Overcrowded City ensures it's all quiet on the Eastlands front
In the lull before the gunstorm that usually arrives towards the end of a western, as the protagonists position themselves carefully in recognition of the likelihood of the landscape containing unseen bandits waiting in ambush, it is traditional for someone to remark: "I don't like it. It's too quiet."
Manchester City are in the Far East at the moment, not the wild west, but Roberto Mancini has just had his John Wayne moment. Blaming Brian Marwood for the lack of transfer business conducted so far this summer may not have been the sign of simmering internal discord some have suggested; it could simply have been a convenient way for the City manager to park an inconvenient question and move on to matters he could talk about.
But the English champions' close season has been so quiet it would be a surprise if the man in charge was not getting twitchy. Non-existent might be a better word to describe transactions to date. City are alone among the 20 Premier League clubs in bringing in precisely no one -- even Everton and Wigan have done better than that -- and, though they have released a handful of bit-part players, including Owen Hargreaves and Stuart Taylor, no significant funds have been generated. Were Eastlands really the setting for a western, smoke signals would be rising above the Openshaw badlands by now, possibly in rings to indicate zeros.
This is Manchester City, after all -- not only the new champions but the moneybags of Europe. Summer hardly seems summer without City spending big, and that is part of the problem. Many of the big signings from summers past are still stubbornly on the books and, though City recognise the need to move on players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, and possibly Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko, so as to comply with Financial Fair Play stipulations, those same new rules are already operating against them by depressing the market.
Adebayor, having proved himself at Spurs, seems the most convenient and likely sale, one that is being held up only by the player's personal terms. At least Spurs seem to want Adebayor, and that is half the battle. But who is going to want Santa Cruz, who was a luxury purchase at a far too lavish fee even when City signed him? Just as City were hardly trampled in the rush to pay Blackburn £18m for the Paraguayan in 2009, why would anyone but City want him now, when he is three years older with hardly any more games under his belt and a reputation as injury-prone?
Yet shifting Santa Cruz may be easier than finding a buyer for Tevez. City have been unofficially trying to offload the permanently unhappy Argentinian for over a year now without success. Had he moved last summer as expected the whole unpleasantness that began on the substitutes' bench in Bavaria could have been avoided, but he did not, it was not and having to keep shaping their plans around an unpredictable influence who is as expensive as he is disruptive is another bullet City are having to bite.
After his antics in the middle of last season, the noise from the supposed Tevez fan club around Europe has shrunk to an almost inaudible whisper. It would be much easier to sell Dzeko, who gives hardly any trouble at all and still has admirers in Germany and Italy, yet that would be to retain bad signings at the expense of good ones. Dzeko could still do a job for City and would probably get enough games to keep him happy with the strike force as it is at the moment, though if another top-line striker such as Robin van Persie was brought in, his situation would become untenable.
Just about everyone's would, that is the trouble. Even without the threat from FFP rules, City could not realistically run an attacking sextet of Van Persie, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, David Silva, Dzeko and Tevez. That is not even considering Adebayor, who is away from the club but still on the payroll, or Santa Cruz or last summer's splurge, Samir Nasri, who for the sake of convenience is usually listed as a midfielder.
This is not a new-fangled problem brought about by Michel Platini's crackdown on overspending, it is an old-fashioned problem brought about by signing too many players without paying enough attention to the necessity of moving some of them on. City's hands appear to be tied at the moment and the double whammy they fear is not only missing out on Van Persie but losing him to Manchester United.
Were that to happen, City would still have one of the most exciting
and potent attacking line-ups in the Champions League this season, particularly as Balotelli seemed to mature into a true international player in the European Championship, but the sense would be of an opportunity missed and a point conceded to the quiet and respectable neighbours.
Mancini must weigh that against the alternative, which would be making room and raising revenue for Van Persie by moving out a genuinely saleable player such as Balotelli or Silva. That, in turn, focuses the mind on whether Arsenal's striker really is everything he is cracked up to be or whether he is just flavour of the moment after an exceptional season. Tough call. No wonder it has all gone quiet.
Sunday Indo Sport