An ongoing thread in the forums revolves around Michel Platini`s statements as head of UEFA. BlueWolfie says he`s going to contribute a longer article on this topic, so I`ll try not to steal his thunder. What I wanted to talk about is a little bit different: the notion, widely held, of expensive transfers, wealthy foreign owners and clubs as a negative influence on the beautiful game. Here I am referring to the relentless barbs thrown City`s way for being wealthy. And while being a public popinjay is to be expected if you are wealthy and not Chelsea, some of the things said about us are directly counterfactual.
One charge leveled repeatedly is that we are “buying tradition,” that somehow we, through spending, have created an artificial team. This is an increasingly worldwide impression, and we need to start winning hearts and minds to us. There is hypocrisy in this impression and willful ignorance of the evolution of the game. The hypocrisy is that while we get ripped for spending to achieve success, no one mentions in this context that all four of the semi-finalists in last year`s Champions League had squads assembled for hundreds of millions. Manchester United last year spent on Berbatov alone more than 30 million pounds, and they already had a double winning squad. The nature of modern, and let`s face it, market-based competition is that you have to spend money to win, and our ownership group has done this in as tasteful a way possible, certainly more classily than Real Madrid this year, or Barcelona last year (Dani Alves came at a ridiculous price, and Barcelona ended up dropping between 30 and 40 million euros on him). City actually has several academy players playing regularly or starting, and the newly arriving squad members have (for the most part) embraced the spirit of the club and its raucous supporters.
That being said, who can compete with teams like Manchester United for authenticity? I think it`s amazing that they were able to win the CL with an entirely Manchester bred attack of Tevez, Rooney, and Ronaldo. It`s as authentic as their supporters: true Mancunians all. Although it does puzzle me why there is so much traffic southbound on the M1 after United plays. Not sure on that.
The truth is, we do not have much of a European pedigree. But what are we supposed to do about it? I mean, I love Stevie Ireland, but he playing by himself is only good enough to get us to the Europa. We need a bit more. And compared to Real Madrid, no one really has a European pedigree. And even they of unmatched trophy count, they of di Stefano, Puskas, and Bernabeu, they happy Franco few, are still having to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on transfers to overtake their rivals.
However, this is not my main point. I am writing to argue that regardless of whether we are in fact buying tradition, such spending is good for the Premier League, good for small clubs, and just generally good. For the health of the overall Premier League, nothing is more important than having quality teams, passionate fans, and exciting play. Manchester City over the past 18 months has evolved from playing SGE 4-5-1 slowball with Darius Vassell featuring often to a rapid Mark Hughes side playing 4-3-3 or 4-1-2-1-2 with Robinho and Stephen Ireland exchanging passes in beautiful attacking/counterattacking style. I`m not making a tactical point; I`m simply suggesting we are a more entertaining team to those who are not just looking for a City win. Objectively we have helped the Premier League by bringing in Robinho, and should we reel in some other stars, we help the brand even more.
Some would quibble with this argument, saying that small teams and local players get crowded out. This overlooks that small clubs are often willing participants in this dance. Wigan recently made some spare change by selling Valencia, City a while back made a huge amount of money off SWP, and this process continues unabated. This suggests that smaller clubs value, rightly, the freedom and depth they get from spending the sums they earn in sales more than the star players themselves. Teams working their way up do well to cash in and buy squad players, and I see nothing wrong with this. By spending and selling, both the buyer and seller can get stronger. Sevilla was better the year after selling Alves (this mostly reflected off-field stability) and they would hardly consider themselves victims of Barcelona or Real Madrid despite years of high-profile sales under Del Nido. As far as local players go, in some ways the big spending can hurt (see approach Chelsea and Real Madrid have taken to their academy), but in a macroscopic sense talent is talent and will be given opportunities to prove itself. Perhaps big money foreigners are keeping English lads off the pitch at Stamford Bridge, but the truth is most bench sitters do so out of their own financial desire to not take a pay cut and play a division below. Robinho and Drogba are not making English youth play worse. In fact, I`d suggest they are raising standards. And even when a talented youngster like Daniel Sturridge gets cast aside in a search for expensive foreign players, he can always find a home at a small club, like?Chelsea.
Thus, we should be celebrated in the press and in pubs and on the street for having owners investing in the team and in the city, improving the standard of play nationwide, and for throwing money around. Of course, like England, we`ll be toasted in the Sun when we win, and ridiculed when we crash and burn. There will be lots of both, and I`m sure I`ll learn to tune out the noise, but the criticism isn`t just anti-City, it`s anti-intellectual.
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