I’m struggling to think of two other words in the English language which fill me with the same kind of insufferable dread and despair as “international” and “break”. Not even “Ed” and “Sheeran” or “Dunelm” and “Mill” manage to consistently stir up as much doom deep within me as the name given to the most unwelcome of intervals in the domestic football calendar.
Alas, the new Premier League season is only three fixtures old yet it’s already been cruelly snatched away from us in favour of the footballing equivalent of a plane stopping to refuel in Barnsley en route to Barbados. To use another analogy, it’s a bit like presenting a child with a shiny new toy Fire Engine on Christmas Day, letting them play with it until Boxing Day and then locking it away in a cupboard until New Year with only the box it came in to occupy them in the meantime. It wouldn’t be so bad if we were being deprived of proper football for something worthwhile but when the alternative is England vs. Moldova, it really takes the biscuit.
Still, at least this brief interlude gives us a chance to reflect upon a slightly errant start to the season from City in which the Blues have somewhat fortuitously managed to amass seven points from three relatively unconvincing performances. A trip to Anfield so early in the season was bound to be a tricky encounter and it’s fair to say Mancini’s men were lucky to escape with a point from a match in which they were second best for the most part. The hosts played with the kind of fire in their bellies you’d expect from a side going into their first home match of the season in front of a new manager and were it not for a couple of Liverpool defensive howlers City would undoubtedly have gone home empty handed on the day.
Last weekend, Mark Hughes and his army (quite literally) of new QPR recruits rolled into town for an early season reminder of the final day of the last campaign. Thankfully, proceedings were much less dramatic this time around with the only cause for concern coming from a scruffy Bobby Zamora equaliser against the run of play early in the second half. City were by far the better of the two sides and would have killed the game off much sooner had they been able to stick the ball in the net more often from the multitude of chances created. The final scoreline of 3-1 was probably a fair reflection of the afternoon in spite of a slightly laboured performance from the reigning champions.
It seems churlish to express even slight dissatisfaction at the start City have made to the season but in many ways we’re the victims of our success of this time last year when we blew all before us away in fine style. When the bar has been set so high I suppose it’s natural to focus on the blemishes on what has actually been a very good start in terms of points gained. It’s comforting to note that it’s still early days and nobody has played particularly brilliantly thus far. Chelsea are now the only team in the country with a 100% record after three games but the Radamel Falcao inspired spanking they received from Atlético Madrid last Friday night suggests that even they have plenty of room for improvement. Despite my absolute hatred for mid-season internationals, it may actually end up being the case that this break has come at a good time for everyone and it’s to be hoped the squad will reunite next week with renewed vigour and determination for the fixtures ahead. Either that or it’ll kill any momentum we were beginning to build stone dead. We’ll see.
Last Friday saw the closure of the transfer window for a few months and it seemed those in charge of player acquisition at City approached the deadline in much the same way I approached my university dissertation with a mad eleventh hour trolley dash resulting in five new recruits for the club. Thankfully, the fruits of City’s labour will no doubt prove to be significantly more useful than the dirge I churned out during a night of caffeine fuelled frenzy on the eve of my dissertation deadline. It was actually quite entertaining to see the club do some business on Sky Sports’ Jim White’s raison d’être as transfer deadline day has been a pretty low key affair for City fans in recent seasons.
Of the new signings, flying Brazilian wing-back Maicon probably represents the best value for money at a measly £3.5 million and was apparently paid for with the loose change Sheikh Mansour found in his pants the morning after a night out. City have also added another turbine to the midfield engine room with the signing of the highly rated and ridiculously handsome Spaniard Javi Garcia from Benfica. The provocatively named young Serbian defender Matija Nastasic’s arrival was a relief, mainly because it means we’ll no longer have to witness Stefan Savic learning some harsh lessons in defending as he moved in the opposite direction as part of a player-plus-cash deal with Fiorentina. The signing of Scott Sinclair is a bit of a head scratcher but I’d like to think he’ll work hard enough to be the player Adam Johnson could’ve been. Richard Wright, like Stuart Taylor before him, is a lucky, lucky man.
