Sunday, 27 May 2012

If Hazard Slips The Net, It Could Be Time For Plan B

According to various media outlets the protracted race to sign Belgian wonderkid Eden Hazard could be entering the final straight with City firmly at the back of the pack.  Reports in France, mostly emanating from sporting newspaper L'Equipe have been suggesting for a week or so that the player would only consider a club where he would be an automatic starter, and where he would be guaranteed to play behind a striker, the classic '10' as it were.  Obviously having the strongest squad in the league dictates that outside of Aguero, Yaya Toure, Silva and Kompany we don't have any automatic starters, and Hazard at this moment in time isn't ready to join that elite.  There is also doubt whether he would be utilised solely in a central position due to form of both Toure, Silva and Nasri in those areas.

Those would seemingly be the reasons that we have slipped out of contention, one French journalist on twitter has gone as far as to say that our offer is 'dead'.  The suggestion is that Chelsea have come out of nowhere since winning the Champions League and are close to wrapping up a deal worth £150,000 a week, whilst United are also an option for the 21 year old.

Clearly nothing is set in stone yet, and these reports could boil down to being purely conjecture but if we take them as being accurate one would assume we are looking at other targets.  To be honest I am not totally sure it is an area we do need to strengthen, but if the club deem it necessary, who are the players out there that could be viewed as a backup plan, a fall back if you will.

Younes Belhanda

Belhanda was linked to City a few weeks ago as an alternative to Hazard.  Various newspapers claimed that the Moroccan international had already been identified by the club as the go-to player should a move for the Belgian be unsuccessful.  The 22 year old is in his 3rd season with French club Montpellier, with whom he won the Ligue 1 title this season.  Belhanda can play on either flank or centrally behind a striker and is similar to Hazard in some ways, he has excellent vision and technique, and due to playing as a defender as a teenager he also reads the game incredibly well.  The only stumbling block could be the fact he may want to play in the Champions League with his current club next season, something which is understandable.

Stephane Sessegnon

To be honest this one is way out of left field and took me a bit by surprise, but when I think about it I can see the sense in it.  Today's Mirror is suggesting that we have joined the race alongside Arsenal and Spurs to sign the Benin international.  Before you write him off as not being good enough, just think about it.  With regards to FFP we can't go out spending £30M+ on the very best players, sometimes you have to identify players that would improve you but wouldn't cost the earth, Sess fits into that category.  The 27 year old has given us no end of problems when we have come up against Sunderland and he has threatened many of the top teams, he also has Premier League experience which can be absolutely vital, he may not be a glamorous option be he is a better player than you think and would allow us to spend more money in other areas.

Iker Muniain

Muniain was part of the Athletic Bilbao team that absolutely tore Manchester United apart over both legs of their recent Europa League meeting.  The 19 year old, who has been dubbed 'The Spanish Messi' appears to have all the potential to be an extremely exciting footballer, and could develop into a real great of the game.  At 2 years younger than Hazard, obviously there could be complications with his development, but with his versatility (he can play on either wing or centrally) and the form he has demonstrated this season for Bilbao the signs are very positive, and personally he is a player I would love to see at City, ideally alongside his team mate Javi Martinez.  The other downside with this option is the price, he wouldn't come cheap, and for a 19 year old it could be a massive gamble, but I just can't help but thinking it may be one worth taking.

Gareth Bale

There isn't much you can say about Bale that hasn't been said already, we already know all about his game and what a threat he can be.  Unlike the other suggestions, the Welshman is an out and out winger as opposed to someone that can play through the middle as well, the fact that he can also play at fullback however could mean the end of Aleksandar Kolarov should Bale be the route we go down.  His searing pace and fantastic delivery give him all the markings of a truly top player.  He has been linked to Barcelona and Real Madrid over the course of the season and now that Spurs have been denied Champions League football they could face a fight to hang onto the Welshman.  The downside of a move for Bale would be the price, buying players from the Premier League is obscenely expensive and I reckon it would cost close to £40M to prise him away and for that money I wonder if there might be better options out there.

Lucas Moura

Lucas Moura is a player that some of you may not be too aware of since he isn't plying his trade in Europe.  Currently playing in his native Brazil for Sao Paulo the 19 year old is really making a name for himself as one of the brightest young talents that the country has produced.  Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea have all failed in bids to bring the youngster to Europe, but the failure of the aforementioned club could play into our hands.  It was reported last week that the Stamford Bridge side failed with a bid of £32M, and as a result have gone all out to sign Hazard.  Clearly he is one of the more expensive options and with the history of Brazilians not living upto their potential there is a large element of risk here, but should he develop as expected he could be one of the leading lights of world football, a risk, but could pay huge dividends.

