Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Off again

I'm going to France this evening, and won't be back till Monday.

I hope that we sign Carlos Tévez while I'm away - I imagine that this will happen in all honesty. The Samuel Eto'o story will presumably rumble on, and then there's Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré as well to keep us occupied.

And, of course, the new website which I am more excited about than any man really ought to be. Part of me hopes I won't get internet where I'm going so that I don't ruin my holiday trying to access the exclusive Stephen Ireland interviews, or wondering which squad numbers I think Roque Santa Cruz and Gareth Barry will have.

Eto'o offered new Barça deal

That's the news coming out of the Spanish papers this morning.

After hearing of Eto'o's apparent refusal to join City, Joan Laporta has offered him a two year extension to his current deal - thus taking him up to 2012.

There's no real indication of whether Eto'o will accept this or not - if the offer is an extension rather than a pay rise I imagine that he might not - but I'm sure it will be clarified at this morning's press conference.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Eto'o's agent says no?

Samuel Eto'o's agent has said today in a radio interview that he is unlikely to join City:

Eto'o's agent, Josep Maria Mesalles, told ONA FM, "If there is not a 180-degree turnaround then he will stay with Barcelona."

Presuming that Messales' press conference scheduled for Tuesday will still go ahead, we should get a better sense of where exactly Eto'o's intentions lie.

Eto'o press conference tomorrow

Another story from El Mundo Deportivo - that Samuel Eto'o's agent, Josep Maria Mesalles, will hold a press conference tomorrow in Spain - in the luxurious AC Diplomatic hotel in Barcelona - to clarify Eto'o's future intentions. (In English, in Spanish.)

What exactly Eto'o's intentions are: whether he will come to City, sign a new contract at Barcelona, or run down the last year of his existing deal - well, no-one really knows. But maybe we'll get a better handle on this on Tuesday.

City move for Sergio Sánchez

News coming out of Spain today is that City have made a move for Espanyol's 23 year old right-back Sergio Sánchez.

It's from a story in this morning's El Mundo Deportivo - a paper which, as one based in Barcelona would expect, tends to be first with RCD Espanyol stories. The article claims that MCFC made contact over the weekend and formal negotiations are to start soon. City are willing to offer at least €4m - the offer that Sevilla have already made for Sánchez. Valencia have had a €3m bid rejected, and Sánchez has a buy out clause of €6m. (Article in Spanish here and Google's English translation here.)

Apparently Sánchez will decide on his future this week.

I'd be quite surprised if this comes off. I know that buying Espanyol's right-back worked very well last summer, but that's not to say that we should try to buy Espanyol's right-back the next summer as well. We already have a pretty good choice between Zabaleta and Micah Richards at right back (I don't think it's a choice that requires much thought.) I'd be surprised if either of those two moved on this summer. If Sánchez could play left-back though, he'd be much more useful - I'd be surprised if either Ball or Garrido are around for 2009/10.

Elano fires Brazil to glory

In a way.

He didn't start the final - Dunga continued to prefer Ramires, whom Elano replaced with Brazil 2-1 down and 23 minutes remaining. But with the scores level and six minutes remaining Ela floated in the corner which was headed home by Lucio - winning the 2009 Confederations Cup for Brazil. (Highlights HERE.)

It was the first piece of major international silverware won by City player since Lucien Mettomo picked up the 2002 African Cup of Nations.

Eto'o progress

The big news over the weekend is that an official bid has been made for Samuel Eto'o - of either £25m or £25.5m, depending on whom you believe. And comments of FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta suggest that the bid has been accepted, and that the transfer is subject only now to the agreement of the player:

"Eto'o has a stratospheric offer from City, which would convert him into the best-paid player in the world," Barcelona's president, Joan Laporta, said. "It's starting to become clear that he has this monster offer. He wants to stay but an offer like this is very difficult to refuse. If Eto'o accepts this stratospheric offer, we will have to bring in someone. If Eto'o accepts Manchester City's mammoth offer, we will need another striker."

Presuming that this is true, we're back into the Kaká question: can exorbitant wage offers and boundless ambition persuade a world-class player to leave one of Europe's elite clubs and come to City? Obviously with Kaká we were unsuccessful, but it ought to be kept in mind that aspects of Kaká's personal interests - religion, charity and so forth - made him particularly unlikely to accept a deal. Samuel Eto'o, however, may have fewer concerns with taking our money.

Should Eto'o take the money and join us, it would be yet another transformative moment in the ADUG revolution. He would be the first City player for forty years at least with a legitimate claim to be the best in the world in his position. His scoring record over the past few years is one of the best in Europe and last season he was the spearhead, although not really the inspiration, for the most successful Barcelona teams in history. The fascinating thing, if we do get Eto'o, will be how Hughes fits him together with Santa Cruz and Carlos Tévez. The only way I can think of is 4-3-3 - without Robinho.

Thursday, 25 June 2009


I'm on the continent until Monday night. I hear they do have internet there, but nevertheless I probably won't be blogging for the next few days.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Lescott bid

Just as the demand to improve the team saw us jettison our own young talented 'keeper in favour of a more experienced - and, admittedly, much better version - in January, we may well be about to do exactly the same at centre half.

Because if we sign Joleon Lescott, for whom we are alleged to have made a bid in this morning's papers, it can only threaten the place of Nedum Onuoha - Academy graduate and our best defender of 2009 thus far.

In The Guardian Andy Hunter writes of a £15m bid being made this week, allowing Lescott to double his wages from £40k/week to £80k/week. And in The Sun Phil Thomas claims the same things: a £15m bid 'within the next 48 hours', and the same wage improvement.

He certainly makes sense as a Mark Hughes target: Premier League experience, soon to turn 27, athletic, competitive. And there's no doubting that we need an experienced head at centre half to replace Richard Dunne. I just wonder if we'll be able to prise him away: Everton have a very settled squad and don't really need to sell. Maybe we'll have to go higher than £15m. But if we're prepared to spend £18m, is there no-one better we can get? On a side note, if we really want one of Everton's centre-halves we should go for Phil Jagielka. Apart from the fact that he had a better 2008/09 than Lescott, he is, as far as I'm aware, a City fan.

Presuming we do get Lescott, it's a straight choice between Onuoha and Kompany to play with him. I'd probably rather have Onuoha, but until he gets the new contract to reward his 2009 form and secure his future at MCFC, we may be best assuming Kompany. I'd rather have either of them than Kolo Touré though.

Hart gone

Our goalkeeper swap with the city of Birmingham is complete, Joe Hart's loan move to Birmingham City has been confirmed.

Hart made his frustration at a lack of first team football clear:

He said: "It has been tough. It's frustrating, but there's only one person can play in goal and Shay's doing that at the moment. I've had to deal with it the best I can. It's not been ideal, but it's not the end of the world."

There is a part of every City fan that would love to see us conquer the world with our own young players; Hart in goal, Richards and Onuoha in defence, Ireland and Johnson running the midfield, Sturridge up front etc etc.

But it's just a dream. Mark Hughes has to improve the team as quickly as possible with his available resources, and no City fan would seriously argue against the claim that buying Shay Given in January was one of Hughes' best acts as manager. The problem for Hart is that Shay Given is only 33, and has a contract until 2013. I can't see circumstances other than a career ending injury for Given in which Hart becomes our first choice again within the next four years.

So I fear this may be goodbye. If Hart does well at Birmingham, and they stay up, I imagine he will be rewarded with a permanent move. Should they go down, he may well try again for a new club next year. No City fan would claim that the Abu Dhabi takeover has been anything other than miraculous for us. But like any revolution, it has its losers as well as its winners.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sturridge gone?

This has just popped up on MailOnline, and has been mentioned on Sky Sports News: that Danny Sturridge has agreed to join Chelsea, subject to compensation being agreed by a tribunal.

Chelsea hoped to reach an agreement but their £3m offer has been rejected.

Sturridge stunned City by demanding £55,000 a week to sign a new contract at Eastlands, leaving Chelsea and Aston Villa to fight for his signature.

He made 16 Premier League appearances last season and scored four goals but Chelsea sporting director Frank Arnesen has been after him for three years.