The departure of Nigel De Jong to AC Milan was easily the most upsetting move of the window. The Dutch enforcer has been a fine servant to the club during his time here and will be missed, though it has to be said his limitations as a footballer are there for all to see and it wasn’t a massive surprise to see him moved on. His commitment and endeavour will never be forgotten and I think I speak for City fans everywhere when I say I wish him all the best. Elsewhere, Emmanuel Adebayor has finally done the decent thing and fucked off to Tottenham, while Roque Santa Cruz will run down the final year of his contract (cheers Mark!) on loan to Málaga.
Crucially, all of the key players from last season are still at the club and the new ones will significantly reinforce and hopefully strengthen what was already a brilliant team. We left it late, but I think we can be pretty pleased with the work done this summer when all’s said and done.
Arguably the biggest event of the past couple weeks was the draw for the group stages of the Champions League in which City will face Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. As if last year’s baptism of fire wasn’t enough, the Blues face an even tougher challenge this time around and must learn from the mistakes made at this stage of the competition last season if they’re to have any chance of qualifying for the knock out round. Personally, I’m happy with the draw. The Champions League is still a new and exciting experience and I’ll take whatever we can get from it for the time being. Regardless of the results, I imagine most City fans will relish all of the fixtures and there’s no reason the team can’t take the group by storm if they play well. A few years ago I could only dream of a competitive fixture between City and Real Madrid, but I can honestly say I never once dreamt about City vs. CFR Cluj.
Anyway, we should probably enjoy our time in the Champions League while it lasts because if UEFA president Michele Platini has his wicked way we’ll be banned from playing in it in a couple of years. Whilst I fully appreciate that there needs to be some kind of regulation at both ends of the scale of finances in football, I can’t help but feel that the motives behind the much vaunted Financial Fair Play regulations are confusing and suspicious, particularly when they come from as close to home as our good friends over at Manchester United. In case you missed it, Wigan chairman Dave Whelan this week suggested that United are the driving force behind a push for tighter financial controls in the Premier League and was even quoted as saying “I think Manchester City have shaken them up a little bit” which I thought was a terrible pun even by his standards.
The thing is, I’m yet to be entirely convinced by any of the reasons given for the need for Financial Fair Play either in the Premier League or the whole of Europe and you do get the sense that certain people in positions of power are pursuing something of a vendetta against City whilst looking after their own interests at the same time. I’m under no illusions that our recent success is mostly a result of huge financial investment, but City needed such a big jump start in order to put the club in a position to compete both on the pitch and financially with the elite clubs who’ve had a twenty year head start. Having won the Premier League and qualified for the Champions League, City are naturally on their way to being able to generate the kind of revenue necessary to establish themselves as one of the world’s top clubs. The proposed regulations are supposedly designed to create a more level playing field but they’re basically preventing another mid-level club from ever being able to “do a City” and threaten the status quo again. The rules are supposed to protect the competitive nature of the sport, but what could be more anti-competition than creating an even bigger gulf between the peasants and football’s aristocracy?
On the flipside, if clubs must “spend within their means” in order to prevent themselves getting up to their necks in shit like Portsmouth then City are surely one of the least likely clubs to find themselves in that kind of predicament given the deep reserves of cash available. After all, are the means of Sheikh Mansour not also the means of Manchester City? And which of these clubs is in more danger: that which is free of debt and extremely wealthy despite its modest income, or that which turns a healthy profit every year but is up to its eyeballs in debt to the tune of £550 million thanks to its belligerent benefactors. I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
Thankfully, real football is back next Saturday at 3pm as City travel to the picturesque city of Stoke-on-Trent for a meeting with the local rugby team who’ve just signed Michael Owen, a man who could only be more opaque if he were a silhouette.
You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you?
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