Friday, 30 July 2010

Robi to return

Unfortunately we have not yet sold Robinho anywhere. And given our unwillingness to loan him back to Santos, he will return to MCFC at the end of his loan spell next week.

Or rather, he will play a friendly for Brazil against the US in New Jersey on August 11 - part of Mano Menezes' exciting new squad, alongside City targets Neymar and David Luiz. And then come back to City just in time for opening day.

But it's not obvious to me that Robinho could be re-integrated into the playing squad. In fact, I think that with Adam Johnson, David Silva and presumably Mario Balotelli in our 25 there might not even be a place for our (current) record signing.

It would be a situation so absurd that I am sure we will compromise between now and deadline day. In practice this will mean accepting of, say, £15m rather than holding out for £20m. There are not many clubs who could find that money to buy him, but maybe some. Beşiktaş? Milan? Benfica? Lyon? Juventus? That's my prediction, anyway.

Garrido goes

Sad news this morning: Javi Garrido has left Manchester City to join Lazio. As the fourth best left-back at the club (I'm counting Zabaleta) chances this year were always going to be limited. And so he goes to replace Aleksandar Kolarov in a league that will suit him well.

I think that is the point with Garrido. As much as I loved him he was so incongruous in the Premier League. In that sense he was as paradigm a Sven-Göran Eriksson purchase as Elano or Vedran Ćorluka: technically excellent and tactically astute but with none of the pace or strength that are a prerequisite to success in England. I suppose Eriksson ought to bear blame for buying players so inappropriate to our needs, but the results were so thrilling for a month or so that I can't bring myself to point fingers.

After a tidy start at City, it was the popping of the Eriksson illusion at Stamford Bridge that revealed his flaws. He spent the next fifteen months alternating duties with Michael Ball before Wayne Bridge arrived but it was always the same. He could clearly play - you don't turn out for Spain U-21s if you can't - but he was weak in the air, slow on the turn and feeble in the tackle. Just look at the brave, relentless running of an Ashley Cole or Patrice Evra - they play a different sport. But his crossing was better than any full-back at the club. And he never, ever complained about losing his place, whether to Ball, Bridge, Zabaleta or Sylvinho. He kept working hard and played as well as he could when called upon. We can say with certainty that he was the finest Basque left-back since Bixente Lizarazu.

And he has left us with two perfect memories. It is no surprise, really, that his finest moments came from dead ball situations, when he could act without the fetter of opposition, when he could relax, breathe, and paint his own piece. The first free-kick was against Liverpool at Eastlands, in October 2008, curled into the top corner to put us 2-0 up in a game we later blew.

The second was even better. Where better for Roberto Mancini's second game in charge than the freezing December night at Molineux; the easily-used rhetorical device made real. Carlos Tévez put us ahead but it was Garrido - a second half substitute - who won it for us. He swung his free-kick around the wall, dropping it just inside Marcus Hahnemann's near post. Tévez later made it 3-0. It remains one of my favourite games under Mancini to date and Garrido made it possible.

He goes to a league where he will get more time on the ball, to produce more of those special moments of his. It plays more to his skill-set - he should excel there and I am sure he will. I'm also pleased he's gone to Lazio. I know you're not meant to be but I've always been quite sympathetic to them. I suppose that's because I endorse the historical memory of Benito Mussolini they're a bitter, jealous second club that play in sky blue. Then we've got the Sven, Ousmane Dabo and Kolarov connections. Rolando Bianchi and Bernardo Corradi both played there.

It goes without saying I'll be keeping an eye or two on Garrido's progress at Lazio, and will be updating where relevant. If he meets Bianchi's Torino in the Coppa Italia I will be seriously compromised.

Javi Garrido. MCFC 2007-2010. 50 starts, 2 goals.

Hughes joins Fulham

Former City boss Mark Hughes was appointed Fulham manager last night.

It's pleasing news. I was very disappointed for Mark Hughes when he was sacked. Roberto Mancini has done better than I thought he would, and so my reaction looks fairly hysterical in retrospect. But I still think, seven months on, that Hughes was unfairly dismissed and that the club acted quite improperly towards him.

Looking back on it, his reign was only ever promising rather than successful. He will not go down as one of the great Manchester City managers, or even one of the better ones of modern times. But he brought us through some turbulence and gave us glimpses of the meaningful moments that define a successful club. And so I'm sympathetic to him, and pleased to see him back in management.

I think he'll do very well in Fulham. It is - and I don't mean this condescendingly - back in his comfort zone, or at least closer to it than ADUG-era Manchester City was. A traditional club, operating on a budget, with few pretensions of style but the ability to play discomfiting hosts in their Archibald Leitch stadium. He will, along with loyal lieutenants Eddie Niedzwicki, Mark Bowen and Kevin Hitchcock, have a smooth transition. They should be able to better last season's twelfth place finish.

They might do even better than that if they sign Craig Bellamy. That is the rumour in today's papers. I can just about see this one happening. I'm sure he's on his way out of City, but I do think we might be unenthusiastic about selling to rivals as direct as Spurs. A move to Fulham wouldn't have the Champions League football available at White Hart Lane, but you can never underestimate the personal bond between Bellamy and Hughes. It's the reason Bellamy was so good for us in 2009, and so problematic in 2010. Re-united with Hughes and Bowen he would be a serious asset for Fulham.

Stephen Ireland is also possible. His place in our 25 man squad is not certain. And while he will attract attention from most of the Premier League, I don't think becoming a squad player at a top six club would be good for him. He is clearly a player who needs the team built round him (in 4-2-3-1 or similar), and who needs the constant emotional support of a manager. I had thought Steve Bruce's Sunderland was the best such platform for him but Mark Hughes' Fulham - with the manager who brought the best from him - would be just as good if not better. He'd have to leave Alderley Edge though.

And then there's Roque Santa Cruz, who had his best game in blue at the Cottage last March. Technically he's in a different league from Bobby Zamora but he's so unreliable I can't see Mohammad al Fayed shelling out on him.

