Sunday, 31 August 2008

Transfer window: 24 hours to go

  • After today's moves, I don't know what else we'll see coming in tomorrow. I think we could still move for another striker - with left back and goalkeeper outside options. Hughes was typically non-commital in his post match interviews. But did seem to leave open the possibility of a deal or two tomorrow (see comments below).
  • The most likely deal to happen is the sale of Vedran Corluka to Spurs. Hughes made his strongest comments yet concerning the likelihood of the deal, and even that he wanted it to go through. "Those things need to be resolved and come to a conclusion. At the end of the day, we are still trying to build the club, trying to bring good players to the club who will make us better." Posters on bluemoon say Charlie threw his shirt into the fans and waved goodbye at the end. But after the events of three weeks ago, I won't believe anything until it's official.
  • I've done some looking for info on Glauber Berti, and have found almost nothing. He made 19, 20 and 12 starts in his three years at FC Nurnberg. Having joined on only a one year deal, I'm not sure how integral a role he will play. Would be nice to see him at Brighton though.
  • Someone who will be playing in Germany this year is Thiago Neves. The money we gave them for Kompany has been used against us - his move is now official.

TLDORC August awards

A new feature for the 2008/09 season: monthly awards. They will be for player, individual performance, and goal of the month.

Just to recap, here are the competitive games we've played this month.

Midtjylland (H) 0-1. (BBC report)
Aston Villa (A) 2-4 (my report and ratings)
West Ham (H) 3-0 (my report and ratings)
Midtjylland (A) 1-0 (won on pens) (my report and ratings)
Sunderland (A) 3-0 (links to reports)

Player of the Month

Steven Ireland

Didn't start at Villa Park, but, along with Danny Sturridge, looked sharp enough in the last ten minutes to force his way into Hughes' plans for the next game. Rewarded with a start on the right against West Ham, where he had one of his best games in a City shirt. Linked up brilliantly with Corluka (who almost won this award), setting up two goals for Elano. Stuck to his task manfully in Denmark, in difficult conditions. Kept his place in the side for the trip to Sunderland, despite the return of SWP. And he scored at the very end of first half stoppage time, and by all accounts played well throughout.

Individual Performance of the Month

Joe Hart vs FC Midtjylland

We've always known Hart had more talent and more bottle than almost any other keeper around, but he's never quite had the stage to really show us until Thursday. Having forced a penalty shoot out, he saved two penalties from the Danish team, send City through to the first round. Also made some very good saves in the 120 minutes of open play.

(YouTube won't let me embed the video, so just click here)

Goal of the Month

Elano's second against West Ham

Corluka and Ireland - the two that Cook tried to sell at the start of the month - combined down the right. Ireland skinned the defender, then put in a perfect pass for Elano to slot home.

UPDATE: Ric at Bluemoon is also doing a Player of the Month thing, but he's got a vote going. Ireland's winning, comfortably. Click here.

Hughes on Jô

Mark Hughes had some very nice things to say about Jô after today's win.

He told Sky Sports:

I thought Jô was excellent today. He led the line really intelligently, showed power when he had to, and he’ll be better because of the performance he put in today. People will start to see what a good player he is now.
And said in his BBC interview:
I was really pleased with his performance. Everybody saw the qualities that he had. He led the line really intelligently, with good power and good strength. Resisted challenges, brought people into the game. We had a real target up there, so we knew when we played up to Jô that the ball would stick. So that encouraged the guys behind him to join in and make things happen.

City 3 - 0 Sunderland

What a result!

I've only seen the goals, but it sounded very satisfactory.

One sign of development from last season is that as this game became a battle, we were willing to compete on those terms. Under Eriksson there were times when a tough game would see us retreat into Arsene Wenger purism - hence the woeful record away from home against bottom half sides.

And as a return for Wright-Phillips it was more than any of us could ever have expected. He's already scored as many Premier League goals as he did in 2006/07 or 2007/08, and two more than he did in 2005/06.

What a week.

Reports: BBC, Sky, Setanta, Manchester Evening News.

Team vs Sunderland

Hart, Corluka, Richards, Dunne, Ball, Wright-Phillips, Johnson, Kompany, Hamann, Ireland, Jo.

Subs: Schmeichel, Ben-Haim, Garrido, Fernandes, Elano, Sturridge, Evans.

(from Sunderland website)

There were some rumours on Bluemoon that Petrov had picked up injury in midweek. Hughes said nothing - but it seems that this is the case (unless Rafa Benitez has realised he's twice the winger Riera is at half the price). Elano is benched after his mini-meltdown on Thursday.

What we're left with is a rather strange looking midfield. The most I can make of it is that we're going to a 4-3-3 with Hamann, Kompany and Johnson in the middle and then SWP and Ireland either side of Jô. It's just about possible we're sticking with the 4-4-1-1, putting Johnson and SWP on the wings and Ireland behind Jô. Yet another possibility involves dropping Kompany into centre half, then having either Richards or Corluka in midfield.

UPDATE: If you find out anything from blues who've made the trip, leave it in the comments.

Transfer window: 34 hours to go

You wait days for one South American defender then two come along at once (sorry).

Late this morning the long anticipated signing of Pablo Zabaleta was confirmed, three days after MCFC activated his release clause by bidding €8million (£6.45m).

But soon later followed the purchase of 25 year old Brazilian centre back Glauber Berti, on a one year deal from Nurnberg. I wrote earlier that there may well be a signing coming from nowhere - like the completely un-rumoured Kompany deal. But this is a real surprise. I don't know anything about Glauber - but I'll try to find something.

Transfer window: 37 hours to go

The big story in this morning's press is that Michael Johnson is due to sign a new five year deal.

It's in the News of the World, The Observer and The Sunday Mirror.

This is obviously good news, but we did see a story saying exactly this ten days ago in The Guardian, and then saw no concrete developments. But the comments from Hughes seem to give this an added authenticity.

No rumours of any other purchases in the sunday press, and no confirmation yet on Zabaleta.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Transfer window: 50 hours to go

A much quieter day than most of us would liked.

The news has not changed from late last night or even Thursday night. Pablo Zabaleta has still not been confirmed, even if everything points to it being a formality.

The only real development today was Mark Hughes giving the Manchester Evening News a few quotes concerning the two potential right back deals. On Zabaleta he said:

"Pablo's obviously here, and we're discussing his situation. We hope that it's going to be concluded. We've got time enough, barring any last-minute hitches. He's of the right quality that we're trying to attract."

This seems to confirm everything we already knew: almost inevitable, but not quite yet.

With regard to the man Zabaleta will be replacing, he said:

"Well, people shouldn't make assumptions. The thing with any team I've been involved in is that I don't allow players to leave unless I feel that the club will become stronger as a consequence. At the end of the day, it will be my decision whether anybody leaves.”

This seems to me an admission that Corluka will probably go. His main point is that the replacement of Corluka with Zabaleta is one based on footballing merit, rather than financial considerations, and as such marks Hughes' dominance over transfer activity rather than Garry Cook's. But if Corluka was to stay even with Zabaleta's arrival, he would surely have said exactly that.

The window was left open, however, to potential future arrivals before Monday night.

"We're in the market for a number of players in a number of positions. How many we're able to conclude before Monday, we'll have to wait and see."

Sunderland preview

Coming at the end of one of the most exciting weeks I can remember as a City fan, confidence must be high for the trip to the Stadium of Light. It started last Sunday with the 3-0 demolition of West Ham at home. After the embarrassment of the first leg loss to Midtjylland and the frustrating defeat at Villa Park, it meant a lot to produce a performance of such courage and verve.

