Friday, 30 March 2012

Rumour Mill: 1 in, 1 out?

The Daily Mail today gives us 1 'story' and one total 'non-story' but lets run with it! The 'Fail' are reporting that City are going to make a Summer move for Spurs midfielder Luka Modric, and then they are running an altogether more believable story about the end of Nigel De Jong, claiming the writing is on the wall for the Dutch destroyer.

The crux of the Modric story seems to be based on nothing more than here-say, still that probably means its more accurate than about 90% of the other stories in the paper.  The author of the piece has taken direct quotes from the manager (that were interestingly given to The Sun and not to the Mail) and cobbled it together into an article suggesting a move for the Croatian is a near certainty.  To be fair, the Italian's comments are pretty flattering and show clear admiration for the player, but whether it is anything more than that remains to be seen:

"Luka Modric is an outstanding footballer, a great player….He is definitely one of the best in the Premier League….It is by no means easy to get him because he plays for a big club, Tottenham. It is unlikely that they would let him leave...We are lucky to have another great player from these parts in Edin Dzeko….I have worked with quite a few players from these parts — not just Croatians, but Bosnians, Serbs and Montenegrins….I have many friends among them and I am very proud of it….They are really something special and they mostly play with invention and creativity."

Firstly, as with the botched Vieira interview this week, we have no idea what questions were asked to lead to this response, he could have been pressed for his opinions of the player, and he has admittedly given an incredibly glowing report, but does that mean we will be splashing the cash on the midfielder this Summer?

My initial thoughts are no.  Not that he isn't a quality player, but with Nasri, Silva and Yaya Toure who can all set up attacking moves from the middle of the field it just seems an unnecessary signing to me.  As Bob pointed out in his statement, to convince Spurs to sell him would take a huge amount of money, Chelsea supposedly failed with a £40million bid last Summer and since then the he has signed a new deal.  For the money involved we could sign a far better player and probably in a position that we actually need to strengthen, someone who can give us some natural width certainly wouldn't go a miss, Eden Hazard anyone?

Now for the more believable nugget picked out of the Mail back pages.  It regards the future of Nigel 'The Lawnmower' De Jong.  Whilst the same article talks of a bumper pay day for Silva putting him in the top earners bracket alongside Toure and Tevez; it also states that there will be no new offer for the defensive midfielder.  City offered De Jong a deal last Summer but it was rejected, it is believed he has taken advice from Kia Joorabchian, a man who is about as unwanted at City as Fergie.  The rumour goes that Joorabchian made De Jong aware of what others were earning, and this apparently has left the Dutchman keen to earn more.  

The paper claims he decided to hold out for a new deal, something that could be likely, but they go on to say that the initial offer is now no longer on the table, meaning if he isn't sold this Summer he would be able to leave for nothing in 12 months.  I wrote some months ago about how ineffective the 27 year old had looked this season, but it is fair to say that in recent weeks he has started to look back to his old self.  I wondered at the time if it was the stop-start nature of his season that had held him back, he was injured for a while and then came in and out of the team, which to be fair even the best players struggle with.

Now that he is beginning to reach his best again though, I am still unsure as to whether we really need him.  Last season our team was set up to be tight at the back, and NDJ was crucial to that, but this year, with our more offensive style we need ball players and that isn't something that De Jong really has in his game.  Having said that there are not many better 'destroyers' in world football and losing him would be a real shame.

Essentially though money talks, De Jong is no longer a regular starter and he shouldn't be holding the club to ransom in terms of a new wage, a raise sure, but to put him in one of the top brackets would be crazy.  If a deal can't be agreed, then he is a very saleable asset, and in the days of FFP any money we bring in for Nigel can be spent in other areas where we are perhaps more lacking.  So seriously, Hazard??

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Is 4 Points From Chelsea & Stoke a Disaster?

Not for me to be quite honest!  Incredibly short one today, just think once again it needs to be reiterated what we have achieved this season, so here goes.

Firstly it must be noted that overall our form this season has been superb.  It has been so good in fact that on the way to where we are now we have broken a few records and on top of that we have managed to amass a number of points that would have secured the title in every other season.  This though isn't enough for some people and has left them unsatisfied.  I suppose that is down to the fact that for most of the campaign we have been ahead by a few points, not just goal difference, but all things considered we are in a great position, and well on track to meet our seasons points target.

This year though United are looking like they might just pip us to the post and we may not win it, but don't let that make you lose sight as to what we have achieved this season. How many of you expected us to be in the position we are now at the beginning of the campaign?  If you had been offered this points total and goal difference with 8 games to go last August you would have taken it in a flash!  