I'm very sympathetic to Fulham and always have been, and so having Hughes and some former MCFC players there will only make me even more so. I wish them the best of luck.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

City triumph on pens to win ISC

  • City finally proved we have the winning mentality required to end the 34 year wait by taking the prestigious International Soccer Challenge on penalties. After drawing 1-1 with Club América we won the shoot-out 4-1, thanks to two Shay Given saves. It was generally a decent performance: excellent possession in the first half, although the final ball was lacking. The second half was ropier generally but we did create a few chances of our own. And then Given recreated his Aalborg heroics to win us the historic trophy.
  • The first half was probably our best performance yet, and consistent with steady improvement on the tour. This was largely thanks to the appearance of Yaya Touré and Gareth Barry, playing at the heart of a 4-1-4-1 which allowed us to dominate possession. Both were impressive, muscling opponents off the ball and moving it forward and wide quickly and intelligently. As it happened, whenever the ball went to Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge or Adam Johnson in wide areas they put in a bad cross, and chances were limited. But as a team performance it was impressively coherent.
  • Fortunately there are things Adam Johnson does well beyond simply crossing. Buying penalties is one of them. Think Bolton Wanderers or Aston Villa at home last year, or the attempt at the Boleyn Ground. Ten minutes before half time he collapsed under some fairly routine contact, the penalty was awarded and Emmanuel Adebayor - who was commendably diligent running the left channel throughout - sent the 'keeper the wrong way.
  • Half time changes disrupted our rhythm, though. Joleon Lescott ought to have conceded a penalty one minute into the second half for hauling down City legend Vicente Matías Vuoso. Justice was done in the very next minute, as Enrique Esqueda wriggled past the hapless Lescott and slotted the ball under Shay Given to equalise. With the side re-adjusting to a lopsided 4-4-1-1 system (Vladi Weiss wide right, Stephen Ireland tucked in from the left, Jô off Adebayor) we struggled to regain the tempo of the first half. When we did get it out to Weiss he invariably tried a stepover and was pushed straight off the ball.
  • As the game went on it started to open up. Club América's counter-attacks became increasingly threatening, and it took a few key interventions from Pablo Zabaleta - our stand-out second half performer from holding midfielder - to keep us in the game. But the best late chances were ours: with ten minutes left Guillermo Ochoa spilt Weiss' shot into the path of Jô, whose attempt was well saved by the turf-bound keeper. Two minutes from time Ochoa tipped Adebayor's shot onto the bar. And then Jô failed to make contact with an easy chance from Greg Cunningham's cut-back.
  • And so the shoot-out. First Emmanuel Adebayor repeated his earlier success from the spot, clipping it into the bottom corner. Pavel Pardo equalised. Then Jô scored his, and Aquivaldo Mosquera hit his straight at Shay Given. Vladimir Weiss confounded my expectations to score, and Given saved again from Daniel Montenegro. Aalborg all over again. Who better to take the deciding penalty than Patrick Vieira - and he finished well, leading to wild scenes of jubilation on the pitch and in the stands. International Soccer Challenge today, the Premier League next.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Maradona atones at the last

As most of you know, Diego Maradona was dismissed as Argentina coach yesterday. But in his final act as manager he atoned of his worst sin as manager: the exclusion of Pablo Zabaleta.

On August 11 Argentina play the Republic of Ireland in a friendly at the new Lansdowne Road (known as the 'Aviva Stadium'.) And while Maradona will not be in charge for that game he has picked the squad for it. The list contains 17 of the World Cup 2010 squad (including Carlos Tévez, of course), and another six: including Emiliano Insúa, former City target Fernando Gago and our very own Zabaleta.

I'd rather Zabaleta had been a regular feature of Maradona's Argentina, of course. But there is something dignified in el Diego realising the error of his ways just before his demise, and atoning for it with his final act. A bit like Ed Harris in The Rock.

Fortunately for Zabaleta the new interim coach is Sergio Batista, who coached him to Gold at the 2008 Olympics.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Gazzetta: Balotelli joins MCFC

We're approaching endgame in our next transfer. Gazzetta dello Sport has a story this morning saying that Mario Balotelli has agreed to join MCFC, and that the deal is done.

It reports the deal being tied up on Saturday night, for an initial fee of €30million (£25m), potentially rising to €35m (£29m) based on goals, trophies and so forth. He is on a five year deal of €4m (£3.3m) per year. I don't know if this is gross or net (apparently the Italian press reports salaries after tax). But it's a lot.

The deal ought to be announced today (Tuesday morning at the latest) and on Wednesday he will fly from Inter's base in Philadelphia to Atlanta, where we are due to play Club América on Wednesday night. He could even play against Inter on Saturday night.

Ireland's future

Today's papers are full of stories suggesting that Ireland might leave before the end of the summer. There are so many that it suggests that this is the result of briefing from the club rather than simple rumour-fashioning.

Apparently Mancini has told Ireland that he is not certain to be in our 25 man Premier League squad - presuming we sign James Milner - and as such there is not much point in his staying at the club.

Ireland has said he wants to stay:
"I decided in the summer that I was going to get my head down and do what I can to show the manager that I am worth a place on his team. It didn't go that well for me last season, when there were a lot of changes at the club, but it is only a season ago that I was Player of the Year at the club and my view is that I haven't become a bad player overnight. The manager hopefully doesn't think that either...

Ideally, I would like to stay and build a future here. I am not going to rush in to anything, anyway. I think it's best if I see what happens during the first half of the season and perhaps give the situation until Christmas. If things aren't right at this stage then we can look at it again."
The sentiment is admirable but if he's not in the Premier League squad he doesn't have much of a chance of doing so. Of course, there's no reason he couldn't be part of a shadow squad of FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League players. But I don't think that clubs will do that, as formalising a two-tier level of squad membership would be obviously unhealthy and destructive.

We still might not sign Milner. And even if we do Ireland could still make the squad. But I think it's increasingly unlikely that he won't.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

City 1 - 2 NYRB

  • Another friendly, another loss. What a typical disappointment for typical City. It actually wasn't that bad, and some of the young players looked good. Against a team half way through their MLS season it was fine.
  • The first half was an improvement on the opening of the Sporting Lisbon game. We gave up on that diamond, playing 4-4-2 from the start. Stephen Ireland was pushed out onto the right - which was a shame - while Jô partnered Emmanuel Adebayor up front. We had more of the ball, and while we didn't always get the strikers involved when we did they tended to create chances. This owed a fair bit to poor defending but Jô and Adebayor had identical opportunities in the inside-left channel and hit both at Red Bulls 'keeper Bouna Coundoul.
  • But on the break the Red Bulls were very effective. Dane Richards, Macoumba Kandji and Thierry Henry were all very athletic - they looked like a side half-way through their season - and they carved us open a few times. Richards was doing to Bridge what Aaron Lennon did to Sylvinho last summer, burning past his outside at will. Ben Mee and Dedryck Boyata were unable to deal with Kandji and Henry's movement, and so when Kandji bundled in Richards' cross it was no surprise.
  • Our equaliser early in the second half was deserved. Tutte played in the substitute Greg Cunningham down the left who whipped in a low cross. Jô, at the near post, turned it in for his second goal of the summer. The move started with Alex Nimely - sparky and strong throughout - drifting in off the right to start the move. Nimely then moved up front as Jô was replaced by Adam Johnson, who was our best player of the second half.
  • We looked the likely winners until Dane Richards, unworried by Bridge in a field of space, hit a twenty five yard shot into the top corner. NYRB passed the ball round well when ahead and while Johnson had some very good moments - reminding us what he can do to bad left-backs - we didn't get the second goal we probably deserved. The game finished 2-1.
  • So we didn't win the Barclay's New York Football Challenge, and our 34 year wait continues. But there were more positives here than two defeats might suggest. Today we had some promising stuff for Alex Nimely and Andrew Tutte, and a reminder of what Adam Johnson is capable of. Now it's Club América on Wednesday night.