City are expected to make a claim for a down-payment in excess of £5m and propose that the remainder of the money comes in performance-related instalments.

It's not a surprise, but we should find out some more details later this evening or in tomorrow's newspapers.

UPDATE: SkySports.com now 'understands' that Chelsea have 'won the race' to sign Sturridge, which suggests that an arrangement is in place even if we'll have to wait a while to see him on TV holding up that atrocious new adidas home shirt Chelsea have. Come to think of it, it ought to happen on July 1, the day when a certain Argentine forward is allegedly set to join us. Which would make the departure of Sturridge feel like a non-event.

City sign Stuart Taylor

A new back up goalkeeper arrives from Aston Villa - to 'provide competition as well as experienced cover' for undisputed number 1 Shay Given.

This will surely Joe Hart to travel the opposite direction down the M6 to join Birmingham City on loan.

Next stop: Tévez

This morning's papers suggest that a deal for Carlos Tévez is simply a matter of time. Check out Sam Wallace in The Independent:

The expectation among Mark Hughes' backroom staff is that the deal for Tevez is already in the bag and it is only a matter of time before the Manchester United player joins him. Following the announcement from United at the weekend that they would not be signing him permanently, the way is clear with the 25-year-old understood to have shown little interest in joining Chelsea.

Or Mark Ogden in The Telegraph:

Senior City officials held talks with Tevez's representatives in Abu Dhabi at the end of last month and, although no binding agreement between the two parties is in place, a five-year deal worth £140,000 a week is understood to have been placed on the table by City.

Barring a late move by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is keen to land a major signing for new manager Carlo Ancelotti after failing to attract a marquee acquisition so far this summer, City are confident that they will be in a position to sign Tevez once his loan contract with United officially expires next Tuesday.

Neil Custis in The Sun goes even further and claims that:

MANCHESTER CITY have completed the £40million signing of Carlos Tevez and Roque Santa Cruz.

Tevez, 25, agreed to the astonishing move from Old Trafford, as we predicted back on May 23, after a long chat with City boss Mark Hughes convinced him of the club's ambitions.

The Argie striker became sick of being down the pecking order at United and Hughes told him he will be his main hitman.

His £25.5m move will be completed on July 1 when his two-year loan deal with United comes to an end.

Regardless of whether the deal is 90%, 95% or 100% done, it does sound like we will have to wait until July 1 for the official announcement. Which is a shame because I'm going on holiday early that morning. Fortunately I'm back for the Vodacom Challenge.

TLDORC on Twitter

By overwhelming popular demand, I've started to 'tweet.' I thought I needed to spend more time online. You can find me HERE. It won't all be linking to blogposts, and will, I hope, wind up being about football beyond simply MCFC stuff. I'm pretty new to the medium though so will take some time to get used to it.

Monday, 22 June 2009

RSC at last

After almost a whole year of frustration, we've finally landed Roque Santa Cruz. And after thirteen long years, we've finally replaced Niall Quinn.

Santa Cruz may well be merely a good, rather than an exceptional centre forward, but with his , physical presence, control and aerial ability he's the best of his type since Quinn left for Sunderland in 1996. We've had a whole year now of debating whether he's good enough, and there's no escaping two central facts: that Santa Cruz has only had one good season in ten attempts in European leagues; and that that good season was his only season under the management of Mark Hughes.

Just remember Craig Bellamy: he's had disciplinary problems everywhere he's played, except for where he'd been managed by Mark Hughes. He came to City, and scored five in seven before his old knee problems returned. Hughes clearly values relationships he forges with particular centre-forwards, and his pursuit of Bellamy and Santa Cruz when many fans would rather have him try for a name like Luís Fabiano or Karim Benzema demonstrates the importance of these familiarities to Hughes.

One can take this point further: while Hughes' targets have changed in other areas - we would never have gone for Carlos Tévez or Gareth Barry last summer, or even over January, when we were instead focussed on Scott Parker - Santa Cruz has remained a constant in Hughes' plans; such is the importance of the Paraguayan to our manager. So we can presume from this that he will be first choice this season. Exactly whom he plays with, and in which system, depends on a host of still unclear futures. Until we know where Robinho, Tévez and Bellamy are playing next season, this is still beyond our grasp.

City confirm RSC signing

Done deal:
Roque Santa Cruz has finally renewed his successful working relationship with Mark Hughes by becoming the delighted Blues manager's second major signing of the summer at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Check out the link for a pretty cool picture of Santa Cruz in the new blue training top sitting alongside Garry Cook.

City hint at RSC signing

From the official MCFC Twitter stream:
MCFCSigning as we speak....MCFCNew signing in the building...
So that's basically that then.

UPDATE: SkySports.com confirm this news:

Sky Sports News understands Roque Santa Cruz has edged a step closer to joining Manchester City after passing his medical.

The 27-year-old underwent a number of tests with the club's medical staff, a process lasting a total of four-and-a-half hours, with doctors paying considerable attention to the front-man's knee which kept him out for sustained periods last term.

SSN: RSC having medical

News that will be of no surprise to anyone who has read the morning 'papers: it was reported at length that Santa Cruz would be having a medical today, and, well, their prediction has come true - because Sky Sports News is now reporting that Santa Cruz is currently undergoing his medical at City.

This ought to take some time - with Valeri Bozhinov and Craig Bellamy on the books it's not like we need another injury-prone striker. But it does sound like this rather interminable transfer saga will be successfully concluded today.

UPDATE: Henry Winter has just tweeted this:
If Santa Cruz joins City, it will confirm Hughes is completely in charge of transfers. Good. Cruz and Tevez could blend well. #mancity
As a big Henry Winter fan, I love it when he agrees with me. His tweeting is worth following; so much so that I'm thinking of starting a TLDORC Twitter stream.

Sport: Robi to press for Barça move

A story which the club had attempted to quash returns today, with Catalan daily Sport devoting the whole of page four to the story that Robinho is to pressure City for a move to Barcelona. (In Spanish HERE, in English HERE.)

The article, by Paul Giblin, claims that Barcelona hope to intensify negotiations for Robinho's transfer this week. This is in the knowledge that Robinho wants a move away from City to a more successful club. Interestingly, it is claimed that Robinho had previously been in contact with José Mourinho about a possible move to Inter, something which allegedly further deteriorated Robinho's relationship with Mark Hughes.

It then quotes one of Robinho's advisors claiming that he wants to play for a bigger club to win trophies, and mentions the role that Barça coach Pepe Costa will have in negotations, given his role as a liason between Barcelona and the Brazilian national team. Finally it claims that Robinho's father and his agent will travel with Robi to Manchester after the Confederations Cup to discuss this with MCFC.

As ever, it's hard to know what to think about this. It's certainly true that Sport is close to people at FC Barcelona, and many of its stories come from within the club. But even if we assume that this story has come from Barça, that doesn't necessarily make it true. The relationship between Real Madrid and Marca demonstrates how a club can use a friendly newspaper to its advantage in the transfer market.

Maybe Robinho is agitating for a move to Barcelona. If I was a footballer I'd certainly rather play for them than for City. For what it's worth though, I don't think Robinho is sufficiently disciplined or hard-working to make it at Guardiola's Barcelona. Regardless, the firmness with which Garry Cook responded to this story last week suggests that a deal is some way away. And with the arrivals of two other South American forwards immanent, I'd like to think we can build a squad that can cope with even the departures of our biggest names.

Tévez and RSC this week?

So say Monday's newspapers. If we believe them, we will have our all-South American strike force in place by the end of the week.

First Ian Herbert in The Independent says that a lack of a serious bid for Tévez from Chelsea means that he will be able to team up with Santa Cruz:
Chelsea consider Tevez to be overpriced and Manchester United's decision to effectively end contract talks on Saturday morning has not changed Abramovich's view, it emerged yesterday.

That leaves City with a clear run for Tevez. They would ideally like to tie up the player's services before the week is out, though Roque Santa Cruz is the player they will land first. The Paraguyan was due back from holiday in the early hours of this morning and a medical is likely to take place today. A £16.5m deal may be concluded in the next few days, though with the City manager Mark Hughes on holiday this week, Santa Cruz is unlikely to be unveiled as a City player immediately.

