City play their first pre-season game tonight in an international tournament in the US. The season stretches ahead for 10 long, intriguing months. It's possible of course that come next May we'll have nothing to show but disappointment and frustration. It wouldn't be the first time for us long-suffering City fans!
Certainly last season there were long spells where those emotions were to the fore (think November to February). With a combination of sometimes unwatchable football, off-field sniping, wantaway gossip, tales of unrest in the front office, training ground bust-ups and, well, Mario Balotelli, many City fans could have been forgiven for wondering if our own particular Arab Spring was ever going to reach a happy conclusion.
For many months the biggest problems appeared to be a dogmatic approach to formation by the Manager and a sense that the players' hearts were really just not in the fight, or at least that they weren't entirely buying into the on-field strategy. And there were plenty of doubts about the ability of the players themselves. Was Yaya Toure really a playmaker? Who could take the goalscoring burden off Tevez? Would any other Premier League team have Barry in their first XI? Did we really need a two-man defensive midfield screen against teams like Wigan? Was Adam Johnson capable of learning his defensive duties? How could Kolarov/Dzeko/Boeteng/SWP/Barry/Balotelli possibly be that rubbish?
By no means have all or even most of these questions been definitively answered. And of course we still don't know for sure whether our captain will line up against Swansea in a few weeks, or whether any number of putative transfer 'targets' will be wearing the Sky Blue by then.
Things are different. The revolution is now. The main change appears to be a quiet, determined confidence emanating from the club hierarchy, the manager and the players. This manifests itself in many ways - and it's really more about the sum of the parts rather than anything in particular. But in no apparent order here are some positive indicators:
- Good spirit on the US tour: Micah Richards' blog on the MCFC.com site has been a fun daily read. The players, judging by the video and images posted, genuinely seem to like and feed off each other. The core of the squad which I would sum up as Hart, Kompany, De Jong, Micah, AJ, Silva, Yaya and Milner seem to be happy and having fun. They make all the right noises in press conferences. They train (and tackle) hard. Even Yaya has been spotted heaving his body around at more than a dog-trot (and conducting the odd sparky presser). The club set the tour up beautifully. Excellent facilities, great LA location, lots of opportunities for downtime and nightlife and even the Chairman has been in attendance.
- Canny Mancini: At times last season he looked like he was losing control. He doesn't look like that anymore. Playing mind games with Wenger and Ferguson in the press, casually mentioning players under contract at other clubs as targets. He looks like a different man. Note that he's grown his hair out again. No more short back-and-sides for Roberto. He's back to his confident, dominant best. I wouldn't trade him for anyone else in world football right now.
- Front office aggression: Marwood and Cook have occasionally earned deserved criticism. They've made mistakes. But like Mancini they've learnt from them. The recent hiring of John Williams, former Chairman of Blackburn and a highly regarded executive in the game is a clear sign of a rapid maturation occurring in the City management team. I think they've played a difficult hand this summer extremely well. Active in the transfer market but determined not to be pushed around in either signings or departures. The arrogance of the Etihad deal was wonderful. Yes it upset every other team in world football. Good. It's yet another statement of intent to follow our own course and not be pushed around like some upstart club.
- Sober ownership: Obviously the money. But there's more to it than that. It's clear that we are owned by extremely powerful, professional, sober people. People who are quick to learn. Think back to the Robinho debacle. It's simply inconceivable that we'd make missteps like that now. Desperation has been replaced by steely-eyed determination. Much more impressive. Think about the Hughes sacking. Then think about how Hughes has conducted himself over the past few months. He doesn't quite seem the impeccable victim he appeared to be anymore.
- Infrastructure: New technical and medical staff, renewed dedication to the Academy, world leading training facilities, the development slated to occur at Eastlands - all point to a long-term vision for the club that is bound to impress prospective players - at whatever level. It also provides great confidence for fans that this is not an emotionally-driven leadership that might one day get bored with its plaything (ahem, Abramovich).
- Youth investment: Positive reports of 17-year old Denis Suarez, the signings of Savic and Clichy (20 and 25 respectively), the low average age of the squad generally and the pursuit of youngsters like Aguero and Nasri, all point to a clearly articulated and executed policy of buying players who will potentially spend their careers at City (if they're good enough). I think it's why we're not more interested in Wesley Sneider (27), although I'll probably be proved wrong on that one! Barcelona are the biggest exponents of this policy and rightly we're seeking to emulate the best. Call it the anti-Chelsea method. Like Arsenal, except that we're not afraid to pay big for exceptional talent rather than sell it.