Monday, 20 April 2009

Balague prescient

Most City fans I talk to are struck by the sheer awesomeness of Pablo Zabaleta. In only forty games in blue he's already a fan's favourite, Mark Hughes' great masterstroke and one of the club's best pieces of business in recent years.

Who could have predicted this? One person who did is Spanish football writer Guillem Balague. As an Espanyol fan, he had real first hand knowledge of Zabaleta and wrote when he joined City what a success he'd be:

His intelligence and character combine to make him a natural leader, and the kind of player that other players like to have alongside them out on the pitch: in other words, he is always reliable, always there for his team mates and, even when things aren't going well, he never goes missing and will always make himself available for the pass.

He'll provide balance and stability, particularly important when you start adding players like Robinho to the side.

It's worth reading the whole piece. Just because some of what Balague writes is nonsense doesn't mean that he never gets it right. And he was ahead of the game with this one.


Wigan Blue said...


Maybe MH had been reading Balague before he signed Zabby. Maybe if Balague could be be persuaded to recommend Messi...

OK, OK - joking. Pablo is staunch, and a massive injection of all that's good in the game (once he'd found out the hard way against Liverpool what's acceptable and what isn't).

Stevie Ireland has to be player of the season purely from his performances up to a month or so ago, but Pablo is running him a close second.

tommytheblue said...

perhaps hughes asked svennis who had already lined zab up.

look it up!

Wigan Blue said...



gavin said...

He's a decent player but you're getting carried away.

JPB said...

tommytheblue, Eriksson may well have been interested, but we also know that Hughes was a long time admirer, who went to watch him while Blackburn boss, and tried and failed to take him to Ewood Park.

That, and the fact it went through in late August suggest that it wasn't like the Jo scenario where the deal was done with little input from Hughes.

pjdemers said...

Ah Sven the affable Swede, the man who could do no wrong in the eyes of many a City fan. Now don't get me wrong I quite like Sven. I will be the first to say that the way he was shown the door by Thaskin was a complete debacle and disgrace.

That said I think because of this deplorable treatment City fans tend to look on his brief stay at City with rose-tinted glasses. Not that I can blame anyone for doing so, During his first 6 months the level of euphoria surrounding City had not been associated with City for a long time and I think some of this euphoria blinded City fans (myself included) to some the unpleasant truths surrounding his tenure.

While Sven's clever signings and early tactics reaped success the facts were that City were punching well above their weight. What many people seem to forget is that by March City were in a freefall. We were squandering points at home and on the road. Much if it in my opinion owed to Sven's laissez-faire attitude.

Firstly, it was obvious we needed to go in the January transfer market as we lacked depth but other than Benjani, transfer or loan activity was almost non-existent.

Secondly, City had become overly predictable with our style (Plan A). Teams became well aware of the dangers posed by Elano and Petrov, as well as City''s preferred style of play and movement. There was no plan B. City were always up against it once they had to chase a game. (a quality that England and Mexico also seemed to lack under Sven).

Thirdly, at the start of the campaign there was no pressure on City to succeed. there was no expectation by the media and our rivals for City to accomplish much (Sven & City were nowhere near any of the scrutiny that Hughes and the squad have been subjected to this year). Teams initially took us for granted. We also had some incredibly fortunate wins (particularly the home wins over the Rags and Reading). The 6-0 debacle at Chelsea should of been the first wake up call but everyone (myself included) refused to look at the elephant in the room.

In a nutshell, City under Sven got found out. The argument that Sven knew he was going to get the sack by mid-February carries little weight. He and the players still had a responsibility to go out and get results regardless of how aggrieved they felt.

Again the manner of his firing was deplorable but manner in which he went without a fight was quite telling. The 8-1 defeat at Middlesborough was an utter disgrace, no team should be allowed to capitulate like that. Is it any wonder that Hughes on his arrival was initially quite willing to throw the baby out with the bath water?

I realize that many of us have a soft spot for Sven and I am not trying to ruin that image. But the fact is that if we are going to look at Sven and his tenure at City we have to look at Sven openly, warts and all.

Regardless of what we think Sven is gone and it is quite obvious many at City can't come to terms with his departure. I for one wish him well and realize we're probably better off without him. It just wasn't meant to be.

Steven McInerney said...

I got 'Zabaleta 5' on the back of my shirt the day he signed. I knew he'd be awesome. Go me.

JPB said...

Well played, Steven.

Wigan Blue said...


Not a bad analysis. I'd just add that there are persistent rumours that the money ran out around Christmas - hence only Benjani in the window, and that the players were twice unpaid (the second time coinciding with the Middlesboro game).

I agree that Sven's substitutions and tactical changes by and large were ineffective, although in his favour I'd say that he made them early enough to make a difference had they been going to work.

My problem lies with the people who label players (particularly Elano), as "Sven's Misfits".

We saw how brilliant Elano's combination play in a forward role was early in the season, when he teamed up with Robinho, Ireland and SWP in some unforgettable passing football. And then MH seemed to be listening to the propaganda - using the excuse that the defence had to be tightened, he dropped Elano or played him out of position to the point where he was ineffective.

So for some very marginal improvements in defensive capability, he sacrificed the goal machine that we had in midfield. It marginalised Robinho on the left wing, and left Ireland, SWP and later Bellamy to struggle for individual goals.

Only in the last couple of matches have we seen Robinho return to his early season effectiveness, and the reason for that is that Elano has once again been returned to his forward midfield role. In other words, we've wasted half a season, and gone back to where we started.

steve said...

@ pjdemers

As unpallatable as this may be to many, Sven was effectively sacked on December 29th 2007. The players found out he was a dead man walking after the transfer window - ie beginning February 2008. This led to a huge player revolt in the camp culminating in the 'real' player protest vs Boro at the end of the season. More than this I cannot reveal otherwise I'll lose my job! But, to quote a crap American tv programme, the truth is out there.

JPB said...

That early?

As early as the 2-2 home draw with Blackburn (27th December)?

Fancy e-mailing me in strictest confidence?

pjdemers said...


It's not too hard for me to fathom what you're claiming so no need to assign agents Mulder and Scully to the case. Like I said the manner in which Sven was sacked was an absolute disgrace.

I'm curious though as to why the players did not reveal this to the media or the fans (I can only assume a confidentiality agreement was involved). Again, while they had every right to feel aggrieved it doesn't excuse their responsibility to go out and get results. There are much better ways to seek satisfaction. For fuck's sake they could have just forfeited the Middlesborough match in protest.

At the end of the day they still represent the club not just the manager. To go out on the field and deliberately "tank" a match is completely unacceptable.

@ Wigan Blue

Completely agree with you that Elano is a top class player. While you may indeed be right that Hughes sacrificed him to shore up the defense , I get the impression is that Hughes questioned Elano's commitment to the team (Lucescu had a similar problem with Elano at Shatar Donestk).

I too was disappointed that he was dropped but I did get the impression he played for himself at times. Still, ever since he came out of Sparky's doghouse he has been playing exceptionally well and his work rate has greatly improved under Hughes tenure.

I also happen to take Hughes at his word (I'm a trusting sort) that he substituted Elano against WBA to protect him and to save him for the remaining matches.

Still I definitely agree with you that Robinho
in particular and City in general play better with Elano on the pitch. I'm optimistic will see him feature for the rest of the season.