Date: 4th June 2009 at 10:06am
Written by:

Musician and Manchester City fan, Roy Harper voices his opinion.

To read Part 1, click here

The Champions League has turned some unlikely real localities into international destinations. In the light of this, it’s perhaps worth looking at which of the English teams involved are likely to be able to sustain the dream of involvement. London is an international destination, but also a huge city which can sustain at least two teams of Champions league status.

Arsenal and Chelsea are obvious winners, Arsenal because of its history and status, and Chelsea because of its chic location in the wealthy quarter, and time and place in the last decade of the 20th Century. Without Perestroica it could easily have been Spurs, the only other London team with Champions league potential.

Elsewhere in England, the other teams with potential future involvement are Aston Villa, Liverpool, Man United and Newcastle. Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday would have been on that list, but both have dropped some way down in terms of infrastructure alone to disable them for at least the next ten years.

West Ham would have a look-in if they inherited the Olympic stadium and the facility under construction for the 2012 Games, but that would be a log shot. Sunderland’s new-found cash makes them another long shot, but that’ll take decades. Everton need new cash, new stadium and infrastructure, and suffer from second team in the city syndrome. Same as Athletico, Espanyol, City, and a good few others.

Any other team would have to win the lottery to have a hope, which is what Manchester City did. Inheriting a fifty thousand seater and incredibly wealthy owners within a few years has suddenly turned a struggling 20th Century antiquity into a 21st Century Theatre Of Hope. However, turning that hope of Champions League involvement into a reality will be incredibly difficult.

It will have to be done patiently, and gradually. There is no other way. The new arrivals this summer will need time together, and stability is really going to be important. Which isn’t to say that that’s the only criterion for success. Villarreal, for instance, could be considered as one exception. A place where a whole town, (led by one man), has a ‘Field Of Dreams’ moment, but it didn’t happen overnight.

Having now established that the venue is top drawer, the local population are ready and willing and the owners are extremely wealthy, one of the major reasons for not being able to suddenly turn up at the table is that the pool of established players of true Champions League standard and experience is limited.

As we know, those players now tend to want to play for teams with guaranteed Champions League status. Money alone will pull in one or two of the older alumni, but the elite belong to the elite clubs, and there’s very little chance of them going elsewhere. The vast majority of players want glory rather than money. If they’ve got class, they’ve usually got as much money as they need. This is all stuff we know.

Problem is, being City fans, we can’t really afford to forget it. Yes, it’s ok to dream, and we’ve all had them, but deep down, most of us know that it’s not a five minute job. We’re now talking at least eighteen months until we can get back into the Europa League.

So how do we think we go about it? Well, it’s not impossible to get a team of resolute grafters together, who are hard to beat, but you really need quality throughout the team to mount a serious challenge. Good coaching can turn average players into good players, but great players are born with it. Some potentially great players never get further than the under 16s, for lots of obvious reasons.

A less reliable route is to spot players on the up who look as though they would benefit from intense Premier League training and put them in the reserves for a year, or three. This obviously involves having scouts you trust in places you never knew existed, (and some that don’t). Which means paying the local guy more dosh than the competition can, and holding a huge potential squad. Not a guarantee though is it? And judging by the quote re-Barcelona’s ‘philosophy’ (above), it would seem that cradle-snatching will be an option of choice for those with little or no principles. Big business and principles are not usually great bedfellows.

An even less reliable route is to sign a ‘tried and tested’ manager, but what d’you get? Phil Scholari, or maybe Juande Ramos, The Special One perhaps, or someone else who doesn’t even speak English! Give me Mark Hughes any day.

Sam Allerdyce would probably equal Ancelotti with the same players and finance… but we’ve been down that road, and although some are stuck on it, Kaldoon seems to have it right. I’ve closed the book on that. Hopefully, it’ll not be opened again in my lifetime.

