Saturday, 31 January 2009

Stoke 1 - 0 City

  • Just when it seemed like we'd turned a corner. Our recent good results (Blackburn, Wigan and Newcastle) were not so much due to exceptional technical quality but more a new found steel and resilience in the team. Today was not necessarily a backward step in that regard - we worked hard all day, and generally defended well in difficult circumstances - but a simple technical failure. We had a clear task: fifty minutes to break down an 8-1-0 formation and we failed to do it.
  • It was a surprise that failed to break them down, but the coincidence of such poor performances from our front four (five when Elano is included) was rather unfortunate. Wright-Phillips, Ireland, Robinho and Bellamy were all sub-par today. Stoke defended very well - Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United all struggled at the Britannia - but our performance was disappointing.
  • The inability to win away games against teams we should be beating is a long standing problem. Last season we drew at Fulham (17th), Derby (20th) and Bolton (16th) and lost at Reading (18th), Birmingham (19th) and Middlesbrough (13th). I thought that this was an area where Hughes would improve us: but thus far in 2008/09 we'd lost at West Brom (20th), Bolton (12th) and Middlesbrough (19th) - and drawn at Blackburn (18th) and Newcastle (15th). But going into the Stoke game I thought that our new-found toughness - particularly with Bellamy, de Jong and Bridge playing - would see us through. I'm sure a similar thought will have occurred to the watching chairman.
  • I wasn't that excited about our buying him, but I'm now more enthused with the potential signing of Roque Santa Cruz. We missed his physical presence up front: Ireland, Robinho, Elano and SWP were all starved of space and we looked short on options. Bellamy and Santa Cruz up front in a 4-4-2 would make sense, but I think Robinho would be rather wasted on the left of midfield. Ideas in the comments...

Transfer window: 54 hours to go

  • The Daily Mail says that we're close to signing Kolo Touré for £15million. I'd presumed that moving Kompany to centre back would mean that we didn't need another defender, but it may be that Kompany-Touré rather than Kompany-Dunne is the preferred long term partnership.
  • Rumours in The Times that Sunderland have made a bid for Tal Ben Haim. After his not being on the Tenerife training camp - presumably as a punishment for going behind Hughes' back to complain about him to Garry Cook - he clearly doesn't have much of a future at City.
  • Someone who I really hope does have a future at City is Danny Sturridge. The Sun says that Portsmouth want him on loan, and The Mirror seems to have a 'Sturridge to Villa' story at least once a week. I'm actually getting rather anxious about this - he can go where he wants on a Bosman in the summer. Let's hope this is just his agent milking us for money.

Another adventure in hi-tech

Words cannot quite express the awesome of's new chalkboard tool. It's a statistical programme which maps players' movements and activities over the course of a game. You can use it to break down a player's performance by passes, shots, tackles etc. I'll try to use it as much as I reasonably can, so for starters here is Nigel de Jong's passing against Newcastle on Wednesday night.

(I tried and failed to embed it in here, so I can only manage a link. Which isn't quite as cool.)

Friday, 30 January 2009

Transfer window: 89 hours left

  • The main name linked with a move is still Shay Given. Friday's Mail and Times both suggest that he put in a transfer request on Thursday in an attempt to force through his move. But with Kinnear claiming we've only bid as high as £5million, we may to change course if we're to sign him in time.
  • The other frequently linked name is Roque Santa Cruz. Oliver Kay and James Ducker suggest we've made a final offer of £18.5million - but that Blackburn are holding out for £22m. Ian Herbert writes that Blackburn are holding out for at least £30m and that the £18.5m bid will be turned down. This fits with Allardyce's claims on Thursday that RSC was not for sale, because they didn't have enough to sign a replacement, particularly with Matt Derbyshire going to Olympiakos.
  • Ian Herbert claims that, having failed with Santa Cruz, City will turn their attention to other targets. One of those, not for this January but for the summer, will be Manchester United's Carlos Tévez. He was one of three players - along with Messi and Kaká - whom City were looking at as our January 'marquee signing'. So there is a longstanding interest there, and apparently Hughes is a big fan. Our interest in Tévez is also mentioned in The Times - along with Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter.
  • Celtic are interested in two City fringe players, according to The Times. They're looking for a loan move for Gelson Fernandes (we want £4m) and some sort of bid for Ched Evans - for whom they face competition from Championship clubs.
  • And a curiously anonymous Daily Mail piece mentions a £12m bid for Kolo Touré which Arsenal will turn down. We may go back with £15m and/or Richard Dunne, or pursue Alex or Materazzi instead. Michael Ball is injured for the season and then out of contract too, apparently.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Our hybrid team

I can't find the exact quote (it's 01.32), but I remember Hughes talking once of how he envisaged the City team of future years: a hybrid of Academy graduates and his buys. Today's starting eleven was only made up of only Academy players and Hughes buys: a sign of things to come.

The Academy players were Onuoha, Richards, Ireland and Wright-Phillips. Joe Hart is not technically an Academy player, but he arrived just weeks after his 19th birthday so he can be said to have, in a sense, come through the ranks at City.

While Robinho is sui generis, the other players were all distinctly Hughes buys: Bridge, Kompany, Zabaleta, de Jong and Bellamy. All competitive, athletic players in their 20s who nevertheless have the benefit of European and international football. None of Eriksson's young diamonds or Pearce's ageing pros here.

Tellingly, this was only the second game this season in which none of the starting eleven were signed by Eriksson. The other was the 3-1 loss to Chelsea, in which Jô played, who could be considered an Eriksson buy I suppose.

City v Newcastle player ratings

Hart In what could be his last game for a while, put in a solid performance. Not at fault for the goal, the rest of his play was pretty good. 6

Richards Not as good as against Wigan, but still noticeably more comfortable than usual now he's at right back. Attacked with real vigour, getting into the 18 yard box three or four times. But defensively average. Should have conceded a penalty for a flying rugby tackle on Steven Taylor. 6

Kompany Given the captain's armband in Dunne's absence: he is surely our next skipper. Does anyone want to tell Richards his 'vice-captaincy' is meaningless? Defended very well (admittedly Andy Carroll is not a testing opponent), and picked out some fantastic passes. Could end up playing 500 games for City. 8

Onuoha Solid and competent filling in at centre back. Strong in the air as usual, and passable on the ground. But expect to see Dunne back for the Copenhagen and Liverpool games in three weeks' time. 7

Bridge Epic fail for their goal, overcomplicating and getting robbed by David Edgar who crossed for Andy Carroll. Otherwise a good day, linking up well with Robinho down the left and getting to the byline a few times. 6

de Jong Not our best debutant, but good nonetheless. Put in some big tackles and generally accomplished in his short passing. Not many midfielders will enjoy playing against the de Jong/Zabaleta shield. Will be much needed at the Britannia on Saturday. 7

Zabaleta A second very good game in the midfield. Like de Jong, a master of both the destructive and constructive aspects: he was fearless in the tackle and made some powerful runs from the middle. On one such run he set up Bellamy's goal (his third assisst I think - Benjani at Fulham and Caicedo in Spain being the others). 8

Ireland His first game in 2009 (he hasn't played since the Blackburn 2-2) and he looked more rusty than refreshed. A few neat touches but not quite at the levels he set for himself previously this season. 6

Robinho Didn't look particularly distracted by recent events, but not one of his best games. One or two incomprehensible tricks (his one-two with Ireland in the first half was the best) and a good pass to Wright-Phillips for the goal. But shooting and final third play not at its usual standard. 6

Bellamy A good debut and a lovely goal. Quicker and fitter than anyone could have hoped for, he gave us a pace and bite up front we haven't had since Anelka. Didn't quite look to be wholly on the Ireland/Robinho wavelength but that will surely come in time. The spin and finish for his goal was really something. 8

Wright-Phillips First goal for months and a pretty good performance. Took his goal well and generally hassled and ran well. Maybe could have crossed a bit better but still learning Bellamy's game. Picked up a knock: would be sorely missed on Saturday. 7


Elano Another impressive cameo. Touch, vision, awareness all good. Could have done a good job given more pitch time one suspects. 7