Mario Gotze

Gotze is a player that has seemingly been watched by every top club in the Premier League and it is probably time that we considered a swoop.  For a good few years Manchester United have considered moving for the 19 year old German international but a concrete offer never seemed to materialise.  It is now Arsenal that have seemingly began to show a great deal of interest in the talented youngster.  The midfielder who can play wide and centrally has been an important part of the team that has won 2 consecutive Bundesliga titles and he is believed to be uneasy with the idea of leaving the resurgent Borussia Dortmund, so much so that he recently signed a contract extension that could keep him at the club until 2016.  Either way Gotze is an excellent prospect and will in all likelihood develop into a very top player, he is a long shot, but money does talk and City could be an attractive proposition for the German.

Ezequiel Lavezzi

A name known to all City fans after his exploits in the Champions League this year for Napoli.  Most of the chatter regarding the 2 clubs has been over a move for Edinson Cavani, but the future of Lavezzi is far from clear as well.  The Naples club have missed out on qualification for Europe's top competition and therefore may face a battle to keep there better players.  The all action and committed Lavezzi could soon be on the way, and whilst many expect him to make the move to PSG, City are also rumoured to be interested.  We have quite a collection of Argentines at this point and that would surely be something that would appeal to the 27 year old.  The wideman can be a bit of a hot head and I do wonder whether we need another Argentinian with a questionable temperament but in footballing terms he would definitely be an asset, albeit an expensive one.

I still remain unsure that we actually need a player to work in the same areas as Nasri, Silva and Toure, but the clubs pursuit of Hazard would probably suggest we do.  Personally I would always prefer to see the club go after a younger player and develop them as opposed to bringing in someone in their prime who would obviously cost more money and have less time at the top.  The man for me is Iker Muniain, anyone who has watched much La Liga action this year will have seen the potential the Spaniard has, and should we manage to recruit both him and Martinez I think that would be some excellent player recruitment.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Rumour Mill: City Close In On Spanish Striker?

The dust has barely settled on the events of last Sunday, and already preparations are being put in place for the 2012-2013 season, and the defense of our title (read that sentence again, it sounds good doesn't it?).  

According to the press it is our forward line that could be getting a reshuffle.  Sergio Aguero will remain in all likelihood, and I imagine Mario Balotelli will most likely stay as well, so it is the futures of Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko that remain in the balance.  The pressing rumour today is of a deal being wrapped up for Spain and Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente, a strange decision based on the players we already have.

Llorente is a good striker, in fact he's better than that, he is an excellent striker.  He gave Manchester United no end of trouble in their Europa League meetings, he was a dangerous part of a very skilful attacking unit.  At 6'5 it is pretty easy to see where his strengths lie, he is lethal in the air and has good strength and presence to go along with it; although likening him to Andy Carroll would be doing him a disservice, he is very adept with the ball at his feet, and  with his excellent technique it is no surprise that he is such a regular for Spain, he doesn't appear out of place playing with the World Cup holders.

Spanish tabloid/rag AS are reporting today that a deal is almost done, as with all players in Spain there is a release clause in his contract, the figure in this case is around £29million and the paper claim City are ready to offer this sum to secure his services.  They go as far as to suggest that discussions have already taken place between the club and his brother Chus, who acts as his agent and representative.  

Clearly an expensive deal to finance, but on a player who would certainly be a good performer, my question though is over how necessary he really is?  The report in AS claims that City view Llorente as the perfect partner for Aguero (something which may suggest the end of Tevez in Manchester), so the suggestion being they want to partner Kun, with a powerful tall forward; now I may be wrong but I am pretty certain we have one of those already on our books.  

Even with his vital goal on Sunday, the writing appears to be on the wall for Dzeko.  Gauging by his celebration and enjoyment of victory on Sunday, I would say he has strong feelings for the club, and this would suggest to me that his poorer performances this season have not been down to lack of effort, more a lack of confidence.  A return of 19 goals in 40 games this season is one that would be deemed successful by many, but there are still many doubters over the players ability.  It wasn't just his own performances that were impressive, when he was partnered with Aguero for the opening months of the season, the team were playing their best football, all this suggests to me that we already have the perfect partner for the Argentine, or at least a very good one.

