Monday, 20 July 2009


I wrote in the spring about Sparkyisation: Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen's plans to transform the MCFC squad from the mess they inherited into one defined by the work ethic, winning mentality and athleticism that defined thier Blackburn Rovers side. This was implemented through two tracks: the introduction of newly intense fitness training programmes, in stark contrast to Eriksson's more relaxed methods; and the purchasing of more battle-ready troops: Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Craig Bellamy, Nigel de Jong - than the rather lightweight technicians and plodding old pros that Hughes had inherited.

These points are made in an article by Jonathan Northcroft in yesterday's Sunday Times which is certainly worth your attention if you haven't already read it:

Hughes needed fighters. The personalities of the players he has recruited, as much as their (undoubted) abilities and (exorbitant) costs, mean City should now be taken seriously as a football force. Initially, after Mansour’s buyout, they were like a trifle, rich but wobbly. Hughes has set about changing that, buying types who will give his team a proper foundation. He said upon signing Gareth Barry, to kick off his summer transfer business, that City had made “too many mistakes” down the years in signing the wrong characters and from now on “due diligence” would be done. Shaun Wright-Phillips brought up the issue last season when trying to explain how City were winners of the second-highest number of home games in the Premier League and yet possessors of the worst away record of all the non-relegated sides. “The basis of everything is hard work. That’s the side of things we’re trying to get right,” he said.

This summer has seen not just a continuation of Sparkyisation but also an upgrade. In January we looked simply for Premier League experience. When they arrived, Shay Given, Wayne Bridge and Craig Bellamy had played 762 Premier League games between the three of them over the course of the last ten years or so. The other signing, Nigel de Jong, was an import - but he was only bought after we tried and failed to buy Scott Parker. But in the summer window we haven't just looked for Premier League experience, but specifically top six Premier League experience. First Gareth Barry, who captained Aston Villa to consecutive sixth placed finishes the last two years. Then Roque Santa Cruz, who, in his one full season in the Premier League fired Blackburn Rovers up to seventh place. Next was Carlos Tévez - who won two Premier Leagues in two years at Manchester United, the first EPL winner to join us since Kevin Keegan signed Nicolas Anelka and David Seaman. Emmanuel Adebayor finished fourth, fourth, third and fourth in his four years at Arsenal - disappointing relative to the expectations of Arsenal fans but certainly an impressive record to bring to City.

Our next targets are John Terry and Joleon Lescott. Terry captained Chelsea to two Premier League trophies in 2004/05 and 2005/06, and has since led them to finishes of second, second and third. Joleon Lescott has never won the League, but in his three years at Everton they have finished sixth, fifth and fifth. So Hughes is certainly being consistent. Not just Premier League experience, but elite Premier League experience is the first requirement of our current trainsfer targets. Call it SparkyisationPlus. And these players, fully aware of what is required to finish in the upper reaches of the League, form a squad with more nous and experience than we have seen for years at City. Back to Jonathan Northcroft:

A squad is taking shape based not around trophy acquisitions but solid talents with solid personalities, which is not what we expected when their spree began with the arrival of Robinho during Mansour’s first few hours as owner and then continued with the quixotic pursuit of Kaka. Brilliant as the Brazilian midfielder is, City were proposing to spend £240m in fees and wages to get him and Hughes’s subsequent use of that money seems much more suitable for a club in the building process: Tevez, Barry and Santa Cruz cost £140m in fees and wages; Bridge, De Jong and Given £100m the window before. Tevez, Barry, De Jong, Given, Wright-Phillips, Bridge, Kompany, Zabaleta — and, when fit, Santa Cruz and Bellamy — these are players guaranteed to stand toe-to-toe against United and to stride out at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates stadium without fear. They will also sweat for the jersey on tough away days at Portsmouth and Stoke.

We'll have to wait and see on this, but I've got a growing sense that he might be right.

1 comment:

Simon said...

The signs are positive, even if the signing of Adebeyor seems to go a little against the 'fighting' mentality. All Arsenal fans I've spoken to have said he will not fight for the shirt as much as we would hope. Brilliant in his way, a definite improvement in the squad, but us fans shouldn't be too surprised if in a few months we see the other side of him. The rest of the article I agree with, and I'm torn between unusual optimism before the season starts, married to the usual cynicism and pessimism!