Friday, 21 September 2012
Going into this season it seemed pretty clear that Tevez and Aguero was going to be our front line of choice; the understanding they demonstrated at the back end of last season was very impressive, and whilst I wouldn't go as far as to say the return of Tevez propelled us to the Premier League title, it clearly had an impact, regaining a player of that ability would be a boost to any team. Outside of those 2 however things are a bit more unclear.
After Aguero went off early in our first game against Southampton, the 2nd striking spot become up for grabs. It was Edin Dzeko that got the nod on that occasion and he marked it with an important goal, despite this however it was Mario Balotelli that was favoured in the intervening weeks. He started at Anfield and was largely ineffective, in fact when he was replaced by the Bosnian on the hour mark we began to look a lot more threatening. On the back of that Dzeko started the following week at home to QPR, now despite the odd mistake he got on the scoresheet again and went very close on another couple of occasions; despite adding his 2nd goal of the season, it was the goal less Italian that was restored to the starting line up for the trip to Stoke. Again he struggled to make an impact on the game, and even though he was only given a couple of minutes on the pitch, Dzeko was only denied his 3rd goal of the season by a miraculous goal line clearance.
It therefore surprised me going into the Real game on Tuesday evening that people were questioning the absence of Balotelli from the squad. There was only space for 2 forwards on the bench, clearly Aguero was going to make it in case we were really in need of a forward, and therefore I ask why would the Italian be picked over the Bosnian?
I don't want it to appear like I am getting on the back of Mario Balotelli, he has demonstrated that he is a player with huge amounts of potential, and that is the key word, potential, he isn't even close to being the player he can and hopefully will be. After an excellent European Championships where it appeared he had finally thrown away the histrionics, and where he was scoring spectacular goals on a regular basis it was pretty clear that he would begin the season as our 3rd choice, but something now doesn't seem right about that. He simply hasn't made an impact so far this campaign, and granted it is only early days and I am not writing him off, but I do feel it is time for him to sit out a few games while Dzeko is given more of a crack of the whip.
Despite scoring 19 goals last season including one on the final day against QPR, our supporters have never totally taken to Dzeko and he has been openly criticised by some, but yet we have a tendency to worship Balotelli (17 goals) as the 2nd coming. Obviously as supporters we do like Mario because of his antics, he's a story and he is funny, whilst Dzeko is more of an easy target because of his semi regular mistakes on the field and his somewhat questionable technical ability. In terms of a striking comparison though the goal scoring records speak for themselves.
Whatever it is that Mancini doesn't like about Edin I am unsure, he clearly has a very close relationship with Balotelli, but i'd prefer it if he focused on what was best for the team and at this point in time it would be to field Dzeko ahead of the erratic Italian. It is pretty evident that he is a confidence striker, he started last season like a train, but then for no real reason he found himself benched and from that point he never managed to get himself back to his early season form. After he notched his 3rd of the season against Madrid on Tuesday I would find it farcical if he continues to be overlooked.
There are weaknesses to his game I will hold up my hands and admit that; but he scores goals, something that at the moment Balotelli is failing to do. With Aguero's likely return on Sunday, both forwards will be on the bench, but I hope it is Dzeko that gets a 30 minute run out as opposed to Mad Mario because he is quite simply in better form at the moment, and surely that is the crucial factor at this time.
Friday, 14 September 2012
Clearly the USA is a country not limited when it comes to 'mainstream' sport, and football (soccer to those crazy scamps) is not one of them. The game we love falls behind American football, baseball, ice hockey, NASCAR, tiddly winks and competitive chess. In a country where the competition between sports is so strong, it is not surprising that the English Premier League is pretty low on peoples sporting agenda's (in some cases though it may be higher than their own domestic soccer league, but that's a whole different blog post), but that knowledge is out there and with football mad Latin American communities in each major City there is a fan base to attract, it may be minor compared to their top bracket games, but it does exist.
During my time over there, I saw quite a few United, Liverpool, Chelsea and even an Arsenal shirt, but I saw noone representing the English champions. Maybe that is to be expected, we have only recent become big news outside of our own country, but considering we spent 2 consecutive preseasons in the States you would think we should maybe have more to show for it.
That isn't to say there are no Manchester City fans in New York, or the country as a whole, clearly there are, in fact 'The Mad Hatter' bar in the city is recommended for all City fans that find themselves over that way, but when you consider the ties we had to the country with former CEO Garry Cooke coming from Nike, and the trips we did over there I just thought we may have had more of an influence than we seem to have. As with all things though, continued success will clearly spread the word of the club, and these fans and more importantly their money will follow, but I am finding myself begin to wonder if the American market is even one worth pursuing?
As I mentioned, football/soccer just isn't a big deal to mainstream America, sure the Latin population and some of the Afro/Carribean communities prefer it, but if you asked the average man in the street in a small US town to name 3 Premier League teams I suspect it would be a spectacular failure, despite this, numerous clubs every year try to compete with the NFL/NBA/NHL to take some money out of the American public, and over all the years it has only ever really been met with limited success. There comes a time where you wonder if it would be best to write off trying to 'crack' America and focus on other markets, and I wonder if that is what we are beginning to do.
The Summer of 2012 was our first preseason without Garry Cooke at the helm; and with the change in CEO, there was a change in our preseason tour. This year the focus seemed to be more on football as opposed to marketing and that is something that I wholeheartedly buy into. Whereas in the past players have been put through their paces in Los Angeles, this year it was done in a quiet town in the Swiss Alps, the public engagements were gone, and hard work was the focus.
That isn't to say that we didn't do any work trying to spread the brand this Summer, there was a fleeting trip to Asia to play Arsenal and a Malay XI in the birds nest stadium and Kuala Lumpur, clearly this exercise will have aided us and hopefully won us some new supporters, and for me this is a much better use of our time in preseason. People in the far East are crazy about football, where as the majority of Americans are ambivalent. It would be a much easier task to convert kids in China, Thailand and Malaysia into City fans than it is in Milwaukee, Des Moines and Atlanta.
The exposure that the Premier League has in these Asian markets is huge, and although the majority of support is for our rivals due to their success there is still huge opportunities there for us to make the sort of money we need to help meet Financial Fair Play. Clearly this is not an ideal scenario for supporters that we have in other parts of the world, but if we are cynical and view these tours as nothing more than the money making schemes that they are, then surely it is preferable to focus our efforts on markets with easier and slightly more solid gains.
It is undeniable that if a few football teams did 'crack' the US, the financial rewards would be huge, but competing against their major sports, as well as the attitude that the majority of Americans seem to have towards football makes it somewhat of an impossible mission in my mind, where as the gains in Asia would be much easier to achieve and potentially far more rewarding.