Kolarov signs

Our fourth transfer of a thrilling summer went through yesterday: Lazio's Serbian left back Alexander Kolarov joined from Lazio. (I haven't decided on the transliteration of his Christian name - if you know Serbian and have an idea please let me know.)

A fee of £17m was agreed one week ago and just when I was starting to get anxious over the lack of finality it has come through. I'm excited about this one.

It has been clear for some time that Wayne Bridge was not a wise deployment of £10million, and that go get where we want to go we need someone better. It's not that Bridge is a limited player who is incapable of dazzle, but rather the opposite: he does have occasional moments of intelligence and imagination but for the most part he has a shockingly weak command of the basics. Heading, tackling and crossing with simple competence ought to come easier to a one-time England and Chelsea player.

And so he has been replaced with Kolarov, my knowledge of whom is fairly limited. The only times I've knowingly seen him play were Serbia's first two games of the World Cup, and I'd be lying if I said he made a deep impression upon me. He is very highly rated, though, and by most accounts he has been one of Lazio's best players in recent years. He's big, strong and and difficult to stop when he gets going. He also does a mean Michael Tarnat impression.

He fits perfectly with the 'Boateng plan' that has defined our transfers this summer. Relatively young (24), coming from a respectable but not elite foreign club, ambitious and eager to win things at City and become part of our new history. In this sense he is from the same category as Jérôme Boteng and David Silva. Readers will know how much I prefer this approach, for all sorts of reasons: novelty, exoticism, increased quality etc. In fact, the difference between Kolarov and Wayne Bridge demonstrates the differing transfer market approaches of Mark Hughes and the Marwood/Mancini combination now in charge. Hughes made a fetish of Premier League experience, which meant we bought in players no longer wanted by our EPL rivals, who were often over-rated and certainly overpaid. Bridge might not be the worst such player but he is a good example of the flaws of the strategy.

I'm not sure exactly what will happen to Bridge now. Mancini says he is happy for him to stay. I'm sure Bridge is. He proved at Chelsea that playing matches is not at the very top of his job satisfaction requirements. I'd probably rather he left: of course we've long crossed the Rubicon of wage obscenity but still paying a back up left-back £95,000 per week is a bit much. Can't club servant Javi Garrido do the same job for a quarter of the money?

Anyway - this will answer itself soon. Welcome 'Alexander'.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

City 0 - 2 Sporting

  • Our dreams of winning the Barclay's New York Football Challenge were in tatters this morning after a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Sporting Lisbon. They tore us apart in a very one-sided first half, as Yannick Djalo twice escaped Micah Richards to score for Sporting. Our diamond midfield never looked close to functioning. That said, we changed and improved in the second half, and we're still five friendlies away from White Hart Lane.
  • The first half was not exactly a triumph. We were lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond, in accordance with a rumour from the News of the World last week. Patrick Vieira was at the base, Adam Johnson at the tip, with Pablo Zabaleta and Stephen Ireland shuttling either side. It was woeful. Johnson has his strengths but is no trequartista and barely got on the ball. Ireland, who is a natural No. 10, drifted into Johnson's position and influenced play when there. But too often Patrick Vieira - looking as sluggish and ponderous as he did last season - was isolated and overmanned in midfield. In the first twenty minutes he lumbered into two tackles that would have got him yellow cards in a competitive match. Sporting's movement, however, was excellent. Carlos Saleiro and Helder Postiga dragged our defence across the pitch, while Yannick Djalo and Simon Vukčević exploited the gaps.
  • With Sporting so dominant, it was no surprise when we went behind. Zabaleta gave the ball away in midfield, and Vukčević ran at Greg Cunningham. He sold him the cheapest dummy - coming back onto his left foot - and crossed to Djalo. Micah Richards was characteristically inattentive at the far post and Djalo headed home. They added a second just before half time. Our defence was sucked up towards Carlos Saleiro, who chipped the ball into the gap to Djalo running between Richards and Kompany, who rounded Hart to score his second. Again, their movement manipulated our team like dough - think England v Germany in Bloemfontein.
  • There was a change at half-time, and a subsequent improvement. We moved to a rough 4-4-1-1, with Craig Bellamy behind Jô, Ireland starting on the left - but drifting further in as the match went on - and Johnson on the right. This gave us better shape and allowed us to press Sporting more effectively. We were harder to play through and even came close to creating chances of our own, all due to Ireland taking up his favoured positions behind the strikers.
  • But Ireland went off and with Alex Nimely playing behind Jô, and Craig Bellamy out on the left, we looked fairly short of attacking ideas. Then John Guidetti and Andrew Tutte came on - which was good to see - and we held on and saw the game out. It wasn't a great second half as a spectacle, but we played better. Wayne Bridge introduced a degree of competence down the left, while Ireland and Johnson playing their natural games brought a touch more attacking coherence to the side. Nimely had some excellent touches. The lack of chance creation might be a concern, but remember - we did have Jô leading the line for seventy minutes.

Kolarov delayed

A major frustration of this week has been the fact that Aleksandr Kolarov is still playing for Rome's bitter, jealous sky-blue wearing club rather than Manchester's. (This should certainly lead to an easier transition if he does join us.) Apparently we agreed a fee last Friday so we've had a whole week now without making him ours.

One possible explanation for this delay has been the interest of Juventus. Lazio President Claudio Lotito has been speaking of this, presumably trying to draw another, higher bid out of MCFC:
'If the Bianconeri (Juventus) are interested then they should make an offer which is adequate. Everything is possible, everyone has his price.'
If Juve did match our bid, and presented Kolarov with a choice between us and them, well then we could no longer be confident of signing the player. With the prestige of Juventus, the relative proximity of Turin to Belgrade (relative to Manchester), the fact that Juve are probably more likely to win things this year than City - it could happen.

So we've got to get this tied up as soon as possible. Graham Chase reports in Saturday's Independent that we are 'confident' of completing the deal, and that Mancini 'hopes to complete a deal for Kolarov this weekend.' Let's hope so: I don't want Aaron Lennon v Wayne Bridge on 14 August.

Yaya's decision

Yaya Touré has been talking about what drove him to join MCFC:
‘In football, you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. But for me, I wanted to play with my brother one time. It was very important for me.

‘Now I have signed for Manchester City and I am very happy. My brother and I want to make great things happen at this club. I am sure we will do it.’

Toure’s claim will only intensify a rivalry between City and United that reached white hot levels last season.