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

City 2 - 1 Newcastle

  • An average performance but another good win. The 'richest team in the Championship' jibes worry me less and less: seven points clear of the drop zone with a game in hand. We can realistically turn our attentions to catching Wigan and West Ham now, which should be a good chase. Importantly, we have now gone four league games unbeaten (Hull, Blackburn, Wigan and today) for the first time since September/October 2007 (Villa 1-0, Fulham 3-3, Newcastle 3-1, 'Boro 3-1 and Birmingham 1-0).
  • The game was very similar to the Wigan win eleven days. I wrote then how the ground-out 1-0 was dissimilar to all of our previous league wins this season, and today was very much in the same vein. There was not much flowing football (though there was some), not many Robinho brilliances (though there were a few), and not 3 or 5 or 6 goals for City but just the two. What we did see was a strength - physical and mental - that has been new to City in the last month or so. It was not an exceptional footballing performance, but it did not need to be. Which is quite a comfort after our abject autumn.
  • We have been spoilt by the quality of debuts this season. Kompany against West Ham and Wright-Phillips (in a way) against Sunderland were both perfect, Robinho against Chelsea and Bridge against Wigan were also very good. (Though nothing on a par with Elano and Petrov at the Boleyn Ground, August 2007). Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong were more of the Robinho/Bridge bracket, so they both impressed. Both looked relatively settled in and worked as hard as expected. Another two good buys I imagine.
  • City's performance itself was rather patchy. The team was what I guessed it might be, and we dominated the early proceedings. Barton barely got the ball off Zabaleta and de Jong for the first twenty minutes, and the goal was much deserved. The rest of the first half was comfortable. From 45 to 77 minutes though we were sloppy and disjointed: a fit Owen, Martins or Viduka would have surely punished us. A clear penalty was turned down (worse than Zabaleta's foul on Cattermole last game) and our passing vanished. I feared a collapse - like the Liverpool, Spurs, Newcastle (a) games. But poor final third play from Newcastle, and our newfound spinefulness were sufficient to see us through, even after Carroll's goal.
  • The Zabaleta in midfield/Richards at right back experiment continued. With the arrival of de Jong it looks like this represents a permanent move to centre half for Vincent Kompany. The obvious loser is Elano who is now squeezed out of a place, and whichever of Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha accompanies Kompany in defence. (I'm not neutral on this issue, but only because I don't rate Onuoha).

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Team for Newcastle?

This is a new hi-tech tool I'm trying out on the blog: post-it notes. Let me know what you think. Will this be the team for the Newcastle game? Ought it to be the team for the Newcastle game?

Tuesday transfer round up

  • Ian Herbert writes that there will be one more bid for Roque Santa Cruz, this time of £19million. He also mentions possible moves for Shay Given and Kolo Touré. Nothing groundbreaking here.
  • Nor in an almost identical piece in The Times.
  • But there is something new in the Telegraph. Two of their writers (Oliver Brown and Rory Smith), about whom I know nothing, claim that City are 'understood to be monitoring the situation' of Robbie Keane at Liverpool. He is very much out of favour with Benítez and if he is put up for sale (and our move for RSC falls through) we could apparently rival Spurs for his signature. This is also in The Guardian here.
  • The Daily Star says that Steve Harper has been told that he will start on Wednesday, given Shay Given's pending move to City. Given's not playing on Wednesday is almost as good news as the fact that we're seemingly about to sign him.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Why no squad numbers?

New signings Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong are still listed as '0' on

The Newcastle game is just 56 hours away, so they'd better hurry up.

Or maybe they're waiting until 12, 24 and 26 get freed up?

UPDATE Have just been confirmed: Bellamy will wear 39, de Jong 34.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Monday transfer news

I've only got a maximum of eight more of these late night round ups left to do, which is a relief.
  • The Times' 'Window Watch' says that Steve Harper's new contract offer means that Shay Given will be coming to City in the new future. Given and his representatives are due to meet NUFC managing director Derek Llambias today (Monday) to discuss his wish to move. City are apparently willing to meet the £10million asking price (which makes you wonder what exactly the point was of bidding £3m in the first place). But I hope we get him and it looks like we will.
  • This is backed up in The Independent. "The indications are" that Given will be leaving, whatever that means. They mention a bid of £7million plus either Onuoha or Johnson. And an arrangement whereby Given can't play on Wednesday. Which sounds fair enough.

Hughes' mission

Something I missed from the great Martin Samuel/Mark Hughes interview was this:
‘You know, some managers are fire fighters, some are developers and some take a successful club and continue its success. I develop: the team and the club. I get involved at all levels, in the details, in what is acceptable and what is not. And everywhere I have been my way has worked.

'Mediocrity has surrounded Manchester City for too long and if we don’t get these foundations in now, the project is built on sand and it will not be sustainable.’
The central narrative of Manchester City this season has been Mark Hughes' attempt to impose his will, his character, on all aspects of the football club. I wrote after the West Brom defeat that it was Hughes' nature as Eriksson's antithesis that has caused all the discord at the club this year. Whether or not Hughes is right in his analysis of 2007/08 (I used to think he was wrong but am increasingly coming round to his position), the point is that he is making changes based on that understanding.

The problem is that if he is replaced in the summer with a more Eriksson like manager - Frank Rijkaard or Guus Hiddink, we'll have to go through this same discord, clear out, growing pains all over again. This sentiment may actually be one of the strongest pro-Hughes arguments. On a personal level my support for Hughes is at least as much of a function of a desperate desire for stability (Kevin '3 and a half seasons' Keegan remains the longest serving manager of my life time) than any rational assessment of his achievements thus far in the job.

McGarry's claims

Danny flags up Ian McGarry's bold claims about MCFC on Sunday Supplement this morning:
We were discussed quite extensively on Sky Sports 'Sunday Supplement' this morning, amongst other things discussing Richards. Ian McGarry from The Sun was on the programme and struck as being very 'anti-City'. Remarkably, he suggested that Richards needs to leave the club in order "to get more games". During the programme, he also stated it was well known that Mark Hughes would not be in charge next season and that Robinho was "desperate" to leave the club - so much so that he has come back from Brazil early in order to try and engineer a move.
He's absolutely right: McGarry was firing off all these anti-City stories throughout the show. The most notable was that the whole 'Abramovich has run out of money' story is false and that he will prove this buy signing Robinho this week. He later said that Robinho had been promised that Hughes would be out by the summer. I tend to be a bit wary of Mark Hughes' suggesting that there are people with a vendetta against the club - it always sounds so lame - but when you hear stuff like this you see what he means.

Transfer window : 8 days to go

After the confirmations of the de Jong and Bellamy signings, and the collapse of the Kaká one, we've hit a bit of a lull in our transfer dealings. There have been no ins or outs since Wednesday, and not many very strong rumours either.

Does this mean that we're done for the transfer window? I'm not so sure. I still think there is a possibility we will bring in another centre back, and maybe even a goalkeeper as well. To be honest, I'm looking forward to when it's over. There's only so much time one can spend on NewsNow before going crazy.

But until 5pm next Monday, we can still buy and sell players so we've all got to gear up for this one last push. Much more important, of course, is the Newcastle game on Wednesday.

Richards linked with £7m Arsenal move

In the News of the World. I'm pretty sceptical.

Like Michael Johnson, he is contracted until summer 2013. And it's not like we need the money. So what possible reason could we have to sell him? The only explanation would be that he is a disruptive influence in the dressing room and therefore merely having him around is damaging. But I just don't think that's true.

And remember Hughes has spoken in the past of the need to build the team around Academy players.

PS It's worth mentioning a similar story was a Shaun Custis 'Exclusive' in The Sun on Thursday. But the price was £5m and the clubs mentioned were Wigan and Bolton. This is much less plausible than the Arsenal move alleged above, for obvious reasons.

Happy Birthday Robinho!

Today is the 25th birthday of Robson de Souza.

Whatever his recent indiscretions, we ought to celebrate him today.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


Fascinating stuff from today's Daily Mail - a big interview with Mark Hughes, done by Martin Samuel.

I don't really want to commend various bit at the expense of others - it's all worth reading - but the very best bits are on training and transfers.
‘It frustrates me, this perception that there are only a handful of guys in the world who can take a training session.

'It feels like I’m attempting a hard sell here, but I’ll wager Manchester City has the best qualified coaching staff in the country. And a badge isn’t everything, but I have watched some of the greatest coaches and, believe me, they are doing little that is different...I know the players at Manchester City get the same treatment they would get at the biggest clubs in Europe. That is my way.

