Friday, 13 August 2010

Season preview

Never before have I been as excited and hopeful about a new season as I am about this one. I thought I was optimistic about last season. That wasn't optimism, this is optimism.

But in some senses it is similar to this feeling from last year. (I seriously considered copying last season's preview with some key changes, rather than find new words for the same thoughts.) We're coming off the back of a summer of unprecedented spending, as the manager has asserted his control over the squad, dismissing those loyal to the old boss and bringing in a handful of stars for seven figure sums. There were doubts after a disappointing league finish last year but the board have backed him with literally hundreds of millions of pounds. We don't yet know the first eleven. The players need time to gel. But we're ready to scale to heights in the table and the cups that we have not reached for forty years.

So there is a feeling of familiarity, no doubt. (And don't forget the start of 2007/08, either, which was very similar. Thaksin Shinawatra was a John the Baptist of sorts.) But I feel even more confident this time around. In summer 2009 Mark Hughes decided to fetishise Premier League experience and built a team around players (Joleon Lescott aside) that our rivals and superiors were willing to release. Aside from not being the best way to spend £100million, it was fairly dull. Gareth Barry and Emmanuel Adebayor felt like Aston Villa and Arsenal players respectively, and in a sense they still do.

This summer was different. Roberto Mancini and Brian Marwood have looked abroad, deciding to copy Chelsea's recruitment policy in 2003-05, pursuing young, ambitious players at foreign clubs, keen not for a final sinecure but a chance to play a role in transforming a mid-table club into a successful one. Of course the wages are a factor - I would never suggest otherwise. But there is a sense that Mario Balotelli (20), Jérôme Boateng (21), James Milner, Aleksandar Kolarov and David Silva (24) buy into 'the project' in a way that Kolo Touré or Wayne Bridge did not. These are players who should be with us for some time, loyal not to Hughes but to Mancini. Who is to say they cannot be our Didier Drogba, our Petr Čech, our Michael Essien?

Those players, plus Yaya Touré, combined with those we had before have given us the strongest Manchester City squad in history. Like Danny, I'd still love Edin Džeko, and wouldn't mind David Luiz either. But the depth is wonderful. People love to mock up City first and second elevens to show our gluttony, but it's worth doing just to smell the quality. I'm sure there will be tensions along the way but if all goes to plan we'll be playing 60+ games this season. So everyone should get a go. Even Patrick Vieira.

So what will it look like, this things do go to plan? Last season the board were very clear that the target was sixth. It was making the targets public, and the alleged change of focus to 70 points, that brought so much scorn when they sacked Mark Hughes despite allegedly being on course. It is quite understandable then, if a bit frustrating, that the board have made no public target for Mancini to make to keep his job. Of course there is a private target. I imagine the minimum for Mancini to be boss in 2011/12 is fourth place and progress (a semi final or final) in one of our three knock-out competitions. Personally, my emotional energy is much more invested in the cups than the league. I can't see us winning the Premier League and so I'm not desperately fussed where we finish. Champions League football in 2011/12 would be lovely but if you're offering me sixth place and the League Cup then it's a non-decision.

I'm also thrilled about being back in Europe. It's nice to have qualified on merit for the first time in thirty or so years. I suppose I feel like we're impostors in Europe for now but I'm sure it will feel more natural in time. I don't think we'll win the Europa League but it does improve the season having games on Thursdays. Particularly if you're the sort of pretentious Football Weekly-listening, L'Equipe-reading Europhile football fan like me, who thinks it matters how you pronounce 'Gourcuff' and pretends to be sympathetic to Genoa or Atlético Madrid in a meaningful way. A repeat of the Hamburg quarter-final would be a treat.

So it's even more promise-crammed than ever. What do I expect? I hate predictions. But I'm going for a battle with Arsenal and Liverpool for third and fourth. I think we'll scrape into the Champions League. I feel that we'll reach a cup final, but City being City we'll have to lose one or two before we win one. It would be nice to get the losses out of the way in the League Cup final (27 February) and the FA Cup final (14 May) before winning the Europa League final (18 May) at Lansdowne Road. Player-wise, I think Carlos Tévez won't quite replicate last year but should reach 25 in all competitions again. Of the new boys, I think Silva and Balotelli will tantalise but the real star will be Yaya Touré, who will dominate games in a way that we're not used to seeing.

As ever, these predictions are subject to being revised down if we lose tomorrow.


fulafalonga said...

Yes, all with you on all of that. But what do you think about failing to strengthen the centre back positions amid all that spending? And we've sold Nedum, one of the players who would have made a difference as a worthy backup there. I guess we are depending on Vincent and A.N. Other to make the positions theirs. Hopefully Dedryck A.N. Other Youngster can put pressure on Toure and Lescott. It's our weak point.

longwayfromhome said...

"As ever, these predictions are subject to being revised down if we lose tomorrow." ... Love it :D

This is new territory for sure and even the Robinho and Bellamy sagas have not taken the gloss off for me ... this is no longer keeping the faith, this is belief!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be pedantic Jack but our signings have been 8 figures, not 7... Wonder when and who will be the 1st 9 figure signing???

Also I'd have to say that 6th with the League Cup would see Mancini sacked. CL qualification is paramount, I'd say.

Come on City!

Wittgenstein was a Blue said...

Great review, almost all of which I agree with.

I must take issue with your preference for a cup win over Champions League qualification, though. Qualifying for the CL is a must this season - it is the bait that tempted at least Silva, YaYa and Boateng - and it will determine both the calibre of player we can bring in next summer and the question of whether or not Mancini keeps his job.