Thursday was, even by the standards of the last twelve months, a day of drama, thrills and potential catastrophe. At lunch time the club confirmed the return of the lost son, Shaun Wright-Phillips, for an undisclosed fee. Short hours later, the second leg against Midtjylland kicked off. We witnessed 89 minutes of terrible, terrible football, so bad that the 2006/07 team would have disowned it with disgust. But in the dying seconds of normal time, Ched Evans headed the ball onto Danny Califf's face, and you all know the rest.

Confidence ought to be high. I wish this would be sufficient to beat Roy Keane's Sunderland, but I think City will be in for a real battle. Even though we won at the Stadium of Light last season (and beat them at home), this is the type of game we didn't do as well in last year as we might: we drew at Derby, Bolton, Fulham and Wigan, and lost at Reading, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City. This is an area in which I imagine we'll see a marked improvement under Hughes.

Sunderland are not a particularly bad team: Diouf, Cisse, Chimbonda, Malbranque, Ferdinand and Gordon are all decent players. And so far this year they've matched Liverpool and lost, then outplayed Spurs at White Hart Lane. If we play like we did on Thursday we've got no chance. But with Kompany and Wright-Phillips on form, we could just come away with the points. For the second consecutive Sunday, I'm going to predict 1-1.

There are some interesting selection dilemmas. I presume Kompany and Wright-Phillips will both come into Thursday's team. Kompany will presumably replace Richards in the middle, who will in turn replace Ben Haim alongside Dunne. It is then possible that Ben Haim could play in either full back slot, especially if Corluka is busy with Damien Comolli and Zabaleta's forms haven't come through yet. Yet another alternative sees Micah at right back for Charlie, and the same Irish/Israeli partnership at centre half we got in midweek.

If SWP starts then surely Stevie Ireland drops to the bench, having been as inhibited on Thursday as he was inventive last Sunday. The final issue concerns Elano's strike partner. Jô did look slightly off the pace in Denmark, but he cannot improve without games. Danny Strurridge impresses me more whenever I see him, but played almost as many minutes as Jô on Thursday and may start from the bench.

Transfer window: 70 hours to go

  • The Zabaleta deal looks as good as done. He's is Manchester agreeing personal terms, according to Sky Sports News. It was all over the net Friday morning and is in quite a few of Saturday's papers (see links below).
  • The presumption is still that Corluka will go to Spurs: it's in The Times' 'Window Watch' for the second day running and in The Independent. This is the logical outcome of the Zabaleta deal, but I'd still like to see some actual evidence, rather than just speculation.
  • In his press conference introducing Wright-Phillips, Hughes seemed to intimate that there would be more signings (and I hope this meant beyond the Zabaleta deal). A centre forward would be nice, but I have almost no idea who it would be.
  • Someone we will not be signing is Thiago Neves. It seems like he's going to Hamburg, and he's quoted in the Brazilian press as saying as much. I've linked to a Google translation of the article, I won't quote from it but the meaning is clear if you click on it. I guess some real news outlets will get their team of translators on it soon. But it looks like we've missed out.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Transfer window: 95 hours to go

I can't wait until it's over. I am enjoying it - today was brilliant, and not just thanks to Joe Hart - but the transfer window isn't good for me. The amount of time I spend on Newsnow, Google News, Bluemoon, ManCityFans (not to mention Bluevibe and Citymancs) is obscene. I agree with what Patrick Barclay wrote in The Sunday Telegraph the other day; that the transfer window ought to shut before the season starts. Football fans have finite energy they can devote to thinking about their clubs, and to have to consider both the success of the team itself and potential changes to the squad is too much. So, with 95 hours to go, what else can we expect from the transfer window?

By far the most likely deal concerns Espanyol's Argentinian right back Pablo Zabaleta. He returned from winning his gold medal this week, and City submitted a bid of €8m (£6.3m) on Wednesday. This triggered his release clause, so if he wants to be playing at CoMS this season, he will be. Thursday's Catalan press said that Zabaleta would hold a press conference on Friday to discuss his future. Presuming this takes place, we should know whether he'll be coming or not by the end of today. But the odds look very much in favour of his joining City.

If this happens, it is being reported that Vedran Corluka may finally complete his move to Spurs. This is in Friday's Times 'Window Watch', and many match reports claim that Corluka's converted penalty would be his last kick for City. Whilst this may be the logical thing for journalists to suggest, I think scepticism is required for the time being. Remember how much media speculation and gossip there was when he didn't move to Spurs? I can see why it's an obvious presumption if and when we sign Zabaleta, but I'm yet to see anything to suggest it's not just conjecture.

The only other transfer seemingly on the cards is Thiago Neves. We've been heavily linked with him for a week or so, but it came out today that Hamburg was his most likely destination. Having signed SWP, our attacking midfield options look pretty strong at the moment, unless Hughes is planning on selling off Ireland. So this one looks unlikely.

Apart from that, nothing else seems likely yet. There is some talk of Michael Ball going to Sunderland, and something on Bluemoon tonight about Thierry Henry. But if the Kompany deal told you anything, it's that transfers can come along with no preceding rumours, and happen when you least expect it...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

SWP signs four year deal

It's a good day when a stoppage time equaliser and penalty shoot-out victory are not the most exciting pieces of news. But today saw something even more exciting, and, looking beyond the last 48 hours, unlikely. The re-signing of the prodigal son, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

So much has happened since he left in the summer of 2005. Two dreadful seasons under Stuart Pearce, the takeover, the Eriksson revolution and eventual fall, and now the rather tumultuous opening of the Hughes era. Watching the footage of his goals against Arsenal, Villa and, of course, United. that Sky Sports News are showing looks feels like looking back at a different age.

Wright-Phillips was a symbol of hope in a more innocent time. Still riding the high of the long march of the Royle era. Before we stared relegation and possible administration in the face (and were saved from it by a man signed from al-Rayyan). Before we took the salvation of Thaksin's cash and the necessary compromises that came with it. Before we tried to sign Ronaldinho. Those Keegan years, and even Pearce's heroic entrance in spring 2005, were the longest sustained period of optimism I can remember as a City fan. And with his pace and trickery, his exuberance and enthusiasm, his all round joie de vivre, Shaun came to symbolise all that was good about Keegan-era City.

He was also the first player to emerge from the MCFC Academy into the first team. ( did a very good feature on SWP in this regard, read it here). It was another few years before we got Joey Barton through (a good player and a credit to the Academy, despite everything else), and some more time again before the current crop who are doing so well. In a team of well travelled stars: Benarbia, Berkovic and Anelka, to name but three, it was heartening to see one of our own shining as brightly as any of these purchases.

So to have him back means an awful lot. Much has changed since he (and MCFC, it must be said) took Abramovich's money. Of the current squad, he only played for City alongside Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha (and, in fact, Danny Mills). When he left Mark Hughes had completed one season as Blackburn manager and Thaksin had just been re-elected in a landslide. But much has stayed the same. He is still an explosive right winger, capable of beating most left backs around. He can still cross and shoot as well as any other English wide player. He's still a lad who was turned away by Forest for being too small so went to City to realise his dream. And he'll still be loved by the City fans, if not even more than before.