‘Any player taking a step up to join Manchester City will notice the difference, and any player who has come from an elite club will not see the join. Roque Santa Cruz came to Blackburn Rovers from Bayern Munich, which was the most professional club I ever played for, and he had no problem with how we worked on a daily basis.

And then regarding transfers, particularly a certain Brazilian.

‘So we tried to buy Kaka?’ he asks. ‘I couldn’t see a downside, because I didn’t realise how badly we were going to get hammered if we failed to bring it off.

'Yet what were we meant to do? When the opportunity to bring in one of the top players in the world comes along, you cannot fail to pursue it out of fear that it has come too soon. It might not happen again and you will always be wondering, what if? So, no, it would not put me off trying again.

‘We were right to do it and we got closer than people expected. Yes, we were running before we could walk, but we were trying to make something happen here.
I really enjoyed reading this. Hughes is so cagey in his television interviews that he's barely worth watching. But there's quite a lot that's interesting in this.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

What could have been

Fascinating stuff from Daniel Taylor and Ian Herbert about players that we tried to sign already. Interestingly enough, it's all the names that appeared in the papers: David Villa, Lassana Diarra, Gigi Buffon, Joleon Lescott, Yaya Touré, Mikel Arteta etc etc.

Two interesting bits though: the first names Hughes gave to ADUG when told of the money available were Valencia's Davids Villa and Silva. But we were quoted £130million and decided against it.

Hughes wanted Tévez but the board feared he would be unpopular with the fans. He certainly wouldn't be unpopular with me.

Henry? Drogba??

Two rumoured moves for ageing French speaking forwards tonight: Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba.

The Henry story - reported by Ian Herbert and Oliver Kay (strong indicators of veracity) - is that he is to be one of our main targets next summer. Garry Cook has decided against another bid for a marquee signing this January, but sees Henry as perfect for the summer. This seems perfect to me: he is a big enough name to satisfy the marketing aspect of the galactico purchase, and - as he is busy proving this season - has still got it as a footballer. When the 2009/10 season starts he will just be turning 32, but I'd still love to see him at City.

Regarding Drogba, I'm less sure. It's in The Sun, who do not have much a track record with City, and The Daily Mail - but not by their resident City expert Ian Ladyman. Apparently we're going to make an approach - and will ask Chelsea to 'name their price'. Shaun Custis just uses it as an excuse to bring back 'Robinho to Chelsea' rumours. Drogba has shown recently that, formidable though he was for Mourinho, he is a disruptive influence under managers he does not respect. What exactly would be the point in throwing in another anti-Hughes influence into an already volatile dressing room?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

de Jong deal done

Unequivocally good news.

One of our most pressing concerns: a lack of bite and quality in central midfield - has been addressed. A product of the famed Ajax Academy, he won their Player of 2004/05 before moving to Hamburg. He has 30 Dutch caps and was a regular for them in Euro 2008.

In terms of his style, I can only point you what former coach and fellow Dutchman Martin Jol said of him recently; that he:
"is the type who will thrive in the Premier League. He's tough and can build up the play, and that's a rare combination. He's like Michael Carrick only smaller. He's a very good professional who lives for football and over the past two seasons has been maybe our best player."
His length of deal (four and a half years) means that we now have a good core of players contracted to 2013: Micah Richards (20), Michael Johnson (20 - I still have hope), Joe Hart (21), Pablo Zabaleta (24), de Jong (24) and, err, Craig Bellamy (29).

This means of the six things I identified on New Year's Eve as priorities for the Transfer Window, we have tied up three: a centre forward, a holding midfielder and a left back. All that's left is a centre back, another goalkeeper and a new contract for Danny Sturridge.

Tenerife training camp photos

From AFP. I can only find six. If you have links to more, leave them in the comments.

Robinho walk out

I was a bit pissed off with the Kaká deal falling through, but what really got to me last night was the Robinho walk out story. I'll admit to getting over-excited by the proposed £100m transfer: like most City fans I'd spent the last week scribbling in the margin of books my team for 2009 - central in a 4-2-3-1, presumably, but would that restrict Ireland? But it was always essentially fantasy, even had it come true.

But the Robinho walk out story made me feel sick. That sense of dread that everything at City was collapsing, as it always does. I'd had it three times in 2008: the first rumours that Thaksin was unhappy with Eriksson on 13 April, particularly culminating in the 'understanding' that he would be sacked after the Fulham defeat. Then there was the Far East tour in late May and the alleged players strike. And then the implosion in early August when Corluka and Ireland were almost sold, Thaksin became an international fugitive, and it looked like it was going to go all Leeds United.

I didn't think the first such moment in 2009 would happen just three weeks in (in fact, I hoped there wouldn't be any). But reading that our best player (not just in general, but in my lifetime) had stormed out of training in disgust with the management, that his future was in doubt, was difficult to deal with. Of course, the future of the club wasn't threatened in any real way. But it would represent the failure of one of the club's boldest ever purchase, and the brilliant symbol of the ADUG era.

Today's news on Robinho has been slightly better. It was not, apparently, an angry reaction to the failure to sign Kaká but because he wanted to celebrate his 25th birthday in Brazil. Garry Cook talked to the broadsheets on Monday and so there are naturally a few stories about it today. Cook seems upset with Robinho's actions, but the whole 'Robinho's future in doubt' stuff does seem a bit overblown (from The Guardian):
"No player is bigger than the club," said Cook. "This club has a lot more history and heritage than one person, so it's disappointing. It doesn't set good standards. Robinho hasn't displayed the sense that he thinks he's bigger than the team in the past. But this is a disciplinary matter. Mark has some clear guardrails around the discipline of footballers and the roles that they play. If Robinho has broken those then we will manage it internally....

"And I would be surprised if anyone told me he is unsettled. Mark Hughes has not told me he [Robinho] is unsettled. He seems very settled when he is scoring for our team. I would be very disappointed if the happiness of players at our club was dependent on other players coming into the club. That would really disappoint me."
There's talk of Scolari wanting another go for him in the summer. The ways things are going, though, Scolari won't be Chelsea manager in the summer. And what's Abramovich going to do? Offer us £91million? Or am I playing this down because I'm scared it's true?

Why the Kaká deal failed

Two very informative and revealing articles in the Wednesday papers: Oliver Kay in The Times, and Ian Herbert in The Independent. Drawing direct causation is quite difficult; all three parties - MCFC, AC Milan and Kaká himself are claiming responsbility for breaking off the talks.

My (rather muddled) sense is that the player was persuaded by the fans to stay, this became clear on Monday night and then both clubs rushed to claim credit for calling the deal off. We have got a good demonstration, though, of why exactly Silvio Berlusconi is such a genius at this sort of thing. But do read both of those reports for more information.

I'm less upset about this than I was last night. On reflection, it was such a bold move, such a leap in the dark, that we cannot be too disconsolate. A team with 25 points in 21 games, and no trophies in 32 years, tried to sign one of the world's greatest footballers for almost double the all-time transfer record. Yes, we got our fingers burnt. But the sheer audacity of it impresses me.

We learnt that while we have some way to go to convince a World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d'Or winner (Robinho has won none of those) to join us, our mountains of cash and chutzpah at least buys us a seat at the table. Our mistake may have been in aiming in slightly too high this time: not only is Kaká genuinely one for the ages - the very best of the very best - but his personal beliefs make him less like to chase Mammon quite as crudely as other footballers.

We may have to settle for Bellamy and Bridge this January, but I am sure we will back in January aiming for more top stars. Kaká, Messi and Torres may be beyond us for some time. But there are plenty of world class players just one level beneath them, for whom a quarter of a million pounds each week may be too much to turn down, protesting fans or none.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Back to football

I wrote on January 1 about what we needed in the transfer window.

In this order: a centre forward, a central midfielder, a centre back, a left back and a goalkeeper.

Now that the Kaká distraction has come and gone (we need to leave it behind us now, I am quite sure that we will not) the club must stick to its original plans. Of the requirements above we have met two (Bellamy and Bridge), and are soon to meet the second - Nigel de Jong.

So we still need a centre back urgently and probably a goalkeeper too. We can help solve the defensive problem by buying another midfielder, thus allowing Vincent Kompany to play at centre half in future. But another box to box midfielder - Parker, Palacios, etc - would be good.