Neil Ashton in The Daily Mail has more on the nature of Tévez's proposed deal with City:

Carlos Tevez will join Manchester City on a five-year deal next week unless Chelsea match the £130,000-a-week salary on offer at Eastlands.

Tevez quit Manchester United on Saturday after two years at the club and the Argentinian is expected to sign for Mark Hughes’ ambitious side when he returns from a holiday in south America.

City and Chelsea have agreed to pay the £25.5m to secure the striker’s services, but Hughes has inched ahead after offering Tevez a guaranteed starting place in the team.
This is echoed by Alan Nixon in The Mirror who says that our deal with Tévez was sorted some time ago:

Carlos Tevez agreed to join Manchester City TWO WEEKS ago - and will complete the £47.5 million transfer in the next few days.

Tevez decided toquit Manchester United long before the end of the season because he felt Sir Alex Ferguson did not fancy him enough to be a 'first pick' and his handlerssorted out terms with their rivals.

City agreed to pay the £25.5 million asking price of his 'owners' andwill also hand the Argentinian forward around £100,000-a-week for the next fiveseasons in a staggering pay day.

And James Ducker in The Times has the equivalent details for the Santa Cruz deal:
City are on the verge of ending their tortuous pursuit of the player in a deal that could be worth up to £18 million with add-ons, depending on his success at the club.

Santa Cruz will undergo a thorough medical in Manchester today after returning to England from a holiday and, providing there are no unforeseen complications, he will become Hughes’s second signing of the summer after Gareth Barry’s £12 million arrival from Aston Villa.

It looks very likely, then, that by the end of the week our strikeforce for 2009/10 will be in place: and it will be the South American pairing of Roque Santa Cruz and Carlos Tévez. In terms of ability, experience and compatibility I can't think of many better partnerships that we could realistically forge this summer. I won't write too much until it happens - although I am away for all but 36 hours of 25 June - 5 July so may have to jump the gun just a bit. But I am quite confident and very excited about our successfully finalising these moves.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Brazil knock Italy out of Confeds

World Champions Italy were knocked out of the Confederations Cup this evening, losing 3-0 to Robinho's Brazil.

All three goals were scored in an eight minute period at the end of the second half, with Luís Fabiano scoring two before an Andrea Dossena own goal. The much-vaunted Italian defence could not live with Fabiano's physical presence; he scored his first when no defender stopped him from picking up Maicon's scuffed shot and slotting past Buffon.

Robinho was involved in the second when he broke down the left, found Kaká whose pass was dummied by Robinho to Fabiano, who scored into an open net. And the third was all Robinho's creation: he charged down the left again, and rather than shooting he squared to Ramires. The pass was intercepted, though, by Andrea Dossena who could only slide the ball into the goal.

Robson continued to see a lot of the ball in the second half, but his delivery was never quite as good as it could have been, and the score remained at 3-0.

Elano was on the bench.

Hart to Birmingham

A transfer rumour that has been around for a while has intensified recently - Joe Hart looks set to spend 2009/10 on loan at Birmingham City. Over to SkySports.com:

He now appears to be on his way to St Andrews and Gold expressed his eagerness to conclude a loan deal for the former Shrewsbury Town youngster.

"It will be a disappointment if we do not tie up a deal quickly," said Gold in the News of the World.

This is obviously the best solution for all parties. As much as I'd love Hart to make it at City, the fact is that he's not even close to Shay Given's level. And as a 33 year old, Given ought to be around for at least the duration of his contract - which expires in summer 2013, soon after his 37th birthday. So Hart could be in for a long wait if he wants to become our first choice.

A permanent transfer in summer 2010 is the most likely outcome, but for this season at least a loan deal is perfect. Hart gets a season of Premier League football as he pushes for a place at the World Cup, while potential suitors get a better look at him in a new environment. I'm sure he'll do well at Birmingham, and should get in the 2010 World Cup squad. But it's a reminder that as we continue our upward advance, we'll have to cast off some good and popular players.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Brazilian discontent

Duncan Castles in The Sunday Times raises a worrying prospect: that Elano's probable departure this summer could disillusion Robinho. We always hear about how good friends they are, and so Hughes' marginalisation of Elano is only likely to have a negative impact:

Manchester City’s transfer activity isn’t keeping everybody happy at Eastlands. Robinho has reportedly asked advisers to secure him a move to Barcelona as City pursue Samuel Eto’o and Carlos Tevez. The Brazil international signed for a UK record £32.5m only last September but his time at Eastlands has seen him develop an ongoing uneasiness with Mark Hughes.

Robinho has also been angered by the manager’s handling of compatriot and close friend Elano. For his part, Hughes is understood to have felt undermined by the Brazilians’ attitude at a time when other coaches, notably Jose Mourinho, were asked if they were interested in taking over at City.

Given how quickly Garry Cook came out against the 'Robinho to Barca' stories last week, I'd be surprised if Robinho does leave this summer. I'm sure, though, that Elano will be off to become one of the best players in Serie A next season - Castles mentions that Inter are interested. Does this mean that the club are confident that Robinho will in fact be ok with being the only Brazilian in the squad? Or are they complacent about the possible outcome from this eventuality? Robinho's very good at lots of things, but 'being sensible' isn't exactly one of them.

Three new City blogs

Worth your attention: Man City Issues, Pride in Battle and Without a Dream in our Hearts.

Tévez leaving United

Very big news today; that Carlos Tévez has rejected a contract offer from Manchester United and will be leaving Old Trafford now that his contract is expiring. Even better, for City fans, is that Kia Joorabchian has confirmed that City are one of two options being considered by Tévez:

"City and Chelsea probably would be the two clubs that are on the table."

He added: "City have obviously been in contact with us. I've spoken to (City executive chairman) Garry (Cook) and to (manager) Mark (Hughes) on several occasions."

And the choice isn't as clear cut in favour of Chelsea as it might be:

"Without getting into the point of whether he's going to City or Chelsea or wherever, the issue is that I think Carlos wants to go to a club which has real ambition.City have shown a lot of ambition with the players they've brought in in the last year or so, and Chelsea are also showing a lot of ambition – they want to win the Champions League. Both have that ambition."

Let's not forget why exactly Tévez left United: because he wasn't first choice, particularly for the big matches. While Chelsea are a more attractive prospect than City in many ways - could he be sure that he would not find himself in the same situtation at Stamford Bridge as he did at Old Trafford? Carlo Ancelotti would not want his hands tied while he was still acquanting himself with the squad; and one could even argue that Tévez would not be first choice in a squad including Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

And if we give Ian Herbert and Sam Wallace's article today as much as we ought to, we'll be even more confident. They write that:

Sources at the club [MCFC] believe that the Argentine is as good as theirs, despite United's option on the player and the interest from Liverpool and Chelsea. While there is no announcement expected in the next few days – Tevez's adviser Kia Joorabchian was at Royal Ascot yesterday – City believe they will start the new season with Tevez.

I don't want to tempt fate blah blah blah, but this is looking better and better. We must be favourites now, and good favourites too.

Friday, 19 June 2009

SSN: £18m RSC fee agreed

Sky Sports News is reporting the same news that we read in this morning's Mail - that we've reached an agreement with Blackburn Rovers for a fee for Santa Cruz, of £18million. It's an awful lot of money for someone who's had one good season and has serious knee problems. It's also more money than ought to be spent on someone who won't start; suggesting that we won't get Eto'o and Tévez.

Progress on three fronts

With news that Santa Cruz is getting ever closer to City, and that Tévez is seriously considering our offer, we read in this morning's Telegraph that talks for Samuel Eto'o are progressing:

Garry Cook, City's executive chairman, and football administrator Brian Marwood held talks with their Barcelona counterparts earlier this week, but despite making progress towards an agreement, Barcelona have yet to accept City's offer, leaving the English club unable to talk terms directly with Eto'o.

Although reports of wage demands by Eto'o of close to £200,000-a-week after tax have been dismissed as "wildly exaggerated" by City sources, the club accept they are likely to have to make Eto'o the Premier League's top earner in order to persuade him to turn his back on Champions League football.