The Ivory Coast midfielder, who will earn £200,000 a week at Eastlands, added: ‘Manchester United are a big club — one of the biggest in the world. But I chose Manchester City because they had not won anything.

‘It is a very nice feeling to come in and see everything changing. For me, that is very important. It is an interesting challenge.’
No-one's going to pretend the £200,000 weekly wage didn't influence him. But I do think there's something in his point that it is more interesting for a player to join a club on an upward journey than one sitting on a higher plateau. Of course, it involves trading down on prestige. But there must be an attraction in making yourself a central figure in a story of progress than a peripheral figure in a story of maintained achievement.

This applies to all of our signings, really. And it's probably less of a factor than the money. But for players who want to be wanted and remembered, to make themselves heroes, there is some logic to it.

'We will stay quiet for now'

Pablo Zabaleta urges dignified silence, warns against some of the bolder claims to tend to come out of MCFC whenever we string two wins together:

"So many people are talking about the Champions League and the title, but it's not good to be talking about that before the season has begun.

"We know we are a fantastic team with great players in the squad. You look at our squad and you know we can do something important.

"But I also think we have to keep quiet about it. We know how important the first game against Spurs is going to be and Arsenal have had their team together for a long time.

"As a team they are all very solid, which is why they are the ones competing for the title every season. But we are very close to them now.

"This club is growing a lot. You can buy big names, but you need time to find the best team. So we will stay quiet for now."

I agree. I'm sure some will twist this into an anti-Garry Cook story. But for me there is nothing more frustrating than Nigel de Jong coming out the week of a Manchester derby, telling us how much it means to him, (he was in the Kippax for the 5-1 you know) and then not really performing in the game itself. Vincent Kompany is nearly as bad.

If we do start well this season - and we might well - the last thing I want is City players telling the press we're going to win the quadruple. Just keep on playing, and you can say what you want when you've actually won us something.

Friday, 23 July 2010

MCFC's Spanish Harlem incident

Well, I've been waiting for that one for a good few years.

But City were in Manhattan yesterday, to open a synthetic football pitch on the roof of Spanish Harlem's Lexington Academy. It's on the top of a six storey building, which is the only place local schoolchildren can really play football given the nature of the area.

So it's a genuinely charitable act and something MCFC - and the UAE Embassy in the US who also paid for it - can be proud of. Like a lot of stuff that City do - the deal with Hyde FC, CITC and so forth - of course good PR is some motivation for it. But just because it is part of the motivation does not mean that it is the only motivation, nor that the act itself is worthless.

I was going to close this post with a YouTube of this which is probably my favourite ever Dylan song. But I can't find one. So you'll have to buy it off iTunes or something.

UPDATE: Tim Jocys sent me this. It's the song, with some fairly strange imagery to accompany it.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Milner on his way

Sorry for lack of updates this week. I've been playing FIFA 10 with all the new players transferred in. We're fairly good. (4-3-3 with Silva, Tévez and SWP up front if you care.)

I've actually spent the week telling myself 'I'll just wait for Kolarov / Balotelli / Džeko to sign then I'll do a long post about how awesome they are, how far we've come etc.' But none of them have signed so I've been left in limbo.

Some definite progress today, though, with the news that James Milner wants to leave Aston Villa, and that he will do so for 'the right price.' This has been fairly likely ever since he failed to commit his future to Villa in a press conference in May, and the impression that he wanted to leave has been strengthened by comments from Martin O'Neill, Stewart Downing and Stephen Warnock in the interim.

Now we have to haggle over a price. My prediction: just over £20million plus Nedum Onuoha.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

City start with a win

As you all know, City started their pre-season campaign last night with a 3-0 friendly win over Portland Timbers. The match was not available to watch online, (which fairly ruined my weekend), so I don't have any opinions or reflections.

Fortunately, you can watch it now courtesy of (embedded below.) I started to watch before realising that even I have marginally better things to do on a Sunday evening than this. Frankly, a game in which Jô plays is of faltering credibility and one in which he scores is wholly devoid of it. Stephen Ireland and Emmanuel Adebayor scored the other goals, apparently.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Lombardo joins the staff

Another addition to the coaching staff at City, and another member of that early 1990s Sampdoria side: Attilio Lombardo.

It's perfectly understandable that Roberto Mancini would seek to bring in those he knows and trusts to work for him. Lombardo and Platt combine that relationship with Mancini with an understanding of the English game (of obviously varying degrees) and thus are perfect fits.

This does strengthen my belief that Brian Kidd is being marginalised at the club. Don't forget that the Mancini/Kidd partnership was created by Garry Cook and Brian Marwood in the chaos of last Christmas, and that Mancini had since brought in five of his own men: Fausto Salsano, Ivan Carminati and Massimo Battara last December, with David Platt and Attilio Lombardo.

I'm not predicting Kidd is soon to be sacked, but there is a finite number of tasks and a finite amount of authority in managing and coaching a football team, and every new addition must necessarily detract from Kidd's power base.

Just a thought.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Hart flies in

Interesting news this morning: Joe Hart has cut short his summer holiday to return to pre-season in Portland:
City told Hart and England teammate Gareth Barry they did not have to return until the New York leg of the tour next weekend.

But Hart is desperate to prove himself to Roberto Mancini and with Shay Given set to miss the start of the season through injury, the 23-year-old is heading for Portland, where City play a practice match this weekend.
This reflects very well on Hart. It was clear as soon as Birmingham City bought Ben Foster that Hart would be competing with Shay Given to be first choice in 2010/11. Which means that one of them is going to be disappointed. And with Given's shoulder injury jeopardising his early-season availability, Hart could well start the season as first choice.

I used to be unthinkingly pro-Given, but the more I think about it the more open I am to Hart being first choice. Ideally we'd have another year of Given and then Hart from 2011/12 onwards. But why not now? If he's good enough he's old enough and all that.

£17m Kolarov on his way

Our fourth signing of the summer looks clear this evening: Lazio's Serbian left-back Aleksandr Kolarov.

Reports emerged from Italy on Thursday afternoon that we had reached agreement with Lazio. Their coach, Edy Reja, told Rai 3 that his transfer to MCFC was 'imminent.' And then we have the confirmation in tomorrow's papers from the favoured journalists: a £17m fee has been agreed. Here's Daniel Tayor:

Kolarov is an attacking left-back renowned for his powerful shooting and ability from set pieces – his style has seen him being labelled as the Serbian Roberto Carlos – and he has been identified to take over from Wayne Bridge in a new-look defence also featuring Jerome Boateng, the £10.5m recruit from Hamburg.

Bridge has not convinced the City manager, Roberto Mancini, that he is good enough for a team that aspires to challenge for the Premier League title in the coming season and the former England international can expect to start on the bench if the 24-year-old Kolarov agrees to become the club's fourth signing of the summer.