City vs FC Midtjylland Player Ratings

Hart. Even before the penalties he was our Man of the Match. Pulled off a few very good saves, including a superb one down to his right early in the first half. From the start of the shoot-out he was clearly relishing it, and after conceding the first two, saved the next. The save from the third penalty was wonderful. The hero of the day. 10

Corluka. Scored the winning penalty with what could conceivably be his last kick as a City player. A good way to go, but his performance was not what it could have been. Caught too far up the pitch too many times, but failed to really provide much incision going forward. Made one good saving tackle. 6

Dunne. Good to have him back. Comfortably our best defender on the night. Won almost every header, and kept close to some lively opposition forwards. A few colossal tackles at crucial moments. And in a game not marked out by the quality of the passing, you can forgive his straight up in the air clearances. 8

Ben Haim. Not as accomplished as the last few matches. Caught out of position at times, and looked rather flustered by the challenge, and in those conditions. No surprise that he was the defender to make way for Richards. 5

Ball. Generally competent and solid, but with two stand out moments. A heroic sliding tackle to prevent Midtjylland going 1-0 up late on in the second half. And the run and cross which Ched Evans headed onto Danny Califf's face. Could the last two games have turned Hughes (and Cook) away from looking for a new left back? Or will he too be off before Monday night? 7

Ireland. After such a confident performance on Sunday, I was hoping for a bit more. Failed to cause genuine problems for a well organised defence. Was muscled out of the game too easily, and when in good positions, did not always produce a good final ball. Today's events in Manchester put his place in serious jeapordy. 6

Richards. Did very well just to be here today, but is not a genuine central midfielder. Full of effort and running, but lacks the touch and nuance to play here much in the future. Defended competently when moved back. 6

. Not a good day out. Failed to impose himself on the Midtjylland midfield, letting their physicality get the better of his undoubted talents. Had a chance to win it for City in extra time and blew it. Then missed his penalty. 4

Petrov. Not as influential as he has been so far this year. Was tightly marked, and only rarely got down the byline. Delivery was not very good, and passed when he should have shot in stoppage time moments after our goal. 5

Elano. Another attacking player who failed to replicate what he did against West Ham. Tried hard in the first half, was probably our most threatening player. Was willing to shoot for goal, unlike some of his team mates. In the second half the close attention got to him, and he went into Bramall Lane mode. Should have been sent off for a headbutt, Hughes did well to get him off. 5

. Tried hard but looked like someone whose only City game had been six weeks ago against EB/Streymur. Never really linked up with Elano as we presumed the two lads from São Paulo would. Will need some patience before we see the best of him. 6


Did an important job well. Made sure we kept possession when the temptation would have been to go long or throw everyone forward. Will do a job for the last thirty minutes of many more games this season, I hope. Took his penalty like a man with 59 German caps ought to. 7

Sturridge Showed glimpses of the fire and flair we expect from him now. Did not find the conditions or the opposition easy, but generally lively and hit one great shot onto the crossbar. 6

Headed the ball onto Danny Califf's face for the goal, and took his penalty beautifully. What more could we ask for? 7

The greatest penalty shootout since Gillingham

  • I thought City, for the ninety minutes at least, were woeful. Everything good about the West Ham performance was gone. Vigour had been replaced by sloth, courage by timidity, precision by fecklessness. To come away with a victory was a smash and grab raid that would embarrass Liverpool.
  • The drama! I can't remember a game as exciting as that for ages. I'm not knocking the great wins of 2007/08, particularly the two derby wins, but the dynamic for those was slightly different. I've just looked through a few years of games on the website, and nothing springs to mind. Maybe the 4-3 at Spurs four and a half years ago?
  • Our solution to the problem of having too many defenders is no solution at all. Richards gave it his all, but simply isn't a top class midfielder. Replacing Corluka with Zabaleta will not solve this. Ben Haim at left back anyone?
  • Having played four UEFA Cup matches so far this season, and not living up to expectations (or, at least, my expectations) in any of them, I'm beginning to think we are not a team constructed to play in the competition. Last year's team maybe. The caution in possession, the lack of bite, the manager who'd won a UEFA Cup and a Cup Winners' Cup. We could, in theory, have done something. But this is a different team. And let's not forget Hughes was embarrassed by Larissa this time last year. I was hopeful of getting as far as Everton or Spurs did last year, but now, I can't see it.

Closing in on SWP and Zabaleta

With four and a half days of the transfer window left, City seem to be closing in on transfers for two right-sided players.

A move for Shaun Wright-Phillips has been very widely reported in Thursday's press. The Mirror, The Times, The Guardian and The Mail all claim that Shaun is having a medical at City today, and will sign a four year deal. The one thing they disagree on is the fee: The Mirror saying £10m, The Guardian £9m and The Times and The Mail £8.5m.

Espanyol's Argentinian right back Pablo Zabaleta should be the next to sign. There's not much about him in the English press today, except for a few lines in The Sun. But the Catalan press is clear that he's coming to City. Both Sport and El Mundo Deportivo carry pieces on him. They both report that MCFC faxed an €8million bid yesterday, thus triggering his release clause. Zabaleta wants a move, and will have a press conference on Friday to say goodbye to the fans. My inital thoughts on losing Charlie to get Zabaleta (is will surely be the case) here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Balague on Zabaleta II

A few hours passed and Guillem Balague comes out with a new post about Pablo Zabaleta. After all the meetings he mentioned this morning, the outcome is that a deal to sell Zabaleta to City is '90% done', and he should be here 'within the next 24 to 48 hours'.

Balague finishes his piece with:
"It has also emerged that, if Zabaleta does complete the move to Manchester City, then fellow defender Vedran Corluka will be given clearance to finalise his on/off transfer to Tottenham Hotspur before the transfer window closes early next week."
Now, I know that I wrote the other day about trusting Hughes if he thinks we should buy Craig Bellamy. He works with these people day in day out, I don't. And it's not just a case of knowledge - his judgement is expert and professional. Nobody pays me millions of pounds for my understanding of football. But. I really really want Corluka to stay! He's one of my favourite players. I went through hell when I thought he was going to Spurs: since then I've been desperately hoping for September 2nd when I can safely shell out £40 for a home shirt with 'CORLUKA 5' on the back.

I'm sure that Hughes knows what he's doing. He knows much more about Vedran Corluka and Pablo Zabaleta than I ever will. I don't even know whether this rumour is true. But, if we have to lose Charlie, I can't pretend I won't be ambivalent about it.

Midtjylland preview

In amongst all the transfer excitement - as I type this Guillem Balague has claimed that Zabaleta is '90%' done and Corluka will be leaving - it is easy not to give sufficient thought to tomorrow's match. But the game in Denmark will be definitive to this season: regarding our schedule, our cashflow and our attractiveness to transfer targets.

I'm moderately confident. We've slowly improved in the past few weeks: poor in the first leg, mixed at Villa Park and then good against West Ham. But I know that we will need to continue this progress tomorrow to get past a well organised side. Sunday's match will have been instructive in terms of teaching patience. Just before Sturridge scored, frustration was growing at our inability to break down inferior opposition. Rather than panic, we trusted our quality and the win came easily.

As Danny at Bitter and Blue wrote, 'the ghosts of Groclin past still lurk ominously'. To have got ourselves into the UEFA Cup this year, to have assembled a squad which may be capable of achieving something in Europe, and then to piss it all away would be a perfect encapsulation of the 'typical City' mentality that Cook is so keen to eradicate.

The team is rather complicated by the return of Richards. Had he been unavailable, Dunne could have replaced him to play alongside Ben Haim at centre back, thus delaying the solution to our surplus of quality defenders. Richards could conceivably be fit and rested, but otherwise we may see either Ben Haim at left back, or Richards himself replace the potentially outgoing Corluka at right back.

Vincent Kompany is ineligible, having not been registered before the tie's first leg. He could be replaced by either Gelson Fernandes or Didi Hamann. The experience of Hamann could be vital, but I fear that, having turned 35 on Wednesday, he does not have the legs for 90 minutes. Perhaps the enthusiasm of Fernandes from the start to ensure a high-tempo opening, giving way to the more patient and subtle Hamann later on? The rest of the midfield: Petrov, Johnson and Ireland ought to stay the same.

