Tuesday 20 February 2018

City consolidate their blue chip credentials

Mancini's team may stumble but money inevitably buys glory, writes Dion Fanning

When a team faces an early exit from the Champions League, reports will explain how much the club will lose in revenue if they fail. The cost to Manchester City is impossible to gauge-it could be everything or it could be nothing at all.

After their defeat to Napoli last Tuesday, Manchester City face exit from the Champions League but the money doesn't matter, although the revenue might.

Roberto Mancini said on Friday that City aren't good enough to win the Champions League this season. If they're not in it, it's reasonable to suggest they aren't good enough but City will win the Premier League this season.

Sheikh Mansour bought the club three years ago. In the five years before that, City had finished 16th, 8th, 15th, 14th and 9th. In Mansour's first season they finished 10th. Chelsea, had qualified for the Champions League the summer Roman Abramovich bought them.

Blackburn Rovers climbed further and faster than City in the years before they won the league in 1995 and today Mancini faces the man who led that achievement, Kenny Dalglish.

Dalglish needed Jack Walker's money but Blackburn needed Dalglish to draw players like Alan Shearer to darkest Lancashire.

Whenever Dalglish was asked to defend the club from accusations that their success was down to Walker's money, he would instead ask what club hasn't needed money for success? Blackburn, like Manchester City, depend on one man. It may be impossible for a team like Derby County or Nottingham Forest to win the league in the modern era but it was only achievable in the past because of one uncontrollable genius.

Dalglish's own history as well as his style of management guarantee that he praises Manchester City's achievements and their methods under Mancini.

So far little of what Manchester City want to achieve has been accomplished. Last season's FA Cup victory and the semi-final defeat of Manchester United had great symbolic value but this season will be about more than stooping to symbolism.

City may stumble this season and Manchester United may doggedly keep in the fight but there is an inevitability about City's success. Money has a way of making itself understood.

Sheikh Mansour has spent £800m on Manchester City in those three years, so it is no wonder the Manchester City fans humble themselves before him when they chant his name.

Mancini has proved himself a more substantial manager than Mark Hughes and his values have been necessary. Manchester City would win the league eventually without Mancini or even with Mark Hughes, but they might not have reached this position so quickly.

For a while it appeared that Mancini had brought an unhurried style only to Manchester City's play. They were sterile and unadventurous but this season so much has changed.

They also play with the knowledge of what the manager wants from them, something which wouldn't be possible if he had arrived and simply told the players to go and enjoy themselves.

Now they do. City have scored at least two goals in every league game this season and if they haven't been as scintillating in recent matches, they did come from behind to win at QPR.

The QPR victory was significant because it illustrated the value of Mancini's methods. Even after they had equalised and then taken the lead, City couldn't shake QPR off for much of the second half.

If this was a side of hastily assembled mercenaries, they would have been more likely to fold but instead Yaya Toure, whose reported salary was seen as a symptom of all that is wrong with City's approach, scored the winner.

City were victorious at Loftus Road after midweek European football but their victory at Villarreal bears no resemblance to their draining and engaging game in Naples last week.

Napoli's adventurous and dynamic style led to a gripping match which City were unlucky to lose.

At Anfield they will be challenged again. Liverpool's home form has been disappointing but beating teams like Norwich or Swansea or their equivalents has been a problem for a long time at Anfield.

It is no indication of how they will perform this afternoon. Liverpool are undefeated against last season's top four but they also have the memory of their humiliation at White Hart Lane.

City are a different test to any of the top sides Liverpool have beaten and the game offers Mancini the opportunity to reassert their domestic superiority.

European success might take more time, if the journey can be completed at all.

Hanging over City is their massive financial loss of £194m last year and Uefa's Financial Fair Play regulations which will see clubs' accounts monitored from the summer of 2013.

The ultimate sanction is exclusion from European competition but the suggestion is that this will now only be served on recidivists. If City or PSG or anyone else demonstrate their good intentions they may get away with a fine. The revenue from a run in the European Cup would help and also allow them to grow commercially in those parts of the world unaware of City's glorious if varied history.

Critics of FFP say that it is building a fortress for the elite, that no club will be permitted entry once the rules are in place. City, for example, could only do what they are doing now. Their spending, if Uefa enforce the rules, would be impossible once FFP is in progress.

The first two years for consideration are 2011-12 and 2012-13.

This is a valid argument but the counter-argument suggests that even with that restriction there'll be more variety. The recession has curtailed spending and forced clubs to reduce their debt and the Champions League is benefiting.

Others like Arsene Wenger and Liverpool's owner John Henry, and managing director Ian Ayre demand that the regulations are strictly enforced. Henry and chairman Tom Werner have said that FSG's decision to buy Liverpool was based in part on the assumption that FFP would be enforced. Since then, they have expressed doubts.

Wenger, too, feels Arsenal's sustainable model should be rewarded and he may one day get his wish although, as he demonstrated in the last days of the transfer window, when you are in a panic sometimes it seems wise to spend your way out of it.

Unlike City, Arsenal have generated their own money to waste. Wenger was critical of City's £400m, 10-year sponsorship deal with Etihad and Ayre called on UEFA to investigate.

City's supporters view these comments as the establishment simply trying to keep them out and the Etihad deal was so imaginative that there was nothing in the regulations to prevent it.

If Uefa buckle over the enforcement of FFP then City will begin to feel they are unstoppable. In the Premier League, they're beginning to consider it a familiar feeling.

Liverpool v Manchester City,

Sky Sports 1, 4.0

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