To sell a player with that scoring record, and who scored such a vital goal to win us the title would be a mistake in my eyes, but lets put the Dzeko issue to one side for the time being, what about Llorente?  Well as I say, he is a high quality striker, and would arguably be an upgrade on the Bosnian but at 27 I am not sure he represents value for money when we already have the aforementioned player who has arguably a better scoring record over his career.

Prior to the last 2 campaigns, Llorente has notching up about 11 goals a season, and whilst in more recent years this has improved (18 in 2010-2011 and 17 in 2011-2012) I am still not sure if he is worth the gamble at that price.  I can't help but feel that should we spend £30million on a new striker, it should be on someone different to what we already have.  Cavani would fit the bill nicely or even Robin Van Persie, but for me, as good as Llorente is, i'm not sure he would be that much of an improvement on Dzeko.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Who's Staying? The Striking Conundrum!

Clearly all City fans are focused on one thing this week, and that is the title showdown on Sunday afternoon.  Personally I have spent most of my time thinking about it, my mood veering between supreme confidence and sheer terror as every hour passes.   I am pretty sure everything that could be written about the game has already been done so, and for that reason I am looking at something all together different today.

As the season draws to a close the transfer rumour mill has been going into over drive, and it seems that one of the positions we will strengthen is up front, and for me, that is a bit of a strange notion.  Goals have hardly been hard to come by, and it must surely mean that one or perhaps two of our strikers are on the way out, so today I will be looking at the relative merits of each, and trying to identify which, if any are surplus to requirements and can be improved upon.

Mario Balotelli - 31 Appearances 17 Goals.

To say that the Italian has been at the centre of a few media storms this season would be an understatement.  It has definitely been a year of highs and lows for the 21 year old, and generally it has been an upward trend in terms of behaviour and performance.  Last year he managed 10 goals in 28 games and so clearly he has been more productive in front of goal and there has been indications of an improved work rate as well, that is not to say that all has been positive.  There have still been indiscretions and although he has risen to the bait less often he has still been riled and picked up a few needless red cards.  He played an important part through the Winter months and scored some vital goals, but sadly his efficiency has wained.  There have been other issues as well, City quite simply don't seem as effective when 'Mad Mario' is on the pitch, it is worth noting that the poor spell that Aguero suffered in front of goal coincided with Balo's run in the team.

Season High - 2 goals at Old Trafford, why always him?
Season Low - Dismissal at the Emirates and his resulting dropping from the team.
Chances of Staying - 7/10 - Mancini likes him, and he has been unplayable at times.  There have been signs of improvement this year over last so for that reason he might get one more chance, but should a decent offer come in, we might be tempted to sell.

John Guidetti - 23 Appearances 20 Goals (on loan at Feyenoord)

It looked like the Swedish international was on the way out last Summer, but the promise of a full season out on loan at a top club convinced him to stay, but now we have a guaranteed goal scorer returning to us and he is hungry for games.  Guidetti is an interesting player, I saw him at reserve level numerous times and was never convinced he had enough in his locker to make it at a top club, but his scoring record in Holland is pretty frightening.  One thing to consider is that he has scored a few penalties in that 20, but considering his young age it has undeniably been a highly successful season for the forward.  He is now saying that he will only return to City if he is guaranteed games, and some have suggested he is already too big for his boots.  Whilst he has been impressive, goals in Holland don't always translate to Premier League success, see Samaras, Kezman and Alfonso Alves.

Season High - Scoring 3 hat tricks in successive games
Season Low - Receiving a second yellow  for removing his shirt after scoring a 2nd goal, only for the opposition to immediately equalise.
Chances of Staying - 5/10 - Could go either way really.  The club like to encourage youth, but if he can't be guaranteed game time he could be on his way.

Sergio Aguero - 45 Appearances 29 Goals

It seems crazy now that some pundits suggested that Aguero would struggle in his first season in the Premier League.  Charlie Nicholas went as far as to say he could be the flop of the season, stating that £38million was 'not value for money', right from his first appearance, these fears have been well and truly banished.  The Argentine has been the focal point of our attack line and he will remain the lynch pin for a long time hopefully.  There have been spells where has struggled, these coinciding with Mario Balotelli having a run in the team, but other than that he has scored goals at regular intervals.  One of the most refreshing things about the 23 year old is that he has the right attitude, something that many of the worlds top players do not possess.  His partnership with Edin Dzeko towards the start of the season was extremely fruitful, and now that the Bosnian has been more or less sidelined, he is working well with his compatriot Tevez, identifying the correct partner for Kun is vital and I can only see him continuing to improve.  I just wish he would shoot from distance more often, since when he does, the ball usually ends up in the back of the net!

