Thursday, 31 July 2008

EB/Streymur preview

I'm not used to being this confident before a competitive match. I never usually enjoy cup ties against underdogs (you know why), and obviously I remember Groclin, but somehow I feel different about this. It might just be that the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked in our favour: they're from the Faeroe Islands, it's at 'home', we're 2-0 up; or maybe it's because it's wrapped up with pre-season confidence, and it's Mark Hughes' first game on home soil. But I expect us to win and will be genuinely shocked if I don't. I can't remember when I last felt this. We haven't won a competitive match by a three goal margin for over two years (3-0 against Newcastle, February 2006) but tonight could just be it.

Team selection involves treading a difficult line between complacency and caution, as we focus on the competing goals of both establishing and settling our best eleven and taking a look at those who have not been fully involved so far.

Hughes has suggested that the returning internationals; Elano, Corluka and Fernandes will all play this evening. Michael Johnson, who missed the trip to Hamburg with a knock, should also return. Presumably we will stick with the 2007/08 back four, with a possible start for Kasper Schmeichel behind them. The central midfield partnership is less clear. As we saw against Hamburg, Elano and Fernandes is defective. At least one of Hamann and Johnson is desirable, although Ireland is as good a choice as any other in the central role. I imagine Gelson and Johnson is the most likely pairing, with Elano or Ireland on the right hand side.

I imagine one of the youngsters will play up front: Evans looked lively against Hamburg, although Sturridge and Caicedo also played. I'd rather see two of them (or one and Bianchi), but I fear we'll partner one of them with the seemingly immovable Vassell.

Corluka edged out?

The Times this morning speculates that the signing of Tal Ben Haim could have some nasty consequences, suggesting that "Nedum Onuoha or Vedran Corluka could be surplus to requirements". This is probably not particularly well sourced, but it demonstrates a very real problem for these two.

The reason for this signing seems to be experienced defensive cover for Dunne and Richards - and this is indeed necessary - but City are not a big enough club to sign players of Ben Haim's calibre as merely squad backup, especially if the £50,000 a week figures that have been quoted are accurate. Assuming Ben Haim is not a left back and has first-team assurances,this would lead to a back four of-

Ball---Dunne---Ben Haim---Richards

Richards the future England captain would win the right-back berth over Corluka the laid-back Eriksson signing, which means the future may look bleak for the Croatian. It is of course true that City might play a whole lot more games this year, but the principles of rotation are less prevalent when it comes to a back four.

When Hughes finds his best defence he will stick to it, because all great teams are based on a good defence (last year, no other defenders ever got near Uniteds' Evra/Ferdinand/Vidic/Brown, or Arsenal's Clichy/Toure/Gallas/Sagna, regardless of how many games the team played - only injuries could break this apart). Injuries may hand Corluka a few games, but this may not be enough to stop him from thinking he could do better elsewhere. Unlike Onuoha, who still may see City as the right place for further development of his footballing education, Corluka will probably not settle for anything less than at least 30 league games a year.

Those who witnessed Corluka's horrific mistake at Craven Cottage in September, and then his season-changing slip-up in the reverse fixture in April may be wondering what the fuss is all about. The best right-back in the world, according to Slaven Bilic, or not, he is one of City's most technically gifted players, a rare shaft of quality and composure (albeit with Eriksson-style laziness) in an era that threatens be defined by blood and thunder.

Central midfield could prove his salvation, and with experience in this position last Christmas, combined with impeccable short passing, he seems to fit here quite nicely and may even evolve into a replacement for Hamann. Another solution would be Hughes not buying an energetic midfielder in the Michael Essein role, using Richards in this position and putting Corluka at right back.

Ben Haim signs

At last! The first genuine 'Hughes signing'. He's no Ronaldinho, but he is exactly what we need. Our back line was devastated by injuries last year: we lost to Fulham with a back four of Sun, Ball, Corluka, Elano; and if all goes well we will be playing more games this season than last.

So more defenders are certainly needed. And in Tal Ben Haim, we have someone who certainly fits the bill. Experienced in the Premier League and at international level, and with a 'competitive' edge which we certainly lacked last year. We still need some more midfielders though.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Arrivederci Bernardo

© Grazia Neri

£1.2million, 25 games, 3 goals.

Wednesday morning rumours

  • It seems like we've missed (it's in Spanish, but it says it's a done deal) out on Michael Chretien. No real surprise: his intentions were always clearly with Betis rather than City. And it's not like right back is a real problem position.
  • Someone we were linked with less regularly but who has also gone elsewhere is Roberto Soldado. The Real Madrid striker has sealed a move to Getafe.
  • Nice to hear Hughes actually mention Ben Haim, and transfer policy in general. It doesn't sound like there will be many imminent arrivals, although as long as they come in time I don't mind. Fans are naturally going to want lots of buys very quickly, and Hughes is good enough in the market to know it's ok to take your time to get the best deals. And best to avoid the worst of both worlds when you wait until the dying hours of the window before spending £9million on three league goals worth of strikers.
  • The Daily Mail says we're going to bid £6million for Yossi Benayoun. I think he'd be a good player for that right wing slot, although I don't imagine Liverpool would sell him.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Jô scores in Brazil friendly win

In an Olympics warm up match today, City striker Jô bagged his first ever international goal. Brazil were already 2-0 up against Singapore thanks to goals from Diego and Ronaldinho, before Jô nodded in a cross from Thiago Neves to make it three.

(From the invaluable

Petit set for FC Koln

It's no secret that we need a tough, experienced holding midfielder for next season.

And so I'm a bit disappointed to see Petit (of Portugal and, for the next few hours, Benfica) heading off to Germany to play for FC Koln. Whenever I've seen him in international tournaments or Champions League games I've been impressed.

Isn't he exactly what we're looking for?

I'm sure Hughes and Cook have got many better targets under examination.

Big hitting left backs

I know we haven't signed him yet, but that video of Taiwo smashing the ball around gave me an excuse to post this; from another City left back known for his powerful set pieces.

A bid for Taye Taiwo?

Reports in the Daily Mirror this morning suggest that we're interested in Olympique Marseille's Nigerian left back Taye Taiwo.

Good news. We certainly need a new left back. Because Ball is such a 'no-frills' player, it is assumed that he is competent, which I fear he is not. Garrido is a good footballer, but not near the required standard of a Premier League full-back yet.

Having started his career at Lobi Stars in Nigeria, the nineteen year old Taiwo moved to l'OM in January 2005, to replace Bixente Lizarazu, returning to Bayern Munich for his second spell. He played only four league matches that season, and went off to the FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland that summer. He was one of the stars of the tournament; scoring the winner in the 1-0 defeat of Ukraine in the last 16, a penalty in the quarter-final penalty win over the Dutch, and the first in the 3-0 semi final victory over Morocco. Nigeria lost the final 2-1 to Argentina (captained by another City target, Pablo Zabaleta). Taiwo was named the third best player of the tournament, behind Leo Messi and Jon Obi Mikel.

The 2005/06 season was more settled, as Taiwo made 30 league starts, whilst also spending time in Egypt for the African Cup of Nations, where Nigeria finished third. Although Marseilles finished sixth in Ligue 1, they reached the final of the Coupe de France, where Taiwo played in the 2-1 defeat by Paris St. Germain.

In 2006/07 Taiwo had no international tournament to distract him, and he played every single league match from which he was not suspended (37 out of 38), as Marseilles finished second in the league. There was more cup final heartbreak though, as l'OM lost their second cup final in succession: 5-4 on penalties to FC Sochaux after a 2-2 draw.

