Tuesday 12 December 2017

Raid for Xavi could provide key to next phase of project City

James Lawton

James Lawton

If there was any doubt that football is the only place where sometimes it is possible to have too much money, and too many choices, it surely dissolves when you consider the slalom course of decisions now facing Manchester City's manager Roberto Mancini.

His punch of triumph on the Eastlands touchline this week when his team played its way into the Champions League was understandably even more heart-felt than the one he threw at Wembley last month when Manchester United were dismissed on the road to tomorrow's FA Cup final.

Yet, clearly, his face told another, much more complicated story.

When you are the richest club in the world and you have examined the details of the Uefa financial fair-play regulations that kick in at the end of next season, you hardly need telling that the real, defining work has just begun.

The obligation to make the big league was huge and at times debilitating -- and now it is replaced by another imperative of the utmost urgency.

Bushwhackers

Every game City play, starting tomorrow against the ferocious bushwhackers of Stoke City, there will be a demand for evidence that they are a big club, not only in resources, but in the way they carry themselves.

If he stays, Mario Balotelli has to show quickly that his volunteer godfather Patrick Vieira has underlined some of the basic requirements of a working professional.

In the unlikely event that Carlos Tevez continues to wear a sky blue shirt next season, it would be hugely helpful if he combines some understanding that the world of City does not revolve around him every single minute of the day with his exceptional talent.

With or without these huge imponderables, Mancini is still facing some of the trickiest calls ever asked of a member of his trade.

He has to both help in balancing up the books to some degree -- which is not the biggest challenge, by any means, when you consider the number of wage bills he can jettison without causing riots on the terraces -- and make one or two signings which have value beyond the sum of their individual talent.

Going into tomorrow's game, Mancini plainly has some outstanding assets brought to the club at his insistence, notably Yaya Toure and David Silva.

City, obviously, have other occupants from the top drawer, and at the top of that list would be a mollified Tevez, closely followed by Joe Hart, whose elevation by Mancini at the start of the season was no doubt an initiative of crucial importance to the success of the campaign.

This may be hard on the redundant Shay Given, but the youngster's record and statistics have brought spectacular vindication. It means that City could make one move towards the bigness of spirit required of a major club by allowing Given to go where he can at the end of a superb career, even if it happens to be to a rival like Arsenal.

Balotelli, for all his bizarre eccentricities, and Edin Dzeko, for the disconcerting impression that the Diamond of Bosnia has irrecoverably lost his shine on the journey to the northwest of England, are of course much more problematic.

In the circumstances, there will be nothing more intriguing in the summer than Mancini's two or three vital moves.

City had enough ability to do the job they set themselves and so often after performances which spoke of excessive caution, even serious doubts, Mancini and one player after another stepped forward to say that they were doing enough -- and this was much as they or their fans could expect of themselves.

Joleon Lescott summed up the philosophy after the destruction of a pathetic Sunderland. "It's nice to play well", he said "but the important thing is the results. That is the thing we cannot forget."

They didn't -- and they got there. However, they can hardly complain if some of their critics now argue that City have to dramatically lift both their game and the demands they place on themselves.

Prettily expressive football has not so far been part of Mancini's agenda, but then nor, it seems, has been the need to prosecute the kind of aggressive game that has almost invariably marked the style of the most ambitious clubs.

Even in their moment of triumph against Spurs on Tuesday, there was a hardly a sense of men about to reach their promised land.

After Peter's Crouch's own goal, City seemed content with a passive role, allowing Spurs an extraordinary amount of possession and the chance to prolong their distant hopes of returning to the theatre of action they graced so excitingly with their victories of reigning champions Internazionale and Milan on the way to the quarter-finals.

Boldness

Spurs ran out of momentum, but not before suggesting that they understood that they were involved in a new challenge which required, more than anything, a new boldness of spirit.

Where do City find such an ingredient? There has been more than a little encouragement from Yaya Toure, who arrived from Barcelona suggesting he might be the last word in football inflation -- then grew steadily in his power and his influence, a trend that reached a brilliantly high mark when he put United to the sword at Wembley.

Toure provides power and deceptive skill, but he has to yet to establish himself as the kind of player around whom a team can be unerringly shaped.

This makes especially intriguing speculation that Mancini has registered the need and has eyed the possibilities of such as Cesc Fabregas and 31-year-old Xavi Hernandez.

Signing the veteran Xavi would involve a lot more than loose change, of course, but one argument in favour of a deal that might enable Fabregas to finally take flight to his hometown is that it might not necessarily wreck City's need to live within the new financial rules.

Xavi, apparently, has not received the kind of financial rewards that we might have imagined, given all the devotion and honour he receives at the Nou Camp.

City might just be able to offer the right sized pot of gold at the end of Xavi's Barcelona rainbow. Their instant reward would be a player who could explain every nuance of what it is to become a truly big football club.

This, no doubt, is the new and vital imperative of the blueprint they call Project City

Irish Independent

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