And if ADUG really want a marquee signing up front would be best. Bellamy might turn out to be ok, but he's not really the man to bring the best out of Robinho.

Kaká deal off

A few thoughts.
  • This feels like a bit of an embarassment for MCFC. I feel embarrassed as a fan. To go to Milan, offering close to €100million to the club, and an alleged £500,000 per week to the player and to be turned away is a genuine failure. The whole point of such sums of money is that they are prohibitively large: so big as to blow away all other considerations. But it didn't work. Kaká stood firm and turned down. We come out of it looking not too clever. Even by his own standards of management speak Garry Cook's statement was meaningless. It has shown quite clearly that to attract the very best - a class to which Robinho does not quite belong - cash and chutzpah are not quite enough.
  • An interesting question is: what does this tell us Robinho? That his transfer was a special case - brought about by the unique circumstance of a world class player desperate to leave his club to almost any available suitor. That his friendship with Kaká was not sufficient to bring him to the club, or at least, it was less strong than Kaká's with Maldini, Pirlo, Pato etc. Or maybe the lure of playing with Robinho is not so much as to attract the world's best?
  • Regardless, Robinho is a good example of what the ADUG cash can achieve, even if it can't tempt Kaká. Hence the frustration at reading that Robinho has left the club's training camp in Tenerife. Ian Ladyman reported that he had gone AWOL, and Tuesday's Sun claims the bust up was over Hughes' decision not to allow him to return home to Brazil for his 25th birthday. But I suppose it's better the dispute be over this rather than frustration at our failure to sign Kaká.
  • Maybe we shouldn't let Harry Redknapp have Wilson Palacios after all.

Monday, 19 January 2009

City pull out of Kaká chase

From the official site:

Manchester City has terminated its discussions with AC Milan over the possible transfer of the player Kaka.

Following a meeting in Milan today, the Club felt that it was unlikely that the two parties could reach common ground for an agreement.

The discussions reached only a preliminary stage and the player was not involved at any time. No commercial terms were framed.

Commenting on the situation, Garry Cook stated: "Whilst Manchester City Football Club has an obvious interest in world class players of the quality of Kaka, we owe it to our fans that such a transfer must work on every level; commercially, financially, in terms of results on the field and within Manchester City's broader community."

More on Bellamy

I'm not very enthusiastic about the signing of Bellamy - although I am pleased we have a new centre forward. But having read the criticisms of Bellamy from some City fans there are two points I want to make.

You often hear the complaint: 'He has caused trouble at every team he's ever played for.' This is almost true, but not quite. It is true that he has a track record of poor behaviour : particularly for incidents at Newcastle, Liverpool and now West Ham. He is clearly a volatile individual, and most probably an unpleasant one. But his record for Blackburn Rovers and for Wales - on and off the pitch - is much better. A better statement than that above would be: 'He has caused trouble at most teams he's played for, but at none managed by Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen'.

His 17 goals in 2005/06 (13 in the league) for Blackburn Rovers is comfortably his best ever season in English top flight football. Similarly his record for Wales - under Hughes and Bowen - is more consistent than at club level. He clearly has a good relationship with them, and said quite clearly today that this influenced his move:
"It (Hughes and his coaching team) was a big factor, because they are people that I have worked with since I was 18...They know me better than anybody-else in the football game, and they are people I completely trust in....They have progressed me massively, and I owe them a lot"
City fans were happy for us to take a gamble on Roque Santa Cruz : a striker whose one successful season to date was under Mark Hughes - on the basis that Hughes could bring out the same form again at City. Why not show the same faith in Hughes and Bowen to extract the best from Bellamy?

The other criticism made of the Bellamy signing is the 'I hate him because he is an arsehole' complaint. This frustrates me as people who make it don't seem to understand how contingent that is. You don't hate him because he is an arsehole: you hate him because he is an arsehole who happens to play for a different team. If you employed that standard consistently then you would have had to hate Joey Barton ever since the Jamie Tandy cigar moment, or the Bangkok bar fight at the least. You certainly would have had to hate Thaksin Shinawatra before he started to doubt Eriksson. But I imagine most City fans fulfilled neither of these criteria. And understandably so - football fan tribalism tends to trump moral judgements nine times out of ten. I just wish some City fans would be a bit more honest about this. He will receive a good reception against Newcastle next Wednesday - and in a sense, rightly so - arsehole or not.

The one criticism worth dealing with is that he is not a particularly good centre forward. Maybe so: we'll find out quite soon. But anything that makes Darius Vassell, Benjani and Jô drop down the pecking order is a good buy. He's no Nicolas Anelka, but if he could at least be Emile Mpenza or Rolando Bianchi quality then we've improved.

Bellamy signs

It's always fun to buy players, so this counts as good news.

The fee is exorbitant, but that's something we'll have to get used to. I don't know the wage and I don't really want to: I would be surprised if it was less than six weeks weekly though. What rather sticks in the throat is the length of the deal: 4 and a half seasons.

For an injury prone 29 year old stopgap to be contracted until 2013 - as long as only Zabaleta, Richards, Hart and Johnson is pretty weird. Even more so given that Kompany, Robinho and Ireland are only on deals expiring in 2012.

Providing we don't sign any more centre forwards this January I presume Bellamy will be first choice for the rest of the season. But for 2009/10 I'd like to think there will be one or two new ones (the sky's the limit) plus Sturridge and Bozhinov. To think he could still be collecting his £5m+ per year beyond Micah Richards' 25th birthday is a strange thought.

I'll write more after Liverpool v Everton.


A very enjoyable YouTube here: a rant against media hypocrisy over the Kaká deal, from 'RealMancsAreBlue'. Well worth seven minutes of your afternoon.

3 league games unbeaten

For the first time since February 2008: the 1-1 against West Ham, the 1-1 at Derby and 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

Bellamy photographed with Paul Aldridge

On MailOnline, leaving the Lowry Hotel. HERE.

Bellamy fee agreed

According to BBC Sport.

I wonder what length of contract we'll offer him. I'd like to think that he won't be first choice by the start of the 2009/10 season.

A bit about Nigel de Jong

For those of us who don't watch much German football, there was an interesting part of Jonathan Northcroft's Sunday Times article (inexplicably not online) yesterday about him. Here is the relevant section.
Yesterday City were on the brink of completing a transfer that seems piffling compared with their move for Kaka but which would have been considered a coup in normal circumstances. Nigel de Jong, Hamburg's Dutch midfielder, is to join them for a fee of about £13m, on wages in excess of £90,000 a week. Real Madrid bid for De Jong but found themselves gazumped.

De Jong, according to Hamburg's manager, Martin Jol, who does not want to lose the player, "is the type who will thrive in the Premier League. He's tough and can build up the play, and that's a rare combination. He's like Michael Carrick only smaller. He's a very good professional who lives for football and over the past two seasons has been maybe our best player."

De Jong, like Wayne Bridge, who arrived at Eastlands at the start of the transfer window, is the type of tough, diligent pro to whom manager Mark Hughes has been attracted throughout his management career.

Off the hook?

I know everyone's really excited about the Kaká deal but there's an important point to be made about our recent transfer activity.

We heard from Ian Ladyman after the Nottingham Forest game (3rd January) that Hughes was furious with the transfer men for only buying Wayne Bridge by then. He demanded that they work much harder to bring in new players for the next match.

A week passed until the Portsmouth game. We would have put out a very weak team and probably got beaten. But Portsmouth's poor facilities intervened on our behalf, to save us from defeat (and, possibly, to save Mark Hughes).

We then had another week to bring in players for the Wigan game. But the Kaká story broke and everyone stopped talking about Craig Bellamy, Scott Parker, Roque Santa Cruz and the Touré brothers. By Saturday though, Bridge remained the only new purchase. But a rejigged team and some pieces of good luck got us through for us first win since Boxing Day.

Garry Cook and Paul Aldridge were off the hook again. Of course trying to sign Kaká is important and worthy of time and resources. But so, surely, is a new holding midfielder, centre forward and centre back? Kaká is a miraculous footballer, but that doesn't mean all our deficiencies would be fixed by his arrival.

