Manchester City: Creative tension or the road to expensive ruin?

JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

LONDON — For the long-suffering fans of Manchester City, who last knew what it was to have a superb, trophy-winning team 40 years ago, it is the greatest adventure in the history of soccer.

For more detached observers, it may be the final proof that money can guarantee you almost everything except a coherent, consistently winning football team — at least when it is spent in one great splurge rather than systematic strengthening of an already strong foundation.

In the latest investment of City’s Middle Eastern ownership, the club’s Italian coach Roberto Mancini has lashed out $260 million in an attempt to push the club not only into the top four automatic qualifiers for Champions League action next season but serious contention for the Premier League title.

So far, it is not so promising. Last weekend, City was fortunate not to be beaten by Tottenham, which sneaked into fourth place last season, and it took a late goal from controversial, $40-million signing Martio Balotelli to rescue a 1-0 victory over Romanian team Timisoara in a qualifying tie in the second-tier Europe Cup competition a few days later. Of the latest batch of signings, Serbian full back Aleksandar Kolarov is out for two months with injury and Balotelli, a young player so petulant his previous coach at Internazionale, Jose Mourinho, no less, on several occasions pronounced him ungovernable, came back from Romania with his knee strapped and his first yellow card on his City record.

Balotelli is doubtful for tomorrow night’s collision with Liverpool, a match which will command the rapt attention of all of English football for what it says about what many are firmly convinced is the most reckless, perverse gamble in the history of organized sport.

Mancini insists that the petulant Balotelli is a gift, given his youth and brilliant technical skill. However, others see him as a walking disaster area, someone whose antics include the throwing down of his Internazionale shirt the moment they qualified for last spring’s Champions’ League final, and also walking around the streets in the colours of the club’s greatest rival, AC Milan.

Most old football men believe that City’s overwhelming need is a period of team-growing stability.

It is an ambition that is, however, scorned by the team’s former midfield star Stephen Ireland, who moved to Aston Villa this past week as an $16-million makeweight in a deal that took the $52-million rated England international James Milner in the opposite direction. Ireland, it probably needs to be pointed out, is perhaps not the last word in progressive logic himself.

His career with the Irish national team collapsed when he claimed that he had to return home from the squad at the death of a grandmother. When it was revealed that his grandmother was still alive, he said the investigators had checked on the wrong matriarch. Unfortunately for him, if not his grandmas, it turned out that both of them were still enjoying rude health.

However, Ireland’s service at Manchester City was productive enough.

Impressive effort

A creative player, he rarely gave less than impressive effort as first Mark Hughes, then Mancini, attempted to buy instant success.

Now his verdict on the morale at City could scarcely be more damning.

He says: “Even the youngest professionals are coming in with ($20,000) watches and walking around as if they have played 200 Premier League games. I don’t think loyalty is much to many people at City anymore. The people I grew up playing with, and being coached by, have gone and there are a lot of faces who do not feel that much for Manchester City. Mancini doesn’t really build relationships with players.

“He brought Patrick Vieira from Inter Milan and when I asked the player about his relationship with the coach he said he didn’t really have one — and he’s worked for him seven or eight years. I think that’s the way the coach is. He has everyone a bit on edge.”

Back in head office in the Middle East this may just be considered creative tension. Closer to the action there is a suspicion it might just be the road to expensive ruin.

- James Lawton writes for The Independent in the U.K.


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