Last season was disappointing for Taiwo at both club and international level. Marseilles (for whom Taiwo played 28 league matches) slipped to third in the league, and were knocked out of the cup by the semi-professional USJA Carquefou, from the fifth tier of French football. Whilst Nigeria won only one match out of four at the African Nations Cup, and went home at the last 16 stage. On a personal level, he was selected in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season.

The best news is that Taiwo could be interested in a move to the Premier League. When questioned last week with regard to a rumoured move to Sunderland, he said: "The Premier [League] is the best league in the world. It could anyone's head. You never know."

Here are some clips of him kicking the ball hard.

Lyon in for Milito

City target Diego Milito is being looked at by French champions Lyon, according to Le Dauphiné Libéré.

The French newspaper reports that Bernard Lacombe, a transfer adviser to president Jean-Michel Aulas, is a big fan of the Argentinian striker and a bid is being seriously considered. New manager Claude Puel wants a new striker and Milito is one of the names being looked at, along with Samuel Eto'o and Ricardo Oliveira.

The article claims that Milito will be allowed to leave by the Real Zaragoza management, although the price of the transfer 'could reach €20million' (£15.8million). This is apparently the amount Zaragoza were looking for when City bid for Milito in January, and is €2million (£1.4million) higher than the sum Diario AS suggested would be sufficient in a report earlier this month (read THIS for details).

At the close of the article City are mentioned, however, (along with Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur) as another potential destination for the player.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Missing bullets

It's easy to romanticise the type of player we bought/were linked with under Sven, but today's news that El-Hadji Diouf is moving to Sunderland is quite relieving.

In April an Ian Ladyman piece in the Daily Mail said that Eriksson wanted him and the fee was likely to be in the region of £5million.

But today he is set to join a team to which he is well suited: Roy Keane's Sunderland. A lazy, unpleasant journeyman with a record of sustained mediocrity in the Premier League; Diouf has always been, in essence if not in fact, a Sunderland player.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Hamburg 1 - 0 City reaction

  • Not too bad. The performance was patchy, certainly. We only had one shot on target. But given the quality of the opposition, the stage of our preparations, the weather etc, it was ok.
  • We started very poorly. In a 4-4-2, Fernandes and Elano is simply not a credible partnership in central midfield. They are both good players, but just as Fernandes needs a player more commanding, more authoritative than Elano to play with him, so too does Elano need someone more sensible and more disciplined than Fernandes. Without Hamann or Johnson, our midfield lacks order.
  • When Vassell moved onto the right wing we benefited from the extra man in midfield. Having got nowhere near the ball for the first twenty minutes, we were a bit more competitive in midfield. It also allowed Elano to play further up the pitch, which is obviously a good thing.
  • It's not like we missed Vassell up front. His partnership with Caicedo was as effective as it was always going to be. Caicedo tried manfully when playing the lone frontman role; but the service was never really there. And when he got the ball, the Hamburg centre backs were too good to give him any space.
  • Our best player was Micah Richards. His absence was as significant a cause in our 2008 decline as any other, so it was good to get 90 minutes out of him. I don't think he made a single mistake. Richard Dunne's performance was a microcosm of his performances in general: usually competent, occasionally brilliant, but with enough mistakes to irritate.
  • I don't usually think this but: we really missed Garrido today. The argument for Ball seems to rest solely on his 'competence' versus Garrido's 'adventure', but when Ball is as error-prone as he was today we might as well take the better attacking option. He was repeatedly caught out at the back, whilst Martin Petrov was lonely and isolated out on the left. Petrov didn't look fully fit, but I'm sure he would have looked better with better support.
  • The introduction of the young players was the best bit. Kelvin Etuhu on the right wing looked good: like Ishmael Miller but with a better first touch. Ched Evans managed to show up in the right place a few times - even once in our penalty area to end a Hamburg counter attack. Danny Sturridge didn't do that much, but at least looked active. I imagine at least one of these will be involved on Thursday.

Friday, 25 July 2008

City make late Chretien approach?

Reports in the French press suggest that City are set to approach A.S. Nancy-Lorraine for their 24 year old Moroccan international right back Michael Chretien.

Last weekend reports in both Marca and L'Equipe said that although Chretien was assumed to be on his way to Real Betis for €4million, City maintained an interest and could make a move. The player himself recognised that City were interested but insisted that Betis was still his favoured destination.

Yesterday evening, an article emerged on L'Equipe's website quoting Chretien's agent, Jacques Crouzel, as saying that the move to Betis was to be delayed because of City's interest. City had 'returned to the deal' on Thursday and Nancy now 'awaited their offer'. The article does speculate, however, that 'maybe this is a means of putting pressure on the Spanish club, which is still Chretien's favoured destination'.

Carouzel is then quoted as saying that although Chretien's contract with Betis is more or less done, there remain some negotiations left over the fee: Betis have offered €4m (£3.1m), Nancy want €5m (£3.9m). Although he suggests that the deal could be done within the next 48 hours. Carouzel revealed that Chretien had turned down offers from Panathanaikos and Dinamo Kiev; also saying that despite City's approach, La Liga 'has always been a league that makes him [Chretien] dream'.

Whilst looking for stuff on this story, I came across this article in Marca. I can't really understand, but it seems to be about a complication between Chretien and Betis over the role of a Croatian agent, who allegedly told Chretien that Betis were offering more than they actually were. The article does not mention City, but I guess anything that holds up his move to Betis is good news for us. Any Spanish readers able to translate it?

Thursday, 24 July 2008

More on the 'striker crisis'

Basically, I'm still not convinced it's a crisis.

  • News today that Bozhinov is still not training fully due to a thigh strain and will not reach full fitness for some time yet. This is a blow, but given the number of set backs (he was meant to be back in January, remember) it's not particularly surprising. I still think he will be a big star for City, and hopefully this season, although we may not get to see him quite as soon as he hoped.

  • So this leaves us with Bianchi, Vassell and the youngsters. Mark Hughes suggested today that Evans and Sturridge were quite seriously in his plans for the opening weeks. Apparently Sturridge will play against Hamburg on Saturday, and the manager said of the two of them: "This [youngsters' involvement in the first team] can happen at this stage, these guys have got to train well and play well. When the opportunity presents itself they have to catch my eye, so there are chances for everybody".

  • If the two of them are in Hughes' plans, then we have enough to get through the opening few games: Vassell, Bianchi (if he stays), Evans, Sturridge and then Castillo, Elano and Ireland who can all play just in behind. And after three or four games we'll have Jô, with Benjani and Bozhinov soon following.

  • Therefore: we don't need to panic buy! I wouldn't mind our buying Roque Santa Cruz or Diego Milito, but only because they're good players who would improve the squad, not because we desperately need a new centre forward for the first three matches. And as such we don't need Bellamy and Cissé: because they are bad players (and persons) who would not improve the squad and whose purchase would represent a diversion of resources away from more pressing areas. A long standing Anfield season ticket holder said to me when asked to compare the two: "Do you want to die drowning or burning alive? Both are shite."

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The 'striker crisis'

News that Benjani will be out for some time, coupled with Jo's Olympian absence means that we are now facing a 'striker crisis'.

I'm not sure how true this is. Presuming that Corradi is on his way out, we still have Bianchi, Bozhinov, Vassell, Evans, Sturridge and Caicedo; whilst Elano, Ireland and Castillo can all play as a second striker. There has been talk that those first two names, the Eriksson buys who cost over £14million between them and scored four goals, are on their way out. But Hughes has suggested that Bianchi will stay, and Bozhinov himself has pledged his future to City.