Could we actually get all three? It would give us the best choice of forwards for years - presuming Craig Bellamy is here as well - even better than in 1994/95 when we had Niall Quinn, Paul Walsh and Uwe Rösler to choose from. Seriously, this would be incredible.

RSC ever closer

According to Friday's Mail:

Manchester City have agreed an £18million deal to sign Roque Santa Cruz from Blackburn as they begin to build a squad to break into the Premier League's top four.

Manager Mark Hughes will finally be reunited with the striker he wanted to bring with him from Rovers to Eastlands last summer in the first of several blockbuster signings before the end of August.

We'll see whether this is true in due course; but it raises some fascinating debates over how exactly we'll play next year, and whether the 4-2-3-1 system will survive the summer. It's kind of inseparable though from the potential signings of Eto'o and Tévez.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Robi puts Brazil up at the break

It's half-time in Brazil's second Confederations Cup match against USA, and they're two nil up. After Felipe Melo headed in a Maicon free kick, Brazil's second goal was scored by Manchester City's Robinho, picking up a pass from Ramires who had surged from his own half after DaMarcus Beasley had needlessly conceded possession.

Elano is on the bench.

I'm going to miss the second half but it's available to UK users on the BBC website HERE.

New Spanish target

Espanyol's sixteen-year old Joan Angel Roman is a new target (from SkySports.com):

"Espanyol are still waiting to receive a satisfactory offer from Manchester City for the transfer of Joan Angel Roman," read a statement on the club's official website.

"The English team have shown themselves to be interested in the midfielder, but must follow the Fifa regulations, which stipulate that the clubs must have an agreement between them for the move to take place.

This is something the big boys have been doing for years - and if Fàbregas and Macheda are anything to go by, it seems to work quite well. Platini's trying to cut it out - with good reason - but while it's still legal we might as well try to play the game. I know nothing about Roman as a player - if you do please let us all know.

Mail: Eto'o deal 'edging closer'

So claim Simon Jones and John Edwards in Thursday's Daily Mail:
City will pay a transfer fee of just under £30m, but will need to match Eto'o's wage demands of £192,000 a week AFTER TAX over the four-year-deal, making him the most expensive arrival in British football. Having Eto'o on the pay roll will cost in excess of £320,000-aweek (£16.6m a year), more than twice as much as leading Barclays Premier League stars such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Barcelona sources say the deal, which Sportsmail exclusively revealed this month, is almost complete. It represents outstanding business for the Spanish champions as the 28-year-old has only one year left on his contract, and he would have been able to leave on a free transfer next summer.
Those numbers are pretty ludicrous, but if I was going to be actually put off by football clubs spending obscene prices on players, I would have got off the bus some time ago. The point is that we, almost alone among football clubs, can afford to meet the demands of players like Eto'o and so we can reap real advantages from it. I'd still be surprised if we manage to pull this one off, simply because I think Eto'o has too much self-regard to leave the European champions for a mid-table English side. But if he does come to City, we'll worry more than just Everton and Aston Villa. One to start taking a bit more seriously, perhaps? I'll believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Season ratings: forwards

Craig Bellamy (10 starts, 4 goals)

One of Hughes' 'instant impact' January signings - the first time the manager could pursue his own targets with the new money that came to the club in September. Knowing Bellamy from both Wales and Blackburn Rovers, he took him from cash-strapped West Ham hoping that he would immediately improve the team. And he was right: Bellamy scored on his debut against Newcastle, and then had a fantastic February: scoring the only goal against Middlesbrough, both in the 2-1 win over København, and our one goal in the draw at Anfield - which was ludicrously awarded as an Arbeloa own goal. For this, he won the February Player of the Month award, the only forward to do so. His pace and finishing ability made him, for those weeks, the most potent striker we've had since Nicolas Anelka. But his frail knees soon caught up with him, and he made only two appearances in March, two in April, and none in May. He has spoken of trying to come back fit for next season, but with rumoured moves for Tévez, Santa Cruz, and Eto'o, his contribution may be limited. B+

Benjani (8 starts, 3 goals)

Not one of Eriksson's best buys, his stint in the lone striker role through November and December came only when Jô, Evans, Sturridge and Vassell had failed to prove to Hughes that they were up to the task. He scored on his first appearance of the season - the 3-2 defeat of Twente, but managed goals against only Schalke and Fulham in his remaining games. The old frailties remained - no real movement, no pace, and a very poor record in front of goal. Had he not ruptured his thigh in December (an injury he never fully shook off) he would still surely have been replaced by whichever strikers we were to sign in January. Managed to make two substitute appearances in April and May, but cannot have done enough to save himself from the chop in the summer. C

Valeri Bozhinov (2 starts, 1 goal)

For the second consecutive year, became one of the stories of the season by virtue of his absence. As with 2007/08 an exciting pre-season led to high expectations but a very serious injury in August put him out for the majority of the season. Unlike last year, though, he did manage to make a return within time, coming off the bench at the Boleyn Ground - appropriately enough, where his City career started nineteen months before - and made two more substitute appearances before starting against Sunderland and Fulham. He never looked match fit though, and continued to play reserve games while returning to the bench for the first team. In the season's penultimate game, at White Hart Lane, he came off the bench to score his first competitive goal for City; one of the year's happiest moments. While this is a year in which we did not see anywhere near the best of Boji, his movement, aggression and dynamism did stand him apart from most of the City frontline. Unfortunately for him those attributes are all to be found in a certain Argentine whom we are pursuing this summer. n/a

Felipe Caicedo (13 starts, 7 goals)

One of this season's surprise success stories. Did not get a chance until Racing Santander in December - once Jô, Evans, Sturridge, Vassell and Benjani had all proved themselves unfit for the lone striker's role. But he came off the bench to score in Spain, and did the same at the Hawthorns (via Scott Carson, admittedly) three days later. Two goals in the demolition of Hull followed and Caicedo was showing a better eye for goal than any other centre forward thus far that year. The arrival of Bellamy limited his chances, but he continued to work hard whenever asked. His limitations were always clear: there isn't much to his movement, he struggles to keep hold of the ball, and his footballing brain still needs some work (against Hamburg at home he was offside something like eleven times.) But for all that, he managed another four goals in the season's final months, including two impressive and important strikes at home against Aalborg and HSV. He may not be Denis Bergkamp, but for hard work and an eye for tap ins, he's got more than Benjani and Vassell. Could well have done enough to save his City future. B+

Ched Evans (5 starts, 1 goal)

Had a few first-team opportunities - including a start on opening day at Villa Park after Bozhinov's breakdown minutes before kick-off - but could never quite convince that he could succeed at a level higher than Norwich City. Like other City forwards, his work rate and commitment could not be matched with sufficient technical ability to really make it. Took his goal well against Portsmouth, and could have scored in the return game at Fratton Park were it not for a quality save from David James. But I'm not sure that our rejecting a £1.5m bid from Sheffield United points to a long term career at City for Evans.

(12 starts, 3 goals)

Up until September 1, he was the big name attraction, the glamorous big money Brazilian signing who was going to take us to the next level. While the arrival of Robinho did take some of this pressure of Jô, it could not obscure the fact that it was £19m very poorly spent. Having spent much of pre-season representing Brazil in the Olympic games, he never looked fully settled in the Premier League; for a centre-forward he was striking in his sloth around the penalty area, never managing to pop up in the right places or to hold up the ball successfully. In his gangly legs, surprising physical weakness and apparently lazy approach he reminded more of Georgios Samaras than we would have liked. Two goals in Cyprus and one against Portsmouth could not obscure this, and he was soon out of the side, and off to Everton where he did quite well. Surely does not have a future at City. C-

Robinho (40 starts, 15 goals)

