Eriksson's forward planning for January

December 10, 2007
(Archive)

The brevity of the January transfer window makes it a source of complaint as well as a one-off for most managers. Not Sven-Goran Eriksson, however. After indulging in one month of frantic trading already, remaining utterly unflustered while accumulating eight players, he is now preparing for another.

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With expectations inflated by City's encouraging start to the season and proof that, whatever owner Thaksin Shinawatra's other flaws, he does not lack ambition, it represents an examination of Eriksson's pulling power. That, in other spheres, has already been proved but now, aided by the millions generated in Thailand, he has to entice a still higher calibre of player to City.

Largely successful as his summer recruitment drive was, the Swede was not competing with the established elite then. Now the indications are that he is.

While Shinawatra's candidness last week hardly aids his cause, Eriksson is pragmatic enough to recognise that, though the City owner may have pensioned Dietmar Hamann off, the German is capable of exerting an influence for the remainder of the season. Talk of Javier Mascherano suggests a new-found audacity to City, but the prime requirement is not for an addition at the base of the midfield. Nor, though Eriksson has experimented with three keepers so far, is it in goal, though most of his compatriots hold Andreas Isaksson in greater esteem than his manager seems to do.

But, having targeted quantity and quality in the summer, it is only the latter that Eriksson now needs to embellish a squad transformed in the immediate aftermath of his appointment. The glaring weakness is in attack and it is no coincidence that no City striker has mustered more than two Premier League goals this season.

While, but for a cruciate injury, Valeri Bojinov may have surpassed that meagre tally, four months without the Bulgarian have suggested why he ranks as Eriksson's preferred choice, if only because of the unappealing alternatives.

Rolando Bianchi, City's second most expensive signing, has a delicate touch but has been marginalised to the extent that there are long-lost canoeists who have been spotted more often than the Italian at Eastlands for much of the campaign. He briefly emerged from anonymity to score at Tottenham but the long-term prognosis is not healthy.

Emile Mpenza, who flourished as a relegation firefighter last season, appears no better than that; while Darius Vassell and Georgios Samaras are the last remnants of Stuart Pearce's much-mocked strike quartet, the footballing counterparts of banjo players with a barn door phobia. After an expensive makeover, it seems incongruous to see such ineffectual forwards fronting such an accomplished side.

Hence a striking search that seems to have involved various old friends. Eriksson's admiration for his former England charges Michael Owen and Peter Crouch has prompted suggestions of switches to Manchester, while Nicolas Anelka, who remains City's record signing, is shrouded in rumours at the onset of every transfer window.

That Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that he has often contemplated a bid for the Frenchman is indicative of the extent to which Anelka's talent can tempt. With Chelsea as other supposed suitors though, it is also a sign that City may face a different level of competition for players.

The criteria for a forward should rule out the majority of attackers. Besides the obvious requirement for a goalscorer, the pace to instigate the counter-attacks Eriksson favours is a must - and thus may preclude Crouch - while the individuality and self-sufficiency to operate as a lone striker is also essential. With Elano the pivotal figure in the current configuration of Eriksson's ensemble, persisting with a 4-4-1-1 with the Brazilian as an attacking pivot is entirely logical, but Owen, often reliant on the second ball a taller striker can generate, is neither accustomed nor suited to a solitary role up front.

Suggestions of Andriy Shevchenko, meanwhile, baffle; on the basis of his Milan form, he would benefit any club, playing any system. Eighteen months at Chelsea have left an altogether different impression, suggesting that both his pace and his predatory instincts have been mislaid.

That leaves Anelka, even if persuading Bolton to part with their best chance of survival is unlikely to be easy, and the man Shinawatra has his eye on.

Adriano, like Shevchenko, has suffered a chastening 18 months. Unlike him, the Brazilian is youthful enough to recover. Like Anelka, he has the speed - especially after dieting - to stretch defences and the ferocity of shot to score from distance. The swap deal with Bianchi that Shinawatra mooted could serve as a neat solution to two problems.

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While Adriano's fortunes have not fallen and the suspicion is that he remains the definition of a high-maintenance player, his arrival would also represent something of a coup. It is not that long ago that, along with Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka, he comprised part of a supposedly fearsome foursome that was expected to prove unstoppable in the World Cup.

It was a tournament that damaged Eriksson's reputation, too. Now he is rebuilding it, aided by such astute acquisitions as Elano, Martin Petrov and Vedran Corluka. If City have appeared a vessel for generating publicity in Thailand, they have gained credibility on the pitch. Yet, fixtures in the top four until December, they have recently slipped outside it, due in part to an inability to win away from home.

That is attributable to the absence of a striker speedy enough to counter attack and clinical enough to deliver victory because, if Elano is classified as a midfielder, City's current attack compares unfavourably not just with those of the big four, but also teams such as Blackburn, Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Everton. It makes Eriksson's forward planning essential if City are not to become victims of their own early-season success.

Not attaining a UEFA Cup place was once considered a normality at the City of Manchester Stadium. Now it may even be regarded as a failure. So if City are to maintain their exhilarating transformation from also-rans to contenders, it makes January vital. Eriksson may only need to make one signing, but the final verdict on City's season could depend upon that arrival.


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