We do not know definitively on Jô's fitness yet. Hughes seems inclined to start him if he can, meaning an unfortunate demotion for Danny Sturridge. Elano will surely continue in his second striker role which I feared Hughes would abolish. I understand the wish to pair the Brazilians up front together, but if Jô is not up to speed I see no real point in breaking up the partnership which put three past West Ham.

Balague claims bid for Zabaleta

Guillem Balague, the Catalan transfer oracle, has reported that City have made an €8million (£6.3million) bid for Espanyol's Olympic Gold winning right back Pablo Zabaleta.

"The player, alongside his agent, has a meeting with Espanyol officials in Barcelona today, where City's offer will be discussed. The player has requested that the Barcelona based club listen to offers for him and respect his wishes, and while he has not yet expressed a preference, Manchester City are currently offering higher wages than Juventus, their rivals for his signature."

I imagine this is from the same story as this article in this morning's Sport, a daily paper based in Barcelona. This states that Zabaleta is meeting today with Espanyol Sporting Director Paco Herrera to discuss his future. Zabaleta is aware of interest, although Herrera claims to have received no offers. Any suitable offer would seem likely to see the player depart: his release clause is €8million and he is interested in moving.

This is not the first time we've been linked with Zabaleta. We first saw the rumour over two months ago, on I blogged about Zabaleta HERE. After a quite period of a month, the story re-appeared in The Sun late July. And after another month away, it's back today.

As much as I love transfers, I fear this could signal the departure of Corluka. I'm all for squad depth, but we already have Charlie, Onuoha and Richards who can play right back. Cook made clear in his famous interview that Corluka was not sold because Hughes could not bring in a better replacement (something that completely contradicts Hughes' account). So unless Zabaleta is being brought in to play right midfield (which is not beyond the realms of possibility), this could conceivably re-ignite the Corluka story.

If you want to read what I wrote about Zabaleta two months ago, a bit of back story etc, it's HERE.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

If not Santa Cruz then Bellamy?

With little forewarning, serious reports emerged Tuesday morning that City were in talks with Craig Bellamy. I don't know where these came from: they were very widely reported, but featured no quotes or obvious source. This was a big story in The Independent one month ago, but has not been featured since.

Situations like this are difficult. I'm not a big fan of Bellamy, for both footballing and non-footballing reasons. I've never thought him to be much more than a Welsh Andy Johnson, a centre forward of express pace but average quality, who had one good season but has not been able to reproduce it consistently. His off the field concerns are well documented and require little comment.

However, I'm quite reticent about second guessing Hughes on this. Hughes was Bellamy's manager for the most successful period of his career, having previously managed him at international level. He probably knows more about Craig Bellamy than any other manager in football. As a City fan, my knowledge of Bellamy is pretty much limited to seeing him on Match of the Day. Moreover, Hughes' judgement is expert. Not only was he an extremely successful centre forward as a player, but he is now a successful manager who is paid to, amongst other things, bring in the best available players. His record on signing strikers is good: he bought Santa Cruz (19 in 36) for £3.5m, Benni McCarthy (18 in 36 then, admittedly, 8 in 23) for £2.5m, and Bellamy himself (13 in 27) for £5m. (Statistics only Premier League).

The point I'm trying to make is this: if Hughes thinks Bellamy is right for City, he knows what he's talking about. It's very easy to go on ManCityFans or Bluemoon and voice one's displeasure, but this is certainly an area where thousands of City fans can be wrong. There are men I'd rather see in the shirt than Bellamy, but if the manager really thinks he's worth it, I think he ought to be taken for his word.

Move for SWP reported

There are mounting rumours of a bid for former City star Shaun Wright-Phillips. Tueday's Mail and Guardian both carry reports of a £10million offer.

The articles are consistent on the main points: a formal £10million bid has been lodged for SWP, who is now our main transfer target. Chelsea have already accepted the offer or will inevitably do so, given his place in the Stamford Bridge pecking order.

The sticking point concerns the player's willingness to come back to City. There is presumably an issue of professional pride, as well as an disinclinatoin to move away from the London lifestyle. A possible move to Everton would solve one of these two issues.

Like most City fans, I'd be thrilled at the prospect of having Shaun back. I have very fond memories of his performances in the Keegan era, and feel (as he may) that he has unfinished business at City. On a more rational basis, we're a team in need of a right winger, a mirror image of Petrov. Ireland was fantastic on Sunday, but there are question marks over his future: both at the club and specifically as a wide midfielder.

Sunday's attendance suggests there is a need for the Cook regime to instigate some form of emotional re-engagement between the club and the fans. What better way to do so than to bring back Shaun Wright-Phillips?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Today's Thiago Neves latest

Two of the major Spanish newspapers, Diario AS and El Mundo Deportivo, both cite 'Brazilian reports' as saying that Thiago Neves will sign for City. The headline in Mundo Deportivo is 'In Brazil they say Neves has said 'Ok' to City'.

I'd love to get a decent translation of either or both of them (if you know Spanish do please get in touch), but I'm getting better at deciphering Babel Fish translations so I do have a rough idea of what's been written.

The Brazil squad flew into Paris, and whilst most of the players then flew on to Brazil, those playing in Europe (including, presumably, our boy Jô) did not. Thiago Neves' staying in Europe has been taken as a sign that he will not be returning to play for Fluminese.

The one other club interested is Atletico Madrid. But both articles suggest that their move has hit a 'complication'. Even though City's bid is reportedly less than Atletico's, the decisive factor seems to be the player's willingness to play for City, because of both the glamour of the Premier League and the chance to play alongside Jô and Elano (although Atletico do have two Brazilians of their own, Thiago Motta and Paulo Assuncao).

City close in on Thiago Neves?

One rumour growing in intensity recently concerns Brazilian midfielder Thiago Neves.

The fact that the Vincent Kompany deal was entirely unpredicted suggest that too much time is wasted digesting rumours. And the willingness of the papers to publish anything concerning City recently warrants further caution. But this rumours seems pretty strong.

A story showed up on (and other websites) on Friday, quoting Neves' representatives as saying: "The chances of an agreeement with Manchester City are great, but there are other teams interested".

Today Spanish paper Diario AS wrote that a deal is very likely: City have made a €12million (£9.6m) bid, and despite interest from Hamburg and Atletico Madrid, Neves is eager to play alongside Elano and Jô.

I'm currently drafting a post on Thiago Neves like the ones I did on and Diego Milito. There will be YouTube.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

City vs West Ham player ratings

Hart. Had almost nothing to do. A few good catches. Rolled the ball out to Corluka to get attacks going a lot. Wish I could write more but simply can't think of anything noteworthy. 6

Corluka. We saw the best of him today. His defensive nonchalance can infuriate when it is costly, but against opponents of the calibres of Etherington and Boa Morte it is a joy to watch. Unruffled and in control at the back, he was genuinely penetrative going forward. Took up good positions, retained possession, and twice put through Ireland to set up for Elano. 8

Ben Haim. Once Cole had gone off his only job was to win those long balls aimed at Ashton: and did this quite successfully. Headed Micah Richards once, by mistake. Has the big advantage over Richard Dunne of being consistently able to retain possession. Went on a run almost as good as his one at Villa Park. 7

Richards. Had a few problems with Carlton Cole early doors, but after that stuck to his task (Ashton) well. Looked in complete control before a nasty clash of heads with Ben Haim. Could give Hughes a reason to play Dunne and Ben Haim together on Thursday? A shame he wasn't able to lead the team to victory as captain. 7

Ball. Very competent. Didn't put a foot wrong defensively, and wore the captain's armband when Richards went off. Overlapped Petrov a few times, even executing a lovely nutmeg of Valon Behrami late in the second half. I don't really know why Garrido was dropped after only one game, but am sure Ball did enough to get picked next week. 7