More if and when he signs.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The clearout

Where there is creation there must also be destruction. City are still inhaling the thrilling vapours of the transfer window but soon we must exhale, and expel all the used and unnecessary players from the lungs of the club.

And stories are emerging this week of the club's plans. There seems to have been a concerted briefing of journalists, and the headline name on his way out is Craig Bellamy. Daniel Taylor reports in The Guardian today that Bellamy is allowed to leave if we find a buyer:
That leaves Bellamy facing a decision about whether to stay and fight for his place, having effectively won a similar battle with Robinho, or leave a club where he is not expected to feature prominently. If the latter is the case, he might also have to consider taking a pay cut to help engineer a move. Bellamy, who turned 31 this week, earns £95,000 a week and when the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, was asked about his admiration for the Wales international he suggested it would be out of his club's price range. "City bought him for £12m and the player must be on considerably high wages," he said. "I just don't see it happening."
While this is big news in the sense that Bellamy was one of our best players last season, it's no real surprise. Yes, he was the icon and talisman of Mark Hughes' Manchester City, but it is for precisely that reason he should go. Everything that made him so good under his compatriot: his personal loyalty to Hughes and Bowen, his questioning his team-mates' work ethic, his rage and fire against those around him - makes him destructive under Roberto Mancini. After their repeated clashes last season a departure is likely if Spurs, Everton or Villa can find the money.

Some of the other names likely to go are obvious. Taylor mentions Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho and Stephen Ireland. James Ducker tweeted two days ago that Jô, Nedum Onuoha, Felipe Caicedo and Javi Garrido were also allowed to leave.

One area of disagreement is Micah Richards. He was included on Ducker's list but today both the Guardian and The Sun said that the club were keen on keeping him. This is a surprise, given the arrival of Jérôme Boateng. (There is literally nothing that Richards can do on a football pitch that Boateng cannot.) Mancini clearly likes Zabaleta so I can't see Richards playing too much football this year. But then he has only just turned 22 and so we still might hope for some more development out of him yet.

Ireland and Onuoha are both 24, though, and at the age where we can't hang on to them for much longer. The decline of Ireland over the past year has been very sad but a move is right for him. Onuoha has never quite looked established in the side and this move could well have come at any time last summer or the summer before.

It's sad to see players to whom I am attached depart, and the Academy players certainly are part of that. (I don't desperately care where Jô or Santa Cruz play their football to be frank.) But then I'd rather see Ireland and Onuoha have successful careers elsewhere than play for our reserves and further stagnate. It's all part of the natural processes of a club.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Džeko update

We do not look much closer to signing Edin Džeko. He has spoken of his enthusiasm for a transfer but until we can convince Wolfsburg that he is worth less than £34million we won't bring him to City.

Džeko said this week:
"I want to clarify that it is not a matter of money, but of ambition. I feel I have to take a leap in quality and play for a big club. It is an important moment of my career and I also explained that to the leaders of Wolfsburg.
This would sound like what the tabloids call a ''Come and Get Me' Plea' to Garry Cook but for the fact he is known to be keen on a move to Italy as well. Juventus and Milan have long-standing interests in him and so Džeko has to choose between them and us he'll be off to Serie A. This means that we ought to be wary of news that Juventus have bid. Their new transfer director Beppe Marotta has confirmed their move:
'Dzeko? It's the dream that I'm working on,' said Marotta. He is one of the best strikers in the world and clearly he is an object of our desire.

It's true that we are negotiating and I have spoken to them (Wolfsburg) but they are asking for a lot and we are trying to follow the cheaper option. They like some of our players but we know that what you buy is not always better than what you sell.'
Of course, however far away from reaching an agreement with Wolfsburg we are, Juventus will only be further. But it's another obstacle in what is not an easy transfer to complete. And I can't see our offer to throw in Roque Santa Cruz being the dealbreaker.

Monday, 12 July 2010

David Silva wins the World Cup

David Silva won the World Cup last night. I wish I could say this made him the first City player to win a World Cup, but he's still technically a Valencia player. And I'm a stickler for technicality. Rather, when he signs he will become the second player to join City having won the World Cup. Patrick Vieira was the first.

Silva was an unused substitute, which must have been a personal frustration given his role in Euro 2008. Perhaps it was good, though, that he was not on the pitch given the tackles that his new team-mate Nigel de Jong was throwing about. De Jong and his co-bully Mark van Bommel were tasked with terminating Spain's passing with extreme prejudice and both were lucky to stay on the pitch after some brazen fouls. De Jong's flying kung-fu stamp on Xabi Alonso's thorax was punished with only a yellow card, when a red would have been more appropriate. I've said before how much I dislike de Jong's malice, and this was one of the worst.

That said, I would have loved him to win it. Not just because he, unlike Silva, is currently a City player but because of all our playing representatives at the World Cup, he feels ours in a particularly meaningful way. But Spain were deserving winners, on aesthetic and moral grounds, and de Jong was one of the main reasons for that.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Boateng bags bronze

All three of the remaining City players at the World Cup will go home with medals, as Germany beat Uruguay 3-2 in the third/fourth place play-off. Jérôme Boateng will join his new team-mates three weeks for now with a World Cup bronze medal.

He moved to right-back, having played left-back in recent games. This was interesting, I've got a feeling he's just as likely to play right-back than centrally this coming season, certainly if we sign David Luiz. I don't think he's a natural full back, but he was very assured this evening. There were none of the defensive lapses that spoilt his semi-final (it certainly helped that Martín Cáceres didn't get forward half as much as Sergio Ramos had), and he had some good moments going forward.

When afforded some space in the second half he swung in two perfect crosses from the touchline: the first was headed in by Marcell Jansen to make the score 2-2, the second was just missed by a flying Stefan Kießling. His best moment was yet to come, as he won the ball in defence and surged up the pitch, linking with Thomas Müller in a counter-attack as direct and exciting as anything Germany produced against England and Argentina, even if it was ultimately unsuccessful.

He could well be our first choice right back. He's certainly better than Micah Richards: he's got all of his athleticism plus a whole lot more technical ability. He's different from Pablo Zabaleta, not quite as canny or as reliable and so we could choose between them depending on the context. But he looks promising and I am excited about seeing him in blue.

Nigel de Jong and David Silva will compete for the World Cup tomorrow evening.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Pre-season plans

(This is as much for my benefit as anyone else's: I had to write this down to clarify it in my own head.)

After a week of pre-season training in Carrington City fly to Portland, Oregon tomorrow afternoon for the second stage in their summer programme. They will meet up with the Touré brothers and spend a week training at the Nike headquarters before playing Portland Timbers - a second tier side - on Saturday.