Season High - That goal at Norwich was an absolute stunner.
Season Low - Nope, can't think of one.
Chances of Staying - 9/10 - There were reports linking him with a move to Real, but to me those seem wide of the mark, he seems happy, his family seem happy and we have no reason to sell!

Edin Dzeko - 39 Appearances 19 Goals

It seems crazy to me that a striker who has notched up 19 goals could be criticised, but that is just how some City fans are.  To be fair the giant Bosnian can frustrate, at times he looks poor, very poor, his touch can let him down, he can look sluggish and sadly disinterested.  At other times however he looks like someone that could be a prolific goalscorer in any league, and at the start of the season that is just how he appeared.  To say that he divides opinion would be an understatement, but one thing that I don't think anyone could question is the fact that the 26 year old is clearly a confidence player.  When he has a run of games he looks twice as effective, even more so when the goals are flowing, but when he comes in and out of the team he struggles somewhat.  Personally I am a fan and think that if we had some decent wingers and provided him with better service he would prosper and become a really strong 'plan b', but I don't deny that at times he does struggle in our set up, Dzeko is a player that comes alive in the penalty area, having to come deep to pick up the ball (which is our bread and butter) isn't really playing to his strengths.

Season High - Scoring 4 at White Hart Lane, his 4th goal was a season highlight.
Season Low - Getting stroppy when substituted in Munich.
Chances of Staying - 3/10 - Personally I would like him to remain, but I just don't see it, he wants to be playing regularly and I can't see that happening at City under the leadership of Mancini.

Carlos Tevez - 10 Appearances 4 Goals

Where to begin with this one?  I suppose the first thing to say is that I think Tevez is our best striker, I dislike him with a passion, but in terms of footballing ability I genuinely believe he is the best we have.  Does that mean he deserves to stay though?  As far as I am concerned, not a chance.  Some may be quick to forgive him for that night in Munich, but that is something I can't bring myself to do.  If that was his only discretion then maybe, but the bottom line is that his actions that night were the latest in a string of incidents that showed no respect for the club or the people that pay his frankly obscene wages.  The undeniable truth though is that he has got us out of somewhat of a hole, his return to the team has coincided with an upturn in performances and I don't think the 2 are unrelated.  His work rate since his 'holiday' are just as high as ever, and he is performing well, but how long will it last?  The cynic in me thinks he only returned on the promise of a quick sale this Summer, but the words coming from player and club suggest different.  I just hope the man that has the final say on the future of Tevez is Roberto Mancini and not the power brokers in Abu Dhabi.

Season High - His hat-trick at Carrow Road was the day he was welcomed back into the hearts of (most) City fans.
Season Low - His refusal to play/warm up in Munich will forever blight him.
Chances of Staying - 6/10 - Part of me believes his return was to bring about a move this Summer, it was beneficial to both parties, but maybe he will finally realise there is nowhere better to be playing?

Emmanuel Adebayor - 35 Appearances 17 Goals (on loan at Tottenham)

The frustration with Manu is that if he consistently demonstrated the application and endeavour he shows when he first joins a club he would be a top top striker, but sadly he can't/won't do that.  Ade and Mancini have seemingly never got along, and there is simply no way back for him at Eastlands.  If we can't find a buyer, another season out on load is a near certainty.

Chances of Staying - 0/10 - There is more chance of Joey Barton signing this Summer.

Roque Santa-Cruz - 21 Appearances 5 Goals (on loan at Betis)

I always felt sorry for RSC; Mark Hughes was desperate to sign him and spent a most ridiculous sum to bring him to City, he was injured pretty much his whole time at the club and he never got going.  When he did play he showed passion and commitment (unlike Adebayor), but he simply wasn't and isn't good enough for us.

Chances of Staying - 0/10 - There is more chance of Joey Barton signing and Jo returning this Summer.

