After the Kaka shambles in January, you would think that Manchester City would have learned a lesson and been a little lower profile about their transfer activity this year. So far this Summer, however, City have spent several weeks making headlines by being linked with an increasingly preposterous roster of players from across Europe before settling for Premiership stars slightly below the top rank who have followed Robinho to Eastlands, universally claiming that they are excited by “the project.”
In all seriousness, if one of them was just honest with the fans, and said, “Bloody hell, they have offered me double salary, I’d be a fool not to go for it!” I’m sure they’d be respected for it.
To give City’s Arab overlords their due, they have been as good as their word and kept Mark Hughes in the manager’s job. Last season was not an overwhelming success and, despite their protestations that Hughes had not been given a specific target, the money spent last Summer would suggest they were expecting more than a tenth place finish.
Hughes it is, though, who has been given another Summer to spend reckless amounts of money in assembling a squad list to rival the top European clubs.
Last Summer, as Robinho joined Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Jo in Manchester, there were whispers that Hughes was not signing the players at all. The theory was that the owners had engaged agents to sweep up the available European talent, and that Hughes was largely unaware of the activity until he showed up to shake hands at the press conference.
I suspect this is a gross overstatement of the reality, and that Hughes was consulted before agents were employed. The idea that Hughes is some bumbling, old-fashioned sheepskin wearing boss, and simply could never have heard of a player like Jo is just insulting.
The January 2009 transfer window betrayed the grip that Mark Hughes had on transfer policy with the two biggest names – Craig Bellamy and Shay Given – indisputably Hughes purchases.
This Summer had started with a similar focus on workmanlike “Hughes players.” The first two signings were Stuart Taylor, signed from Villa as back up for Given, and Roque Santa Cruz – a long time Hughes favourite from his old club Blackburn. To be honest, Santa Cruz is one of those players that I’ve never really seen have a good game, but Hughes knows him better than I do, and has spent over a year trying to sign him, so he can’t be terrible.
Since then, there have been three big name signings, each of them poached from one of our four perennial Champions’ League contenders, and each of them a further statement of intent that, this year, City will be serious contenders.
Firstly was Gareth Barry, signed from Villa but taken from under the nose of Liverpool’s Rafa Benitez, who had been tracking Barry like a bloodhound for two years. Last Summer, Barry had been all but wearing the Liverpool kit until Villa manager Martin O’Neill persuaded him to give Villa another year.
Villa fans of my acquaintance were pleased to see him finally go after all the speculation, but Barry was almost universally condemned as a mercenary in the press.
Next signing through the door was the controversial Carlos Tevez. After his ill-fated spell at West Ham, where his goals kept them in the Premiership but condemned them to years of abuse and litigation after it emerged they had broken Premiership rules by illegally loaning him from Kia Joorabchian’s company, he moved to Manchester United where, in his first season he became a terrace hero, but was then edged out by Alex Ferguson’s inexplicable signing of the hapless Dimitar Berbatov.
This Summer, as Tevez and Manchester United’s complex financial arrangement came to a close, Ferguson was offered first refusal on signing him permanently for £25m. Unfortunately, bewitched by Berbatov’s Slavic eyes and lustrous hair, he refused, and Manchester City have stepped it to offer Tevez a club which will allow him to live in the same cloistered community of pampered footballers, keep his daughter at the same school, and probably give him a better run in the first team.
Finally this week, there was the somewhat surprising signing of Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor has scored a lot of goals for Arsenal, but the general feeling among their fans is that he has been lacking commitment since he was denied a move to Milan last Summer. Rather like Barry, he has left his old club under something of a cloud, and will be very curious to see whether he will recapture his form of 2007-08 for City.
Worryingly for Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger has made his usual complacent noises at losing one of his top players, saying, “Big clubs lose players. Arsenal have always lost players and continued at the top level.” His insistence that his squad could cope will be worrying for Arsenal fans, who would rather hear about a quality replacement to help them shore up their position in the big four. Of all the top clubs nervously looking over their shoulders at Mark Hughes’ new squad, Arsenal should be most anxious.
We will now see what happens next for City. Last Summer, Robinho was signed with approximately thirty seconds left of the transfer window so, with six weeks to go till the end of this Summer’s sales, don’t be surprised if they buy again.
The other interesting question will be how long Hughes is given if the new season doesn’t start as well as they hope. After last season, the owners really backed Hughes where many more jittery boards would have thrown him overboard for a bigger name. That is to their credit but, if Hughes can’t convert this investment into a consistently high league position, he may well be replaced.
28th My 2009 – Hapless Footballers Number 2 – Dimitar Berbatov