Monday, September 3, 2012
City's low-key signings not by design
It was on one transfer deadline day that Manchester City announced their arrival into the ranks and on another when, once again, they were the biggest spenders. Apart from that, similarities between September 1, 2008 and August 31, 2012 are few and far between. Admittedly, there was astonishment at the signings of Robinho four years ago and Richard Wright last week, but for very different reasons.
The nouveau riche needed a statement signing in 2008. The Premier League champions' prime requirement last week was to bolster the squad. The starting line-up is imposing enough. What they needed and what they wanted, however, are very different matters. Indeed, what Roberto Mancini initially wanted and what he got are separated by a gulf in cost and stardust. Besides Wright who, as a third-choice goalkeeper, will probably prove irrelevant, he signed Maicon, Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair for around £37 million.
Along with the earlier recruit, Jack Rodwell, they belonged, at best, on his second rank of targets. Yet the men who started the summer on his wish list were Robin van Persie, Eden Hazard, Daniele de Rossi and Javi Martinez. That quartet would have cost £116 million and commanded combined weekly wages of perhaps £700,000. They would also have blown City's attempts to comply with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules out of the water.
Instead, after their belated business, City's eventual net spend for the summer was around £25 million; more than Liverpool, but less than Southampton. The wage bill remains enormous by any standards, but it has not mushroomed and one of the biggest earners, Emmanuel Adebayor, is gone. That, at least, should sooth Mancini, whose frustration can become apparent when denied his way in the transfer market, whether by his employers, other clubs - he has taken to complaining that they demand prices of £20 million or more when City come calling, though that is the market value of many of his preferred recruits - or unwanted players who are reluctant to abandon their overly-generous contracts.
There are times when, judging by the calibre of players he is pursuing and in his disregard for their cost, Mancini appears wilfully ignorant of Financial Fair Play. It may be a cultural thing. Whenever City appear the slightest bit defensive, Mancini is branded a typically Italian manager, although scoring 93 league goals last season should suggest he is no purveyor of catenaccio.
Where his nationality is of greater relevance is in his impatience. The institutionalised short-termism of Serie A, created by trigger-happy chairman, conditions many a manager to spend now, rather than save for later. Buying pedigree, rather than potential, can be a way of staving off the sack straight away.
Tellingly, De Rossi and Van Persie, whose combined cost would have been around £50 million, would have comparatively little resale value in three or four years' time. With a five-year contract, the status of a champion, supportive employers and a crowd that are staunch in their backing for him, Mancini has greater insurance than most but there were hints of insecurity when he joked that City might have a different manager now had Sergio Aguero not scored the title-winning goal against QPR.
A contrast can be drawn with the football administrator Brian Marwood, just as tensions between the two men were evident. Marwood players - often clean-cut and versatile young Englishmen like Rodwell and James Milner - and Mancini players, ageing imports such as Maicon and last year's loan signing David Pizarro, can be side by side on the pitch.
Or, perhaps, the bench. Of City's six newcomers, only Garcia may be a regular. Even then, while replacing the departed Nigel de Jong, he would have to displace Gareth Barry, a favourite of Mancini. Assuming the Spaniard starts, Rodwell, who has begun both home games, will be demoted. Wright should only figure in the matchday squad if either Joe Hart or Costel Pantilimon are unavailable while Sinclair is the like-for-like replacement for the sold Adam Johnson. As a winger at a club who don't really play with wingers, he is in an unenviable position.
In one sense, Nastasic's task is simpler. He just has to prove he is an upgrade on Stefan Savic, who went to Fiorentina in part-exchange, and who produced an air of imminent calamity during his rare first-team outings. Unless City persist with a three-man defence, the Serb may be a back-up to Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott. So, too, could Micah Richards, when fit again.
He and Pablo Zabaleta are reasons why Maicon is such an intriguing signing. The Brazilian was the world's best attacking right-back, but City already possessed two of the best half-dozen in the position in the Premier League. Now they have a third and potentially the best of all. Maicon is the closest to the superstar signing Mancini wanted but, at £3 million, he came at decidedly ordinary price.
Since Robinho's surprise signing, City's wealth has meant that while there have been terrific signings like Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure, they have rarely signed on the cheap. Because in one respect, the surprise was not how much City paid out on Friday but, in acquiring five players, how little.