That pretty much rounds off all the strikers available to us, and to be honest we have a wealth of quality options open to us; that is the reason that I am always so surprised to see us being linked with further reinforcements up front.  I think the end is nigh for Edin Dzeko sadly, as much as I would like him to remain I just can't help but feel that the writing is on the wall.  As for Carlos Tevez, well things could go either way on that, and I wouldn't like to make a further prediction on his future.  Should Dzeko leave, and should Guidetti not be deemed good enough for us next season, I suppose we could do with one more forward.  Names in the ring seem to be Robin Van Persie and Napoli man Edinson Cavani.  Personally I prefer the man from Uruguay who has notched up 32 goals this campaign, a deal would be expensive to finance, but seeing whether they would take Adebayor in return could be a good place to start.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rumour Mill: Round Up Of Friday's Press Rubb....Stories

A fair few bits and bobs in the papers today, some of which are worth the time of day, some of which aren't even worth being wrapped around your sausage and chips.  Picking the wheat from the chaff isn't overly difficult in a few of these cases, but lets get on with it.

First up is the ongoing Nigel De Jong saga, Italian sporting website Tuttomercatoweb have tested my language skills (google translator) this morning and are reporting that Liverpool are keen to move for the Dutch destroyer.  In recent months the midfielder has started to get back to where he was last season, but he is still not one of the first names on the teamsheet as he has been in times gone by.  He still offers plenty, but whether he is content to remain a squad player is unclear, and on top of that the issues with his contract still persist.  De Jong has one year remaining on his current deal, an offer was on the table last Summer that was turned down, and it appears that an improved one is not forthcoming.  The Italian sports site reckons that King Kenny (or whoever makes the transfer decisions since the departure of Comolli)  would be prepared to offer around £15million, which to be honest would not be a bad deal considering he could theoretically leave for nothing next Summer.
Personally I would like to see him stay, he is a real fan favourite and has shown total commitment to the cause even during his contract troubles, I am sure a middle ground could be found to tie him down.  As for the Liverpool side of things, whilst De Jong is a top player in that position, it is one area that they already have quality, although he has been out all year Lucas does a very similar job and is an extremely good player so whether anything comes of their supposed interest remains to be seen.

De Jong is actually an important part of the next story as well, although this time he isn't the star! Step forward chimp like Tottenham flying machine Gareth Bale.  This one is splashed across the back page of The Mirror and surely that should tell you all you need to know about its credibility.  As I write this piece, the following quotes are spreading like wildfire on twitter:

"Gareth Bale is a fantastic player. But I don't think he will leave a big team like Tottenham,".

Make of that what you will, is Roberto trying to out 'Redknapp' Harry? The fact is that Gareth Bale probably will leave Spurs (one of many) should they miss out on Champions League football, and I would certainly have him at City....but not for the figures suggested in todays Mirror.  The paper reckon we are going to offer the ridiculous figure of £ Emmanuel Adebayor.....and Adam Johnson.....oh and Nigel De Jong as well.  To be quite honest if we did make that offer, Spurs would be absolute fools to not take it, but to offer that sum of money and then potentially 3 players worth about another 40? No chance!

Now to throw in a quick one before the main event!  Back to our Italian friends Tuttomercatoweb, and the future of Brazilian 'fullback' Dani Alves.  To keep to the point, he won't be joining City this Summer or any time soon.  He has been linked to us numerous times over the past few years, particularly during his protracted contract negotiations with Barcelona, but it is now reported that he wishes to stay in the Catalan capital for a while longer.

I can't see I am overly disappointed personally, we already have one fullback who struggles with the defensive side of his game (Kolarov) and I am not quite sure we need another, besides, with the marauding Micah Richards and the warrior-like Pablo Zabaleta I really don't see that area of the field as one that needs strengthening in the slightest.

Now for the big one...Eden Hazard!  It has been a very eventful few days for the Belgian, and there could now be the biggest indication as to where his future lies, well, at least geographically.  According to the rumour mongering French newspaper L'Equipe the wingers next move will definitely be to England, counting out the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and more precisely, it will be to Manchester...which club though is still unknown.

Allegedly he was at the derby on Monday and more intriguingly there are claims that his people were entertained by the City delegation at the recent Wolves game.  These 2 events have led some in the media to suggest that we are in pole position for his signature, but I doubt it will be as straight forward as that as the United hierarchy are though to be extremely keen on securing him themselves.  Mancini and Vieira have flown to France on a couple of occasions to watch the 21 year old and both are said to have been extremely impressed.  

The decision for the player is relatively simple, he knows should he join City he will be part of a squad, but he will also earn more money and arguably be challenging for more honours, where as at United he is guaranteed to be a starter week in and week out.  The other advantage that we posses is the posse of French speakers we have, as well as the presence of his national captain Vincent Kompany.  Personally I expect the Hazard saga to run and run, but I would be very surprised if he ended up anywhere but Manchester, and if I had to pick, i'd say I can see him holding up the blue shirt in the near future.