The pool of potential top managers isn’t great. In my opinion, there are two young British managers with the grit to get there. David Moyes and Mark Hughes. Martin O’Neil, Big Sam and Harry Rednapp have all reached their peak and their probable destinations. Bruce to Sunderland offers him top ten, but the same peak, and not really a different destination. The top four are immovable, and regardless of the arrival of Ancelotti, Chelski will be remote-managed by Abramovich for the for-seeable future. Zola is doing well in deep water and the rest are just hanging in there.

Roy Hodgson is obviously a great coach/manager, but his destination in the Harrods discount list will obviously suit him well in his 60s. (‘Lucky’ Guus is temporarily unavailable, even to billionaires, but he’s in his 60s anyway). In any case, we’ve been here too many times now. I’m just pleased that the door’s closed for another year.

One definite way of producing a top six performance in 2009/10 will be to offer players like Diego Forlan a big wage to come here and spend their last good years in blue. One problem with Diego though is that he may want one last go at the Champions league. I’d like to see him here, along with Maxi Rodrigez. Anyone who’s followed their games in La Liga will know how good they are. I’d choose Forlan over practically anyone, (he’s just won the golden boot in Spain, scoring 32), but there are a couple of months of madness to get through before the next line up takes to the field in anger.. (on our behalf).

The list of circa 29-year-olds on the look-out for one last visit to the gravy boat would include Xabi Alonso, Gareth Barry, Forlan, E’Eto (long shot), a proven fit and rejuvenated Owen, Drogba and Van Nistelrooy to name a few. Doctors, physios, psychologists, surgeons, bank officials and psychiatrists will be over-employed worldwide, and there are probably a couple of good buys there.

Most of them wouldn’t come, but Forlan is a good human being who will score plenty and help the changing room. One thing is for sure. There is absolutely no point in even talking about players like Messi and Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Ribery or probably even Villa (very long shot). NO POINT. I’ll say that again.. NO POINT.

The unrealistics who have up until recently heavily populated the comment slots of most of the City orientated articles in the press haven’t got a clue. Actually, they’re becoming fewer by the day, but they still exist. There are plenty of realistic people of course, but when you read things like ‘now we need a few world class players to mix in with him(Robinho) – like Yaya Toure / Iniesta / Messi / Eto’o etc. Still need a big guy up front to hit as a target man – someone like Drogba, but not Drogba.’ (taken from the Manchester Evening news replies to the Elano joining AC malarkey) , it’s not even laughable. It’s just plain sad. It just makes you realize how far some ‘fans’ have to go before they realize that on a good day, we’re shopping at the Co-op. We’re not even close to knowing that Selfridges exists…. or how to use it if it does exist. Mind you there’s a lot that you can buy at the Co-op!

E’Eto and Drogba are extreme long shots, but I’d have to say that none of them have any interest in Manchester City FC. And selling Elano for the peanuts we’d get for him isn’t the best of moves. He’s an extremely capable footballer, and if he’s not overused he’ll produce some great moments. OK, some of his remarks don’t suggest he’s the most loyal player we’ve ever had, and he’s obviously mouthy, but we need a like for like if he’s going to go. He’d probably be less disruptive with better ‘star’ players around him.

Of course, luck will play its usual part in this next season’s progress. You make you’re own luck, but you can also put yourself in places where you avail yourself of more luck, like not arguing with referees, regardless of how wrong they may be, and not diving etc…. and not overworking towards injury, SWP ! In the end, it was the Fulham game that can be said to have counted the most.

We could have won it by playing the first team, but they were needed that week for the Hamburg game. In the event, we lost both, and the gamble failed. As we all know, it was worth taking, but those three points were in the mixing pot, at home, in the last month of the season. If we hadn’t made that sacrifice, drawn the game with Fulham and things had remained the same, we’d have pipped Spurs for Europe on goal difference.

All hypothetical. Perhaps the silver lining is that the squad can be properly rebuilt in the fourteen months now available, Starting with Hangeland and/or Lescott.