Amongst the youngsters, Evans played at EB/Streymur, whilst Sturridge played three games and scored once in the European U19 Championships. And there is still Vassell.

Bearing in mind that we have three and a half weeks before the trip to Villa Park for Bianchi and Bozhinov to retain full fitness, I'm not sure we really need a new centre forward.

But the media have decided that we do, and so today we've been linked with Djibril Cisse, Roque Santa Cruz and Craig Bellamy.

The Bellamy rumour is in The Independent, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail, Santa Cruz in The Sun and The Daily Mail, whilst the one (seemingly well informed) Djibril Cisse piece is in The Mirror.

In so far as I have an order of preference, it goes Santa Cruz, Cisse and Bellamy. Santa Cruz's record last year was very impressive (19 in 36 in the league, 23 in 42 in all competitions), although I'd rather see £15million spent elsewhere. Djibril Cisse's record is not as bad as his reputation suggests: 94 in 184 French league games, even if he didn't quite make it at Liverpool. I'd certainly rather have him than Bellamy, who has scored 88 in 273 in English league football, or 56 in 189 in the Premier League. These numbers are just about ok, but the damage he'd do to team morale (read his wikipedia entry), would make him net a bad thing I think.

Given that the problems are inherently short term (Jo back in September, Benjani some time later), can't we just get someone on loan?

UPDATE (15.11) I have just inserted a crucial 'not' into the fourth paragraph. Hope it makes more sense now.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Tuesday's rumours

  • The Independent has an article suggesting that Tal Ben Haim will sign in the next day or so. A good buy in a place we need back up, although £60,000/week seems rather absurd.

  • The Sun says we're about to bid £6million for Pablo Zabaleta. We were heavily linked with him in late June, and he seems like a good purchase. I'd rather he was a right winger who can play right back rather than the opposite, for obvious reasons, but it's encouraging either way.
  • Zabaleta is also mentioned in this Manchester Evening News article this morning. More interestingly, though, so is Valencia midfielder Ever Banega. He was bought amidst real hype from Boca Juniors in January, but I guess Valencia are desperate to sell at the moment. He's only five days younger than Micah Richards, but is frequently compared to Fernando Redondo. We don't really need him, but it would be quite a coup.
  • Another Manchester Evening News article reports that Benjani has picked up an injury, thus leaving us with striking problems for the first few weeks of the season. The Olympics mean that Jo will miss the Second Qualifying Round 1st Leg, Aston Villa away and West Ham at home and maybe the second leg match. Presuming Benjani misses those games, we're left with the Italian wantaways, an unfit Bozhinov, an unfit for purpose Vassell and the kids: Caicedo, Sturridge and Evans. It's not ideal but that should be enough, particular with the option of dropping Elano or Ireland in behind a front man (a bit 2007/08, but remember Hughes used Bentley like that often last season). Obviously I'd love us to buy Podolski or Milito anyway, but the situation is not so desperate that money should be diverted away from more pressing priorities.
UPDATE: Pablo Zabaleta and Ever Banega are both in Argentina's Beijing Olympics squad. This means that if we don't sign them in the next fortnight (Argentina open against Cote d'Ivoire on August 7th) then we'd have to do it in the last week of August. If we do sign them, though, we'd lose them for the same amount of time as Jo: the first two league games, the UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 1st leg and probably the 2nd leg.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Accepting Mark Hughes

I am struck by the ease with which I have re-connected with Mark Hughes' Manchester City.

In the weeks leading up to Eriksson's departure, I was distraught. I had emotionally invested more in the 2007/08 team than any other in my time supporting City. Each goal was engraved on my memory - I could conjure them up at will, not just Elano's masterpieces but Bianchi's tap-ins and Vassell's miss-kicks. I felt a real affinity for almost the entire first team squad. For the first time in years, I didn't get a shirt adorned with name and number: I loved Ireland, Fernandes, Corluka and Petrov too much - to get any one of them would be to betray the rest.

This allegiance, not just to Manchester City the club, but to that particular team, formed very quickly. It had been growing from the Boleyn Ground onwards (I was also present at Ashton Gate and Craven Cottage in September, both meaningful in different ways) and by the rout of Newcastle (the best performance since my first game at Maine Road, 5-2 against Spurs in 1994?) it was fully formed. As with many such emotional attachments, once formed it was difficult to dislodge. Even through the dismal second half of the season (I will this week try to write an objective analysis of the Eriksson era), I stuck to my belief that this was a seriously good City team, and the start of something special. So strong was my faith in Sven, that when I learnt he wasn't going to be here for 2008/09 I was devastated.

This all changed, however, with the 8-1. In one humiliating afternoon, the nature of managerial authority was revealed. Having been so undermined by Thaksin, SGE could no longer command the respect of the players. Eriksson had to go. So when he left, my anger was not so much with the act in itself - a very necessary next step - but with the events that preceded and necessitated it. Either way, many of us felt betrayed by the club.

But, just a few weeks later, I have fully re-engaged with Manchester City. Having told myself I wouldn't be able to heavily invest in a City team for some time, I've done exactly that. I was thrilled today to find out that the Hamburg and Milan friendlies are to be shown live on five, and the EB/Streymur game at Oakwell on ITV. I'm hanging desperately to all transfer rumours, no matter how likely their realisation or how underwhelming their target.

Why this change? How have my feelings of anger and betrayal dissipated so quickly?

I suppose it's to some degree a reaction to reality. The fact is the Mark Hughes is our manager, and Sven-Goran Eriksson is not. An argument frequently used against Thaksin is that the club is bigger than any owner. But surely this applies to managers too? Eriksson was not bigger than the club, and our attachment to MCFC extends far back beyond his tenure. To suggest that our support was contingent upon one individual denies our loyalty to MCFC as an institution. So when Hughes took over our loyalty merely transferred to him. But this ignores the real grievance many felt toward the owner himself. A disaffected minority could not be bought off with new management or players, despite what Thaksin might have thought.

I certainly think that the way Garry Cook (the human, or, to be blunt, English face of Thaksin) and Mark Hughes have conducted themselves has impressed people. The signing of Jo, the retaining of Dunne, the attempt for Ronaldinho, and the 'professional attitude' stuff in the press from the German training camp have all made people think that this is a well run club, despite the appearances to the contrary. The possibility of descending into a Hearts style farce has rescinded, although the fact that Thaksin is on trial thousands of miles away rather limits his room for manouevre. In seeing our worst fears not realised, and an effective management structure in place, I feel I can safely re-engage with City without fear of an imminent collapse.

The final reason, maybe, is that time has altered my opinions of Eriksson. As that magical Autumn gets further away, it becomes easier to take the season as a whole. And in those terms, it can only be judged a very qualified success. I will be writing about SGE's record this week, but I think a closer look will reveal a more mixed picture than first expected. And the Hughes emphasis on discipline and fitness reminds us of the failings of the Eriksson era, and presents one very obvious area where the new regime will be better than the old one.

As time has passed, my position has changed. From romanticising Eriksson and claiming genuine discontent, I have moved towards an acceptance that our position is comfortably stronger than I had feared it would be, and even that 2008/09 could prove more successful than 2007/08. Has distance given me a more reasonable viewpoint, or have I been bribed by Jo? Or, ultimately, does Manchester City Football Club transcend all of this: not just players and managers but owners too? Is there anything the club could do to lose our support?

The season starts

I've been away for the last week (thanks very much to Tom for filling in, you'll read more from him in future), but the 2008/09 season has officially started.

Playing in Europe provides a different dynamic to the start of the season. Rather than starting with the drama of opening day, we are eased in slowly over the course of five weeks.

