From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.48 :: Dec. 01, 2011
With the oil rich Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi pumping in Petro Pounds, the footballing status quo of Manchester, the industrial city, has suddenly changed.
And trust the blessed, not every soul in that land or the world across is pleased to see the sudden rise of Manchester City, dubbed the neo upstarts. The club has unjustly come under fire for finding itself as the enviable beneficiary of a colossal stroke of good fortune. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, has already invested GBP800 million on the Eastlands club since taking over in 2008.
Intelligent debate here might focus on the faulty commercial model of the Premier League and how the financial divide continues to widen between the top and the bottom teams. Portsmouth, in recent years, is a perfect example of how overreaching for success can lead to disaster. It shot for the stars and missed, rendering its 2008 FA Cup win the lone bright spot in an era of mismanagement. The marauding Leeds United side of the 90s with Mark Viduka, Rio Ferdinand and Alan Smith in its ranks also had a disastrous end, bankruptcy forcing the breakdown of a talented squad after unsustainable development.
By contrast, City has been more prudent and with an owner with far deeper pockets than anyone else in England, the club's huge investment shows an overall vision to establish itself amongst Europe's select teams and not a desperate plunge to achieve instant utopia.
The EPL had already witnessed Roman Abramovich's ‘oil' takeover of Chelsea back in 2003. The purists and the already-established had cried themselves hoarse then. But once the dust settled in West London, Chelsea grew into a genuine menace to Manchester United's dominance of the English game. Under manager Jose Mourinho, Chelsea delivered immediate results and the EPL at last became more competitive and exciting. (The Russian's penchant for regular managerial sweeps these days is another story.)
Similar results for City and Roberto Mancini are not hard to imagine.
While furious transfer activity grabs the headlines for Man City in tabloids and broadsheets alike, quietly, behind the scenes, intelligent work is on in developing the club's infrastructure and academy. Off-field activities here are as impressive as the talent on the pitch. Success at City, it seems, is not only being nurtured but also maintained.
The might of Petro Pounds has often projected City as the big bully in transfer markets of late. The club forked out an astonishing GBP82 million in the summer transfer window to sign six players, including French midfielder Samir Nasri from Arsenal (for a fee of GBP27.5 million) and Argentinean forward Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid (for GBP40 million).
However, City was not the biggest spender on the English market as Chelsea, trying to find its feet under new manager Andres Villas-Boas, splurged GBP83.7 million.
City, importantly, away from all the big money talks and hefty foreign signings, is also a team for home-grown stars. The club has nine Englishmen in its squad (the most amongst the contenders for the British crown), although only Micah Richards and Nedum Onuoha have progressed from the club's youth team. Others have been duly acquired at the right price and nurtured well. Adam Johnson and Joe Hart have stepped up from the fringes to undisputed England internationals only after joining the ambitious project at the Etihad Stadium.
Continuing with their broader dream, the Arab owners have also pushed in GBP10 million to build a state-of-the-art academy in the wastelands of Eastern Manchester. It's a place envisioned to challenge the total dominance of La Mesia (Barcelona's youth academy).
The Etihad Campus will cater to up to 400 young players when completed, while 40 chosen ones will be accommodated and schooled on-site. It will also have a 7,000-seater stadium so that youth teams can gain precious experience of playing in front of full stands.
Thus supported ably by this massive bulwark and a vision for future, Roberto Mancini's Blue Brigade has taken almost all the right steps towards its immediate goal. That of winning the Premiership. City has had its best ever start to the season, going undefeated in the domestic League for 12 games (11 wins and a draw). Only three sides have achieved this feat before.
Tottenham under Bill Nicholson had stepped on the gas early and had an exact record in 1960-61 and deservedly and easily went on to wrap up the honours. However, Ron Atkinson's Manchester United in 1985-86 did squander a similar start and finished fourth after a disastrous winter slump. King Kenny and his Liverpool side, too, had a dour fate during the 1990-91 season.
Only time will tell if City will flourish or flounder.
But its Italian manager, Mancini, whose football style has sometimes leaned towards austerity last season, has shown more adventure this time round. Though still pragmatic, and laying emphasis on a stubborn defence (best defensive record in EPL), City's multitude of attacking options have given Mancini the licence to be more open-handed.
The former Sampdoria forward has maintained efficiency in his line-up and has shuffled his big squad well. His team has easily outgunned opponents in England, even handing Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson a 6-1 defeat in the Manchester derby, the celebrated Scotsman's worst result in 25 years at Old Trafford.
Mancini's opposite numbers are intrigued and jealous of his problem of plenty. The goal-scoring prowess of Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli and Aguero has made his job a lot harder (or easier as other managers will say). The three players have notched up 26 goals totally and feature prominently in the list of top-10 strikers in the Premier League.
In the midfield, the Spain-France combination of David Silva and Nasri has upped the drama and delight quotient manifold. Silva has been the architect-in-chief of City's silken system and his seven assists and four goals in the season, so far, make him the most valuable of players in the EPL. Nasri hasn't lagged too far behind and already has six assists to his name.
While Carlos Tevez (City's highest goal-scorer last season and FA Cup winning captain) sits and sulks in Argentina, after refusing to come off the bench in a Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich, the club and its manager have shown character and grit. The club has easily buried the hatchet that looked most determined to derail its forward course.
City has kept moving on, rubbishing the words of doomsayers.
Only four teams have won the EPL in its 19-year history (United-12, Chelsea-3, Arsenal-3 and Blackburn Rovers-1).
There have been sides before, pieced together at improbable cost in wages and transfer fees, that failed to win hearts or titles. But City, with the likes of Aguero, Silva, Balotelli and their smooth passing game, has shown enough to woo not just its supporters but the fence-sitters too. For the club's long-suffering fans there's finally something to shout about, and perhaps a first Premier League title is in sight too.
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Runner-up: 1934, 1956, 1969, 1973, 2011
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