The ultimate mismatch
When cash-strapped old romantics Blackpool host nouveau riche, star-studded City on Sunday it will highlight chasm between different worlds
Published 15/10/2010 | 05:00
There are two ways of looking at Blackpool's so far tumultuous return to the top flight of English football they illuminated so colourfully half a century ago.
You can see it as a near miraculous reinvention of some of that romance captured so brilliantly by the iconic Stanley Matthews.
Or, and this will be especially so on Sunday when the richest club in all of football, Manchester City, visit Bloomfield Road, you can find confirmation that the Premier League, for all its self-congratulation, has become not the world's most glamourous arena but a travesty of balanced competition.
The latter notion, it is true, has been challenged in a flurry of victories for Blackpool at Wigan, Newcastle and Liverpool -- and manager Ian Holloway's continued advance as one of the game's favourite characters, a sort of an English West Country reincarnation of the great Bill Shankly. However, the line of credibility, you have to fear, has the potential to become soon enough as well-chewed as a piece of Blackpool rock.
If this proves the case -- and the team's evisceration by Arsenal in their second league match of the season at the Emirates Stadium provided some chilling evidence in support of the long-term likelihood -- it will be the bleakest evidence that you cannot have romance, at least not as a reliable diet, in a league where the rich inevitably get stronger and the poorer are ever more entrenched in their have-not status.
The apparent hopelessness of the odds faced by Holloway's men this week-end, for example, are implicit in so many ways. It is a question of taking your pick of the imbalances after registering the fact that while Blackpool have a wage ceiling of £10,000 a week per player, City regularly staff a bench worth more than £100m and peopled by players earning up to 15 times more than the best-rewarded players in the famous old tangerine shirts.
One place to start is the decision facing City's £3m-a-year manager Robert Mancini when he comes to write down the name of his right-back.
Micah Richards, who has played 11 times for England, is returning from a hamstring injury and talking up his chances of regaining a first-team shirt. The 22-year-old has proved less than the power-packed virtuoso lauded when he won his first international cap, but he remains a significant force, especially on the ball and in the air.
But Mancini has a range of options in this one position that would be guaranteed to make Holloway's mouth water.
First there is the German World Cup player Jerome Boeteng, who like Richards has represented his country 11 times. Boeteng recently cost City £10.4m. Then there is Pablo Zabaleta, a £6.45m signing who has played for Argentina seven times. This is not to mention the young Belgian Dedryck Boyata, pride of the City academy who recently helped to pound Chelsea to defeat -- and provoked the anguished claim of the normally philosophical Carlo Ancelotti that the referee had left his whistle at home.
Here we have a fragment of Sunday's game -- but also a massive canvas of unequal resources.
Stick a pin anywhere and you have example of gross advantage for the club fuelled by the money of Sheikh Mansour, who made his first visit to Eastlands at the start of the season to see City comfortably dispatch the remnants of Liverpool. The Sheikh was, naturally, feted. The welcoming committee, with the notable exception of the urbane Mancini, could have expressed their gratitude more profoundly only if they had kissed the ground beneath his feet.
Sunday's prime example of the gap between the teams is probably best expressed by the chasm that exists between Yaya Toure, City's powerful, Ivory Coast star, and one of his Blackpool opponents, midfield-cum-striker, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who launched his side's Premier League ship with the first goal in the 4-0 win at Wigan.
They may well have travelled from separate planets. Toure (27) arrived at Eastlands from the Nou Camp, where only a questionable refereeing decision against him in the build-up to Bojan's disqualified injury-time goal in the second leg of the semi-final last April, prevented him from becoming the hero of Barca's Champions League title defence against Jose Mourinho's Inter.
Before Barca, Toure played for Beveren in Belgium, Metalurh Donetsk in the Ukraine, Olympiakos in Athens and Monaco. Toure has 53 caps and is paid close to £200,000 a week. When he came out of Africa, his older brother and now team-mate, Kolo, heralded "the new Patrick Vieira".
The 29-year-old Taylor-Fletcher's antecedents are somewhat less awe-inspiring. Before arriving at Blackpool, he saw service at Hull, Dagenham and Redbridge, Grays Athletic, Northwich Victoria, Leyton Orient and Huddersfield. Blackpool's entire wage bill would not meet the demands of Toure or John Terry, who successfully played off the interest of City when cranking up his current contract with Chelsea.
Wherever you look, the material evidence says that on Sunday we have an ultimate mismatch of resources, human and financial. In goal, Blackpool's 28-year-old Matthew Gilks fights for his life at the highest level of the game. He was released from Norwich, after earlier stints with Rochdale and Shrewsbury (on loan). Gilks has performed valiantly this season but when we move again to Mancini's options, the comparison once again becomes surreal.
Joe Hart, England's newly established first pick, holds off Shay Given, most people's idea of the finest goalkeeper in the world not guaranteed a first-team jersey. Given's greatest dilemma is whether he seeks action elsewhere or is content to grow rich while sitting on the bench. Given is on £4.5m a year, Hart £4m.
There is also the case of Mario Balotelli, who cost City £24m from Inter, whose fans he once provoked by wearing the jersey of AC Milan in the street, and has made one appearance, as a substitute in a Europa League game, but is happy to go along with speculation that his true destiny may be back in Italy, with Napoli.
Blackpool v Manchester City remains officially billed as a Premier League game. In reality, it is another bizarre engagement in a war of separate worlds.