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Sunday 23 April 2017

It's looking like City are stuck with the devil they know

Imagination is the missing ingredient in the Eastlands story, says Paul Wilson, but standing by their manager would show ingenuity

Observer

To give Roberto Mancini his due, he retains a sense of humour, something he may need if Manchester City's reunion with Mark Hughes goes badly this afternoon.

City do not seem to be able to buy the affection of players for any amount of money, and when the newly arrived and little seen Mario Balotelli picked up the Carlos Tevez habit of pining aloud for his homeland on international duty last week, the man who offered him a five-year contract smiled enigmatically. "Before Mario can leave he must start to play," Mancini joked.

Such considerations never bothered Robinho, but let that pass. It is now time for City to start to play. They have won only once in half a dozen matches, their past two results have been bore draws and the present manager of Fulham was sacked just under a year ago for supervising more or less the same thing.

Hughes never had much of a chance at Eastlands. No sooner had he accepted the job than the club changed hands. As Sam Allardyce discovered at Newcastle, the first thing new owners usually want to alter is the manager, because it is quicker and easier than getting a new team. City may be the one club capable of changing the team almost as quickly, but until the next transfer window opens attention is focused on the one underperforming for Mancini.

If City can be described as a team, that is. It would be too corny and cruel to suggest they have more in common with Frankenstein's monster, but in times of adversity it is all too easy to see where all the various bits came from. Some players, although not many, were already at the club, a majority formed part of Hughes's grand vision, while others have been brought in by Mancini. Plenty of other clubs could say the same thing. Only the ones with long-serving managers such as Arsenal, Everton or Manchester United can say they have grown organically, but finances usually force clubs into team-building bit by bit, over a period of time.

When City buy players they buy them in batches, a supermarket sweep of the pricier shelves, and no one is quite sure whether this extravagant approach can work. It is slightly misleading to suppose City are seeking to follow Chelsea's example.

Not only were Chelsea in the Champions League bracket when Roman Abramovich bought the club, they already boasted players such as Frank Lampard, John Terry and Joe Cole, ensuring a level of continuity beyond anything City can hope to manage. Beginning with the astute capture of Jose Mourinho, Chelsea bought big but did not attempt to change everything -- there was no need.

City have already changed everything, so much so that the new faces of just a year or two ago find themselves out of favour. Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz are now regarded as mistakes, City would very much like to find buyers to take Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips off their hands, and even Adam Johnson, who has not been at Eastlands a year and is still considered a good signing, has been expressing his frustration at not getting enough starts under Mancini.

To give some idea of the eye-watering cost of this folly, Adebayor earns £150,000 a week, while Bridge has a £92,000-a-week deal that runs until June 2013. All of the above except Johnson were signed by Hughes, who also either thought or was persuaded that Terry would have been a good buy at an even dafter price. Craig Bellamy has been shipped out to Cardiff, Robinho to Italy and Stephen Ireland to Aston Villa, yet still City are believed to be in the market for a midfielder in January.

Jordan Henderson was being mentioned before his unimpressive England debut, even though Mancini prefers defensive midfielders. Another couple of results as drab as the last and Mancini may not even see January, yet the obvious peril if the club makes another managerial change is that a new clutch of staggering contracts will find themselves surplus to the new man's requirements.

Who would City appoint, in any case? The idea of Mourinho is as lame as it is fanciful. One would like to think that having done the Chelsea thing, Mourinho can now enjoy the Real Madrid thing without the bother of sorting out all City's expensive mistakes and starting all over again, just for the sake of a million quid a week or so.

One would like to think the Special One has better taste than to sign up for a scheme as naff as the Eastlands project. One would also prefer City to use their imagination and find their own coaching genius, and not just copy Chelsea's formula to the letter.

Imagination has been the missing ingredient in the City story so far, which is why few neutrals have been won over. Real imagination now would be sticking with Mancini, through thick or thin, for at least two or three more seasons. Because, as he says, every new manager likes different players and has his own ideas. City cannot afford any new ideas, not while they are still paying for all the old ones. Affording things might look like the area where City can outshine all competition, but the club's owners have already established that money can be misspent. Squander more, and people will start to laugh.

Fulham v Manchester City,

Live Sky Sports 1, 4.0

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