Ireland. One of his best games for City, certainly his best ever playing wide right. His precision was preferred to Etuhu's rather clumsy explosiveness, and rightly so. Linked up with Corluka, Elano and the midfield, drifting inside when he needed to and kept our attacks flowing. Two very good pieces of play to assist Elano, and went close with a few shots of his own. Given the Man of the Match by the stadium announcer. 9

Johnson. An improvement on Villa Park, which was itself better than much of his 2008 form. Formed a very effective partnership with Kompany, not letting Parker and Noble get in the game from the start. Got into the box regularly, and will surely end up with more than two league goals this season. Covered huge amounts of ground: the Hughes/Bowen fitness regime seems to be paying off. 7

Kompany. Imperious. Started in holding midfield, just over fifty hours after signing for us. Strong in the tackle, won even more 50/50 balls than Fernandes does in that role. His big improvement on Gelson though, is technically. Two footed and comfortable on the ball, his range of passing came as a genuine surprise to someone who'd never seen him play before. Moved to centre half when Richards went off, and did his job impeccably. 9

Petrov. As quick and explosive as on one of his good days, if not quite as productive. Comfortably had the beating of Valon Behrami all day, and got to the byline with ease. His crossing wasn't as good as it always is, and his corners were consistently poor. Almost scored a quality free kick in the first half. 7

Elano. The joint top scorer in the league this season! Was playing very high up the pitch: almost level with Sturridge often, even beyond him sometimes. And took his two goals like a serious centre forward. Also dropped to link the play, never quite picking out the perfect pass but producing a few lovely touches. I didn't think he'd get much of a game under Hughes, but seems to be relishing the number 10 role he's been given. 8

Sturridge. There can't have been much between him and Evans in selection, but impressed with his flair and vivacity. Sometimes takes too many touches, but equally uses such moments to get himself out of seemingly impossible situations. Only had one real chance before his goal, which he took very well. Unlucky to be shunted out to the left when Etuhu went off: I would have backed him or Ched to grab another in the last twenty minutes. 8

Hamann. A good move by Hughes, passed the ball very well and kept constant pressure on West Ham. Opportunities will be limited this season by both his competitors and his own fitness, but in situations like today's he is still a real asset to have around. 7

Etuhu and Evans: Kel got injured early on, Ched had a few touches.

City 3 - 0 West Ham

  • Just before Sturridge scored, I was about to turn off the TV and go for a walk. Failing to break down a team you ought to be beating is so frustrating (remember this and this?), and with the Richards injury unsettling everything, it was not enjoyable watching. So for City (and me) to show the patience we did was good. We didn't panic, try anything new: we just kept on playing our football, getting the ball out wide and eventually got what we deserved.
  • As a team performance it was exceptional. We dominated the midfield, moved the ball at pace and generally defended well. Even before Mark Noble was sent off Johnson and Kompany were controlling play, and Dean Ashton was starved of anything more than long balls from the back. When Kompany dropped into defence and Hamann came on we did the same. Choosing Didi ahead of Gelson was a good decision: we needed patience rather than enthusiasm, and he allowed us to keep knocking the ball around, looking for a way in.
  • Garry Cook said, with reference to Corluka and Ireland, "everyone's for sale. If they want to stay at this club they will have to aspire to it." I thought the two of them were fantastic today, both individually and in concert. Charlie was untroubled defensively and incisive going forward. Ireland was busy and tidy throughout. And together they linked up perfectly: for both of Elano's goals and other times besides. Maybe having Cook try to sell them both on the quiet gives them a real bond.
  • It was a shame to lose Etuhu to that hamstring injury. Bringing on him and Evans was a positive move from Hughes. We could have let the game amble to full time, but introducing the youngsters was a good attempt to raise the tempo and maybe even score some more. So when Kel pulled up Sturridge had to move out wide and some of that momentum was lost.
  • West Ham were woeful. Those just reading reports of the match could be led to think that the sending off changed the game. It didn't: we hit the post and the bar while Noble was still on the ptich, and had a few other chances besides. Johnson and Kompany schooled Parker and Noble for forty minutes, and then Parker and Faubert for another fifty. They were unlucky to lose Cole to injury; he gave Richards one or two uncomfortable moments early on. But they had no spark, no drive, no sense of urgency.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

City vs West Ham preview

Mark Hughes' first home league game at Eastlands, and a big one.

The signing of Vincent Kompany, predicted by no-one, has given a much needed optimisim boost going into the match. That news, along with Garry Cook's press interviews yesterday, mean that pessimism that we're about to 'do a Leeds' has slightly dissipated over the last 48 hours. The non-football news still dominates, but it's not quite as consistently bad as it has been this summer.

But I think is going to be a good game. Judged on purely football factors, I still think we're only two or three signings away from mounting a very strong challenge this season. And after the Midtjylland shambles and the loss at Villa, we're due a strong performance.

This is exactly the sort of game we should be winning. West Ham aren't a bad team (there at at least eight or nine worse), but with them wracked by injuries, and at City, three points is a must. And there will be no better way to shed the 'crisis club' tag than to win a few matches.

I imagine we'll keep most of the team that lost at Villa Park. Hart will continue in goal, and I imagine the back four will stay the same. Dunne serves the last game of his suspension, so the only possible change is Ball in for Garrido at left back. But having made his decision to pick Javi, knowing his strengths and weaknesses, I don't see why he'd switch now.

The major variable is the availability or not of Vincent Kompany. If he plays, I imagine he'd replace Gelson Fernandes in the midfield. The stick he's received on Bluemoon has been largely unfair, but we can't expect Gelson to play every game and the addition of an extra body is much needed. Johnson should continue alongside Gelson/Kompany (I can't wait for David Pleat et al to start confusing them when they do play together), with Petrov on the left. Etuhu played ok against Villa, but if he was picked to physically dominate Nicky Shorey he will not be able to do the same to Lucas Neill. Elano should continue in the hole, and Sturridge is the only possible challenge to Evans up front.

West Ham have enough good players: Neill, Ashton, Green, Parker, Upson to cause us problems if they play well. On a good day, we ought to have too much for them. But I'm going to predict 1-1.

The Garry Cook interview

Today's papers are all full of a big interview Garry Cook did yesterday: it's in The Times, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent.

It's very wide ranging and makes fascinating reading. I'd suggest reading at least two of the above accounts, because they don't all pick up on the same points.

The main thing to come out is the news that Thaksin is planning to step down from the Board so that we meet the 'fit and proper person' test. I think Cook is right that the test is no great moral arbiter, but a hoop to jump through, a technicality: and so a solution like this is the best way forward. The fact that Cook claims to be working with Richard Scudamore and Sir Dave Richards on the matter assures that a solution will be found.

Part of such a solution would have to be outside investment, something Cook is confident of attaining. He claims to have had "Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the phone", and to have just met "the second richest man in China", who The Indy claims to be Zhang Jindong, who is interested in investing. Thaksin 'has a lot of rich friends', apparently, who could all put money in.

One of the main targets for this money would be to buy a superstar. "We have talked about the need to sign a superstar, a global franchise entity. We went after Ronaldinho and we nearly got him. We told Mark not to come here if he thought we didn't need a superstar". This is because "Richard Dunne doesn't roll of the tongue in Beijing". This makes rather difficult reading for someone who thinks managers should control transfer policy. We can only hope that whichever superstar Cook tries for next time will get, at the least, tacit approval from Hughes. Because if Hughes tried to turn down a move for Beckham or Ronaldo or Figo I don't know how it would play out in the boardroom.