Cook and Aldridge were meant to bring in a set of new players early in January. They have not. A combination of bad weather in Pompey and bad heading by Zaki has meant that this is not a big deal. But I do think their failure in this regard ought to be acknowledged.

Monday transfer round up

  • Craig Bellamy will soon be a Manchester City player. Ian Ladyman reports that a £12m offer has been accepted: £10m now, £2m depending on stuff, and that Bellamy's advisors were sorting out personal terms on Sunday evening.
  • According to the Daily Mirror, we have been allowed to sign Bellamy by Harry Redknapp (how nice of him!) on the condition that we allow him to sign Wilson Palacios. This seems pretty unlikely. Given that West Ham have refused to sell Bellamy to Spurs, and that Wilson Palacios would rather move to City than Spurs, I don't see how Redknapp could possibly hope to negotiate with us. But apparently our decision not to pursue Palacios is because we're close to signing Nigel de Jong.
  • Oliver Kay reports that Garry Cook and Simon Pearce are flying to Milan today for more talks with Milan - in the form of Adriano Galliani, and Kaká - in the form of his father, Bosco Leite. Kay goes on to mention what we already knew: that Berlusconi and Galliani are resigned to taking our money, but Kaká himself is less enthusiastic. And Hughes is taking the players on a winter training camp today apparently. Danny Taylor also reports on the Cook/Pearce mission, and says that Bellamy and de Jong should be tied up this week.
  • One more thing: Ian Ladyman mentions that we're still interested in centre halves, and names Marco Materazzi and Alex as Hughes' preferred targets.

Sunday, 18 January 2009


Richard Dunne is now the joint holder of the Premier League record for both own goals and red cards.

He has six Premier League own goals, and is joint with Frank Sinclair and Jamie Carragher at the top.

And after yesterday's shameful kick on Amr Zaki he has 8 Premier League red cards: equal with Duncan Ferguson and Patrick Vieira.

A long term solution?

I've written before about 'The Micah Richards Problem': that he is a full back, who has now spent one and a half seasons playing centre back - when he should have been learning his trade as a right back. In both summer 2007 and summer 2008 he watched as MCFC spent big money on a ready made foreign right back: Vedran Corluka from Dinamo Zagreb and then Pablo Zabaleta from RCD Espanyol.

While it would be best for his personal development if he played right back every week, the fact is that Pablo Zabaleta is a better right back than Richards. And centre back doesn't make the most of his talents. Yesterday Hughes had a good solution: playing Zabaleta in central midfield and Richards at right back.

It worked well - Richards was impressive and Zabaleta was outstanding. But is this a long term solution? When Steven Ireland comes back from suspension, and we sign maybe two or three from Kaká, Wilson Palacios and Nigel de Jong we will be overburdened with midfield options. I also hold out hope that Michael Johnson will come good as a Manchester City player.

When all these players are available, there will presumably not be space any more for Zabaleta to play in midfield. So what happens then? He moves to right back, and Richards has to move inside again? Or one of them gets dropped? Ideas in the comments please.

Sunday transfer round up

  • Most interesting is a strange story in The Observer which basically rubbishes the whole Kaká transfer. It quotes a 'highly placed source' as saying stories of the £100m bid were "absolutely ridiculous", it makes a big deal of the fact that much of the story has come from Berlusconi's Mediaset website and then says that Kaká isn't interested while Hughes is still in charge. It seems like the writers decided to do a 'Kaká isn't going to City' piece and then threw together various claims - but we'll have to see what happens this week.
  • The very trustworthy Ian Herbert writes that deals are close for Kaká, Wilson Palacios and Craig Bellamy. On Kaká, he mentions the Berlusconi quote that he couldn't say no the volume of money we've offered. He says that City are the club to have stolen Palacios from underneath Spurs' noses. Someone else not going to Spurs is Craig Bellamy, who will not be allowed to move to White Hart Lane by the West Ham hierarchy. I suppose after losing Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe in that direction it's understandable. But that limits Bellamy's options to City, where he now wants to move. And given that he's on strike, a deal this week looks very likely.
  • The News of the World also reports that we'll get Bellamy for £14m. In the same article they mention the possibility that Kaká could be bought by Real Madrid. I'm sure he'd rather go there, but much of the rumours on this are going to be driven by the political situtation there. Ramon Calderon has just resigned as President after a vote-rigging scandal, and so the new candidates - particularly Florentino Perez - are going to be basing their campaigns on claims about signings such as Kaká. Another NotW report claims that we are the club in for Palacios, having matched Spurs' successful £13million bid.
  • It will be interesting to see if we sign Wilson Palacios and Nigel de Jong. The Mail on Sunday has a report about de Jong (he owns a car business, it's not that interesting) which says very early on that de Jong has agreed a deal to join and will do so immanently for £15m.
  • Buying Palacios and de Jong would likely see Kompany move to centre half permanently. Which would lessen our chances of buying a new centre back this January. Nevertheless, the People reports a £15million move for Chelsea's Brazilian Alex.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

City 1 - 0 Wigan

  • How uncharacteristically spineful. Our league wins this season had all been routs: 3-0, 3-0, 6-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-1. This was our first where the result was not in doubt, the first nail-biter, the first scrap to three points. It was also the first win where we have not passed our opponents off the park. Of course, it would be nice to outplay our opponents every week. But we have to accept that sometimes you have to battle. And today was very impressive in that respect.
  • It was interesting to see this heroic defensive display without Dunne or Hamann. People often conflate 'experience' with 'mental strength'. It's quite understandable, but I don't think it always works that way. Today's rearguard was led by a mixture of Hughes signings (Kompany, Zabaleta and Bridge all excelled) and Academy players (Onuoha and Richards both played better than usual). Hart (a Pearce signing) was also very good. It made me more sympathetic to Hughes' claims that he has to be able to rebuild the squad as he sees fit.
  • But it would have been much easier without Richard Dunne's red card. He went up for an aerial challenge with Amr Zaki and, on landing, kicked him in the back. It was like Beckham on Diego Simeone but harder, more obvious, and in a higher stakes game. It was stupid enough on its own, but in context it was ludicrous: 1-0 up, in a huge match, with 40 minutes remaining. He's meant to be the captain! He now has two red cards to go with his two own goals this season. All he needs is to give away two penalties to complete the triangle.
  • The rest of the defence was excellent though. Bridge had a very good debut, marrying Garrido's attacking runs and crossing with a defensive competence we hadn't seen since the days of Niclas Jensen. (Don't say that Michael Ball is defensively competent, he's not. He is labelled 'solid' because he is English and experienced). Richards was quite good at right back, but had a difficult time with Daniel de Ridder. Onuoha was very strong and Vincent Kompany was exceptional when he dropped back. If Kompany moves to centre (not right) back permanently he could well grow to be one of the best in England : right up there with Carvalho, Ferdinand and Vidić.
  • It was a defender playing out of position, though, who was the star turn. Pablo Zabaleta saved Hughes from having to play Gelson, and he fought tirelessly in central midfield. He showed his aptitude at playing the role of another Argentine archetype: not the tough, uncompromising full back today - a la Heinze - but the terrier like midfielder - a la Mascherano. He had a difficult start but grew into the role, bossing Lee Cattermole. And of course his goal: a sweet strike and our 39th in the league this year. We only scored 45 last season.

SWP back

Just two weeks after what was going to be a four/five week injury. With Robinho back too, and Sturridge rather than Caicedo it's a much stronger side than I thought it was going to be.

We've also selected five defenders - Bridge, Dunne, Onuoha, Richards and Zabaleta - so barring some unlikely tactical rejig one of them will move into midfield. Richards played in midfield in Midtjylland in August and was dire, so I guess it will be Zabaleta. He's played there before apparently.

PS Vladi Weiss makes the bench for the first time in the Premier League.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Immediate concerns

We have 22 points from 20 Premier League games. We have a big game on Saturday against Wigan Athletic. Their midfield dynamo, Wilson Palacios, may be a Tottenham Hotspur player by then. Regardless of whatever else is going on, we need to win tomorrow. And if Palacios isn't playing, our chances of doing so increase. So his impending transfer is good news.

I'm still not backing Elano and Gelson against Brown and Cattermole though.

Bozhinov weeks away

Good news from Hughes: Valeri Bozhinov is getting closer to fitness.