It is the blank slate which makes opening day so meaningful. Anything is possible - and on that first afternoon the great unknowns: which players, and in which formation, are revealed to the fans. Last year at the Boleyn Ground was my most exciting moment as a City fan; the limitless expectations were not simply punctured by opening day but actually extended - something completely novel to me as a City fan.

But this experience: the seasons' plans revealed to us on one sun drenched Saturday afternoon, is to be denied to us this year. Instead, Mark Hughes' great plans are to be unveiled to us piece by tentative piece. Barring a disaster at Oakwell next week, we will have played three competitive matches by the time of our trip to Villa Park in twenty seven days time.

So, rather than the dramatic, sudden re-entry to competitive football, we are to be eased in over time. And the usual build up of anticipation, focussing on one particular August afternoon, is rather misplaced. After the explosive, definitive opening and closing games last year, a more gradual or stable approach won't be so bad.

Michael Chretien

Amongst all the Tal ben Haim and Lucas Neill gossip, news of a move for another full back emerged over the weekend. A less familiar name, this time: AS Nancy's Moroccan right back Michael Chretien (wikipedia article HERE, more detailed stats HERE).

Only recently turned 24, Chretien has been a regular since the 2002/03 season; playing 188 league games since then and scoring nine goals. Eligible for both France and Morocco, he chose to represent the latter at full international level.

This article appeared in Marca on Saturday. It mentions City as one of 'five or six' teams interested in signing Chretien, although it claims that Real Betis are favourites. Betis are apparently close to agreeing a deal of €5million, offering Chretien a four year contract. But the article is clear that no firm offer has been made yet.

The story was then in L'Equipe. Again mentioning Betis (and Sevilla), and suggesting that a €4,5million move to Spain was close, it concluded: "But Manchester City have not yet had their last word."

UPDATE: I somehow missed these actual quotes from Chretien about our interest! Basically, he confirms that we're in for him but says he'd most like to play in Spain.

Friday, 18 July 2008

EB/Streymur 0 - 2 City: Player ratings

Hart: This game should have passed without incident, however his aerial ability, combined with his command of the penalty area, was ultimately poor. Made City fans needlessly worried on at least two occasions. 5

Onuoha: The Setanta commentator picked up on his poor technique, and although the point was exagerrated, Onuoha's passing and crossing was indeed quite poor. May have to move to find first team football, which he will find at some Premier League clubs. 6

Richards: Solid in defence and demonstrated his running power on a number of occasions. 7

Dunne: Equally convincing as Richards, but also equally untested. One minor slip when he was embarassed by a Streymur forward, however will be a regular fixture in the side as he is club captain. 6

Ball: A few nice moments towards the end of the game in the final third was the most we got to see of him. Perhaps Garrido would have linked up better with Petrov but it is difficult to say. 6

Ireland: Shunted out to the right-hand side but often came inside to collect the ball and link up play. Passed the ball well but did not realise his ability to play the killer ball, perhaps due to how deeply Streymur defended. Has the ability to play well in both Europe and the Premier League. 7

Johnson: Produced a fine dummy to free Petrov for the first goal. Attacking influence was sometimes limited as City looked to get crosses into the box. Long-distance shooting was innacurate but he worked hard. 7

Hamann: His first goal for City was worth the wait, but for him much rests upon his fitness. Expect him to be wheeled out for the big European games this year. 7

Petrov: Fiery and direct, Petrov was the perfect foil for Ireland and Hamann's patient interplay. Scored a thunderous goal but equally valuable were his crosses, from which Vassell should have scored at least once. In this style, with this squad, he is without a doubt our dangerman. 8

Jo: Large physique should be useful in the Premier League. Showed good awareness and a nice first touch. Looked slightly off the pace but a week ago most people didn't expect him to be fit to play at all. His fitness will improve and he will look to put himself on the scoresheet at Oakwell, whilst also building up a rapport with the players around him in midfield and attack. 6

Vassell: Probably should have scored twice, with a header hitting the post and a missed "one on one" oppurtunity. The one on one was an embarassment. Vassell's hard work and dependability will forever be admired by managers, but squad player status is appropriate. 6

EB/Streymur 0 - 2 City

  • The first question: should more have been scored? The answer is probably yes, but the scoreline does not reflect the superiority that City showed. It is perhaps true that a few more oppurtunities could have been created, but in truth it would have been naive to expect too much with Jo making his debut and Vassell playing alongside him. Although we perhaps could have created more, it's hard to make complaints - we kept the ball well and Vassell and Evans spurned two easy chances.
  • Bianchi and Garrido's omission casted doubt over their future careers at the club. The fact that Gelson, Elano, Corluka and Benjani were all placed on the bench when they have played internationally this Summer and were said to be used only if necessary means that the first two lie some way down the pecking order.
  • I thought Hamann had a decent game, but he tired and was replaced by Gelson late on. He may well have gone up in Hughes' estimations (and the example of Tugay suggests there is a place for his type of player under Hughes), but could he play with Johnson in a 4-4-2? Hughes' has employed Tugay in the middle of the middle over the years, but less so as he has aged. If Hamann does play, a player of Essein-like levels of fitness is required - the second midfield berth may come down to a matter of running power, and Gelson would win this hands down. Johnson is a great prospect regardless and if we don't sign a midfield enforcer expect these three to be rotated, perhaps along with Ireland, depending on the context of the game.
  • The play was quite heavily concentrated, especially in the first half, down the left flank as the initial tactics seemed to be "get it to Petrov". Ireland, who played on the right, is not this type of player and he often drifted inside. One gets the impression Hughes feels he can only get the best out of his 4-4-2 with a right-sided Petrov, and Ireland, like Elano, is most definitely a square peg in this round hole. One advantage Ireland has over Elano is his ability to be considered for a role in central midfield - if he wants to stay at the club, he may have to reinvent himself there.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

EB/Streymur preview

Of the six players who represented their countries over the summer - Corluka, Fernandes, Elano, Benjani, Caicedo and Sturridge (for England U19's) - only three, Elano, Corluka and Benjani, are in the BBC's squad. The BBC is known to be occasionally a bit slapdash about these things, but this is probably accurate, with Gelson being given extra rest following his participation in Euro 2008. Hughes has previously said it would be unlikely for them to play a role, and if they did, it would be limited. These omissions will mean we might learn slightly less about what Hughes' City might look like from this game as we would have hoped.

It is fair, then, to factor Elano and Benjani out of the running for the starting eleven, along with injured strike duo Corradi and Bojinov (one will be more of a loss than the other). Jo, however, looks as if he may start despite previous concerns over his fitness. If he does, Evans and Bianchi will compete for the remaining striker's spot, assuming Hughes plays 4-4-2.

Indeed, the formation and the remaining personnel desicions are not certain. It largely depends on our approach. If we were still managed by Sven, the idea would surely be to try to outpass them - Hamann's technique over Ireland's running power, Garrido's overlaps over Ball's solidity, perhaps even 4-2-3-1, and other features from 06-07. Hughes may adopt a more pragmatic approach, relying on our base Premier League levels of fitness to overcome the opposition, who are well into their league season. Given that our manager is indeed Hughes, we might see a dogged, get-the-job-done approach, and this possible team (4-4-2):-


Dangerman Mikkjal Thomassen is a key emission for our opponents (according to the Telegraph anyway), and probably the most informed man on this game predicts an easy win. There is still the theoretical possibility of City's two trademarks, losing to awful teams and producing the unexpected, humiliatingly combining, but Hughes' newly installed grit factor should see us through if things get tough.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Ronaldinho signs for Milan

First, to erase the doubts and eliminate the skeptics: It's definitely happened. Don't be fooled by the BBC headline "Ronaldinho to sign for Milan", he is, according to Wikipedia, an AC Milan player, and the Milan official website is littered with information on the Brazilian.

