2010 English Premier League Preview: Manchester City
Here it is, the final of our 20 team-by-team EPL preview essays. I'm ending it with the team that will probably swing the league one way or another -- Manchester City.Over the Blue Moon
Many, many moons ago my friends and I would stay up late and make sophomoric phone calls to then-WFAN overnight host Steve Somers, aka "Captain Midnight." At the time there were realistically only so many games of "Madden 94" we could play on Sega Genesis before our fingers started to bleed.
Invariably, these calls we'd always try to throw in the word, "bourgeois." It wasn't all that clever, usually, "Patrick Ewing is really bourgeois." We'd all have a laugh until my friend's mom got the bill for all these long calls on hold to New York.
In those days saying "bourgeois" was funny in the same way that somebody cracking a fart was. Granted, we didn't know what it meant, it just made us all laugh.
Eventually, after learning about guys like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels(*) the term "Bourgeoisie" wasn't quite so funny, or was it's evolutionary cousin "nouveau riche."
(*) Always felt Engels got a raw deal. He co-authors the "Communist Manifesto" and eventually we get the term Marxism. Guess "Engelsism" wasn't catchy enough, even in the late 1840s. Oh and Marx had hemorrhoids, so I guess he earned it.
Since the incomprehensibly wealthy Sheikh Mansour pumped his Middle Eastern oil-money in the summer of 2008, Manchester City has transformed and evolved from semi-Bourgeoisie Premier League club, which was well-supported, despite living in the shadows of their old money neighbors across town. The results weren't always there, and the club was down in the third division of English football as recently as 1999, yet the club has won the League/First Division, the FA Cup and League Cup. City weren't the elite in England, but comfortably in the middle. City might not have been the best, but there was some sense of authenticity at Eastlands if only by judging by the club's most well-known celebrity fans, the Gallagher Brothers and Ricky Hatton.
City fans are rightfully happy, showing up to the City of Manchester Stadium in Middle Eastern style head wraps. They've won the lottery.
Part of me wonders will City now that it has more money than god, will the club be similarly disliked as "Chelski" was earlier this century? Nobody likes someone else stumbling into money. It's human nature.
In Chelsea's case, when Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, the Blues became public enemy No. 1., with nearly everyone going to bed wishing they had a rich Russian billionaire to inject money into the club. Part of me, in retrospect, wonders if most of the scorn toward Chelsea at the time was due to the presence of Jose Mourinho -- remember this is before his "heel-face-turn."
When the full Roman-revolution set in at Stamford Bridge Mourinho was probably the only villain. Remember, this was before the bedroom foibles of John Terry, though he still had the horrendous haircut. Didier Drogba's wasn't yet the menacing, pout-y, handball specialist he later evolved into, though the big Ivorian probably went through a heel-face-turn of his own. Hell, even William Gallas was on his best behavior.
The better comparison to make between City and Chelsea circa 2004 is on the field.
When Mourinho succeeded Claudio Ranieri after the 2003-04 season, the Blues had finished second. Already installed at Stamford Bridge were current stalwarts Frank Lampard and Terry. The disposed Italian even made moves that would pay off the next season when Chelsea won the the first of back-to-back titles, buying Joe Cole, Damien Duff and more importantly (though perhaps inflated in retrospect), Claude Makélélé.
Chelsea were pretty good. There was a clear target of 1) winning the Premier League and 2) finding a way to win the Champions League.
And when Mourinho brought in Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira (for a cost of roughly £32 million) from his Champions League-winning Porto side, coupled with Peter Cech from Rennes, Drogba from Marseille and Arjen Robben from PSV, the Blues were ready to go.
Two years in, and we still don't know what exactly City's grand vision is other than spend enough money and hope it produces silverware. City, of course, weren't nearly as nicely poised as Chelsea was when Abramovich bought the club. Nor do I think it's fair to compare Roberto Mancini's "throw every single defensive midfielder at the wall and see who sticks" transfer policy to Mourinho's blank-check spending spree.