“Boji is working with fitness coaches...He’s out on the training pitches every day but he’s not with the rest of the group because he is not quite there.

We’re pleased with the way he has come back, he’s very strong around the injury. His cardiovascular work is down because he has missed so much training, so we’ll try to improve that part of him."

Having declared his loyalty to City last week, Bozhinov is likely to become a real fans' favourite very soon after he starts playing again. This means I don't really mind if we don't sign Craig Bellamy.

Nigel de Jong

Speculation is growing about Hamburg midfielder Nigel de Jong. The very reliable Ian Ladyman wrote this morning in the Mail that we were close to a £15m move for the Dutchman. Since then Hamburg SV have confirmed that a bid has been made, and that they will talk to de Jong about it. I guess that means it's been accepted, but I'm not sure.

De Jong himself has commented on the proposed move:
"I will now start to consider the issue myself and find out what is best for me, but there are still two weeks to go this month. Nobody does know actually what will happen until then."
As I've written before, a holding midfielder is right up there with a centre forward in terms of our pressing needs. So many times this season we've looked like a team playing 4-1-5 and we can't expect Future Captain Vincent Kompany to support the world on his shoulders twice a week: good as he is, he's only 22 and this is his first season in England.

De Jong sounds like the right man for the job. With Lassana Diarra moving to Real Madrid, and West Ham understandably unwilling to let go of Scott Parker, we've had to look abroad. de Jong plays for Hamburg, the same club as Vincent Kompany, and shouldn't have too hard a time settling in to English football.

He started off at Ajax, where he played for three and a half years. In his last full season, 2004/05, he won their player of the season. In January 2006 he moved to Hamburg, six months after Ajax team mate Rafael van der Vaart made the same transfer.

In his three years in Germany he has made 63 Bundesliga appearances (81 in all competitions) and has started playing for the Dutch national side, for whom he has 30 caps. I saw him play in Euro 2008 but didn't really form much of an opinion about him. I know this sounds lame, but I'm such a big fan of Robben, Sneijder and van Persie that I didn't have eyes for anyone else. If you have seen de Jong play and have an opinion, leave it in the comments.

Obligatory YouTube compilation.

Kaka round up

If you're reading this you're probably familiar with the big news of the day: that City have been authorized to speak with Kaka. The club are now in the process of convincing the player (and his representatives) to join City.

Ian Herbert and Jason Burt team up for another piece in the Independent, and discuss how Kaka may go about saying goodbye to Milan.
Though convincing Bosco of their "project" is critical to City's bid, the executive chairman, Garry Cook, knows the player must be persuaded to leave in a way which does not cause Milan to lose face. There is a view in some quarters at City that Kaka may hold a press conference next week announcing his departure. Such an exit would mirror the way Andrei Shevchenko left Milan for Chelsea three years ago and Robinho's exit from Real Madrid for Eastlands last year.
They then map out how Kaka would fit into the City team, but bizarrely don't mention Robinho.
City are certainly confident enough in their pursuit of the 26-year-old to have mapped out already where the former Fifa World Player of the Year will be deployed in a Manchester City starting XI – in the centre of midfield, with Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips on either side of him and Roque Santa Cruz – another of City's major transfer targets – up front. Despite Mark Hughes' avid pursuit of Craig Bellamy – the City manager's latest offer of £9.5m was rejected by West Ham on Wednesday – the Welsh striker does not appear to be part of an ideal starting XI.
I'd guess it would be a 4-1-4-1 with Kompany holding and then Robinho, Kaka, Ireland and SWP across the midfield with Santa Cruz, Bozhinov or whoever leading the line.

The Mail sticks with the Ian Ladyman/Matt Lawton double team and have some interesting news on other signings : Hamburg's Dutch holding midfielders Nigel de Jong and Espanyol's goalkeeper Carlos Kameini are set to join for £15m and £2.5m respectively. It's late and I'm tired but I'll post at length about this tomorrow.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A must read

There's nothing quite like the warm comfort of reading something you agree with. So check our Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail today.

Money quote:
Yet still a puritanical determination to resist pleasure continues. We have become spoiled by our easy access to greatness, by the fact we can turn on the television and view the finest players from around Europe every week. We have forgotten what a thrill, what a privilege it is to then see those same players in the flesh.

If Kaka comes to Manchester, English football will need only Lionel Messi for the full set. This is a unique moment in the history of our game and how stereotypical of us to find a reason to carp. Kaka, Ronaldo and Fernando Torres may be coming to town. Oh, woe.


Whenever a side overpays for an average player, wits often pipe up with:

"But if [average player] is worth [their transfer fee], then how much is [quality player] worth??"

West Ham have turned down £10m for Craig Bellamy. They want £15m.

If Bellamy is 'worth £15m' - that is, if we pay that much for him - then people will ask how much World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d'Or winners are worth. And we now have an answer: €100million.

Kaká round up

In essence:
  • AC Milan are not going to turn down €100million.
  • Kaká could turn down £500k/week, but not because it's not enough money.
  • He needs to be convinced that we are as ambitious as we claim.
  • We will attempt to argue our case in a series of meetings, led by Sheikh Mansour/Garry Cook/Mark Hughes/Robinho (delete as applicable).
In detail:

The Daily Mail have Ian Ladyman and Matt Lawton on this for Thursday's paper:
City remain confident that the astonishing deal will go ahead and suggest Kaka may be in their team for the home league game against Newcastle on January 28.

The club have already been in regular contact with Kaka's father, having recognised from the outset that he has been very influential at every stage of his son's career. Meanwhile, City's current superstar Robinho has been in regular phone contact with his compatriot and has told manager Mark Hughes that Kaka is ready to come to Manchester.

The Independent have a similar team: Ian Herbert and Jason Burt on their article.

However, City had been left with the firm impression that the deal was "99 per cent done" and the statement detailing Tuesday's meeting, published late that night on the website of the media empire of the club's owner and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was approved by Berlusconi, both clubs and their advisers and agents. It appeared to point to the 72-year-old's willingness to see Kaka leave the club. One more twist could have been added by fact that Berlusconi is attempting to drum up publicity for the website, Sport Mediaset, which he wants to convert into a news channel.
And The Times' new 'Football Correspondent' Oliver Kay has this to say:

Contrary to the indications given yesterday, when he talked of his ambition to “grow old with Milan”, Kaká has told his agent, Diogo Kotscho, and Galliani that he may well accept City’s offer if the conditions are right. These apply not only to his wages, which would be worth £13.6 million a year after tax, but also to Milan’s acquiescence and the legitimacy of City’s plans and ambitions.

Sources indicated last night that he would demand an escape clause that would allow him to leave City for a predetermined fee at the end of the 2009-10 campaign if the club had not qualified for the Champions League.

What we need?

I'm a huge Henry Winter fan (I met him at Wembley for Fabio Capello's first game in charge of England, it was a genuinely special moment in my life), and I think he's almost right in a column about City today.

He argues that Kaká is not what City need. The main deficiencies of the side are in defensive midfield:
Kaka might be more tempted if he could see City competing with United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. To do so, they must find a dog of war, someone to assist Vincent Kompany in seeing off the bullies in the Premier League playground, and building a platform on which the likes of Robinho and Kaka can perform.

They need a young Gennaro Gattuso, an up-and-coming Patrick Vieira, a Claude Makelele in the making. Lassana Diarra’s decision to choose Real Madrid, still such a glamorous lure for footballers, was a grievous blow to Hughes. [So, so true. J] Yaya might be available, though possibly not until the summer.

I think he's right, in that we do really need a holding midfielder. Gelson is going to get owned by Palacios and Cattermole on Saturday, I'm afraid. But I don't see why buying a holding midfielder and buying Kaká are mutually exclusive. I mean, it's not like Sheikh Mansour can only afford to buy one of them and we've made the wrong either/or decision. Anyway, Winter makes some other good points too (including mentioning that unfortunate fact that Johnny Evans is better than Richard Dunne and Micah Richards, on current form) and is worth reading as ever. HERE.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Bozhinov pledges future to City

It's easy to get excited by players we might sign, but we have some pretty cool players here now. One of them is Vincent Kompany, but another is Valeri Bozhinov.