I haven't posted on this since Monday, when I was as optimistic as I had ever been. Perhaps a chronology is in order. My enthusiasm was gradually sapped over the following 48 hours. First came the news that Galliani was in Barcelona on Tuesday to persuade Ronaldinho to move. This was followed by an ominously confident statement from Barcelona's lawyer. On Tuesday evening, the end seemed nigh - Sky Sports News led their 10pm bulletin with news of a humiliating snub. At this point he seemed more likely to make the move to Milan than he ever did to sign for City. Overnight, the Milan website claimed that Ronaldinho was their player. Don't be fooled by the lack of a Jo-type "unveiling" - the body language of the website now is the sort that suggests they have their man.

The Laporta quotes have shown themselves to be merely a reflection of what we already knew - Ronaldinho going to City would, due to the larger transfer fee, have been better for Barca. I suppose that the lesson from this is never to take anything from such a complex story at face value.

City will take plenty of lessons from this. The main one is for Shinawatra and it stares him right in the face - money will only get you so far. This will have told him that however much he offers a player, he must make City an attractive proposition first. The club must walk before it can run, and getting only 4 points off Derby and 1 off Fulham before chasing a world superstar has an appropriate lack of symmetry to it.

I hope that City can bounce back from this, and I think they will. Perhaps Hughes was never confident (his words today were not the reaction of a broken man), and only Thaksin really believed it would happen. Signing Ben Haim or Milito this week would be brilliant - a public showing of how City were in no means distracted by Ronaldinho and were simultaneously chasing a large number of other targets, determined not to miss out on everyone else, regardless of what happened with Ronaldinho. The truth, however, is probably that City have invested a large amount of energy into this deal and will have to regroup before they make their next forays into the transfer market.

The effect of all this on our transfer policy? Well, it may free up some funds, or speed up some transfers we possibly had in the pipeline. One thing is for sure, we didn't need Ronaldinho. He was such a unique player that we looked at him regardless of our squad balance. The truth of the matter is that City have two of the best attacking midfielders outside the top four - Elano and Stephen Ireland. Perhaps these two will blossom in Ronaldinho's absence.

However, this news has not quelled my enthusiasm for the upcoming EB/Streymur game. As a matter of fact, after Tuesday night's disappointment, City have had a good day today. An encouraging Bojinov interview, Corluka's deserved promotion to number 5 and Ched Evans signing a new deal just as the Championship suitors began to hone in.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Georgios Samaras

And so the Manchester City summer clearout continued today, with the announcement that Samaras has signed a three-year deal with Celtic. He didn't attend the training camp in Germany, due to Euro 2008, but his fate was sealed when he made the initial loan move in January. A change in manager did not bring about a change of heart - he is certainly not a "Mark Hughes player".

It seems natural to link this piece with the release of Emile Mpenza earlier this month, but Samaras' circumstances were different. Mpenza was the perfect tonic City needed when he joined the club. He was appropriately gritty for the relegation dogfight of Spring 07-08. He could stand the rigours of the 4-5-1 formation and was well suited for the "poor man's Bolton" football played under Pearce. Served with this oppurtunity, he was able to maximise his potential, writing himself into folklore with just two goals.

Samaras' goal record of 12 in 65 means he can only be seen as a failure, but his circumstances were hardly ideal. His appearance is deceptive and perhaps counted against him. Despite being 1.93 metres tall, he is not the battering ram that many perhaps initially envisaged. His best attributes are control and dribbling, not heading and power, so he was physically not mature for Pearce's football. However, he was also not mentally mature. It was unfortunate for him that City badly needed a goalscorer when they signed him, and the then 21-year-old was thrust into the limelight. Manchester City wanted him to be their 20-goal-a-season man, but what Samaras needed was time to mature - and City could not afford this time when they signed him.

It is perhaps a step too far to put Samaras into the bracket containing Forlan, Veron and Crespo - quality players who just didn't make it in the Premier League - but his talents were certainly not appreciated and this player does have a very good career ahead of him.

People refer to him as a lost cause, but perhaps the phrase "what might have been" better sums him up. Because in the midst of all the irony he provoked, Samaras had moments of brilliance that suggested he really was the rough diamond Pearce had described. Even Arsenal were interested (come to think of it, this club would have been perfect for him and his developing footballing education). And although the jibes made about the quality about the SPL are fair, Celtic are a Champions League team and it looks as if Strachan sees him as a potential heir to Vennegoor of Hesselink.

His reception when the City fans travel up to Parkhead on August the 6th? Well, Samaras has never been taken seriously, and as a result a harsh, bitter reception is unlikely. Most people at City wanted him out anyway.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Laporta quotes

It's difficult to know how significant Joan Laporta's quotes on Ronaldinho are. But they are certainly on a different level to the material we've been given previously. The story is run by BBC Sport - no need to scratch around for something on TribalFootball anymore.

This piece of news is also different to when reports of a £22 million pound bid were cited today in the papers. That could have been a mechanism to force Milan's hand, however Laporta would have no such intentions.

I would like to think that City are playing a dominant role in the negotiations, that the recent return of Hughes and his staff from the German training camp has sped things up somewhat. But City, despite possessing the required financial clout, seem powerless - the only thing to do is hope that Ronaldinho would rather team up with Ireland than Kaka if it means a bigger payday.

And although many who want the deal to go through will see these quotes as a step in the right direction, a quick resolution is still unlikely and there are a fair amount of boxes yet to be ticked.

Sunday, 13 July 2008


The last few hours have produced more movement on Ronaldinho's potential move to City than we have seen since the stories started months ago.

After reports that he would be joining Milan this morning, this afternoon saw claims of a change of heart. It started in Catalan daily Sport, and has since spread across international media: the player will tell Barcelona that he is leaving tomorrow, and unless Galliani comes up with €32million in a matter of hours, he will be coming to City. It is featured, prominently I'm sure, in Monday's Times and Mail.

So we are hours away from what could be the annoucement of the biggest transfer in Premier League, never mind City's history.

Unfortunately for me - but not for you, readers, for if the reports are true you will have more on your minds than the contents of this blog - I am leaving the country tomorrow and will not be back until next Monday (21st). For the intervening period, I hand the reigns over to my brother - so posts will appear as authored by 'TPB' rather than 'JPB'. In my absence, he will guide you transfer speculation and, if he can find a working live stream, the trip to Fortress Torshavn.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ronaldinho latest

Reports in the continental press this morning only further confuse as to the future of Ronaldinho.

Gazzetta dello Sport runs with a big piece claiming that last night Ronaldinho and his agent agreed to a two year deal with AC Milan, paid €6.5million/year (£5.2million/year or £100,000/week).

The issue now is for Milan to agree a fee for the player with Barcelona. According to Gazzetta, Barca have dropped their asking price from €35m (£28m) to €25m (£20m) in hope of forcing through a deal. Thus far Milan have only offered €15m (£12m), but Vice President Adriano Galliani is set to to travel to Barcelona to seal the deal, hoping to exploit the current weakness of Barcelona President Joan Laporta.

Catalan daily Sport has a different angle on recent developments. They claim this morning that so far City are the only club to have made a firm offer, which they put at €32m (£25.6m) - which fits with the prices quoted in the Gazzetta piece. Our situation is therefore the opposite of Milan's: reached an agreement with the club, but still nowhere near finalising anything with the player. Sport describes Ronaldinho's chances of agreeing anything with City as 'not too easy'. City have offered the player €250,000/week (£200,000/week - like Galliani said - double what Milan offered).