There are still 24 points to play for, and granted our away form is patchy, but anything could still happen.  Even if we did finish as runners up a few points behind the other lot it does not mean this season has been a disaster in any way shape or form.  The signs are there that in the next couple of years we will be in a position to absolutely blow everyone away, and I am certain that is coming.

Our league position has given us false expectations, taking 4 points from Chelsea and Stoke away is far from a bad return, sure 6 points would have been better, but to come from behind in 2 games to take 4 points I really don't see as any reason for doom and gloom!  Besides it could be worse, we could support Liverpool.....

Friday, 23 March 2012

Searching For A Hero?

David Clayton isn't just one of the big cheeses on the clubs website, (if you happen to be reading this, any chance of a job?!?) as well as the sterling work he does there, he has written a few books about football and some more specifically about City.  One of these, which I can't recommend highly enough, is called "Manchester City's Cult Heroes".  The players selected are not always the most skilful or talented, but the players that have been taken to heart by the supporters, for every Mike Summerbee there is an Andy Morrison and for every Dennis Tueart there is a Paul Dickov; as fans we have always appreciated effort when perhaps technical ability may be lacking.

I read this book last year and it made me think about the current squad, in the present day we have a team crammed with superstars, we have a wealth of talent that we haven't had for a long time or arguably ever had, therefore picking a cult hero should be easy...but in some ways it isn't.  If I was to add a name to the list from the current squad it wouldn't be Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, David Silva or even Mario (OK, so I probably would pick him as well) but first and foremost it would be our biggest warrior Pablo Zabaleta.

Anyone who have I have ever talked football with is aware of how much I rate Zabs, he is, in every way, a cult hero.  I was never sure if it was just me that felt this, but after the superb victory against Chelsea on Wednesday, message boards, Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with talk of Nasri, Yaya and how immense Zabaleta was once again.  There are some players at City that clearly 'understand' what the club is all about, and they know what it means to pull on that shirt, the Argentine defender is one of those people.

The fullback was signed by Mark Hughes, (who should be praised for also bringing Kompany and De Jong to the club) and is now into his 4th season.  In that time he has filled in at a multitude of positions, his versatility has been admirable, right back, left back, right wing, central midfield, I genuinely believe that wherever he is asked to play he would show the same amount of commitment and determination.  This season appearances have been a bit more limited, only starting 18 games so far in all competitions, but refreshingly he has never once moaned about being left out of the team.

I don't think anyone would debate who our first choice right back is, we all know that Micah Richards is a better footballer and probably another cult hero in his own right, but Zabaleta has proven time and time again that he can be relied upon when needed.  His never say die attitude can not be underestimated either, the number of times he has put his body on the line and taken a knock for the cause are innumerable.

I suppose I should actually make a point in this piece as opposed to just droning on about Zaba, my point is that as we move forward and challenge for endless trophies, these are the sorts of players that we need.  People that understand what is required and expected of them, there is always the attraction of the glitz and the glamour and the Robinho's of this world, but I think we are better learning a few lessons from our neighbours and look at players with drive, determination and passion.  

His contract extension recently was fantastic news, he will be around for a few more years and that can only be a good thing.  The guy is a model professional and that is something that can't be underestimated, and if you still aren't totally sold his reaction to winning the FA Cup was fantastic.  The guy for me is a legend and if I was to ever get a name on the back of my shirt, that name would be Zabaleta, so should another edition of 'Cult Heroes' be written, he surely would be one of the new entries! 

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Few Simple Thoughts On Our Management Situation....

= Si!

= Não!

I did say that they were simple thoughts.  Improvement is key in football, this year is so much better than last.  Sure we could end it without a trophy, but would any City fan disagree with the basic fact that we have been so much improved this season.  Each year under Mancini has been significantly better than the last, so who says next time round won't be even better still.

I realise it is only a minority calling for a change in management, and to those people I ask the simple question that I posed last week.  Have you learnt nothing from our own history? Have you learnt nothing from Chelsea's recent past?  Chopping and changing the management simply doesn't work, we have to give Bobby AT LEAST  one more season, so get behind the team, lets enjoy the run in and Forza Mancini!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Rumour Mill: City Add Another Belgian?

Insanely short post today, but potentially an interesting one as it appears another youngster has joined the ranks.  According to the Daily Mail we have completed the signing of a 15 year old Belgian defender, so yes I think you can definitely assume this is one of the future.

Information is scarce on Mathias Bossaerts who is currently at the academy of Anderlecht, but a little digging online revealed these quotes from the Belgian Under 16 coach Bob Browaeys:

“He is one of the biggest talents from his generation....He resembles Vincent Kompany, he is a physically strong and modern defender. I’m not surprised that a club as Manchester City is interested in him.”