And this is the sort of thing that makes him so popular with City fans:
"I answered [Gianfranco Zola, who tried to get Bozhinov this week] that I feel great in Manchester City and don't want to leave the team. I'm happy the City management values me. The only thing I want is to be healthy again, so that I can prove myself. Mark Hughes told me that Zola wants me but City made it perfectly clear that they don't want to sell me."
It's difficult convincing non City fans how a striker, who has scored 0 league goals in the 18 months since his £5.5million move, could be such a legend but he seems to be genuinely popular. To see why, have a look at what I wrote before and after his sickening injury at Villa Park.

Vincent Kompany : Future captain

How good is this? It's what Vince said on being awarded the Thomas Cook December Player of the Month:
Well it’s a pleasure to win the award. It was not really something I was expecting or even aware of the fact that there was this Player of the Month trophy. I’m more a player for the team, so all the other players in the team can win this award every single month and I don’t have a problem, as long as we win games and my hard work is rewarded by their goals. That’s what is most important for me.
Of course, he wouldn't be so self-effacing about winning Player of the Month trophies when he finally picks up the much more presitigious 'TLDORC Player of the Month', which has evaded him thus far. (Check out the 'Monthly Awards' box down the right hand side of the page).

Kompany is probably our most articulate and thoughtful player. I would like our next captain to be someone to come through the City Academy - not just for sentimental reasons but because 'club men' like Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Carlos Puyol etc genuinely make very good captains. But if Micah Richards and Michael Johnson have 2009s like their 2008s they won't even be City players by the time Richard Dunne is, as a friend rather heartlessly put it, 'moved on to the glue factory.'

Thoughts on the Kaká bid

So it seems like ADUG weren't kidding. As incredible as the Robinho deal was - Brazilian regular, British transfer record and all that - there was a sense that it was only possible due to a very particular set of circumstances.

Any deal for Kaká would be much more remarkable than the Robinho transfer. In a purely financial sense, for a start. The fee mentioned - €100million, or £91m, would be almost double the current record (in Sterling, if not in Euros). As big as the Robinho fee was, it was only a few million more than what Chelsea paid for Shevchenko or United for Berbatov in recent years.

In a football sense, too. Kaká is a better and higher profile player than Robinho. He won the Champions League in 2007, and then the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year too.

The real reason we could get Robinho is that Real Madrid were willing to sell. But Kaká is very much a valued player at Milan. That is why it takes a fee as obscene as £91million, to get a top club to part with one of their top players.

We'll see how this resolves itself soon enough.

Independent : 99% done

Read it all here.
A source close to the negotiations told The Independent last night that the deal was "99 per cent done" following a meeting in which City's executive chairman Garry Cook and two representatives of Sheikh Mansour al-Nahyan tabled a bid plus an offer of £15m a season wages to entice the player. Though Milan have provided no official sense of whether Kaka is leaving, a report on the website of Mediaset, the media company owned by Milan proprietor Silvio Berlusconi, reported that the offer "would be difficult for Milan to turn down."

Marcotti claims Trojan horse tactics

This is funny.

Gabriele Marcotti, The Times' Italian football expert, has a good article about the events surrounding the Kaká meetings on Tuesday.

He claims that Cook and Joorabchian met Adriano Galliani, Ariedo Breida and Ernesto Bronzetti (all senior AC Milan officials) on the official business of reaching a deal for Milan 'keeper Dida. It was only in the meeting that they changed topic to Kaká.

He goes on to suggest that while neither Kaká nor AC Milan are particularly keen on the deal, the money may be so much that it goes through.

Garry Cook in Milan for Kaká talks

Big transfer news this evening: Garry Cook has flown to Italy for talks with AC Milan over the transfer of Kaká.

This came on Sky Sports News sometime this evening and has understandably caused quite a stir over the last few hours.

No bid has been made but some of the numbers mentioned are ludicrous. The Telegraph suggests a fee of £100million and wages of £15m/year or £500k/week. The Mail makes a similar claim, but says that Hughes "is already understood to be thinking of Kaka in terms of the Premier League game with Newcastle on January 28."

Everything had been pointing to a move for Kaká for some time. But it always seemed to me to be a more plausible move for the summer, rather than January. So in the immediate term I'm more concerned about the Wigan match.

PS Most papers have a quote from an official AC Milan statement, saying:
Manchester City want Kaka at all costs and they have shown their cards. Garry Cook, two representatives of Sheik Mansour and Kia Joorabchian, who is acting as a mediator, met with Adriano Galliani and Ernesto Bronzetti (Milan’s chief executive and commercial director) and made their offer.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Has Hamann played his last game for City?

If he's out for 9-12 weeks that leaves him until roughly early April.

The calendar goes on quite late this season - league games on 2, 9, 16 and 24 of May - and don't forget the UEFA Cup semis in early May and final on the 20th. (Although he has played in three before and won them all - maybe we should call on his experience in Istanbul...)

But I hope we'll have some new midfielders by then (and maybe even a certain Urmston born 20 year old), and I can't see Hughes giving Hamann a new contract. His current deal expires in June.

I did say, though, similar things about Benjani on December 15, six days before he played in the infamous 2-1 lost to West Brom.

MEN gets it right

Very good piece by Chris Bailey in the Manchester Evening News today. I think he gets everything right, particularly this.
If any serial doubters want an example of how the correct buys made at the right time, allied to patience with a new manager, can reap dividends then all concerned should look no further than Aston Villa and Martin O'Neill. Many City fans point to Villa Park and what O'Neill is now achieving in the Midlands with some envy and a `that should be us' mentality.
That may well be the case next season but it has to be remembered O'Neill had a terrible time in the middle of his first season at the Midlands club, and by the criteria being currently used to judge Hughes by the less patient City fans the Irishman would have been sacked before the transformation got properly under way.

Hamann crocked

Out for 9 to 12 weeks with a tendon injury.

Given that it was reported Hughes wanted him out in January this isn't really a big deal in the medium or long term. I'm sure we're buying one or two midfielders this month anyway so we'll have cover.

For the Wigan game it's a bit of a disaster. We now have three available central midfielders: Kompany, Gelson and Elano. The midfield that started against Nottingham Forest. And I wouldn't be surprised if Elano gets kicked out of the game by City legend Michael Brown and the equally unpleasant Lee Cattermole.

Let's just hope we have Parker/Veloso/Xavi/Bosvelt/whoever tied up by Newcastle on Wednesday 28th.

Craig Bellamy rumour round up

  • The Guardian: £9.2m bid turned down, we will go back, may have to go as high as £16m to get him.
  • The Independent: West Ham want £15m, City may well go back. Zola has final decision.
  • The Times: City are expected to sign him for £12m some time this week, currently preparing a new bid. Our second bid was £9.5m.
These constant rumours of underwhelming signings and failed bids for them is pretty depressing. I wish all signings were like Vincent Kompany's - nothing in the press, and then announced on Hamburg's website. Confirmed on the next day. Actually, I wish all players we signed were like Vincent Kompany too.

Twenty days to go.....

Monday, 12 January 2009

Another chance

Last week wasn't great. As good as the Wayne Bridge capture was, it was so long heralded as to lose most of its novelty on impact. The 3-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest was as embarrassing a cup exit as we've had in recent years, and a performance so inspid and spineless it would embarrass much of the 2006/07 output. Then came a week of frustration and failure in the transfer market - no Bellamy, no Parker, no Santa Cruz, no Touré. Never mind David Villa or Kaká.

Everything was set up for us to go to Fratton Park and lose. A midfield of Kompany, Gelson and Elano, a frontline of Sturridge, Caicedo and Vassell - as weak and disenchanted an opposition as Pompey could have hoped for now. It wouldn't have been a rout, but after Peter Crouch bundled in Niko Kranjčar's corner we would not have put up much of a fight.

Poor weather and poor facilities combined, however, to get the game called off. The inevitable 1-0 became P-P and City dodged a bullet. Next time we go Fratton Park we'll have Steven Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips, three or four new signings and a certain inside forward called Robson de Souza.

Not losing at Portsmouth last Saturday could turn out to be a turning point in 2009. But this new opportunity has to be exploited. We have five working days before the Wigan Athletic match, in which our deficiencies in defence, midfield and attack need to be addressed. I'm not expecting four or three signings, but two would be fantastic. Wigan are good (better than us, for sure) - but they're playing in midweek and I'd back us against most at home. Then it's Middlesbrough, Stoke and Newcastle and if all goes well we could be safe by the time of the Copenhagen games.