The article concludes in what Yahoo Babel Fish seems to suggest is a rather preachy tone. I won't quote it, because the translator results are rather unreadable, and adapting them into English may remove it too far from the original meaning. But the point seemed to be that Ronaldinho is definitely going to leave Barcelona, and it's time for him to start thinking seriously about City. And if Milan are genuinely interested, it's time for them to put an offer on the table which can match City's.

The saga continues.

Friday, 11 July 2008

City back in for Milito!

A big article in Spanish football daily Diario AS says that City have gone back in for Zaragoza striker Diego Milito.

The paper reports that 'in the last few hours' Mark Hughes has contacted Real Zaragoza enquiring the asking price for either a transfer or a season long loan. While the club do not want to sell, apparently an offer of €18million (£14.4million) would be enough to convince them to part with the Argentinian forward who still has three years left on his contract.

The article claims that City intially made a bid in December of €15million(£12m), which was rejected as Zaragoza were looking for €20m (£16m). This fits with something Guillem Balague once said on a 'The Game Podcast' at that time.

But with Zaragoza's relegation to the Segunda Division, the player wants to leave and the club need the money. The only club to have thus far made a formal offer is Napoli, with €12m (£9.6m). AS reports that neither City nor Everton have formally submitted an offer in writing for Milito yet, and that no negotiations can start until they do.

Milito is currently in Argentina attending to a family emergency, but he will fly back on Sunday and start pre-season training on Monday - the same day that his lawyer, Adrian Faija, will discuss his future with Real Zaragoza.

I wrote at some length about Diego Milito's record HERE - he has a very impressive scoring record and would be a great buy.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Roberto Soldado linked again

I wrote on Sunday of a report in Marca saying that despite City's interest in Real Madrid's Roberto Soldado, he was about to sign for Getafe.

A piece in Sport today tells a slightly different story. Apparently, Real Madrid are so desperate for the funds they need to sign Cristiano Ronaldo (which fits with this piece by Guillem Balague), that rather than sell to Getafe they are instead going to look for the highest bidder. The original Marca article put Madrid's asking price at €12million (£9.5million), which apparently Getafe can not quite match.

So as in to today's report, the new list of potential buyers is: "Benfica, Betis, Sampdoria, Manchester City, Olympiakos y Panathanaikos".

It's hard to know quite how seriously to take this. After the events of the last twelve months, and particularly since the start of the Ronaldinho pursuit, City are an easy name for foreign players and agents to drop into transfer rumours. Knowing that we're rich and ambitious, our name can seemingly be invoked by agents to demand higher prices/increased wages for players. So this might just be Soldado's agent trying to wring more money out of Getafe or Real Betis.

But, presuming our interest is genuine, is it well placed? It is possible that we'll need another striker, but it ought to be quite far down the list of priorities since the signing of Jo, and certainly before we ship out Bianchi, Samaras and Corradi.

And is Soldado what we need? I think he's always probably been a talented striker, but one who has yet to find a real home. A highly rated product of the Real Madrid academy (but so was Javier Portillo), he had a great record for Real Madrid Castilla: scoring 19 goals in the Segunda Division in 2005/06, only one behind the eventual top scorer. But never breaking into the first team, he was sent out on loan to Osasuna for 2006/07. He did pretty well: 11 in 21 in La Liga, 12 in 32 in all competitions. But back at Real last year, he failed to make an impact, only starting one league match (and one Champions League game) and is now looking for a new club.

Tal ben Haim!

Thursday's Guardian says we're about to sign Tal Ben Haim. We've been linked with him before, but only at a distance. This, however, seems much more solid. It's a whole article (by Daniel Taylor) stating that we have opened formal negotiations, that 'a source close to the player' says we're favourites to sign him and that the fee is likely to be £5million. Read it HERE.

The reception, on Bluemoon at least, has been rather mixed. Whilst I'm not wildly enthused - I wouldn't get his name on the back of a replica shirt or anything - I do think it's a pretty smart move. Despite starting well last year, our defence was in tatters by the end of the season. Injuries to Micah Richards, Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha left us with a back four against Fulham of Sun, Corluka, Ball and Elano: midfielders at full back and full backs at centre back.

It was clear that we need more defensive cover for this season. Whilst the injury situation last spring is unlikely to recur in that exact form this year, we will, I hope, play another dozen or so matches in the UEFA Cup on top of our 38 league matches. Potential runs in the FA and League Cups makes at least one more defender a necessity.

The need for strengthening is particularly pressing at left back. Javier Garrido may turn into a Premier League quality defender, but he is demonstrably not at that level yet. Michael Ball's level, however, is all too clear. Solid but one-paced, dependable but, ultimately, no better than average, he is no real advance from Ben Thatcher.

The final issue is one of demeanour. Ben Haim is no Baresi - but he is a battler. The best criticism of Eriksson's City team is there was no grit when we needed it most - the draws at Derby and Bolton, the losses at Reading and Birmingham: these are all games a slightly cannier team could have won. Hughes surely knows that, but doesn't quite have the necessary tools at his disposal yet. The addition of Ben Haim could give us that edge we need from time to time.

Yes, I'd love to go back twelve months and force through that deal for Chiellini. But Ben Haim ticks all the boxes: versatile, Premier League experienced, and not afraid to 'use his experience' to his advantage when he needs to. And only £5million represents good enough value for a necessary, if ultimately unglamarous addition to next year's squad.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Wednesday rumours

  • In amongst all the attention on Lampard, Scolari made some rather under reported comments about Ronaldinho yesterday. When asked of the Brazilian forward's future, he responded: "We have some players in that position. I think Ronaldinho goes to another club in England." Is Barcelona's refusing to let him play in the Olympics a sign of their desperation to sell him as quickly as possible?

  • This article in Sport says that although Benfica are favourites to sign Espanyol's Luis Garcia, City, along with Tottenham, are interested. There are a few quotes from the player saying how much he'd like to play with Quique Sanchez Flores, although apparently they are unwilling to pay the €15million (£12million) price tag.
  • The daily rumour round-up in France Football links us with Lens left back Nadir Belhadj. Despite only joining RC Lens in January, he is being suggested likely to move away. For the last few weeks, Celtic and Portsmouth have been the main names in the frame, so it's good to see us in there. For only €4million (£3.2million) he could be just what we need.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Jo to miss start of season!

Bad news this evening: Jo is in the Brazil squad for the Olympics.

This might be exciting for those who need the esteem boost of seeing City players lining up alongside Robinho, Ronaldinho et al (it's not like Elano was at the Copa America or anything...), but given how much we paid for him it's rather frustrating.

The schedule for the tournament is here. Brazil have group matches against Belgium on August 7th, New Zealand on the 10th and then China on the 13th. Presuming they get through (which does not require much of a bold predictive leap) they ought to have a quarter-final on the 16th (against Cameroon or South Korea) and then a semi-final on the 19th - probably against Argentina. The final is on August 23rd.

If the squad have to convene a few days before the Belgium match, Jo is surely out of the Celtic friendly, which takes place on August 6th - the day before Brazil's first game. It is possible that Jo will miss the earlier Stockport County friendly (2nd August), depending on when he has to leave for Beijing. The Milan friendly is next to go - falling the day before the New Zealand match. From here it gets more and more vexing: the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round 1st leg (tempting fate, I know) is Thursday 14th August. Even a shock group stage exit for Brazil will presumably rule Jo out of this. The first league game at Villa Park (either Saturday 16th or Sunday 17th) clashes with the quarter-final. The first home league game, entertaining West Ham, is on the 23rd - the day of the final. Presuming Brazil reach that, there is then a five day gap before the potentially crucial UEFA Cup 2nd leg.