Another worrying note is Cook's implicit criticism of Corluka and Ireland, and his admission that the club tried to sell them. (I had always hoped that Cook was 'on Hughes' side' on these issues, against the shadowy Thai influence. Standard nativism really, and obviously not true when thought about). Cook said of the deals: "Mark has seen the players that over a long period of time, well, we could probably do better [than Ireland and Corluka]. Mark said he would like to bring a couple of players in for those positions but, when we went out to find these better players and then they didn't come, we were left holding the baby." Now, this may well be true, but it does not fit with the story that this was done entirely behind Hughes' back. And Hughes' comments when Corluka stayed seemed quite positive.

There's so much more I could write about it for hours. Do have a look at a few of the versions of the interview. I don't mind him running City, but I do hope he never gets his hands on the Premier League.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Jô scores twice as Brazil bag bronze

City striker Jô was started today in the Bronze medal match with Belgium, and he rewarded coach Dunga with two goals in a 3-0 win.

The first was an awkward header from close in, early in the second half. In the dying moments he raced clear to slam home his second.

We can only hope this boosts his confidence, as he flies back to Manchester this weekend, poised to lead the line in the crunch match in Denmark next Thursday.

First goal video HERE.

Second goal HERE.

Kompany deal confirmed

City confirm the signing of Vincent Kompany on a four year deal, for an undisclosed fee.

His interview on the official site is good: he seems pretty thoughtful and his English is immaculate. The most interesting development is that he says he will be playing holding midfield:

“I’ve been told that I’m going to play as a defensive midfielder. I like this position a lot so I’m absolutely happy with that. But as I said I can play as a central defender as well and if the job needs to be done there then I can do that as well as anyone else and still bring something to the team, if that's in the interests of the team I will do it as well. It’s up to the coach right now.”

This makes most sense. We may well need a left back, but not yet another centre half. Knowing that he'll start off in midfield means we can ignore those resurrected claims in the Mail that Corluka's move to White Hart Line is back on.

I don't really know how good Kompany actually is. In the last twenty four hours I've had quite a few conversations with friends, always establishing how good he is on Football Manager but never how good he is football. He seems to be immensely talented, but rather injury prone. He made 6 Bundesliga starts in 2006/07 and 18 in 2007/08. 101greatgoals has a helpful article here. There is a YouTube from 101greatgoals below.

The only point I can really make relates to his experience. He has played in the Champions League for both Anderlecht and Hamburg and has 23 full caps for Belgium. He won Belgian Footballer of the Year 2004/05, Young Player of the Year 2003/04 and 2004/05, and the Golden Shoe for 2004. And, born in April 1986, he's two months younger than Corluka, and only a few months older than Ireland and Fernandes.

Marca reports City bid for Milito

Spanish sport daily Marca has reported today that City have made a €12.5million (£10m) bid for Diego Milito.

Whilst that piece of information may well have been gleaned from the British press, there is enough within the article to suggest that a move is a real possibility.

I've linked to the original (in Spanish), but stick by my policy of quoting neither my very approximate translation nor the gibberish you get from Yahoo Babel Fish translator. But this seems to be the main points.

  • Real Zaragoza are desperate to sell. The manager Marcelino wants to have at least four more signings by the close of the transfer window.
  • They will have to get rid of some forwards. As well as Milito, they have Ricardo Oliveira, Sergio Garcia, Braulio and Ewerthon. And they have just signed Arizmendi from Valencia. These players are competing for two or three positions. So Milito and Sergio Garcia are likely to be sold.
  • City's bid comes close to their estimation of €15million (£12m). Zaragoza's biggest shareholder, Agapito Iglesias, promised Milito that he would be sold this summer. And they will not be able to afford his wages next year: €3million/year, or roughly £46,000/week.
I simply have no idea whether this is new information Marca have got, or whether it's been cobbled together from what they've read in the English press about a £10m bid and what they already knew about the situation at Zaragoza. It is interesting to contrast it with a piece in Diario AS six weeks ago. This stated that City were interested, but would have to offer €18m (£14.4m) to buy Milito. A bid of €12m (£9.6m) was already in (from Napoli), which was insufficient.

The 'Big Name Buy' story is back

Exactly five months ago, an article in The Times said that Thaksin had demanded that City make a Big Name Buy to fill the stadium. I was originally quite sceptical, given that it was transfer policy driven by non-football considerations; obviously a bad thing.

Guillem Balague subsequently reported on a podcast that Eriksson had been allocated £30million to spend on such a player (and was looking at Berbatov, Milito and Benzema), although the story progressed inexorably towards Ronaldinho. And we all know how that turned out.

But today the story is back. An article in The Guardian this morning says that Thaksin and Cook are looking for a 'box office signing' to 'take the club to another level'. The name mentioned in particular is Thierry Henry, who is no less plausible than other big name stars linked with us in the past. In one sense it's exciting, but we've already had our fingers burnt. Can't we just trust Hughes with transfers? He has quite a good record.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

City alleged to have signed Vincent Kompany

Just in the last hour or so, it has come out that City are apparently signing Belgian 22 year old defender Vincent Kompany from Hamburg.

This started on the Hamburg website, with a news story saying that he was signing for City and that the club wish the player the best of luck with his future.

Having originally been reported as a done deal, the reporting now is of Hamburg's claim that the deal has gone through, as there has been no confirmation from City. See this BBC piece, which says that MCFC have 'refused to comment' on the story, or this from Sky Sports which again reports the Hamburg announcement as the story.

I'm not believing anything until I see it on

UPDATE (Friday, 00.11)

There is an article on Friday morning's Independent by Jason Burt. I don't know what his record is on City knowledge, but he claims that Kompany flew in to Manchester on Thursday night, will undergo a medical today and sign a four year deal. And if all goes to plan he will be in the squad for the West Ham match. Does anyone know what Jason Burt's record is like on City stories in the past?

PS That article says that City have bid £10million for Diego Milito, something which showed up in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and The Telegraph. Did all these reports come from the same source?

Guardian claims Johnson signs today

The Guardian's article on City this morning claims that Michael Johnson will sign a new five year deal today.

On the plus side, Michael Johnson will today sign a new five-year deal at Eastlands and finally resolve a summer of intrigue. The 20-year-old midfielder has been a big-money target for various clubs since Liverpool first made a £3m bid for him more than a year ago.

Apparently the deal was 'on the verge of collapsing last week' but it 'contains a large and immeadiate pay increase'. Read it all HERE.

This hasn't appeared anywhere else in this morning's press, but I'm quite confident of its veracity. The author, Daniel Taylor, is The Guardian's man in Manchester, who broke that we were signing Tal Ben Haim long before anyone else.

Santa Cruz pursuit over

There seems to have been a Garry Cook press briefing yesterday; The Times, Telegraph and Guardian all carry quotes from him about the attempt to sign Santa Cruz being over, the failure to sign Silvestre and the detail that Thaksin met Hughes in London last night.

Cook is quoted as saying:

"We made an offer for Santa Cruz last week and we were told to forget it in the bluntest possible terms. We've been told to give up on him. Mark is adamant that we don't but it's fair to say the window is closing – and that Blackburn have closed it on us.

He [Hughes] wants the best and he wants to bring in players he already knows. He doesn't really like taking on the unknown. Unfortunately, he can't have Santa Cruz and will have to bring in someone new and develop them.''

A shame to hear that we've accepted defeat on our first choice target (particularly given that Villa and Spurs continue to be linked with RSC). But it is good to hear that we are actively pursuing a striker, and that we are confident of landing someone else. The Guardian mentions Diego Milito by name, who'd probably be my preferred signing. We've also been linked with David Suazo, who I don't really know much about. I am not distraught to have missed out on Djibril Cisse.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Mikael Silvestre deal falls through?

It seems as if we have been usurped by Arsenal in our attempts to sign Mikael Silvestre.

I'm sorry to disagree with Danny at the fantastic Bitter and Blue, but I can't help thinking this is a shame.