Sure Chelsea spent a lot in the early years of Abramovich and Mourinho, history proved that the nearly £44(*) million on Drogba, Robben and Cech was worth it. £25 on Michael Essien? Hard to kill. It wasn't until the £30 Waterloo on Andriy Shevchenko, or the purchase of Shaun Wright-Phillips from City when Chelsea seemed to be spending money to simply spend money.
(*) Had to do these figures in British Pounds. Hard to figure what the conversion rate on the dollar would have been back then and apply it to 2010. Double? One-and-a-half?
For the sake of this argument, let's morph the Mark Hughes and Mancini eras, as they took over from the hodgepodge lineup that Sven-Goran Eriksson accrued during the 2007-08 season under the ownership of disgraced Thai businessman Thaksin Shinawatra, where the club finished ninth. You remember it, the Rolando Bianchi-Valeri Bojinov-Gelson Fernandes era. Sven spent a lot ... and brought in a ton of journeymen in a flurry of transfer activity we may never witness again.
In two full seasons since, that roster assembled on the fly by the bespectacled Swede has essentially been turned over, pending the sale of Stephen Ireland and a few odds-and-ends.
Since then under Hughes and Mancini City has spent like drunken sailors, culminating with this summer's glamor buys of David Silva, Jerome Boateng, Yaya Toure and Aleksander Korolov for about £75 million.
First and foremost, does one single football club -- one that's not even in the Champions League -- need on its roster: Gareth Barry, Patrick Vieira, Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure?
Or why would a team that already has Wright-Phillips, Craig Bellamy (for now until he's sold to Serbia or some other outpost, like Celtic), Adam Johnson, Silva and even Barry, be hell bent on signing James Milner away from Aston Villa?
Better yet, why not at least break the bank on a blue chip defender? If City's had a weakness the last two years its been defense. Last year the team spent £38 on Kolo Toure and Jolean Lescott and now a year later they're not even locks to start. But when you're burning money, who cares? What's another £25?
Let's not even get into the whole Robinho mess, who helped cost Hughes his job and now is feuding with Mancini while having a good time on loan at Santos. The mercurial Brazilian is back, for now, but let's set Sept. 21 for the first behind-the-scenes dustup between he and Mancini. Robinho, who has skills, was clearly a trophy buy for City to announce their intent of big-players on the world stage. Suffice to say, hasn't worked out like that.
Or how about the plight of Micah Richards? A fine player, who's still -- incredibly -- only 22. Despite coming up through the club's youth ranks, he's deemed unnecessary requirements. The line of clubs around the league must be forming around the block for his services, right?
Does it make any sense on a logical planet for one Premier League club to employ the No. 1s of the Republic of Ireland -- Shay Given -- and England -- Joe Hart?
It's easy to argue that you can never have too many good players. That might be the case, but you can only play 11 at a time. Egos are going to have to be checked. Full-fledged internationals will have to swallow their pride and play with the reserves. Maybe Mancini manages his way past this.
Another problem might arise that when you have so many "good" players, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to play them all or find the right combination. Gun-to-my-head honest, the only player I would bet my life on starting Saturday vs. Tottenham -- if healthy -- is Carlos Tevez.
Scoff at this, but City has gone 1-4-1 in preseason friendlies with Jô leading the scoring. City plays three Premier League matches before the transfer window closes -- at Spurs; v. Liverpool; at Sunderland -- sandwiched around a Europa League qualifier with FC Timisoara. Results in August count the same as results in May. A team constructed like City, if it doesn't jump out of the gates quick discontent starts to creep in an spread. New formations and lineups are tried. It's not good. The press will leap instantly to hammer Mancini, too.
Guys want to win and they want to get paid. They certainly don't want pressure thrown in either.
