Manchester City didn't lose the title to Manchester United on Saturday. The loss against Southampton, when combined with United's win against Everton, merely confirmed what a lot of City fans feared at the close of the transfer window back in August. United got stronger, and City got weaker. The battle for the title was going to be much more difficult than last season.
Much has been written about City's spending spree over the first three seasons under the Abu Dhabi Group. £400 million was spent on a host of players. Most of the players purchased were vastly over-priced, and more than a few turned out to be the equivalent of lighting piles of money on fire.* (Thanks Mark Hughes!!)
*In case you are wondering, the $50 million spent on Robinho (in stacks of $100 bills) would stack up to be 180 feet tall, or 31.5 Robinho's stacked on top of each other. Quite the bonfire of cash.
After jettisoning Mark Hughes, and his awful purchases, Roberto Mancini and Brian Marwood were the two primary executives responsible for deciding which players were going to be purchased. For a while it seems that whoever RM wanted, he got. City brought in up-and-coming superstars such as David Silva, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, and Sergio Aguero.
Over the past two seasons, however, things have changed. Considering that from 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11, City spent over £100 million each season, the past two seasons have been much more subdued (£75 and £55). A lot of this has to do with the incoming Financial Fair Play regulations. Even then, the recent buys have been fairly odd.
This summer, much was made of the relationship between Roberto Mancini and Brian Marwood. Mancini claimed repeatedly in the press that unless more players were brought in, that there wasn't enough depth in the squad. The players that were brought in were not players that Mancini wanted. Javi Garcia was a massive waste of £16m. Jack Rodwell might be a half-way decent player someday, but surely not worth the £15m that was paid for him. Scott Sinclair might have been a decent purchase for only £6m, but he doesn't seem to fit into the manager's plans, and hasn't gotten any playing time. Matija Nastasic was a solid buy, who could be worth every penny and more, and was clearly a player that Mancini rated highly. Maicon and his glass knee were purchased for a reasonable £3m, and provides cover at the position.
The players that Roberto Mancini really wanted were Daniele de Rossi and Robin van Persie (or Edison Cavani). Problem was, de Rossi just signed a 5 year contract, pushing his sale value somewhere in the (reported) £30-40m range. RVP, while more reasonably priced at £24m, has had a history of bad injuries, making a big money buy for a 29 year old striker a risky move. Either way, word was that City had to move either Dzeko, Balotelli, or Tevez to free up the funds for a big-ticket player. Balotelli was sold for a nice sum (much bigger than I expected), but there just wasn't enough value to be found in the January window to make the right move feasible.
Unfortunately for Manchester City title hopes, Mancini has been proven right. We needed a striker like RVP who can pour in goals. Aguero, talented as he is, won't be able to single-handedly score enough goals. Dzeko and Tevez, while both very very good players (and even though Tevez is one of my favorite players), aren't good enough to get City to the next level. In addition, the midfield has been in shambles. Mancini has realized that Yaya Toure, as amazing as he is, isn't a holding midfielder.
Yaya needs to be able to push higher up the field, having another player along side him providing cover for the defense, but still comfortable on the ball in possession (de Rossi would have been perfect in this role). Rodwell and Garcia provide neither of these two skill sets. Nigel de Jong was sold (not sure why, we could use his ninja kicks on occasion), and Gareth Barry is getting older, and has shown that he isn't of the necessary caliber for the next level.
Brian Marwood did a very good job of getting Manchester City a team that was ready to be among the leading Premier League teams. Unfortunately, I think that he's been fleeced (sometimes straight up robbed!) over and over again on transfer fees, paying way too much money for players. The point has been made over and over again by Roberto Mancini that teams will ask for twice as much when Man City comes calling. Teams know that they can get Man City to pay exorbitant sums of money.
Many average players were bought for ridiculous sums, and even some of the best players were purchased for too much money. The Abu Dhabi Group decided that he wasn't the right guy to finish the job off, and so they brought in a man who had proven he could take Manchester City to the elite in the world. Txiki Begiristain took Barcelona from a very good team to one of the biggest and best clubs in the world. In his time as director of Barcelona from 2003-2010, he oversaw Barcelona's biggest successes.
Where Does City Go From Here?
I firmly believe that if Manchester City are to get to the next level, able to compete both for the Premier League title and be a legitimate candidate in the Champion's League, we need three things. 1. A top-notch striker, a la Edison Cavani or Radamel Falcao. 2. A world-class holding midfielder, in the mold of de Rossi or Sami Khedira. 3. A world class winger that can provide attacking width, and great crosses into a tall striker (Cavani please!!). Gareth Bale is a name that has been bandied about, and would provide a good threat down the flanks, providing much better spacing.
Obviously, these are going to be expensive players. If Marwood was still in charge of the buying, they would probably cost over £100m. Begiristain has already shown his savvy in the transfer window, getting AC Milan to pay a very good amount for Balotelli, despite publicly saying things like this. I fully expect Begiristain to be able to work some serious magic, geting great deals for the necessary players. With all of the bad contracts that Hughes gave out coming off of the books, there is going to be some money cleared up for Manchester City to be able to take the next step.
I am very optimistic for the future of Manchester City. I think that Mancini can bring further success to Manchester City. He knows what his team needs, and has done an amazing job with the squad that he has. If he is given the support that he needs, and I think that Begiristain will do it, Roberto Mancini can help push Manchester City towards massive success both in the Premier League and in the Champion's League.
Which position needs addressing more?
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