I think that the following day - Sunday 18th - the squad fly to New York where they will be met by England's brave heroes Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Hart (who, to be fair, did nothing wrong.) They will contest the New York Football Challenge at Red Bull Arena (actually in New Jersey) with games against Sporting Lisbon and Hans Backe's New York Red Bulls on Friday (23rd) and Sunday (25th) evenings respectively.

There's two more games in the US: Club América in Atlanta on 28 July then Internazionale in Baltimore on 31 July. I imagine we'll fly back to Manchester on Sunday 1 August. Training at Carrington will restart on Monday 2 August, joined by the last World Cup leftovers: Carlos Tévez, Jérôme Boateng, David Silva and Nigel de Jong. (I don't know when Vladimir Weiss and Roque Santa Cruz will start training, I guess Weiss will join with the England players and Roque with the final four.)

Once back in Manchester we've got a friendly in Dortmund on the Wednesday night and then against Valencia at Eastlands on the Saturday. Then it's another free week before White Hart Lane the following Saturday lunchtime. So the whole programme is six weeks long and contains seven friendlies.

My question, though, is how likely the last four joiners are to be able to play our first game? Their first day of pre-season will be twelve days before we go to Spurs. I'm not a fitness expert, so am very keen to hear from anyone who is. Our chances of getting anything there are slim enough with Tévez, de Jong, Silva and Boateng on the pitch. Without them it does not look good at all. Keen to hear your opinions on this.

Robi for Ibra?

This is a rumour that has been all over the Catalan press in recent days, and today it makes its way into the Manchester Evening News: a deal with Barcelona where we get Zlatan Ibrahimovic in exchange for Robinho and some cash.

The M.E.N. story says that Mancini is so much of a fan he would be willing to pay '£15m plus' on top of Robinho. This is even higher than was reported in El Mundo Deportivo yesterday - €10-15m (£8.4-£12.5m). There is certainly enough to make us believe something in this story.

We are actively and openly seeking to offload Robinho, and Barcelona could do with someone who plays on the left of a front three. Barcelona are not as keen to offload Ibra are as we are to sell Robi but his debut season at the Nou Camp was fairly mixed and he's not obviously in their best starting eleven. City are on the lookout for someone new to lead the line and Mancini had real success managing Ibrahimovic for Milan. The clubs could certainly reach a deal. The sticking point to me seems to be Ibrahimovic's willingness to join a team of our stature.

I'm afraid I am, like most English fans, an Ibra-sceptic. It doesn't need to be stated how talented he is, but I think there are legitimate questions to be asked over his reliability, his consistency and his application. Like Danny, I'm not convinced he's a natural partner for Carlos Tévez. And that, for me, is the main test we should apply in our search for a new centre forward.

'If Inter decide to sell we will be there'

That's Roberto Mancini talking about his interest in Inter's Mario Balotelli. The full quote:
"We are always interested in good players, if Inter decide to sell, we will be there," said the Italian.

"I have no problems. The most important thing is that they are good, so that they go on the pitch and play well."
This declaration of interest accords with what Balotelli's agent Mino Raiola said this week:
"Was there a real offer from City? Yes, there was but it is not for me to say," Balotelli's agent Mino Raiola told Gr Parlamento.

"Mario Balotelli's situation is calm. He is an Inter player. There are no negotiations, hence, he will remain at Inter."
And the comments of Inter transfer supremo Marco Branca:
‘There is also interest from United and City in Balotelli, but it’s very early to say if there will be any business done.

‘He is an Inter player and we have to think about our future.’
I guess this largely hinges on whether Rafael Benítez values Balotelli or not. I suspect he doesn't and so a departure is quite possible. I used to be lukewarm on Balotelli as a potential City player but for some reason I've reversed my opinion. He's clearly a bit of a lunatic but we've always liked mavericks at City and I'd hate to see us line up with a team of just Gary Speeds and Phil Nevilles. Where's the fun in that?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

A Bola: MCFC bid €35m for Luiz

The Portuguese newspaper A Bola has reported this morning that City have bid €35million (£29.2m) for Benfica's Brazilian defender David Luiz. This is an improvement on our initial bid of €32m (£26.7m), and comes with an offer of €3m per year in wages (£48k/week.)

We've been linked with Luiz for a while, and the British press reported our first bid as being either £21.5m or £25m. Either way, this is a significant improvement on that and apparently Benfica President Luis Filipe Vieira is tempted by the money on offer. The fact that the A Bola headline says that it is an 'act of (financial) madness' shows how big our offer looks in Lisbon.

Luiz is certainly very highly thought of. I caught a few Benfica games on television last year and he impressed. He might look like Carles Puyol but with the ball at his feet he's much more of a Gerard Piqué. To quote Tor-Kristian Karlsen (acclaimed former scout and technical director), 'he's so good with the ball he makes Rio Ferdinand look like Robocop', and, moreover, he would be the perfect complement for Jérôme Boateng. He had previously said of Luiz:
amazing coup by man city if they land david luiz. wonderful def; elegant, xlnt on the ball, pacey, versatile, commanding. he's got it all
>High praise. While there are transfers I'm less enthusiastic about - James Milner, mainly - this is not one of them. I'm not a fan of Joleon Lescott or Kolo Touré and I'm not particularly attached to either of them too. If we were to bring Luiz in ahead of them I would be delighted.

Guardian: £24m Milner bid

That's Stuart James in The Guardian today reporting that we are reading to raise our offer for James Milner:
Manchester City are set to return to Aston Villa with an offer in the region of £24m for James Milner and at the same time make it clear that they have no intention of meeting the Midlands club's asking price for the England international, which is closer to the £30m mark.

City, who had a £20m bid for Milner rejected in May, remain determined to sign the former Leeds United trainee but are prepared to turn their attention elsewhere if Villa stick to their higher valuation.
My enthusiasm for signing James Milner has dampened somewhat recently. With the signings of Yaya Touré and David Silva we have improved our muscularity in midfield and our inventiveness in wide areas - the two elements Milner would bring us. Obviously he's an excellent player who would still improve us.

But this has echoes of the Lescott and Adebayor signings last summer. There comes a point when I'm happy with what we've done in certain areas, and, combined with the attachments I have to players already at the club, this makes me unenthusiastic about recruiting. If James Milner came it would be bad news for Gareth Barry, who I like, and Vladimir Weiss, who excites me. Throw in the fact that we could only get him for an inflated fee and that it somehow feels worse to bully an English club than a foreign one (I accept that this is ludicrous) and I'm not exactly desperate for this to come off.

That's not to say I wouldn't welcome him to City and revel in his successes though.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Boateng out, Silva into final

And so the personalities of the all-Manchester City World Cup final are decided: Nigel de Jong on one side, David Silva on the other.

Silva came on for the last five minutes as Spain closed out the lead brought to them by Carles Puyol's second half header. He played quite well, twice running with Fernando Torres on counter-attacks but not getting the ball. His high point was probably winning a disputed corner off Bastian Schweinsteiger but he had one or two other nice touches.