The trophy-signing of the new board, he was both the immediate result and the key symbol of City's exciting future. Even on the morning of 1 September 2008 the prospect of our buying a Brazil regular from Real Madrid from under the noses of Chelsea would have been ludicrous, but Abramovich wouldn't pay £32.5m and the rest is history. Having arrived in such dramatic circumstances, it's hard to focus dispassionately on the football. I think it's fair to say that he did well, but not exceptionally. An early spurt of goals was certainly impressive, and his quality lit up games in a way many City fans have not seen before. The chip against Arsenal, the volley against West Brom - we had not seen the like of this before. But he was infuriatingly inconsistent, almost never playing well away from home. His performance at Fratton Park was a disgrace. And when he's not playing well, we'd be better off with Vassell out on the left, for the tracking back if nothing else. I don't know whether a strong pre-season and his year of experience will significantly improve him next season, or whether his inconsistency is instead due to insufficient commitment. If he plays like this next season, we could probably push for sixth. But if he turns into the player he has the potential to become, and gets new forwards to play with, he could spearhead our charge for the Champions League. A-

Danny Sturridge (8 starts, 4 goals)

Another player for whom off the field issues have predominated this year. He did manage to have his best ever season for the first team, scoring more goals than ever before. He has a capacity to produce the unexpected matched only by the Brazilians and Stephen Ireland, and natural gifts beyond those bestowed on any of our centre forwards. His goals against Blackburn and West Ham, and his assists against Blackburn and Stoke show us this. But he could not free himself from the injuries which have held back his development so far, and as the season progressed his contract situation loomed larger and larger. He will probably leave, and may well turn out to be a very good player for another team. Which is a shame. B-

Darius Vassell (12 starts, 1 goal)

Started the season well in the EB/Streymur games before sustaining a serious knee injury which put him out for months. Like Benjani, played almost all of his games in November and December, stationed on the right wing - with SWP moved into central midfield. So dependant on his pace in his pomp, he is half the player he was having lost a yard or two. Persistent running could never make up for a lack of quality or incisiveness and he never looked like regaining his form from the Pearce era. One of the four players to make his final appearance in the catharsis of the 3-0 Forest defeat. Will never play for City again. C

RSC back on?

The last few days have seen a real increase in the Santa Cruz rumours, largely in newspaper articles carrying Khaldoon's comments on transfers. James Ducker in Wednesday's Times wrote that City are 'in advanced talks' with Santa Cruz, James Callow in the Guardian mentioned that talks have started, while Ian Herbert in the Independent wrote this:
City and Blackburn Rovers are moving towards an agreement on Roque Santa Cruz, despite being around £2m apart in valuation. The final deal may see Rovers hold out for around £17m.
And The Sun quotes a 'senior Rovers source' as saying:
"Talks between the clubs are ongoing but we're not a long way apart now. If he's going to go we want it done quickly."
This could well be wrapped up in the next week or so. It certainly betrays the strength of Hughes' love for RSC that even with the upgraded level of targets this summer, in accordance with the upgraded target of sixth, that he still thinks Santa Cruz is the solution. It also has interesting implications for next season's formation. If we do get RSC and Tévez, we may well switch to 4-4-2, which would put Robinho in left midfield and allow only two of Barry, Ireland and de Jong in midfield. Hughes has some big decisions to make.


Fixtures came out today. There's not really much to say: there are no particularly worrying periods, with the exception of the last four games - United and Aston Villa at home, Arsenal and West Ham away. It would be bad if we were narrowly in fifth or sixth going into the derby and then pissed it away and finished seventh or eighth. On the bright side, we have a nice Boxing Day gift of Stoke City at home.

I was hoping to go to opening day, having been to Villa Park and the Boleyn Ground the last two seasons. Not sure I can be bothered with the long trek to Ewood Park this year though. But it would be sweet to see Santa Cruz score us the winner.

Robinho's future

City have come out quite strongly against rumours today that Robinho may be heading to Barcelona in a loan deal. The stories were reported by Catalan TV station TV3 - although, interestingly enough, not in any real detail by Catalan dailies Sport and El Mundo Deportivo. Basically, it was claimed that Robinho could be part of a City bid for Samuel Eto'o, and may well go on a season's loan to the European champions with a view to a permanent deal in 2010. For what it's worth, I don't think Robinho is good enough to play for this Barcelona team. He's not consistent enough, he's not enough of a team player, and if it's true that he doesn't enjoy Mark Hughes' disciplinary regime, he'd hate Guardiola's even stricter methods.

But anyway, that's not important as Garry Cook has quickly and unequivocally dismissed the rumours today, saying:
“The story is completely without foundation. Robinho has always been a highly valued member of our team and that continues to be the case. Reports suggesting he will leave the football club, either on loan or on a permanent deal, are absolutely untrue.”
So there we go. He may well be the only Brazilian left by opening day though.

Khaldoon's comments

Interesting stuff from the chairman yesterday, talking to the press about transfer policy. There was some of the usual defensiveness about the failed Kaká attempt, but the main point was that Mark Hughes is in charge of the recruitment strategy:

"[The manager] Mark Hughes decides on gaps in the squad and makes recommendations on players that would fill the gaps. He comes to me and gives me option A, B or C for a certain position. With each player there's a different value and it's up to us to work with [the owner] Sheikh Mansour, determine a budget and see which player fits best."

I'm not really into the whole 'the press have an agenda against City' stuff, but anyone who still claims that Sheikh Mansour is just Florentino Perez with a keffiyeh clearly doesn't know what they're talking about. Would a galactico-crazed owner really have bought Craig Bellamy, Wayne Bridge and Nigel de Jong in January? Would their first summer acquisition have been Gareth Barry? Of course not. City's transfer policy is so clearly Hughes-driven as to be beyond dispute. One of the great things about the ADUG era thus far is that they have lived up to Khaldoon's promise of non-interference made in September 2008:

One thing I have made very clear to Mark is that any player he wants comes from him. It comes from his requirements, his plan for the Club. I’m a fan, but I am not an expert. It is Mark who runs the Club and Mark who makes the football decisions.

Regarding the details of that Hughes-driven policy, Khaldoon gives only this away:

“We will shrink our squad and add four to six players. Key for us is that we trust Mark and any acquisition is based on his view.”

A net decrease in squad size is a must this summer. I'm sure we'll get rid of all the deadwood from the Pearce and Eriksson eras, as well as a few Academy players who will never quite be good enough - Ched Evans, Kelvin Etuhu etc. And for the four or six coming in, I think we'll end up with a centre back, a centre forward or two, a backup goalkeeper, a backup left back and maybe a new winger too. But we'll see.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Micah wins it for the U21s

A towering second half header from a James Milner corner won the game 2-1 for England U21s against Finland. It was England U21's first game in the 2009 U21 European Championship.

Richards limped off with a few minutes remaining.

Joe Hart played in goal for England.

Elano assists help Brazil to victory

Two assists from Elano set Brazil on their way to a 4-3 win in their opening Confederations Cup game against Egypt today.

The score was 1-1 after goals from Kaká and Mohamed Zidan within eleven minutes before two Elano set-pieces turned the game for Brazil. First, a free kick from forty yards out was met a flick header from Luís Fabiano, sending it into the net. And soon later an Elano corner was headed home by Juan. At half time Brazil were cruising at 3-1 up.

The second half was more even, with Egypt scoring twice quickly to bring the scores level. Elano and City team mate Robinho were withdrawn on 62 minutes, replaced by Alex Pato and Ramires, but Brazil still managed to win the game: Kaká scoring a late penalty after a shameful hand-ball by Ahmed al-Muhammadi.

Felipe's future

Felipe Caicedo has mentioned today interest from other clubs - including Sporting Lisbon and West Ham United. But he went on to say that he's been told that he's staying:

"I've been told that I'm going to stay here, plus I have a contract with more than three years remaining at City," he added.

It's hard to judge the future of our forwards individually - whether Caicedo stays is inextricably linked with the futures of Evans, Sturridge, Bozhinov and Jô (Bellamy will surely stay, Benjani and Vassell will surely leave.) I imagine that we'll retain at most two of the Evans, Sturridge, Bozhinov, Jô, Caicedo grouping, and at the moment Caicedo looks most likely to stay. But changes in other situations - such as Sturridge backing down on his contract demands - could well see other forwards moved on.

Tévez edges closer?

According to Daniel Taylor, who has been consistently ahead of the curve on Tévez stories thus far:

Ferguson has interrupted his holiday in the south of France several times over the past two weeks to ring Tevez and appeal to him to think carefully about the consequences of leaving a club of United's standing, but the Argentinian has now told the manager that he planned to sever his ties with the ­Premier League champions.