So, presuming Brazil do as well as they ought to, and play the whole length of the tournament, Jo will miss: the two glamour friendlies, the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round 1st leg, and the first two league games! If we can get him back for the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round 2nd leg we will have done well. How frustrating! Hughes (and Cook) may have to take action on this - thousands of City fans certainly will be hoping that they do. But in one of his first interviews at the club, Hughes made comments on the issue of club/country disputes, telling the official website:

"International football is important to the individuals involved ... But from the club manager's point of view, you are selfish on occasions, you'd prefer that they limit their commitments sometimes and come back fit and well, but that's not always an easy task."

So maybe we haven't heard the last of this yet.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Sunday rumours

  • The Sunday Mirror says we're looking at Brad Friedel. Costing £1.5million, he would have a part time coaching role which would eventually become full time. So he would not be a replacement for Joe Hart, but a tutor for him. This strikes me as exactly the sort of thing we ought to do, but until Hart's signed his new deal we shouldn't threaten him with potential rivals. Why be number two at City when he can be number two at Spurs for more money?

  • Gazzetta dello Sport claims that we're still interested in Dejan Stankovic. Inter are desperate to get rid of him (especially if they sign Lampard), as they could receive €10-12million for him, whilst also no longer having to pay his €4million/year - on a deal with three years left to run. There is interest from Juventus, but Inter would rather sell abroad. Apparently Atletico Madrid are favourites, although City and Everton are both in the frame.
  • Marca has a piece about Real Madrid reserve Roberto Soldado. Despite interest from City (and Sampdoria), he's set to sign a three year deal with Getafe, according to Getafe President Angel Torres.
  • The big news about Ronaldinho is an interview AC Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani did with Italian daily La Stampa. When asked about the prospect of Ronaldinho joining Milan on loan, he replies that the player has rejected an offer from Manchester City, which is twice the value of Milan's offer. There are two pieces in the Catalan paper Sport about the potential transfer. This claims that Ronaldinho has demanded €15million tax-free per year. That's £11,870,000 annually, or £228,000 per week. This says that Milan is his much preferred destination, because of the chance to link up with his Brazil teammate Kaka'.

Friday, 4 July 2008

City miss out on French defender swoop

City have missed out on the transfer of French youngster Steve Pinau.

I was searching through the websites of European football newspapers and found this on the Corriere Dello Sport site. Running it through, the story seems pretty clear.

Basically, 'Genoa have just signed Steve Pinau from Monaco. The young defender (born 1988) has signed a five year deal with the rossoblu. He was also being pursued by Manchester City'.

I've since done some digging on Pinau: he was born on 11 March 1988, and came off the bench twice for Monaco last year. I can't really find anything else. But if he's gone to Genoa it doesn't really matter.

On Emile Mpenza

It's easy to get complacent about the club's current status. Splashing out £19million on a Brazilian striker, days away from starting our UEFA Cup campaign, rated 50/50 to sign a former Champions League, World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner and joint sixth favourites (with PaddyPower) to win the Premier League this year: we're a club on the up.

But none of this would be possible without Emile Mpenza. When he arrived in February 2007, we were in a pretty bad situation. Dropping steadily d0wn the league table, we were a team out of sorts. We lacked any real quality going forward: Dickov, Samaras, Corradi and Vassell managed ten league goals between them. Without Distin and Dunne at centre half we would have been losing every match by a cricket score.

The nadir came in early March. On the 3rd, Wigan Athletic came to Eastlands and beat us 1-0, Nicky Weaver failing to come for a cross and being beaten to it by Caleb Folan. The following weekend was our long anticipated FA Cup final at Ewood Park. The league had been going badly but this was our refuge. And we got a disgraceful performance: before the 8-1, the worst of the 2000s. Images of fans abusing players were harrowing. In midweek Chelsea breezed past us 1-0. A Carlos Tevez inspired West Ham were on the up. I thought we were going down.

On March 17th we went to Middlesbrough. Distin put us 1-0 up, (assissted by Mpenza), but it never felt safe. And then with sixteen minutes to go, Barton put in Emile Mpenza, making only his second league start, who put the ball past Schwarzer. 2-0! Not until the 2-1 at OT was I more surprised by a City win. A fortnight later City made a similar trip, to Newcastle United. Another tense game, but with ten minutes left Michael Johnson (his third ever match for City!) slid the ball through to Mpenza. Speeding past Oguchi Onyewu, he slammed the ball into the net. Consecutive wins! Away from home! Confidence regained, five points from the next three games and City were safe.

No Premier League football, no takeover, no Eriksson. But even in the very different atmosphere of 2007/08 he managed to make a contribution. Of his comrades from the Pearce era, Corradi, Samaras and Dickov were loaned out. Rolando Bianchi failed to settle and Valeri Bozhinov broke down. And by only the fourth game of the season, Mpenza, in some ways the archetypal Stuart Pearce player, was making the first eleven again. A goal at Ashton Gate in the Leage Cup was followed by our best string of performances of the season, in late September and early October. We never played better under Eriksson than when Mpenza was leading the line and creating space for Elano to work in. Goals in the 3-3 at Fulham and 3-1 defeat of Newcastle were just rewards for his efforts.

He may not have been the most talented centre forward I've seen in a City shirt. Rosler, Wanchope, Anelka, Quinn and even Fowler were all more able. He was not successful enough to attain the cult status of Goater or Dickov. He scored fewer goals for City than Macken or Huckerby. But in the spring of 2007 we needed a saviour. There was talk of a takeover but no-one would want to buy a debt-ridden Championship club. And without those two wins in the north east, relegation would have been a genuine possibility. And who knows what next. But we stayed up, and you all know the story from here. So, for saving us at that dark moment, and thereby making all that followed possible, Emile Mpenza deserves the thanks and good wishes of City fans everywhere.

Dunne signs!

After months of speculation, Richard Dunne has signed a new four year deal. Just five weeks ago we were confronted with this BBC story, forecasting Dunne's inevitable departure. But now he's signed on until 2012, and is "delighted to be able to stay."

Naturally I'm pleased. To have won four consecutive Player of the Season awards is a fantastic achievement, as is making 257 league appearances (the most since Ian Brightwell?) and almost 300 in all competitions. I am not as much of a Dunne fan as some: I don't think he was our best player last season, or even our best defender. He has bad games (as many as Corluka, fewer than Richards) and when he does the whole team suffers. But that's not nearly the whole point. He's a great leader who has brought Richards on very far in only eighteen months of first team football. Moreover, he's a vital touchstone of stability, the final remaining link with the Keegan, and even Royle eras for a club which has is too often in a state of flux.

And so the signing of Dunne, significant as it is on its own terms, points to something more important. There was a real sense a few months ago that everything would collapse with the departure of Eriksson. He was so popular with the players that they would follow him out of the door, and in 2008/09 we would be relegated with a team made up of academy graduates and aging galacticos. But, just one month after Eriksson's depature, none of this has materialised. No players have left against our wishes, Dunne has signed a new deal, Hart seems likely to do the same - even transfer deals initiated under the old regime (am I right in thinking Jo was originally found by Tord Grip?) have been followed through. Although everything could have collapsed around the departing Eriksson, none of it has. For maintaining this stability, great credit must go to the very impressive Garry Cook. But, even more than that, it ought to go to the man who appointed him: the chairman.

