IT IS 50 years since Manchester City won the Football League championship with an exciting, free-flowing team coached by one of the game’s great eccentrics, Malcolm Allison. Since then, the club has plummeted and risen, has experienced rebirth, stadium relocation and transformation into a heavily financed marque football institution. They’ve won two titles, but you somehow get the feeling there’s discontent in the blue half of Manchester. There’s an air of underachievement, even though the club have probably never had it so good.
Not only have City got the world’s most sought-after football coach in Pep Guardiola, but they can spend prolifically on talent that everyone else wants. They’ve won five trophies in seven seasons, a haul unmatched in the club’s history – City of the Mercer-Allison era won four in three. In 2016-17, the year they unveiled Guardiola the saviour, City underperformed and looked in need of direction. They’ve won just a single bauble in the last three seasons, and that was the Football League Cup.
Only Chelsea (six) have won more honours in England in the last seven years and City’s quintet is more than Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham combined. But that’s not where City are benchmarking themselves any more; the other heavyweights of European football, Paris St. Germain (11), Barcelona (10), Juventus (9), Bayern Munich (8) and Real Madrid (7) have all spent more money on silver polish.
Guardiola was, of course, allowed a season to acclimatise, but given United won two trophies and Chelsea were champions again, life wasn’t over-comfortable for Pep, especially as City spent some £ 165m on new players in 2016-17. They’ve opened the wallet again in the summer to the tune of almost £200m. The boardroom will be expecting a substantial return in 2017-18 and the fans will recall that, in Manuel Pellegrini’s last campaign, when City finished fourth, won the League Cup and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, it was considered the “bare minimum” by the club’s owners. Guardiola fell short of that last season.
City’s open wallet…
|2017-18||£195m||£42m||£49m Mendy (Monaco)|
|2016-17||£167m||£23m||£47m Stones (Everton)|
|2015-16||£150m||£50m||£55m De Bruyne (Wolfsburg)|
|2014-15||£83m||£25m||£42m Mangala (Porto)|
|2013-14||£91m||£15m||£30m Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk)|
Is it possible that Guardiola will suffer the indignity of being shown the door at the Etihad if things don’t go to plan? Nobody is immune from the taxi in the car park as Jose Mourinho proved at Chelsea in his second stint. The issue is, if Guardiola fails to bring enlightenment as well as silverware to Manchester City, who can satisfy the huge expectations of the club?
To many, Guardiola represented the pinnacle, the world’s most coveted football coach, the cool, pullover-wearing, day-away-from-a-shave hipster on the touchline. How can they possibly better that?
City not only snared the best manager, but their financial clout has brought them two of Monaco’s Ligue 1 title winners, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva. When you consider they’ve also acquired some of the best young talent that became available in Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and John Stones, City are a club that can buy anyone that takes their fancy. Building the “all-stars” is one thing, blending it into a winning combination is an art form.
Their summer spree has been extraordinary even by their standards. Mendy and Silva cost more than £90m. Bizarrely, City have spent around £120m on full backs, with Mendy coming in at £ 49m, Kyle Walker of Tottenham commanding £ 45m and Real Madrid’s Danilo £ 26m – surely unprecedented in global football. With a new goalkeeper, Ederson, arriving from Benfica for £ 35m, Guardiola is clearly trying to reinforce his backline to make sure the stunning football City are capable of producing doesn’t go to waste.
The rumours suggest that Guardiola is succeeding in getting City to ape the style he pioneered at Barcelona. They lost just once in their last 17 games last season and it should be remembered they took part in possible the most engaging 90 minutes in 2016-17 when they beat Monaco 5-3 at the Etihad. They were 15 points off the top spot in the Premier, though, a statistic that will not be forgotten in Abu Dhabi.
Such a margin won’t be tolerated this time around, and Guardiola will have to win something meaningful to avoid any embarrassing conversations. Arguably, City need him to be successful more than Guardiola needs his team to sit atop the Premier. You see, he’s done it all before, while City are still craving that extra bit of credibility that allows them to look Europe’s cream in the eye. In all probability, both parties will be smiling come the end of 2017-18.