After spending £123.5m on just three full-backs this summer window, City’s splurge has been met mostly by two reactions from neutral – though some not so neutral – onlookers: those who profess outrage at the levels of spending and those who shrug their shoulders.
There is, to some degree, a level of justifiable moral outrage at such vast spending on anything that doesn’t obviously help society as a whole.
After all, that money could feed starving children or promote world peace. It’s unclear exactly how Manchester City Football Club could achieve these goals. In the end, the money is there, City need defenders, and few would expect them to keep it in the bank account and look forward to adding the interest.
That’s probably where the second type of reaction comes in: ‘meh’. There might be a limit, above which spending becomes ethically questionable given what it could be spent on, but that’s a question for governments and probably even FIFA, not a Premier League football club by itself.
But that’s not the only reason why the moral outrage shouldn’t really apply.
In 2010, City spent around £16m for Aleksandar Kolarov, who this summer departed for Roma after seven years of loyal service to the club. But in the intervening period, City had spent just £10m on full-backs since this summer, buying Gael Clichy for £7m and Maicon for £3m.
Manchester City's spending on full backs…
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) July 25, 2017
That works out to £130m over seven years, or roughly £19m a year, on average, since the signing of Kolarov. The ages of the players involved are also significant. Benjamin Mendy has just turned 23, Danilo has just turned 26 while Kyle Walker is 27.
If Mendy and Danilo could continue for seven years at the club, and Walker for, say, five, that would mean no more full-back spending for another prolonged period, though it might be necessary to refresh the options at some point. Given the longevity and loyalty shown – both by the club and players – around the previous set of full-backs in Pablo Zabaleta, Clichy, Kolarov and Bacary Sagna, it’s not ridiculous to think that City are hoping for a long term of commitment out of their new signings. That would bring the average spending down even closer to zero.
But even if all of that were true, it would still be moot. Mostly on the grounds – popular as they are these days – that you can’t have your cake and eat it. For the last number of years, City have been criticised for their spending, but they’ve also been chastised heavily for their sporting failures, too.
It’s been a while since City last won anything of note – the League Cup a year and a half ago remains the last trophy, and before that, the league title in 2014 is the last major triumph. Trophyless seasons aren’t particularly novel experiences for most Blues, but it’s still not an ideal state of affairs. Hence the criticism, and some keep coming back year after year: that City are weak in defence, that they have an ageing squad, and how do they expect to win trophies with a pair of full-backs Arsenal didn’t want nearly a decade ago?
A new one for last season was the huge question mark that hung over the goalkeeper, something which led to new signing Ederson’s credentials being pored over because he made a mistake on his debut in a pre-season friendly.
With that level of criticism prevalent around the blue half of Manchester for years, how is it even possible to criticise City for spending money to sort out a problem for which they’ve been castigated for years? Why criticise City on sporting grounds only to then criticise them on financial / moral ones when they try to rectify the initial problem?
Funnily enough, though, it’s these sorts of sporting criticisms which put extra pressure on clubs to go out and spend big on players during the transfer window – the media and the fans would start to make noise if they didn’t, and it’s not a million miles from having a knock-on effect on sponsors and other business interests, too, who don’t want to attach their brands a club whose fans aren’t responding to it positively. In turn, that drives up the price from the selling club.
That’s not to say such a scenario should happen if City didn’t sign three full-backs, but we’ve created an environment where it’s hardly inconceivable. In a sense, it’s the critics who are to blame, yet they’re the ones continuing to criticise.
It’s the sort of stuff that leads otherwise rational football fans to believe in conspiracies.