Clearly any player likened to Vincent Kompany has a lot to live upto, but if he can develop as expected he could be an excellent addition and will only strengthen us going forward.  With compatriots Boyata and the City captain already on the books he should fit in without any trouble.

We are blessed with several good young defenders, with Dutch starlet Karim Rekik, who arrived last Summer, impressing and midlands boy Reece Wabara close to the first team squad things are looking pretty good in that department, and obviously with FFP in mind this recruitment of young talent is essential to our continued growth as a club.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

We Must Learn From The Mistakes of Others and Our Own History...

A while ago I was cooking something horrifically mundane and I was listening to Radio 5, I am really not into Talksport and their brand of sports 'journalism' and chat, so I spend a lot of time tuning into to Sport on 5.  For those unaware, on a Monday evening, presenter Mark Chapman, journalist Ian McGarry, City hating former Pompey striker Steve Claridge, and John 'Motty' Motson discuss the weekends football stories, this is dubbed 'The Monday Night Club'.  

As I was stirring whatever listless 'delight' was in the pan on the hob, McGarry matter of factly said: 'well obviously if City don't win the league Mancini will be out' or words to that effect.  This was delivered with such an air of authority and confidence that it genuinely bothered me, what made the comments worse was that the other 'pundits' didn't question it, instead it was just glossed over and the conversation continued.  I wondered if McGarry had some kind of inside knowledge, unlikely, or if maybe it was the reasonable action and it was just me that thought it was madness, and then I realised what it was based on, we were being compared to Chelsea, our Abu Dhabi owners were being likened to Roman Abramovich, his attitude of 'no success = no job' was being applied to us.

It is nothing new, there were occasions last season when 4th place was far from a certainty, and when we were toiling against lower league opposition in what at the time looked like being a spectacularly fruitless FA Cup run, during these periods the tabloids would run negative stories about Mancini, the knives were well and truly out.  I do wonder what would have happened had we finished 5th and not picked up the FA Cup, would the Italian still be in charge?  There was a great deal of frustration shown towards him at times, our method of grinding out 1-0 wins throughout the early parts of the campaign was not greeted with over the top enthusiasm by supporters, but he won us over and delivered that famous trophy as well as our highest ever Premier League finish, bettering our 4th place aim and finishing level on points with 2nd place Chelsea.

At this moment in time, I genuinely wouldn't swap Mancini for any other manager in the world.  This season has brought with it the best football that I have ever seen City play, at 27, I suppose that is not overly surprising, but surely it must be getting close to, if not better than what we were producing in our glory days.  Clearly there have been disappointments, the defeat to Manchester United in the FA Cup was a shame, but is still something everyone can hold their heads up high about.  We were perhaps a bit naive in our first Champions League outing, and the manager will obviously have to take some blame for that, but it is a learning experience for everyone, let us not forget we managed more points than our neighbours in a far more difficult group, and the 10 points we did achieve would normally guarantee progress to the knockout rounds.

I was watching Barcelona dismantle Bayer Leverkusen last night in the Champions League, as the goals rattled in, you could see what the Italian coach was trying to achieve.  The Catalan giants are clearly the template that we are trying to use as our inspiration, now I am not saying that we are close to their quality, but you can see that this season our approach to the game is very similar to how they play.  Mancini would never accept the cavalier attitude that they possess defensively, but their style of keeping the ball, dominating possession and grinding the opposition into the ground is definitely something that we have started to do.  Both teams pass and pass and pass, pull the opposition all over the field, pass, pass, pass until space for the killer ball opens up.  The improvement on the last campaign is huge, scoring 5 at White Hart Lane, 6 at Old Trafford, being top of the league for the majority of the season, this is dreamland!

The man behind all of that is Roberto Mancini, he has put us where we are, sure it has taken hundreds of millions to do it, but as Chelsea have proved, without a good manager at the helm, you won't achieve very much, despite how much you spend.  So is Ian McGarry right? Will Mancini be sacked if we fail to lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.  Well as is quite clear from this piece, I sincerely hope he isn't.  I understand that we are in a strong position, but we must recognise that for as great as we have been, our rivals are only just behind us, we have clearly played the best football, but whatever United are doing, it is picking up points.

For me, the most important thing when it comes to judging a manger is improvement, and it is impressive how far we have come over the last 12 months.  Should we finish 2nd, it would really not be the end of the world, should we not win the Europa League it would not be such a big deal.  Sacking Mancini for failing to deliver the league, would be a big error of judgement by those at the top.  Clearly there could be a degree of revisionism, but genuinely at the start of the season I expected us to improve, and I wanted to finish closer to Manchester United, I didn't expect us to win the league, I certainly didn't expect us to play as well as we have, and I would imagine this attitude applies to many City supporters.  So why now should we be disgruntled with our management?