He writes today that Silvestre "does not upgrade the position [left back] in any way" and that why we are on a pursuit of additions in that area "is a complete mystery" to him. I'm afraid I don't agree. Neither Ball nor Garrido are top ten quality full backs. Ball is pedestrian, and has a reputation for competence which comes more from his 'no-frills' demeanour than his actual abilities. Garrido is a talented footballer and a good prospect, but is not yet quick or strong enough for the position.

In Mikael Silvestre we have an option with years of Premier League experience at a top club, four Premier League and one European Cup medals, and forty caps for France. There is a sour taste involved with taking United's reserves but I'm sure he'd be a big improvement on the current left backs.

It is true that we have more pressing areas than left back. We need a striker, centre midfielder and right winger more. But I don't see that the Silvestre deal would preclude the others. At only £750,000 we would surely have enough money for the other positions.

But if he's going to Arsenal none of this really matters.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Micah scores and stars in U-21 win

England U-21s (lead by Stuart Pearce and Steve Wigley) beat Slovenia U-21s 2-1 in a friendly at the KC Stadium this evening. Three City players played: Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson.

The star man was undoubtedly Richards. Back in the U-21s because of his injury problems so far in 2008, he was played at right back: presumably at the behest of Capello, given that the right back slot is up for grabs in a way that centre half is not. With England playing 4-3-3 Richards dominated the right hand side, supporting his childhood friend Aaron Lennon.

From set pieces he was England's main goal threat, meeting most of Tom Huddlestone's free kicks and corners. Early on he hit the post and sent one straight to the keeper, so it was no surprise when he scored. Rising highest, he got a touch to the ball, and on returning to earth he poked the ball into the empty net. Substituted in the second half, he was given a warm ovation and was subsequently named Man of the Match.

Nedum Onuoha had a pretty good game at centre back. He was caught slightly out of position for Slovenia's early goal, although this could equally be put down to Richards. After that, he was never really troubled. Was sent up for set pieces and went close a few times. Substituted late on for David Wheater.

Michael Johnson started in a midfield three with Tom Huddlestone and Mark Noble. Had some very nice touches in the opposition half, but didn't look particularly comfortable in his position. Was often squeezed out by the bustling Noble or James Milner dropping back into midfield, so could not have the influence on the game his talent would warrant. Came off in the second half.

A good night overall. Richards was the best player on the pitch, but we knew that he would be. That Wes Brown is in the senior squad ahead of him is palpably absurd. Given our recent luck with injuries I was terrified that any of the three playing would break down, so for them all to come through unscarred, and playing at least fifty minutes each in a comfortable win, is a piece of good news.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Villa vs City player ratings

Hart. A few good saves in the first half. Maybe could have met the cross for the first or third goals, and should have prevented Corluka giving away the corner for the second. 5

Corluka. I was delighted to see him in a City shirt today - having long ago prepared myself only to see him in white in future. Caught out of position for Villa's first, but he can't have expected Gelson would give Young the ball. Shouldn't have given the corner away for Agbonlahor's first, but this could equally have been Hart's fault. A few good moments going forward, including his first goal for City. I always hoped that when it came I would be able to celebrate it more though. 6

Richards. Our best player. One of the few defenders around able both to match Carew for strength and Agbonlahor for pace. Put in a few colossal challenges. Caught in between Agbonlahor and Carew for Villa's second, but ideally Ben Haim or Garrido would have also been in the box. Maybe not yet suited to captaincy: the poor marking and the 10 minute implosion suggest a lack of leadership and organisation from the back. 8

Ben Haim. Put in some good tackles but also caught out a few times. Hughes said he's vocal at the back but didn't see much evidence of that today. Questionable back header in the first half caused chaos in our box. Threatened to replicate Distin's great goal at Villa Park in 2006/07, but didn't quite have that burst of pace 25 yards from goal. 7

Garrido. The sour taste of having to take a Man United reserve will be nothing compared to the relief in having a good left back. Garrido (inexplicably called 'J-Dog' by someone sitting near me) tries hard, but just isn't quick or strong enough to play full back in the Premier League. Some nice overlaps and passes, but beaten too many times. Won a few headers in the second half. 5

Etuhu. Another really good effort from Kel. A wise choice from Hughes putting him (six foot four and fifteen stone?) against the much smaller Nicky Shorey, and Etuhu did well in holding up the ball and helping out Evans and Elano. Still clearly learning how to play right wing: frequently dithered or made the wrong decision in the final third. 6

Johnson. His best performance in a while. Up against a good opponent in Nigel Reo-Coker but tackled hard and kept the ball well. Increased in influence in that good period we had between the first two Villa goals, running the length of the pitch to win our penalty. The Hughes fitness and discipline regime should help him become the player he can be. He just needs to sign that contract. 7

Fernandes. Full of energy, and put in a few very good tackles on Barry and Stilian Petrov. But his lack of experience showed with two costly mistakes. Inexplicably giving Ashley Young the ball to set up Carew, and then failing to pick up Agbonlahor from the headed down corner. Unless we discover £8million lying around to spend on a midfield general, will be asked to shoulder a real burden this year. 6

Petrov. At the heart of our best attacks, as expected. Some good interplay with Garrido, Johnson and Elano in that almost fruitful second half spell. Almost scored a great goal in the first half. Unfortunate to have Evans rather than Bozhinov to aim for with his crosses. Until we have a top centre forward will need to carry the team going forward. 8

Elano. Back in his favoured position, the trequartista role given to him by Eriksson this time last year. Flashes of the subtlety and brilliance we saw last autumn: a pass over his shoulder to Etuhu in the first half, a few changes of pace to glide past Stilian Petrov in the second half. Should have helped Gelson and Johnson a bit more at times. Took his penalty very well. 7

Evans. Wasn't expecting to start but stuck to his task well. Lone striker isn't his best role - Laursen and Davies towered over him at time - but he worked very well and showed a few lovely touches. Will surely get more chances before we get Jo back/sign Milito/whatever. 7

Ireland and Sturridge. Both could easily have started, and played as if they were proving a point. Really lifted the tempo for the last ten minutes, which was nice to see when we could have surrendered. Sturridge continues to look ludicrously talented at times.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Villa vs City pics

Photobucket Album

Villa 4 - 2 City

  • In the course of the season, losing Bozhinov rather than the three points will prove to be the most significant thing. Better teams than us will lose at Villa Park. But to lose potentially our best striker, minutes before kick off, is a real blow. It surely necessitates buying a new centre forward, therefore taking money away from plugging other gaps: in the middle and on the right of midfield.
  • We didn't play that badly. Villa certainly should have been one or two up by half time, and Richards did well to hold them off until the 47th minute. But between Carew's goal and Agbonlahor's first we were really good. We were stronger and quicker than Villa, with fast counter-attacks driven by Petrov, Johnson and Etuhu. Before we went 2-1 down, the game was there for the taking.
  • Hughes was right to put the defeat down to '10 minutes of madness'. It's true that we didn't defend well in the first half, but the three Agbonlahor goals were something else. The corner for the first was needlessly given away by Corluka, and then Agbonlahor was ignored by Fernandes. The otherwise impressive Richards and Ben Haim seemed to opt out of taking responsibility for him for his next two. Micah had a good game, but as captain ought to have been organizing the back line better. I'm not his biggest fan, but we really missed Dunne today.
  • If there was one thing people said Hughes would do, it was revert to 4-4-2. So to see him bring out the old Eriksson era 4-4-1-1 was pretty funny. I thought it worked pretty well. Elano didn't really help out as much as I hoped (Reo-Coker was just too strong for him), but in flashes he linked play brilliantly. The system may have worked better with Bozhinov in as well - Evans isn't really suited to that role so did well to fill in.
  • We've played much worse than this, and not just in the 8-1. If we can cut out the defensive mistakes, we'll have a good season.