And he confirms that City have made an approach:

City have offered Tevez a 75% pay rise, meaning a £140,000-a-week salary, and the chance to re-establish himself as a first-choice player, whereas, tellingly, in all the various discussions with Ferguson there has been no indication from the manager Tevez can expect to play in more of ­United's key games this season.

I'm sure this will be cleared up over the next fortnight, and a positive outcome looks more and more likely for us.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Sunday's rumours

The perfect way to spend a Saturday evening; chewing over the next day's News of the World's many City-related rumours:
  • First up: Liverpool are set to bid £5m for Micah Richards, providing that we get Glen Johnson. Arsenal are also interested in Richards, apparently. I'm still not convinced that Johnson's a serious target, but even if he isn't Richards ought not to be first choice next season.
  • Next - Danny Sturridge may go to West Ham rather than Chelsea. This would suggest that his demands for first team football are as important as his wages. The only problem is that we're demanding a £10m 'development fee', which of course West Ham can't afford.
  • Another move for Roque Santa Cruz is suggested - with a cut-price of £15million in recognition of his recent knee problems. RSC 'hopes to wrap up' the move 'this week.'
  • A more glamarous striker linked with a move to City is Samuel Eto'o, who would apparently demand €1million/month from us - or £200,000/week.
  • And finally - Chelsea are said to be interested in hijacking our move for Carlos Tévez, and are willing to pay the £30m fee and the £120k/week wages.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Season ratings: midfielders

Nigel de Jong (16 starts, 0 goals)

Bought at great expense in the January window, to add some experience and steel to midfield. As was the case with our buying Shay Given, fans managed to gloss over just how lucky we were to get a player of his quality; Holland's first choice holding midfielder, previously of Ajax and HSV. If you want to see how far we've come since Gillingham, just look at the relative quality of our Dutch holding players. Twelve years ago we bought Gerard Wiekens, never-capped by the Oranje, from BV Veendam in the Dutch second tier. Six years ago we got Paul Bosvelt, a thirty-three year old on the down slope of his career, with a handful of international caps to his name. And now our takeover allows us to buy twenty four year old Dutch international regulars from Hamburg. Anyway, it was always going to be difficult for him this season: he'd spent much of autumn 2008 out injured, was dropped straight into the City team but could not play half of our games - due to UEFA rules. His energy, tough tackling and efficient passing did improve the team, but we'll have to wait until 2009/10 to see him really at his best. B

Elano (31 starts, 8 goals)

Splits opinion between City fans like no other. Had a wonderful start to his City career in the opening months of the Eriksson regime but then faded as last season ground to a halt. Suffered from the outset this season with the arrival of Robinho - which forced Mark Hughes to abandon the 4-4-1-1 which he had deployed in the opening games, adopting instead a 4-3-3 system. With no trequartista position, Elano could only play in central midfield, where he was consistently outshone by Stephen Ireland. Faltering performances led to a bust-up with Hughes, and he was not included in the squad of eighteen for the trip to West Brom in December. Returned to the side regularly in April and put in some performances which recalled his glory days of 2007; his two woodwork-hitting freekicks against Hamburg, his assist for Robinho at Goodison Park and all of those penalties (only Lampard is better in the Premier League) reminded us what he can do. But once the season ended, he demanded a new contract and now looks set for a move to Serie A. A shame, but not as much as some City fans think. B

Gelson Fernandes (9 starts, 2 goals)

I quite liked Fernandes last year - he wasn't the finished product but he ran around alot and wasn't afraid to put his foot in. But he's had a poor season, and is surely set for a summer exit. He played a bit in the season's opening months, but after a stupid red card cost us the game against Spurs he was always out of favour. In the last few months he became a useful time-wasting substitute, although it was alway a shame when his introduction was booed by the fans. C-

Dietmar Hamann (8 starts, 1 goal)

Another midfielder who could not replicate his performances under Eriksson for the Hughes regime. As his legs started to give way, he was asked to do more and more and with them - no longer allowed the luxury of having the team built around him as was the case under Sven. Once Kompany and then de Jong arrived, his chances were always going to be limited. One of the four players whose last game for City was the 3-0 FA Cup loss to Forest in January. C-

Stephen Ireland (48 starts, 13 goals)

In strictly football terms, the story of the season: after three faltering, inconsistent years, Ireland gloriously found his voice as a footballer in 2008/09. It was arguably the best season had by a City player since Ali Benarbia's miraculous 2001/02, and at times his vision and craft were reminiscent of the Maghreb magician. But that doesn't tell us half of it. In fact, the crucial point is that this was the year when Ireland married the technical gifts he's always had to a new-found strength, consistency and will to win. And in synthesising the best elements of his two boyhood heroes - Eric Cantona and Roy Keane - he can become a distinctly City hero himself.

All this, and he wasn't even in the team on opening day. He came on at Villa Park with fifteen minutes left, and sparked City into action. He was selected for the next game against West Ham, and never looked back. He won the Player of the Month awards in August, September, October and November - but that does not indicate his failing to maintain his standards into the new year, but rather his teammates finally catching up; it was Ireland's season-long consistency that made the PFA's award of Young Player of the Year to Ashley Young all the more ludicrous. It's hard to pick out the best moments: his second goal at the KC Stadium, his three assissts and one goal against Hull at home, his pass, sprint and finish in the first minute at the Nordbank Arena, a similar goal at Goodison Park, his chip to Robinho to score against WBA. But the happiest he's made us this year was when he signed a new contract last month, committing his long-term future to the club. A (and TLDORC Player of the Season)

Vincent Kompany (44 starts, 1 goal)

As good a piece of business as City have done in years: costing as much as Georgios Samaras or just £1m more than Jon Macken. Like his fellow August import Pablo Zabaleta, has excelled in both defence and midfield; as he demonstrated in his debut against West Ham when he had fifty brilliant minutes in holding midfield, before Ben Haim knocked out Richards and Kompany had forty immaculate minutes at centre-half. With his size, strength and bravery he recalls Sylvain Distin, but Kompany's much more comfortable in possession than he ever was. Had he played all year he would have been in competition for Player of the Season - he won the January award, but he barely looked fit from January onwards, thanks to a toe injury he could never really shake off. One of the reasons that Hamburg let him go so cheaply was his dreadful injury record there, and as he struggled to regain fitness I worried he may face the same problems here. And with the arrival of Gareth Barry his positions in central midfield and as captain-in-waiting are both threatened; could Hughes unite him with Onuoha at centre-back next season? A-

Shaun Wright-Phillips (37 starts, 8 goals)

In any other year this could have been the main story: the return of the prodigal son, arguably the best player ever produced by the City Academy, who assured his role as a City legend with the goals and running we all remember. When he scored twice on his re-debut at the Stadium of the Light it seemed like this would be the case. But days later ADUG bought City and City bought Robinho, and the SWP return story was pushed to the margins of our attention. I'm not sure, though, that this distraction was entirely a bad thing for Wright-Phillips. Because I don't think he went on to have a particularly good season. He had some very good games and scored a few very good goals, but he was just as inconsistent as Robinho or Elano: two good games would be followed by three poor ones, he went missing against bigger and better defenders, and he would not always produce in away games. Of course, I still love him - but I wouldn't be shocked if Hughes invests in a better right winger over the summer. B

Finally, then, two midfielders whose seasons were ruined by injury: Martin Petrov and Michael Johnson. They were both regulars in August and September before suffering long term knee and abdominal problems respectively. Petrov returned for a few games in April/May and while Johnson managed a reserve game then he never made it back to the first team. I can't really award either of them marks, suffice to say that we missed them both and will be much better off in 2009/10 with them both playing.

Ched's future

City turned down a £1.5million bid for Ched Evans from Sheffield United today. Danny Pugsley thinks this is due to Hughes' wanting to be cautious before the Sturridge and other issues are cleared up:
I'd be surprised if the fee itself was the issue with any potential move as I think £1.5 million is more or less in the region of what we could command for Evans...

