reds a huge hammer blow even before a ball is kicked. City along with Liverpool, Real Madrid and two other teams have all agreed upon a £29m package for Tevez with Kia Joorabchian so the little Argentinian could join the Eastlands revolution yet.

City are short of options up front. Daniel Sturridge is still not what would be called a certain starter so a striker will almost definitely come in. Roque Santa Cruz had looked a certainty to join Mark Hughes from Blackburn, but his recent injury problems seem to have ended that link.

So Hughes will have to look elsewhere. Wagner Love and Karim Benzema are two of the most highly rated strikers currently plying their trade in Europe at the moment so they are distinct possibilities.

Jo has yet to come back from Everton, but it looks unlikely that he will earn a place under Hughes.

City have already added Barry to their midfield, and now they need to strengthen their defence. Ricardo Carvalho is about to come available at Chelsea, and the Portuguese would be a brilliant signing, if Cook can tempt him away from the clutches of Real Madrid and Inter Milan who will almost surely come calling.

So City are about to stop being everybodies second team and become the new money boys in world football, and in doing so they will become the team that everyone wants to hate.

Do City's fans care? No.

Just ask Chelsea's fans. Do they think the £800m that Roman Abrahomvich spent to bring two titles to Stamford Bridge was worth it, and they will invariably say yes.

City fans are no different to fans of any othet club, they want to cheer their team while they lift trophies. It makes no difference to them if vast sums of money are being spent.

They just want to win and have their day in the sun. Who doesn't?

Prediction for next season 2009/10- Fifth to Seventh (Europa League) and an FA Cup run.

twitter / WillieGannon