Unlike Chelsea a couple seasons ago, it's hard to say Manchester City is doing anything but spending money to spend money. As we saw last year City were at times devastating, mainly through the play of Tevez. With a proper tweak or two, this team wasn't far off from mounting a serious title challenge.
Yet aside from adding the versatile Boateng, the defense isn't all that much better.
This team is good, yet you have to wonder how long it will take to find the system and set of players that works and gets results. There are plenty of "blue chip" players on the roles, but how many winners? Guys that know how to get results?
In a lot of ways, Mancini is doing what he did at Inter Milan, grabbing plenty of players, signing them to high wages. Hey, it's not his money. Is there one realistic sporting reason City needs to buy Mario Balotelli other than the fact he's available? I'm sure Inter president Roberto Massimo Moratti would laugh all the way to the bank if City buys Balotelli for a huge fee. Sure he's good, but in this economy? Take the money where you can.
When you boil it down, City has almost acted like that friend of yours who already owns an iPhone but can't help himself from waiting in line to buy the iPhone 4 the first day it comes out.
Nobody likes those people, now do they?
Guess that answers the question on City.
Bottom line -- City hold the key to the League. I've seen them picked anywhere from first to seventh. We just don't know. Last year they had the Champions League spot within their grasp, but Peter Crouch gave Spurs the chance with his late goal in that now-famous match last May.
There are enough player -- proven in the Prem or not -- to make all other 19 teams nervous. How quickly they come together and figure out their brand of ball will determine if they place in the Champions League qualifying spots or another disappointing fifth.
Talent-wise City is better than last year, yet the questions will linger if Mancini can put it all together and instill a winning ethos. It always bothered me that Mancini made his bones at Inter in the wake of the Juventus match-fixing scandal, claiming the 2005-06 after Juve was stripped because of the Calciopoli scandal. The fact that Mancini couldn't parlay Inter's Italian dominance into Champions League success, doesn't sit well either.
At least he has his scarves. Nothing saying "nouveau riche" quite like those neck accouterments, now does it?
A Word of Thanks:
First and foremost, thanks for all the readers who visit this little ol' slice of the Inter-webs. Believe me, this is a time-consuming process. Without you guys, it really wouldn't be worth it. I value the challenge of trying to cook up something that won't waste your five minutes and maybe make you think of something you'd never considered previously. It's a crowded market, full of better designed sites and more shameless self-promoters, so I appreciate you coming past here in your Internet surfing.
I'll let the writing and ideas do the talking.
Next, a thorough tip of the cap to everyone that helped make this 20-team process possible. I might have went crazy without it, hell, I might have lost it after writing 1,000 words on West Brom. Phew.
So in no particular order, thanks to Erik Kriebel for volunteering and biting the bullet on Bolton and West Ham. To Jared Dunn for a thoughtful essay on Aston Villa, even if it's gone to pot since Martin O'Neill left this week, it happens. Not your fault. 30f fought through his Sven-fueled angst and banged out another fine Fulham preview. Colin Sebastian came in unsolicited and scored his first "platinum" post with a really great Manchester United piece.
Thanks to Ironic Steel Salesman, a guy I share the same television comedy tastes, for grinding out an informative Chelsea write-up. Also a tip of the cap to Travis Clark for bailing me out on an Arsenal preview almost at the last minute. My man Jared came through with Everton, even if I had to pester him via email taunts and Xbox live chats. My old buddy Suppe came through in spades with a quality Tottenham essay, too. He even avoided any red-face 'Arry Redknapp jokes. No easy task. Lastly, Slade put aside his busy career change to crank out another great thought piece on his beloved Liverpool.
No joke, you guys are the best.
Okay, that's enough schmaltz for one day.
T.O.P. EPL Fantasy
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In case you missed it:
* Manchester United
* Newcastle United
* Aston Villa
* Birmingham City
* West Ham United
* Stoke City
* Blackburn Rovers
* Wigan Athletic
* West Brom