£9m not enough for Bellamy

West Ham turned down our £9million bid for Craig Bellamy today. This was increased from our initial £7.5m (as part of £15m total for Bellamy and Scott Parker).

The chase continues.

Corradi strikes but Dabo triumphs

Two of the very worst Stuart Pearce signings went head to head yesterday, as Bernardo Corradi's Reggina lost 3-2 at home to Ousmane Dabo's Lazio.

Reggina took an early lead after Franco Brienza was brought down in the box by Lazio 'keeper Juan Carrizo. Reggina's top scorer this season, Bernardo '£1.2million, 3 in 19 in the league' Corradi stepped up to slam the penalty home.

It was not enough, though, as an Ousmane 'less mobile than Cladio Reyna' Dabo inspired Lazio came back to win 3-2, Goran Pandev scoring all three.

Dabo was substituted for Christian Brocchi on 66 minutes.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Defenders slip away

Apparently Mark Hughes has a three man wish list for centre half: Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Kolo Touré.

But two recent developments have worked against us:

Kolo Touré has been reinstated in the Arsenal defence after injuries to Silvestre and Gallas. Touré was captain for the game against Bolton on Saturday.

Joleon Lescott has also moved inside to centre back, in the absence of Joseph Yobo, and so has no more of the 'played out of position' greivance.

And with West Ham playing hard to get on Scott Parker and Craig Bellamy, Matthew Upson looks quite unlikely.

So where does that leave us? Alex?

Sunday paper round up

  • The Sunday Mirror says we're close to signing Andrei Arshavin - £18million and £85,000 a week. Unlike Arsenal we match Zenit's demands and pay the whole fee upfront. And so apparently he 'looks likely' to come to City this week. I'm a bit sceptical about this. It's the first time we've heard it, and it's not from a very reputable source. Also, Arshavin isn't really the solution to any of our problems (consistency in defence, steel in midfield, presence and nous in attack). He is a good player though.
  • The Mail on Sunday says Hughes is switching attention to foreign based players after being quoted big prices by Premier League clubs. It mentions Miguel Veloso and 'defenders in Holland'. One of the best reasons for keeping Hughes is the quality of his scouting network (which combined with all our money should lead to quality arrivals) - if he can find more players in the mold of Kompany and Zabaleta we'll be doing ok.
  • A story in the News of the World about goalkeepers. Newcastle want £11m for Shay Given so we're going for Carlo Cudicini instead. Cudicini would be a good buy - probably better than Joe Hart, but also sufficiently old not to really block Hart's development.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Portsmouth game called off

If you don't have undersoil heating you don't deserve to be in the Barclays Premier League.

Oh well, this is much better news for us than it is for them. We probably would have started with roughly this team: Hart; Bridge, Dunne, Richards, Zabaleta; Kompany, Hamann, Fernandes; Sturridge, Caicedo, Vassell. I don't know when it will get re-scheduled for, but we'll have Robinho, Ireland (who will serve his suspension next week I guess), SWP plus of course whoever we sign. How about Hart; Bridge, Dunne, Richards, Zabaleta; Kompany, Ireland, Parker; Robinho, RSC, SWP? And that's being cautious.

Pompey fans will tell us, though, that they're missing players through injury and have plans to spend the Diarra and Defoe monies. But even if they get Pape Bouba Diop and Richard Hughes back and even if they sign Benjani and Edu and Joey Barton and Gary O'Neil they'd still be a bit shit.

So it could be that this cancellation plays in our, and Hughes' favour. I wouldn't have backed us to get anything from the game today, which would really have put Sparky under pressure. But with more time spent doing training and transfers, we're only going to get stronger. Wigan at home next week is huge though.

Saturday paper round up

  • Contrasting stories on Craig Bellamy. Alan Nixon in the Daily Mirror reports that we have made a £10m+ plus bid for Bellamy, which will be accepted by West Ham, thus preventing them from having to sell Matthew Upson or Scott Parker. Bellamy should be reunited with Mark Hughes this weekend. Jamie Jackson in The Guardian, however, says that Bellamy would much rather move to Spurs, where he thinks he has a better chance at first team football in the long term.
  • Stories in the Guardian, Daily Mail and Telegraph about Roque Santa Cruz. They all carry quotes from Sam Allardyce saying that he'd rather not sell RSC this January, but that City could 'blow him out of the water.' It seems like Blackburn are going to milk us for as much as they possibly can, including at least one of Tal Ben Haim and Nedum Onuoha. The Guardian says that Allardyce wants Danny Sturridge as part of the deal, but I think we're about as likely to let him have Robinho.
  • A piece on general transfer frustration by Ian Ladyman. Hughes told Paul Aldridge after the Forest game that he wanted more new players and he hasn't got them. A report in The Independent says that Arsenal have decided not to sell us Kolo Touré due to injuries to Silvestre and Gallas. Looks like we'll have to pay more and wait longer to get our targets.
  • Also in the Indy, a very good interview with Vincent Kompany by Ian Herbert. He comes across as very thoughtful and intelligent. He ought to be our next captain. If Mark Hughes stays as manager for the next few years, I'm sure he will be.
  • A Daily Express 'story' that Michael Owen has agreed to join City next summer. I don't believe a single word in the Express when it's about Madeleine McCann or Princess Diana - I'm not going to start now just because it's about City.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Pompey preview

I had hoped that I would be able to see the City debuts of, if not Kaká or David Villa, then at least Roque Santa Cruz and Scott Parker on Saturday. I'm looking forward to seeing Wayne Bridge, but it would be be better if we had more good players playing.

Because without Ireland and SWP, and probably Robinho, we're completely without attacking quality. One of the reasons what happened against Nottingham Forest happened was because none of those players - our three good attackers this year - were not on the pitch from 24 minutes in. We were left with a combination of the anti-Hughes players (Elano, Jô, Hamann), the inexperienced (Caicedo, Sturridge) and the useless (Vassell, Ball, and, increasingly, Fernandes). No wonder they didn't put in a performance for the manager.

I fear we may see more of the same tomorrow. Wayne Bridge will be a big improvement on Michael Ball (but so would Javi Garrido, quite comfortably) but apart from him it will be more of the same. The big unknown, of course, is Robinho's fitness. As I write this (6pm) all I can find is that Robinho is 'a doubt'. If he doesn't play I don't expect anything. If he does, maybe we'll pick up a point or three.

The back five picks itself: Hart, Bridge, Dunne, Richards and Zabaleta should start. The midfield three is difficult. Vincent Kompany, for sure. The other two slots are less clear. Unfortunately we can only bench one of Didi Hamann, Gelson Fernandes and Elano - and there are compelling cases to drop all three of them. If Robinho doesn't play, the sheer lack of quality in the side would commend playing Elano. And if he plays, Didi Hamann cannot really, or else we would get wholly outrun in midfield. Should Robinho shake off his injury, we would be safer with the solid base of a Kompany-Hamann-Fernandes trio. We haven't started those three in combination yet, and it should at least help us to get a point.

Up front, it should be three from Robinho, Sturridge, Caicedo and Vassell. If Robbie plays it's between the two Englishmen to play right wing, if he doesn't they should go either side of Big Phil. I suppose he could start Jô or Ched Evans, but I'd probably rather he didn't.

As bad as all this is, Portsmouth are in a worse state than we are at the moment. Of last year's cup winning team, they've lost Muntari, Diarra and Defoe to transfers and Diop to injury. They look pretty poor at the moment, with Crouch leading the line in a 4-5-1. I honestly have no idea who plays for them in central midfield now: Mvuemba? Davis? Wilson?? But I remember hearing that Brighton and Forest were both in bad spells when we played them...

I don't have a very good record at City games at Fratton Park - I've seen two losses and a draw. There was the 0-0 last November, just as the Eriksson era was starting to drift away from magical towards Stuart Pearce-style mediocrity. Vassell was the lone striker. I was at the 2-1 defeat in 2005/06 where Pedro Mendes scored two late wonderstrikes to kickstart Pompey's survival campaign. And then there was a defeat by the same scoreline in the First Division in 2001. Christian Negouai and Leon Mike made their debuts. I'm not at all confident of bucking this trend tomorrow.