Perhaps Hughes is mindful that the Sturridge situation is still in limbo, and perhaps unwilling to let Evans leave quite yet with that being unresolved.
I can't see any combination of possible circumstances under which Evans has a decent shot at first team football in 2009/10. Even if Sturridge, Vassell, Benjani, Jô and Caicedo all leave we'll still have Bozhinov, Bellamy plus whichever two or more forwards we do buy. Evans' work rate is great but he just doesn't quite have it to stay onboard. I don't imagine it will take much more of an offer from Sheffield United or any other Championship club to convince us to sell.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Season ratings: Defenders

Michael Ball (13 starts, 0 goals)

One of the last relics of the Stuart Pearce era, he looked out of place in a side that is trying to leave the dismal memories of 2005-2007 behind. Spent the first few months of the season resurrecting last year's game of competing with Garrido for title of 'Premier League's slowest left-back.' His effort is there for all to see, and he was quite an effective performer when he was quicker, but he just doesn't have it anymore. One of four players to play their last game for the club in the cathartic nadir of the 3-0 FA Cup loss to Forest in January. C

Tal Ben Haim (14 starts, 0 goals)

Not Mark Hughes' best bit of business. I thought that he represented a good deal at £5m but his spell at the club represented a real failure. He forged an unconvincing partnership with Richards - whom he knocked out against West Ham. Individual errors cost goals against Aston Villa, Brighton and Hull. And to top it off he went to Garry Cook to complain about Mark Hughes. Will not be seen in a City shirt again, I imagine. D

Wayne Bridge (22 starts, 0 goals)

The first buy of the January window, and signalled Hughes' policy of pursuing experienced Premier League campaigners rather than any sort of galactico or wunderkind strategy. At first he did not look much an improvement on Ball and Garrido - making errors that led to goals against Newcastle, Stoke and Portsmouth. He settled into the team as time went on, cutting out most of the errors and showing a quality in attacking play that we haven't seen in a City left-back for some time. There were some fitness problems later on in the season which saw Zabaleta moved across to fill in a few times. A good pre-season, though, and he should be able to justify his fee next year. B-

Richard Dunne (47 starts, 1 goals)

The big question is whether it was an anomalous off-year, or the start of a decline. Because this was not the Richard Dunne we've known and loved for the past nine years. He was slower and clumsier than he's been before, and failed to produce for Hughes the reliability on which Eriksson, Pearce, Keegan and Royle all depended. The dismissal for kicking Amr Zaki was the low point, and he did improve after his four match ban, but there were too many errors to ignore. By the spring, he was consistently overshadowed by Nedum Onuoha, who finally blossomed into the defender some (not me, to my shame) said he would become. And with Hughes said to be on the lookout for a new centre half - and with a ready made captain's replacement in Barry - Dunne may well be at the end of his long journey with City. B-

Javi Garrido (17 starts, 1 goal)

Better than last season, but still not good enough. A clear beneficiary of the Hughes fitness regime, looking quicker and stronger than he did under Eriksson and putting in some pretty good performances in the autumn. Scored a brilliant freekick against Liverpool in October. But, like Joe Hart, he could not do enough to dissuade Hughes from buying a top of the range Premier League experienced model in January. And when Garrido came on away against Aalborg we were reminded exactly why we pay Bridge £90,000 per week. C+

Nedum Onuoha (27 starts, 2 goals)

One of the season's success stories. Finally fulfilled his potential and became a very good, very consistent centre half. Spent the first few months on the bench, filling in at right or centre back when required. But our defensive frailty in 2008 saw Hughes adopt a new approach for 2009: moving Zabaleta into midfield, Richards at right-back and Onuoha alongside Dunne or Kompany in front of Given. It was one of Hughes' best decisions this season, transforming our defence from one of the league's weakest to an acceptably solid one. And at the centre of it was a finally injury free Onuoha. He no longer looks like a promising athlete and occassional footballer but a genuinely composed and commanding defender, with credible international prospects, and was rewarded with the March and May Player of the Month awards. Like Stephen Ireland, he gave a lesson to some of his fellow Academy graduates as to how patience and commitment are the only real means to fulfilling potential. A-

Micah Richards (49 starts, 1 goal)

One of the season's disappointments. So much was expected after last season's heroics, but after a bad knee injury in the spring of 2008 he never seemed to recover his form or confidence. The early suspension to Richard Dunne forced Richards to form with Tal Ben Haim one of the worst centre-back pairings in recent memory. They were mauled by Gabriel Agbonlahor on opening day at Villa Park, and the next weekend they went for the same ball and Richards was knocked out. He struggled on at centre half until Christmas, when he was moved to his preferred right-back position. He was better there, able to impress with his galloping runs down the right, if not always with his defensive positioning. A good performance and his first goal for years against Sunderland in March was a certain highlight. But there was always a sense that when Zabaleta was no longer needed in midfield he would return, and a training-ground spat with Hughes rounded off a rather unsatisfactory year. If he wants to make the 2010 World Cup he needs a big improvement next season. B-

Pablo Zabaleta (39 starts, 1 goal)

I was distraught when we sold Corluka to Spurs, but I should have known not to doubt Hughes - because his replacement is even better. Given that he arrived from La Liga in the last week of August and was thrown straight in to a Premier League game with Chelsea, he settled in quickly and had a very good season, peaking with the December Player of the Month gong. Split his time between playing right back and holding midfield with equal competence and commitment and even did a job at left back when asked; and became a crowd favourite very quickly. For his work-rate, his versatility and 'robust' tackles, he's already immensely popular; he's like Danny Tiatto but he can play. Another good season next year and we may well see him lining up alongside Messi at next year's World Cup. A-

Let's not forget three other defenders: Corluka made six pretty impressive starts before Hughes replaced him with Zabaleta, making a profit in the process. Shaleum Logan filled in at Fratton Park in the absence of Micah Richards, reminding us all how quick he is, and of course the legendary Glauber Berti who got ten minutes against Bolton to rapturous applause.

Lescott linked

This is one that won't go away - rumours of a £15million bid for Everton's Joleon Lescott. And the player seemed quite ambiguous about a potential move this week:

The defender is contracted to Everton until 2012 but, when asked whether a switch to City would interest him, he opted against reaffirming his commitment to Goodison and instead replied: "That's not a question I want to be answering. Nobody has told me otherwise, so I'm an Everton player."

Season ratings: Goalkeepers

Shay Given (21 starts, 0 goals)

If you ever want to remind yourself how far we've come in the last ten years, draw up a 'best City players since I've been supporting' team. If you're under fifty - and I imagine that most of my readers are - the likelihood is that quite a few of the names on the teamsheet will be from the Eriksson and Hughes era. In terms of talented players, we're as lucky as we've ever been at the moment, even if it doesn't always seem that way. No player represents that better than Shay Given; he may have only played twenty-one games for us, but he is surely the best goalkeeper we have had for thirty years. Of all the players we've bought since the takeover, he is the only one I almost feel guilty over - he's just too good. Some of the saves he's made since joining have been breathtaking - a few from Afonso Alves, the Aalborg penalty shoot-out and one from Marouane Fellaini - which helped him to my April Player of the Month award - stand out but there have been many more. Probably the best move Hughes has made, if one of the easier too. If we ever win anything, it will largely be down to this man. A

Joe Hart (33 starts, 0 goals)

Given's arrival made Hart one of the few real losers from the ADUG takeover, in what was ultimately a season of frustration for him. He had a good start to the season, recalling the form that had made him such a good prospect last season. His heroics in the shoot-out in Midtjylland brought back memories of another young English goalkeeper making a name for himself nine years before. But he could never quite do enough to dissuade Hughes from deploying our new found wealth at the top end of the market. When he conceded two soft goals at the Hawthorns on Boxing Day, his fate was sealed. Hart has not had another touch since, and a loan deal to Birmingham City suits all parties. I'd be surprised if we see him again in a City shirt. B

Kasper Schmeichel (2 starts, 0 goals)

Unplacing Joe Hart was always going to be difficult for Kasper; unplacing Hart and Shay Given is impossible. Chances were limited this season to just two games, but even when he did play he never excelled. At the Withdean Stadium he conceded two soft goals and became the only City goalkeeper to lose a penalty shoot-out this season. Surely has no long term prospects at City and will move in the summer. C-

Bids for Johnson, Santa Cruz and Touré?