He was more assured than Jérôme Boateng. Playing at left back, Boateng was teased by Andrés Iniesta and tormented by Sergio Ramos. He could have been booked three or four times over and was substituted for Marcell Jansen early in the second half. He's clearly a natural centre-back but I suspect he'll start at right-back when the regular season starts. Just a hunch.

De Jong v Silva is on Sunday night.

AJ's role

It's good to see Adam Johnson ready to spend some of next season on the bench:
Johnson said: "There's a big squad here now but there's also a lot of games, and everybody can't play in every game - there's Europe as well as the two cups.

"We need a good squad with strong people on the bench. There will obviously be changes for different games and I'm ready for that. It's going to be exciting times. I can't wait."
If he's made his peace with this then that's a good thing. Quite a few of his team-mates will have to make the same accommodation. If things go well next season we will be playing 60 or so matches. No outfield player, particularly one of Johnson's age and role, can expect to play all the time.

I'm sure we'll see some fairly heavy rotation. Fortunately for Johnson he can play on either wing in a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 set up. I keep meaning to do a post about likely line-ups and combinations but the fact is that even among wide players, I have genuinely no idea whether Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Vladimir Weiss or of course James Milner will be at City next year. Until their futures are resolved we can't make guesses. But I'm sure Johnson will get a good number of games next year.

Vieira quits France

Patrick Vieira has announced he's quitting international football to focus on City:
"My focus is on City, nothing else...

He said: "My target in the next few years is City. I want to do my best for the club, and I want to repay the trust of the manager, Brian (Marwood) and Garry Cook."
This isn't a big surprise given his age and the break Laurent Blanc needs to make with the last remnants of the France '98/Euro 2000 generation.

What is interesting is that he says he wants to be here for a 'few years.' This reinforces my belief that Vieira is going to move into the coaching staff providing Mancini is still here. Clearly his role at the club is beyond playing in midfield occasionally: based on last year's performances he didn't deserve a contact for 2010/11. The longer he stays the more likely it is he will be performing training ground functions. And he's a very useful ally for Mancini in the dressing room - as shown by his castigation of Micah Richards as reported in the Sunday Times a few days ago.

The appointment of David Platt shows Mancini's willingness to build his own coaching team: his partnership with Brian Kidd was created by the club rather than the manager. Vieira could make a step up into the Mancini/Platt circle in time.

City guaranteed a World Cup winner

Short of teams or players being expelled from the tournament, it is now certain that a Manchester City player will pick up a World Cup winner's medal on Sunday.

Last night Holland knocked out Uruguay, who ultimately fell down on their lack of Manchester City players. If they'd had just one blue they might have done better, but there's one thing connecting the three remaining teams, and it's us.

Nigel de Jong didn't play last night, owing to suspension, but I'm sure he'll play the final. His replacement Demy de Zeeuw, who looks like de Jong from a distance and plays a bit like him too only last 45 minutes. He was replaced by Rafael van der Vaart at half time. While it's possible Bert van Marwijk will start with the 4-1-4-1 for the final it's highly unlikely, particularly given the necessity of shutting down either Andrés Iniesta or Mesut Özil.

Jérôme Boateng and David Silva go head to head tonight.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Boji goes

As City continue to spin the transfer wheel further and further, it is inevitable that some will be left behind. And so it is with Valeri Bozhinov, one of the dwindling number of remaining Eriksson purchases, who has signed a permanent deal at Parma.

Perhaps it is better this way. Bozhinov was a unique prospect, a £5.5million striker loved and rated by all City fans - despite scoring just one goal in three seasons at the club. This was a relationship dependant on promise, not product. Having spent so much time on the sidelines, his reputation grew, unchallenged by any exposure to experience. Like an anticipated messiah, or a government in exile, Bozhinov's absence grew his profile, people believed him capable of feats that would never be tested in reality.

He came from Fiorentina in August 2007. Sven was doing what his protégé Roberto Mancini did three years on: bringing exotic, promising players from across Europe to City, with no concern for the 'Premier League experience' Mark Hughes came to fetishise. His MCFC career began, like everyone else's, at the Boleyn Ground. He came on for Rolando Bianchi after 61 minutes, and impressed: pushy, fiesty and pigeon-chested, he swaggered about like someone playing in their schoolyard. Another substitute appearance followed before he was asked to start the Manchester derby. Just four minutes in, though, an awkward fall tore his knee ligaments and ended his season.

This led a pattern that would become repeat itself: the constant attention to updates from the club, the enthusiastic excitement for his return, the belief that he was a panacea, that everything would be fixed when he was back. But he didn't make it back that season. It was no surprise that Eriksson's successor, Mark Hughes, was a fan: Boji was a cocky, stocky striker with a short temper and an eye for the audacious - just as Sparky had been. A fit-again Bozhinov came on for Hughes' first competitive game at Eastlands, as City were beaten 1-0 by an excellent FC Midtjylland side. But he did enough to earn a start for the opening day of the 2008/09 Premier League campaign. It was Villa Park, 2.50pm, and the players were finishing their warm up in front of us. But Boji collapsed, screamed, and was carried off by a distraught Micah Richards. We lost the game 4-2 but the news that Boji had ruptured his achilles - an injury at least as bad as his ligament snap - was much more upsetting.

So the 2008/09 season resembled the one before. Waiting, hoping, and putting unrealistic expectations upon his return. This time he did manage to come back before the end of the season, on familiar territory in March 2009. He came on at the Boleyn Ground: the third launch of his MCFC career coming on the site of his first. We roared him on, even louder than we did two years before. Once fit, he managed a run in the side of sorts. He was nnot quite the player we hoped for, but he was never going to be. But when he volleyed home Benjani's flick-on at White Hart Lane, in our biannual frustrating loss to Spurs, it felt like the fulfilment of at least two years of hope and expectation.

It felt important that he score then, because the summer 2009 spending was inevitably profligate. The arrivals of Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz meant that his chances were limited. His loan move to Parma that summer was predictable, as I suppose is its being made permanent. Whether he could have become a first-teamer without the ADUG money is unknowable but improbable. As much as we might want to mourn him as a victim of Sheikh Mansour that pity is better saved for others. What we can describe him as is a victim of misfortune, a talented player that we took to heart and for whom things might have turned out differently. Just 24, he still has years of football ahead of him.

We loved him and he never let us down.

Valeri Bozhinov MCFC 2007-09 3 starts, 1 goal.

Boateng storms into semis

Another quarter final with MCFC interest on both sides on Saturday; Jérôme Boateng's Germany went up against Carlos Tévez's Argentina. It was an unexpected rout.

Diego Maradona was tactically out-classed by Jogi Löw, whose German side limited Argentina to half-chances while breaking at will into the gaping savannahs in Argentine territory. But one of the fundamentals of this plan was solid defence, something Boateng provided well from left back.