More rumours

I'm not sure how likely we are to have much transfer activity for the next week or so. Mark Hughes is in Germany with the players until next weekend, and is presumably taking a look at which fringe players are worth keeping and which are going to move on. But then it is possible that he's already given Garry Cook a list of players to try for in his absence. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Diego Milito (see here ) was linked with Juventus soon after his lawyer (not his agent) claimed that City had made a bid. But the Juve Director of Sport Alessio Secco has denied any interest, saying: "Juve are not interested in Milito, simply because with Iaquinta, Del Piero, Trezeguet and Amauri our attack is complete". He also made some interesting comments about Fernando Hidalgo, Milito's agent. But if Juventus are not interested then this could still be a real possibility.

More news today concerns Matteo Ferrari. According to his agent, Gianni Corci, "he wants to stay in Italy", although he does admit the interest of foreign clubs. It might be, however, that Hughes is a big fan of Onuoha, Ball and Garrido and doesn't think we need any more defenders anyway.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008


  • Today was a bizarrely news-heavy day for the club. We seemed to fit a fortnight's worth of announcements (kit notwithstanding) into one afternoon. Had our Press Office just been closed for the last few days?

  • Two players' departures from the club were announced. Sun Jihai has gone to Sheffield United and Andreas Isaksson to PSV Eindhoven. Neither player made a number of appearances in keeping with their respective abilities.

  • We're going to be on TV. There has been a deal done with ITV to show our home UEFA Cup games, starting with the EB/Streymun game at Oakwell on 31st July. The Celtic friendly (Wednesday 6th August) will also be on Setanta Sports: they have a list of the pre-season friendlies they're showing here which includes this game but not the AC Milan one, unfortunately.
  • Apparently the first day of training was today. From what I can glean from Hughes' interview on Corluka and Fernandes weren't there because of the Euros and I think Caicedo may also have been given a pass. I'd love to know if Bozhinov was involved: anyone know? The biggest news to come out of it, though, is Stephen Ireland's new hair. It's all gone. See pics here.

  • Slightly more serious: Hughes talked about three other players in the Jo press conference today. Apparently the Richard Dunne deal is 'as good as done' (if I see 'Dunne Deal' in the papers tomorrow I will literally cry), which is obviously a good thing. He may be our third best defender, but he's a great captain and has years of experience at the club. Given the instability at the club for the past twelve months we need people like him around. Joe Hart is not as close to finalisation, but Spurs' purchase of Gomes from PSV, and our allowing the Dutch champions to replace him with Isaksson suggests it's more likely than not. (Is the fact that Johnson is not being discussed in the same way a very good or a very bad thing?). Finally, Hughes dealt with the Ronaldinho issue. I was pleased to hear him talk of the potential deal so enthusiastically (I had feared it was being imposed on him by Thaksin), but I'm still sceptical he'll join us. But this guy knows more than I do about it.

  • Hughes did say that the squad is unbalanced (it is) and needs balancing (it does). But when asked if there was more money to spend after Jo and potentially Ronaldinho, he was rather evasive. Taken together, does this mean that we're going to have to sell to buy? We do really need a right winger, an experienced holding midfielder and someone who can play left back and centre half. And maybe even another centre forward. £3m for Samaras, £2m for Isaksson and even £6m for Bianchi just won't do it.

At last....

Almost one month since Garry Cook's 'expect to see Jo in a week' comments, we have confirmed and unveiled the £19million hitman. I'm really excited. Not merely because it's the biggest buy of the summer so far, and the biggest in our history, but because of the quality of the player before. It is true that any eight figure transfer fee represents a significant risk, but I am sure that Jo is a good investment.

I've already written at length about his record HERE - have a look and see how successful he's already been in his career. One Brazilian league, one Russian league, two Russian Cups and two Russian Super Cups and he's only just turned 21. Unsurprisingly, YouTube is full of footage of Jo, both compilations and highlights of the big games in which Jo has starred. (He's played in two cup finals and two Super Cups and scored in all four games). I've found some of these clips - see HERE and HERE.

Jo has been given the number 14 shirt, which I guess makes Paul Dickov's staying on at the club unlikely. More interestingly, it keeps both the 9 and 10 shirts open for next year. With Emile Mpenza on his way out and Rolando Bianchi also looking for a move, it raises hopes for more striker purchases. Presumably the 10 is being saved for Ronaldinho should he sign, but 9? Even with Jo I still think we could do another experienced forward on the books - ideally Milito but there are others. Another possibility would be the promotion of Valeri Bozhinov from 29 or Benjani from 27 to the number 9 jersey. Whilst ambivalent about Benjani, the possibility of Bozhinov staying and playing next season would, for me at least, feel like a new transfer.

Further to what I've already written about him, Jo's youth is an important thing to consider. Despite his four years of senior football so far and his significant trophy haul, he's younger than many of our 'young' players. Born in March 1987, he's four months younger than Onuoha, roughly seven months younger than both Fernandes and Stephen Ireland and more than one year younger than Corluka. Of the first team squad, Joe Hart is one month younger than his almost namesake, leaving only the 1988 births: Johnson, Richards and Caicedo.

Mail says Jo done deal!

This has just popped up on my Newsnow feed: a Daily Mail piece saying Jo is a done deal.

Jo completed his £18million move to Manchester City yesterday [Tuesday] and prepared to launch a new Eastlands era against part-timers from the Faroe Islands.

The Brazil front-runner will be unveiled today [Wednesday] after City finally received clearance to sign him from CSKA Moscow for £7m upfront, with the rest in instalments.

There are two possible explanations for this.

Either this is the result of the Daily Mail being tipped off by someone inside MCFC that the deal is done, and getting the news out there first. The Mail has a good record with getting City stories right (infinitely better than the Manchester Evening News, whose journalism involves newsnow, google and bad writing), although their City scoops tend to be Ian Ladyman. This piece is by John Edwards. So it's possible.

Or, the Mail think that it's possible Jo will be unveiled Wednesday (let's face it, it is) and have tried to jump the gun on this one. By disguising prediction as inevitability, and hoping that they may be subsequently proved right, they hope to be seen as prophetic tomorrow. And if it doesn't happen, they hope the short memories of Daily Mail readers will get them off the hook.

I've spent the last month desperately refreshing for hope of a signing being announced. And I'm now in the position of relying on the good faith and honesty of the Daily Mail for salvation.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

It's EB/Streymur!

The draw we all feared.....EB/Streymur.

Based in the village of Streymnes (population 201), they are one of the biggest forces in Faeroe Islands football.

As you have all seen on their official website, they're currently running away with the Formuladeildin (the Faeroese League), with 32 points from only 13 games. NSI Runavik, despite winning their last three games on the bounce, are still six points adrift.

EB/Streymur are in the UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round by virtue of finishing second in the 2007 Formuladeildin (which, like the Russian league, runs spring-autumn and so is slightly out of sync with UEFA competitions). They took 54 points from their 27 games, finishing seven points behind their hated rivals NSI Runavik.

The man to watch is surely Arnbjorn T. Hansen, Faeroese international and current top scorer in the league - with 11 of EB/Streymur's 24 goals so far this season. They also have the league's third top scorer, Hans Pauli Samuelsen, but he doesn't have a Wikipedia article for me to link to. The dynamic midfield duo of Marni Djurhuus and Mikkjal Thomassen have thirteen Faeroe Islands caps between them, although Djurhuus is currently on temporary international retirement following a bust up with international coach Jogvan Martin Olsen.

Don't say you haven't been warned.