Bozhinov crocked again

By far the worst thing to come out of today (the performance was for the most part ok, but more on that later), was the injury to Valeri Bozhinov.

I was only a few rows away from the pitch and I just remember seeing Richards, Petrov and a few others looking visibly shocked, with their heads in their hands. Someone was being carried off but it was only a few minutes later I learnt it was Valeri.

I guess it's good he hasn't done the same ligaments again, but to have a different very serious injury is terrible luck. I was looking forward to seeing Bozhinov more than anyone else this season. But now we won't see him again in 2008, and maybe not until the spring. Garry Cook needs to get onto the phone to Santa Cruz or Milito pronto.

PS On a lighter note, I feel bad for that City fan a few rows behind me with 'FEED THE BOJ 9' on the back of his away shirt.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Aston Villa preview

I can't be as excited for tomorrow's game as I was this time last year. Yes, we have a new manager, new signings (although not on the scale of 2007), and hopefully an improvement on the previous season's low-scoring, tumultuous and ultimately dissapointing fare. But after the last fourteen months, we are no longer innocent to the compromises we have to make with Shinawatra's narcissism in return for his cash. We know about the casual undermining of Eriksson, as much cause as consequence of our 2008 decline. We know that we have moved ourselves into a cash crisis that led to the board trying to sell two of our best young players behind the manager's back.

There are certainly reasons to be optimistic. All of the good players of Autumn 2007 are still here, tougher and fitter than ever before. The Academy products have the benefit of more first team football. Danny Sturridge, Ched Evans, Kelvin Etuhu and Vladimir Weiss will all play bigger roles this season than last. Valeri Bozhinov is akin to a new buy, whilst Jô and Tal Ben Haim are exactly that. I think we'll have a season similar to 2007/08. Finishing between 8th and 11th, winning between 50 and 60 points. But that feeling I had at the Boleyn Ground cannot be replicated easily.

Apart from anything else, I think we're going to lose. I don't think we'll finish too far away from Aston Villa this season, but I'm sure they'll have too much for us tomorrow. Coming off a big win on Thursday night, and still in possession of their captain, they ought to be full of confidence at the moment. And with Ashley Young, John Carew and Gabriel Agbonlahor, I think they'll have too much for us going forward. Their one possible weak point is that their defence do not have much experience playing together. They've lost Olof Mellberg to Juventus and Wilfred Bouma to injury, buying in Luke Young, Nicky Shorey and Carlos Cuellar. Those three are all good players (like Martin Laursen and Curtis Davies, unlike Zat Knight). But in their first league game at Villa, a dynamic front line could unsettle them.

Unfortunately, City have little option but to play 4-5-1. Both the match situation and our available personnel dictate it. At home, against FC Midtjylland, the Gelson/Johnson midfield axis was exposed. It needs reinforcing. I'd like to see Didi Hamann given a game, but he is surely a casualty to Hughes' fitness regime. Steven Ireland would be my choice to drop into the middle. Our lack of fit forwards also militates toward 4-5-1. If we had Bozhinov, Jô, Benjani et al to pick from, 4-4-2 could be a good idea. But 4-4-2 for its own sake is not good. If one of those forwards is to be Caicedo, it is safer to go with the extra man in midfield. Providing Evans is still out, the choice is between Sturridge and Bozhinov. My choice would be for Valeri, because he's, you know, better. But expect to see Sturridge brought off the bench at half time when we're 2-0 down.

The rest of the team is easy. Hart will go in goal. No Dunne means Corluka at right back, with Richards and Ben Haim in the middle. I no longer have a preference between Ball and Garrido on the left.

Someone just wrote on that we'd be wearing the orange third kit tomorrow. So I'll take my camera and put some photos up on here, along with a report and player ratings some time Sunday night.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Season preview

I haven't done a proper season preview yet, so I ought to before it's too late.

More than anything else from this year, I want stability. The Thaksin era at City (still only fourteen months old) has certainly been compelling. But the sense that the whole project walks a razor's edge has only intensified in recent weeks. Rumours of cash crises, impending convictions, and even potential Premier League sanctions make me worry for the future of the club. I'd love us to beat least year's ninth place finish or 55 points. But, as long as we don't go down, it's solidity that means the most. The rumours that we could spend £15m on Santa Cruz or £10m on Diego Milito are in themselves positive. But if we almost had to sell Corluka for only £8m, I'd rather the club stick than twist for the time being.

In footballing terms, I think we'll do ok. Compared with our 2007/08 squad, we've improved significantly upfront: not just Jô, but Valeri Bozhinov, Daniel Sturridge and Ched Evans are all, in their own ways, additions to the ranks. We have improved defensive cover in Tal Ben Haim. Just as importantly, all the Eriksson buys now have the benefit of Premier League experience. On the deficit side, we have, to date, lost only Geovanni, Isaksson and Mpenza. Special in their own ways, but no great losses. So shouldn't this signal a genuine improvement?

I can't get too excited yet. Ultimately, the football and administrative sides are inseparable. The Corluka situation shows that if the finances are not secure, neither will the starting eleven be. And there is no reason to presume that the Cook/Hughes /Bowen regime will be at all freer from Thaksin's interfering and megalomania than the MacKintosh/Eriksson /Backe team was.

The first launch of Thaksin's City started with success and, for the first time in years, real hope. It ended with an 8-1 loss, sackings, and a sense that things were falling apart. Tomorrow sees the relaunch of Thaksin's City. But after recent events, I can't quite summon up the optimism of the Boleyn Ground this time last year.

A testing week

I'm pleased to have been abroad during what seems to have been a difficult week. The previous week was bad enough: dominated by rumours of Corluka's move to Spurs. Over last weekend the defeat of Milan was lost behind stories that Steven Ireland could also be sold for financial, rather than footballing reasons. Since then denials from Hughes have slowed, rather than stopped, the speculation. The chairman's attempts to unfreeze that £800m, so important to his plans, have ended in failure. If he is convicted in absentia (would he have left if he wasn't going to be?), Garry Cook will have to find some way round the issue to fend off the Premier League.

Until Thursday evening, I'd got through all of this by clinging solely to football. I thought we had been slowly improving from the EB/Streymur games through to the Milan game. A few wins in August and I thought I could stop worrying about the off the pitch stuff. But our first competitive game under Hughes at CoMS, and this happens. In front of 17,200 people.

Sunday can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Sun claims Charlie done deal

Today's paper quotes a City source as saying:

“This deal is great news for everyone.

“Vedran’s a good player but it means the manager can use the money to bring in a forward.

"Everyone’s a winner. Vedran is desperate to team up with Modric.

"He was popular here but this is good business.”

This is the furthest we've seen the rumours progress thus far. Those lines from a City insider are pretty galling. I can see that this deal might be in some way necessary to achieving other goals (or even staying afloat, if rumours are to be believed), but 'great news for everyone'? I'd much rather they acknowledged that having to sell one of your best young players is not an ideal situation.

If we were selling Corluka to stay afloat, it would be understandable. But if we are selling Corluka to buy a forward, it is absurd. This is the story in today's Daily Mail article. By far the best thing to come out of this pre-season is learning that without Jô and Benjani we still have a functioning strike force. Vassell, Bozhinov, Sturridge and Evans will be able to hold their own for the four or five games before Jô gets back. So to sell Charlie to buy Santa Cruz makes no sense. Because in a few months time we'd have Jô, Santa Cruz, Bozhinov, Benjani, Vassell, Caicedo, Sturridge and Evans! Do we really need that many? United won the league last year with three centre forwards.

Using Corluka money for a left back and a right winger would make me feel differently.