In many ways football is like popular music – it was at its best in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It has become an increasingly frustrating sport to follow, full of cheats, play-actors and money-grabbers, not to mention a corrupt governing body. But hey, there’s still plenty to love as players return with their topped-up tans, fresh ink and trend-setting hairdos to inspire a generation. But, as mediocre as our national team are, our Premier League is the most exciting and most watched in the world. Why? Hmm… money mainly. There are no wealthier owners than EPL owners, and we (for Manchester City have belonged to me since 1973) certainly have our fair share of reddies. For those who don’t know about our esteemed royal financiers, here’s some iffy wiki words about them.
I can’t help but be cynical about the sport (for it is easy), but as far as Manchester City FC go I look only through rose-tinted, gold-rimmed spectacles, for since we struck oil we really have literally nothing to complain about. So we didn’t get Cavani or Isco this summer. Shit, our season is ruined. It wasn’t long ago that Kevin Keegan made ‘goal machine’ Jon Macken our most expensive (£5m) ever player – and that was when we were in the Prem – much of the ‘90s are just a blur of lower-division embarrassment. Being a Man City fan now, compared to pre-oil & royalty, is a whole different experience; we can now compete with any club in the world at the very highest level and since the 35-year major trophy drought was lifted in 2011 (grazie Roberto), the well-earned ‘typical City’ tag is no longer ours.
So, what of the season ahead? Well, we’ve made no ‘marquee signings’ (good), and the four we’ve bought in so far have been, in terms of what we needed, spot on. We clearly lacked width last season, and there’s no-one wider, or with more pace and ability to deliver than Navas. Despite the deluge of goals in 2011/12, last season they were harder to come by, Negredo is a proven goalscorer and already looks like money well spent. Jovetic offers potential width on the left and an alternative attacking option, and these three replace Tevez, Balotelli and the nearly-departed Sinclair perfectly, whilst trimming a huge sum from the wage bill. Fernandinho could be the pick of the four new signings though. Since De Jong left we’ve had Barry, Garcia and Rodwell to play alongside Toure in centre mid. Whatever legs Barry had (heavy ones, but a quality footballer nonetheless) they are too slow for Pellegrini who seems keen to get rid. Fernandinho is perfect for City, an experienced box-to-box midfielder who appears to have no weakness.
Pellegrini wanted two quality players for every position, and he’s got them.
Goalies – Hart & Pantillimon. Right back – Zabaleta & Richards. Left back – Clichy & Kolarov. Centre backs (2) – Kompany, Nastasic, Lescott & Boyata. Centre mids (2) – Toure, Fernandinho, Rodwell & Garcia. Left mids – Nasri & Silva. Right mids – Navas & Milner. Up front (2) – Negredo, Aguero, Dzeko & Jovetic.
Looking at that squad, and with the recent (albeit short term) injury to Nastasic, just one more defensive signing would nudge Boyata out. I’ll take Pepe at £20m (or Demichelis and others who have been mentioned for far less), for the Champions League alone if he’s happy to leave Madrid. Alternatively, Richards is more than capable to fill in. The flexibility within these players, particularly up front, and the loss of two (at times) disruptive influences – Tevez & Balotelli – makes this a stronger, more unified squad. It is true also that Pellegrini himself replaces a sometimes fractious influence, bringing with him with a strong reputation for his ability to get the best out of players. Is this squad good enough to win the Premier League? Undoubtedly. Fit for the Champions League? Well, I’m certain we’ll progress past the group stage this season.
So what about our main competition? Can we look beyond Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and at a push Spurs as title challengers? Liverpool will improve on 7th, but a Champions League place will be their target. Manchester Utd: With Fergie gone, and with Moyes already making excuses (tough fixture list!), not to mention the Rooney fiasco and embarrassing Fabregas lost cause chase, I see as third favourites, at a push. They’ve still a very decent squad, but can only go backwards after last season, even with the addition of Zaha and a Berbatov-esque last minute addition. Chelsea: Will only improve and will be our main challenge for the title. Schurrle and Lukaku are much needed up front and Mourinho, Mr Arrogance Personified, is perfect for them. Considering their squad they’ve been under-achieving in the Prem for the last three years (2nd, 6th and 3rd) – I see success for Chelsea this season, winning silverware of sorts.
Arsenal: Will do what they always do – play some beautiful, keep-ball football, need three players (Adams, Vieira and Henry) to challenge for the Prem, and finish top four. Apparently they have the money to spend, but like every other season they seem unable, or unwilling to invest. I’m sure they’ll get one or two in before the end of the month, but as with the last couple of seasons it all seems a little unplanned and last minute. Spurs: I was impressed with them last season, not expecting an improvement after Redknapp’s departure. Obviously what happens to Bale will determine much, but if he does go (as seems likely) they have to re-invest the cash on two world-class replacements. Chadli and Paulinho have been bought in but they’ll need more.
Here’s how I see it:
1st Man City – just
3rd Arsenal – if they get their wallet out
4th Man Utd
With three new managers (in charge of the three bookies’ favourites) amongst the six main title challengers, this season is the most open for years. For City, now that Begiristain and Soriano have their own man in charge, I see greater harmony (holistics), and more silverware. With no clear striking partnership in place rotating our four strikers will be an issue – for the last two seasons Aguero & Tevez were always first choice – but if that’s Pellegrini’s biggest headache it’s an example of how far we’ve come. Expectations are high, very high, but if all City fans are like me this warranted confidence and talk of success still feels like a long, beautiful dream.