“City might not be favourites to win the league, but they should be.” So says Aston Villa’s excitable manager Martin O’Neill on The Manchester City Project.
City have spent the last year jumping, screaming and waving their hands in the air until the whole world was looking at them, throwing fistfuls of dollars at anyone and everyone and buying any player they happened upon along the way.
But whatever your views on the club, whether you see Eastlands as a footballing Frankenstein’s lab with Sheik Mansour the crazed madman cultivating his grotesque creation inside or whether you see them as a breath of fresh air challenging an increasingly stale quadopoly: you cannot deny that they are now one of the biggest talking points the Premier League has enjoyed in years.
But I’m not here to talk morals, everyone has their views on the issue and these “morals” often seem to differ wildly depending on which club you support as much as anything else: I’m looking to talk about what really matters—after being so hugely talked up, are City actually that good?
There is the bandwagon rumbling its way round football that simply looks at the numbers, equates that to success and says City are looking good for a top four finish.
Many have taken a moment to think deeper and simply let that bandwagon roll on by, but there are also many—and not just from the blue half of Manchester, as O’Neill demonstrates—who have run deliriously towards it and jumped on for the ride.
So far City’s spending this summer is nearly £100 million and they should improve as a result, but let’s not fall into O’Neill’s trap and get too carried away. The players they have brought in are good but not great, essentially “top four rejects.”
Carlos Tevez was a hard worker certainly but rarely showed the genuine class to back up his hype and was deemed not worth the money by Manchester United.
Kolo Toure has never fully recovered from the malaria he picked up two years ago and had slipped behind Johann Djourou in the Arsenal pecking order, even before the arrival of Thomas Vermaelen this summer.
Gareth Barry has spent the last two embarrassing years desperately trying to get anyone, anyone in the top four to notice him, only to trot off to City when none of them considered him a decent buy.
Roque Santa Cruz has led a similar dance but, like Barry, nobody involved in Champions League football wanted him.
Emmanuel Adebayor from Arsenal is the only City acquisition who could claim to have been a first choice player at a bigger club but he was also lazy and disruptive, and actually lacks the skill and finishing ability of Eduardo da Silva and Robin van Persie.
The bottom line is that, as with Toure, if Arsenal still wanted him he would still be there. Add in the well documented difficulties in keeping this number of players happy and integrating so many new signings into a team, and City’s progress is not so clear cut as they would wish.
Arsenal are of course the subjects of that other bandwagon circling in convoy with City’s and positively creaking under the weight of all its passengers: that they are the team whose place City will take.
Again this is based on the financial figures, and of course the clichés that Arsenal “don’t like it up ‘em.”
But the players tell their own story: a forward trio of Eduardo, van Persie and Andrei Arshavin supplied and backed up by the creation of Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky and marshalled by the improving Alex Song is the best looking 4-3-3 (the formation Wenger has employed in pre-season) this side of the Iberian peninsula and the most exciting front six in the league.
With Nasri, Walcott and Bendtner and the teenage talents of Vela, Ramsey and Wilshere there are plenty of attacking options to thrill and proof that the criticisms of their squad being too small are unfounded.
Of course, the concerns about both physical and mental strength are valid and defensively they are far more suspect, but it is still a team that has more quality than Manchester City’s and one that will surprise a lot of people this year.
There are those who expect more, but a fifth place finish and some decent cup progress will represent a good season for City this year. Their fans must be patient, as must their owner, because sometime in the next few years they will see some silverware, but for now we should all climb off the bandwagon and just allow the club to develop.