Chelsea have proved on a couple of occasions that sacking the man in charge rarely helps, their decision to bin Carlo Ancelotti was ridiculous, they sacked Scolari after barely giving him a chance, they got rid of Avram Grant despite him guiding them to a Champions League final.  This instability has not helped them, we are progressing well, and we know all too well what chopping and changing the management brings.  Besides if Mancini is to go, do you really want Mourinho in charge at City? REALLY?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Could The One That Got Away Make A Return? I Certainly Hope So...

The academy at City is regarded as one of the best in the country, and understandably so.  If you look back over the years, the amount of Platt Lane graduates still involved in professional football is numerous.  Under the stewardship of Jim Cassell the youth development arm of the club flourished, I am not going to list all of these graduates but there are many of them at all levels of the game.  

Of all the players to come off the Academy conveyor belt the best were clearly Micah Richards, who has made our right back position his own, Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has had a career in the top flight, and the focus of this piece, Daniel Sturridge a striker with the potential to be one of the best in the league.  His departure still bothers me to this day and for a long time I have thought about how much i'd love him back in Manchester.

The striker joined City when he was 13, moving up North from Coventry and straight away he began to make a name for himself.  In his first year he won the Nike Cup (largest under 15's football tournament) with City and in doing so he finished top goalscorer and was named player of the tournament, an accolade he shares with Carlos Tevez.  The following season he fired the club to the final of the FA Youth Cup, at 16, he was the youngest member of the team, but his 4 goals en route to the final in addition to the 2 he scored in defeat to Liverpool secured him a professional contract that came into play when he turned 17.

He played a bit part for a couple of seasons, balancing games for the reserves with first team appearances, mostly from the substitute bench, he was also hampered with injury, but in the 2008-2009 campaign he became an important member of the first team squad making 26 appearances over the course of the season.  It was a great shame that towards the end of that year it had become quite apparent that the youngster would move on, talks over a new contract reached an impasse and he moved to Chelsea, who at the time, looked like winning everything in sight.

Clearly at the time many of us labelled Sturridge greedy, believing he had taken the big pay day (something he has always denied) to go and warm the Stamford Bridge substitute bench, and for a couple of years it looked like a pretty bad move as the games came extremely infrequently.  It is unclear whether the powers that be at Chelsea realised just how talented the forward was, in fact I do wonder if his 6 month loan spell at Bolton for the 2nd half of last season saved his Chelsea career, he notched up an explosive 8 goals in 12 games for the Lancashire club, this really did make people sit up and notice, and for me personally the whole thing was hugely depressing.

If Sturridge had stayed at City I genuinely believe he would be further along in his development than he is now, not to say he is a bad player or that he could possibly fail to meet his potential, but he would have played much more football with us even with the stars we were beginning to sign at the time.  This season the 22 year old is playing an important part in the first team at Stamford Bridge, and the goals are flowing, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he is supposedly getting frustrated at Chelsea.

I do wonder if he now regrets the move, seeing where we are compared to where his new club are.  There is a big chance that AVB or whoever is in charge come the end of the season will miss out on Champions League football, where as we could theoretically end the campaign as Champions, had he stayed, he could have won an FA Cup medal and potentially a Europa League as well as the Championship.  His honours with his current club show 1 league title and 1 FA Cup, and lets be clear his role in these successes were minimal to say the least.

So why is he supposedly frustrated?  Reports in the media claim that he is growing tired of being forced onto the wing to accommodate the misfiring Torres and the ageing Didier Drogba.  I can entirely understand this irritation he is certainly looking like a better prospect than the Spaniard and with the Ivorian in the twilight of his career, surely the England international should be getting more of a go in central areas.

As is probably abundantly clear from this, I have always been a huge fan of Sturridge and I hold my hands up and say that I would love to see him back at Eastlands, granted we let him go for essentially nothing, and to bring him back would cost about £20 million, but look at it this way, he is a proven Premier League goal scorer, if theoretically we are to sign a new forward to replace Tevez or whoever, why should we spend £30 million plus on someone like Cavani or Lavezzi?  I genuinely believe that Studge has the ability to be a top top striker and at only 22, he is exactly the age of player that we should be looking at.

Roberto Mancini has made his feelings clear in the past and again recently he has reiterated that he really admires the player, so is this one a possibility?  I suppose a lot depends on how the season ends for Chelsea and whether the player is willing to swallow his pride and return to the club that made him what he is today.  There is also a doubt as to whether he would be accepted by the Eastlands faithful, but I would welcome him back happily.  Sturridge got away once, but if we have the chance to bring him back, surely we should jump at the opportunity?