The transfer gossip is starting to get quite intense - there are all sort of rumours in Friday's papers concerning bids for other Premier League players.

The most mentioned name - and the most suprising - is Portsmouth's Glen Johnson. The Times, The Mirror and The Express all mention that we've bid £18million for him, and are willing to offer him six figures a week in wages. These aren't traditionally very reliable sources for City stories, so I'm not sure exactly what to make of it. I'd certainly be surprised if right-back was top priority for Hughes now, given how good a season Pablo Zabaleta had. But Johnson's a good player and the Barry deal showed how quickly we are willing to move once a target is chosen.

More believable is the news that we're going back again for Roque Santa Cruz - bidding at a reduced level of £15million in recognition of his recent knee problems. I'd be surprised if Santa Cruz is not on Hughes' list of targets, but also if he was at the very top. But with the futures of most of Europe's top strikers up for grabs after today's events, guessing exactly which centre forwards we'll buy is now quite difficult.

And another of the failed January buys is back on the agenda apparently - Arsenal's Kolo Touré. David Woods at The Daily Star quotes a source as saying that Kolo is '50-50' to join City, and that Arsenal want £15million. Can't we do any better?

Barry backs Hughes

Not a surprise, but still nice to hear - Gareth Barry talking about the importance of Mark Hughes in his decision to join City.

“It was my first question,’’ said Barry, speaking at the City of Manchester Stadium. “I wanted to know that the manager’s future was safe here. I was assured by [chairman] Khaldoon Al Mubarak, [chief executive] Garry Cook and [football administrator] Brian Marwood at the club.

“I have seen it before over the years where a player has signed and a couple of months later the manager has gone. It is the last thing I wanted to happen here and I was assured the manager is getting backed and that the club is ambitious. I didn’t want to be coming here and playing under anyone else, really. He is a hard taskmaster but it is something I can adapt to. I have spoken to players who have played under him –like Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Phillips with England – and they were all very complimentary.’’
I don't think it's unreasonable for those of us who supported the continuance of Mark Hughes as manager to feel vindicated by this sort of thing.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Robinho scores in Brazil win

City players scored at both ends in Brazil's comfortable 2-1 defeat of Paraguay, which sends the Seleção three points clear at the top of the South American 2010 World Cup qualifying group.

Paraguay went 1-0 up after twenty five minutes. Salvador Cabañas had a free kick from twenty yards out, which deflected off Elano's outstretched foot over Júlio César. It's been given as a Cabañas goal, rather than an Elano own goal, but it could have been either.

Robinho was the second City player to score, four minutes before half time. He was unmarked at the back post, meeting a Dani Alves cross with his left foot to score from close range. A good finish but Brazil weren't particularly good value for 1-1 at half time; neither Elano nor Robinho were really in the game against a very hard working Paraguay side.

Brazil went 2-1 up on forty nine minutes when Nilmar collected a lovely pass from Felipe Melo, to shake off a defender and score.

My laptop crashed soon after this, and given that it was game over by then and about 03.35, I couldn't be bothered to restart it and get Sopcast going again. So I don't know what Elano and Robinho did in the game's closing stages, but I'm sure if you look hard enough you can find it.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Bulgarians to stay

Both of our Bulgarians' agents have confirmed today that their players are expecting to be at City next season.

First Franco Moretti, Martin Petrov's agent, said this:

Moretti told Sport: "I think he will be staying at City, he has a contract with them.

"I think he will stay at Eastlands for sure, because the coach (Mark Hughes) is staying there.

"He is a big fan, so he will definitely stay at City."

And Valeri Bozhinov's agent, Gerry Palomba, made similar comments:

"Anyway, Manchester City have assured me that he remains a key part of their squad.

"He has been very unfortunate with injury, but they intend to continue the working relationship and have no plans to part....

"He has said that in the future he would like the opportunity to play in Serie A again, but Manchester City still believe in him.

"I have spoken to Mark Hughes in person and, as the manager, he is the man appointed to decide who stays and who goes. For as long as he gives us the assurances we want to hear, why look for a different club?"

Petrov and Bozhinov are very popular players, but I'd be surprised if either of them are first choice next season. I don't see how Petrov gets in the team while Robinho's at the club, and I imagine Bozhinov will be behind whichever strikers we buy in the pecking order. So it's interesting to hear that Hughes wants to keep them both.


Exams now over, blogging will now be back to pre-panic levels. There's a long overdue season review coming either tomorrow or the day after, along with all the usual stuff.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Corradi to stay in Serie A

He's left relegated Reggina and joined Udinese:
"Contact started a few months ago, but only now can I confirm that Corradi is ours," Udinese supremo Gianpaolo Pozzo said in the Italian press.
The future of Rolando Bianchi, relegated with Torino, remains unclear.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Sturridge to Chelsea?

Matt Lawton and Simon Cass sound very confident about this one:
England Under 20 striker Sturridge has become the first signing of the new [Ancelotti] regime on a free after City refused to meet his £55,000-aweek wage demands. He made 16 Premier League appearances last season and scored four goals but Chelsea sporting director Frank Arnesen has been after him for three years.
His most likely destination depends on why exactly you think he failed to sign his contract. I imagine Chelsea are more likely to meet his wage demands than we are, although we're not exactly austere in our wage structure. But if we take Sturridge at his word that he wants first team football then this is a surprise. To be fair to him he is better than Franco di Santo. But first team football in a side with Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and whoever else they buy this summer? Good luck with that Danny.

Next stop: Tévez?

So says Ian Ladyman:
Sources close to Barry have indicated that Hughes was ‘almost certain’ to sign Tevez, even though the official stance from City was merely that they remained confident.

Tevez’s representative Kia Joorabchian is due for a final round of talks with United chief executive David Gill on Wednesday morning as the Premier League champions try to persuade the Argentine to make his two-year loan residency permanent.

It is understood that Tevez himself is very attracted to the prospect of a move to City. He is keen on the opportunity for a central role again rather than being the peripheral figure he has sometimes been at United.
Diego Forlán, David Villa and Joleon Lescott are also mentioned.

: James Ducker reports on those moves:

United have so far balked at meeting the £25.5 million fee [for Tévez] agreed with Joorabchian two years ago and, barring a surprise about-turn from the Premier League champions, City are likely to beat Liverpool to the player’s signature in a deal that would cost almost £54 million over four years.

Hughes is expected to make an opening bid of about £12 million for Lescott, but David Moyes, the Everton manager, is fiercely opposed to selling the England defender and is unlikely to consider accepting a bid of anything less than £20 million.

Barry signs

What a day. I'm sorry for not being here; I spent my day with Tom Barry rather than Manchester City and England's Gareth Barry.

But you all know the details: Villa announced that we had permission to talk to Barry this morning, he passed a medical this afternoon and this evening he was confirmed as having signed a five year deal. Like Stephen Ireland, he is contracted at City until 2014.

The pace is striking. There was the News of the World story on Sunday but little else heralding this. Like the Vincent Kompany deal there were a few hours between the selling club announcing an agreement and our confirming it. It's the best way of doing transfer deals - none of the frustration of waiting, just the thrill of the news itself.

But the real significance of this goes beyond that. It is the strongest sign yet of how attractive a proposition we have become to players. Sometimes the facts need re-stating: one of England's first choice midfielders, captain of Aston Villa, chased by Liverpool and Arsenal, has joined City - where he will line up alongside Holland's first choice holding midfielder. This is also the first major transfer done by an English club this summer - the transfer window doesn't even technically open for another month. I know it's obvious, but this is what money gets you.

And so our summer of fun begins. If this is how it starts, god knows how fun July and August will be. But the outlines of Hughes' plans are clear: quality - not potential quality (the Eriksson plan), not bygone quality (the Keegan plan) but players who are now, or soon to be, at the top of their games. And Premier League quality, too. Not from what Joey Barton called 'the Pontins League over in Belgium'; but players at ease with the competition and the environment. Since the ADUG money came, Hughes has bought five players now (discounting Robinho) - and all but Nigel de Jong have been of proven Premier League experience and quality.

So when the board and the manager say we want to finish sixth next season, we know they're serious.