In fact, this was probably the best game I've ever seen him play. He won every tackle (including one or two on Lionel Messi), distributed the ball intelligently and swung in one excellent cross. He's not a natural left-back, but with his skill set he's quite possibly now the best right-back at the club.

Carlitos was starved of service and could only carve himself a half-chance here and there. A very frustrating evening. But Boateng marches on!

Saturday, 3 July 2010


Just a test.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Robi scores but de Jong through

What a night of football. Two Manchester City players going head to head for a place in the semi-final. Robinho v Nigel de Jong. And City legend Elano, still injured, could only watch.

Robinho started well, playing with the imagination and audacity we saw at City and the energy and bite that we didn't. His tracking, tackling and efforts to win the ball back made him look like a different player altogether from our £32m man.

Only five minutes in he thought he put Brazil ahead, ghosting behind Andre Ooijer, receiving Dani Alves' pass and scoring. Just as he wheeled away to celebrate the flag shot up - Alves had been offside. Tight call. But five minutes later Robinho put Brazil ahead. Holland lost the ball, and their transition from an attacking to a defensive set-up was haphazard at the least. Robinho drifted into the chasm between Ooijer and Johnny Heitinga, and was half-heartedly tracked by Arjen Robben. But he received a straight ball from Felipe Melo and replicated that open body right foot finish we saw against Chile (and against Portsmouth in the 6-0.)

Once ahead Brazil dominated. Robinho's movement was too much for Gregory van der Wiel to comprehend, and Robi was even involved in spats for - get this - over-zealous tackling. Nigel de Jong had to restrain him once. But Brazil couldn't double their advantage and went into half-time one ahead.

The game looked sewn up. The one thing I was sure of was that Brazil would never implode, never capitulate. So the second half was shocking. The Dutch were brighter but could have expected to be gifted a goal. Wesley Sneijder swung a cross in, Felipe Melo and Júlio César jumped into one another and the ball was deflected into the net. Soon after a Dirk Kuyt near post run was ignored, he flicked a corner on and Sneijder buried the second ball.

But there was disappointment in between the goals for de Jong. His harrying and tackling was so relentless, so heroic that he picked up a yellow card. This was his second booking of the tournament and means he misses the semi-final. A personal blow but how else was he meant to keep Kaká quiet? It was a noble act of self-sacrifice to rival Jesus of Nazareth Luis Suárez.

When Felipe Melo was sent off for stamping on Arjen Robben the game was up. Ten man Brazil were stunned and could not create anything. Holland's extra man told and they had their own chances on the break. Robinho and Elano are flying home, and while Nigel de Jong won't play in the semi final he might just be strutting around Soccer City next Sunday night.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Yaya deal done

Our third summer signing is done: Yaya Touré has signed a five year deal. This has been on the way for a while, but it's nice to see it confirmed.

On the surface this might look unnecessary. We currently have the first choice defensive midfielders for the English and Dutch national sides, plus the once-great Patrick Vieira and Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta as able auxiliaries. But we were left fairly exposed at times last season, with de Jong and Barry probably asked to play too much football notwithstanding the fact that their partnership was fairly static and one-paced.

Yaya Touré isn't David Silva but he's not Nigel de Jong either - the attacking side of his game is better than he is given credit for. He's able at carrying the ball forward, he gets into the box at the right moments and he shoots well. So this gives us good options. We can pair Yaya with Gareth Barry (for easier games) or with Nigel de Jong (for difficult games). When we want to put three in central midfield we can either go with Yaya at the peak of the triangle and Barry-de Jong behind him or with Yaya in the base and David Silva ahead. We're generously stocked. But we should be playing a lot of football next season. If we get to the final of the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League then we will play 69 matches. Obviously that won't happen but we will probably have a 50-60 match season. Given the World Cup involvement of Silva, Barry, de Jong and Yaya there are inevitably going to be fitness issues and so we will need the extra bodies.

He comes with some top level experience, having been part of Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona team. As it happened, he was not an automatic first choice, which is why he left - but he still managed to start 37 games last season and 43 the season before. Guardiola's personal preference for Sergio Busquets and Seydou Keita meant that Touré did not feel sufficiently wanted but he was always the next man in line when either of them missed out. He also filled in at centre back when required, including during the 2009 Champions League final. Two of the starting eleven from that evening have now come to City, which somehow feels right.

And let's not forget the fraternal factor here. This is the third pair of brothers to play for City since I've been a fan, after the Brightwells and the Whitleys. While this is fairly interesting it does represent my main concern with the deal. I'm not a Kolo Touré fan and would be quite open to our dropping him, making someone else captain or even selling him. Now his brother is on the team this would become more problematic for Mancini. One interesting prospect this season is whether a Francophone/West African/Arsenal clique develops (around the Tourés, Adebayor and Patrick Vieira) and whether this is similar to the Brazilian clique that developed under Hughes. Vieira's relationship with Mancini will be crucial. I'd make Vincent Kompany captain (there's a post on this coming some time soon), who is in fact on very good terms with the aforementioned players.

Anyway, Yaya Touré is a quality player who played in arguably the greatest club side of the last decade. A well-judged addition to an ever-strengthening squad.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Corriere dello Sport: Kolarov to join MCFC

A report in today's Corriere dello Sport says that Lazio's Serbian left back Aleksandr Kolarov is 'praticamente' a MCFC player, and apparently an official announcement is imminent. The fee is rumoured to be €18m (£14.8m).

This rumour has been simmering for a while. It's hard to know if this is a real development or not. We'll have to wait and see.

Where will David Silva play?

What about the actual football, then; where will David Silva play, and how? Fortunately he adopts different roles for club and country, which should present us with some options.

He is best known to English fans for his role in Euro 2008, where he played on the left of a four-man midfield. He is left-footed, but don't expect him to be Martin Petrov. He's less quick, he's less direct but a lot more imaginative. Quite a few Premier League players deploy a creative player from the left, such as Steven Pienaar or Niko Kranjčar. We don't necessarily need to do this, because we do have the option of Adam Johnson, who could be an heir to Martin Petrov but might be something else entirely. I imagine this will be our most common arrangement, largely because of Mancini's enthusiasm for two strikers.

Should he decide against two up front, we have the option of playing a variant of 4-5-1, with David Silva in a central role. This is how he plays for Valencia, as since Juan Mata has arrived to play on the left, Silva has moved into a freer role behind David Villa. This brings the most out of his movement between the lines, his imagination and creativity. This is particularly likely to be deployed in European games if Mancini feels as if we need an extra man in midfield. One final option is to play with a lone striker but to push Silva wide, allowing three more cautious central midfielders. Silva did this for Spain against Switzerland but it didn't really work. He's better drifting inside.