Oh joy of joys; it’s another blog about Manchester City killing football. And as a City fan, I of course present the backlash to the backlash.
There’s no doubt that things are changing in English football. The old guard is retreating (very slowly). Liverpool is in turmoil, United being bled dry, even Chelsea are looking at austere times, and a tightening of their Russian owner’s belt.
There’s no greater clue to the changing times than how lame Fergie’s “mind-games” have become. Once upon a time, Alex could will whole opposition teams and referees to fall before him with just a few achingly-sharp words. The story goes that after one such rebuttal to an opposition manager in a post-match “presser”, the manager in question’s hair fell out overnight, and he ended up living in a cave in Somerset surviving only on carrots and cup-a-soups. Now though, he’s no more than a mouthpiece for the Glazers. There’s no value in the market, you see?
One of the first criticisms I heard of Manchester City is that they are no longer likeable – “City used to be everyone’s second team”. Another way of phrasing this is City are no longer utter pants. Because that’s what likeable teams are – failures. Successful teams are hated, unsuccessful teams pitied. Sod being liked by other supporters – football is not a popularity contest, it is a series of competitions.
“The soul of the club has gone,” the writer and journalist Simon Hattenstone wailed, as he announced his detachment from the club he supposedly loved (he’ll soon came crawling back). Of course, he had no idea what this soul was, but hey, it sounded good. I can only imagine this soul was constant failure, a misshaped ground, poor players, boardroom turmoil, debt and mismanagement. I prefer being soulless to be honest. We were a Manchester-based club with an outdoor ticket office, because, what’s the worst that could happen?
Essentially, we were liked because we were a bit of a shambles – a comedy club (the Theatre of Base Comedy as Stuart Hall called Maine Road, until Kevin Keegan told him to shut up), unthreatening to anyone, fuelled by hope and nothing more. It’s when we started becoming a threat that people stopped liking us. “Nobody knows your name” sang United fans. They certainly do now.
Or perhaps it was when we started flashing the cash around. Now, you could argue it’s possible to be successful and well-liked. I’m sure it is, but you won’t find many examples. Barcelona springs to mind, but as we’ve seen in recent months, it’s partially built on a myth. They’re skint, with debts of 400m Euros (they can’t even afford to put a roof over the stands), they openly chase other teams’ players, their players dive and feign injuries for club and country (yes you, Iniesta), they’re much like the rest of us. The fact is, it isn’t a possibility for City. They could spend 20 years slowly, slowly building up a team, making value-for-money purchases and not stepping on any toes –who knows, by 2025, we might have crept into the Big 4. Or we can say sod it, we’re building a whole new legacy here, and we’ll go for it now. We’ll transform the club and the community beyond it, invest in the local economy, and lays the foundations for generations. Because we can.
In the end, what other fans think is irrelevant. History doesn’t record outlays, balance sheets and profit margins, just trophies, just success, however it is earned.
Another accusation is that City have now been accused of buying a history. Well there’s no need to, as we already have one. As Martin Samuel said, even MK Dons have a history. It seems there was no football before 1992 – it was all a dream. Nope, it all started with the launch of the premiership, and any achievements prior to that count for nothing. City won the NW Masters for the 3rd time recently, and still people claim we have no history.
Continue reading on Page Two
The media agree as a whole that spending what you earn is doing things the right way. Success guarantees cash, the riches of the Champions League, and thus more success. This devalues leagues where the same teams win season after season, especially in smaller leagues where a team with champions league revenue can then go on to dominate their league for a decade. But this is the right way. Or becoming a PLC just as the Sky cash starts rolling in. Perhaps City should double their ticket prices to match Arsenal’s, thus gaining more revenue, and thus be spending what we earn, and thus be doing things the right way (and we have started that process already). Everything was so much better before City ruined football, in the gold old days when loads of teams competed for the league, well except when United won 11 out of 17 league titles.
The right way is setting up a cartel, let’s call them the G14, then threatening a breakaway league unless UEFA keep the money flowing so that the status quo is maintained. This isn’t really a criticism – all clubs will try and protect their interests.
Oh and debt – that’s fine, especially with Platini. God forbid you are debt free and spending money you already own. That’s why clubs like Aston Villa and Everton are put forward as the sensible, prudent face of football, run sensibly and within their means, with little if any comment of the fact that collectively they are reportedly over £100m in debt. What has killed football throughout the leagues more than anything over the past 10 years has been clubs spending beyond their means. How ironic then that one of the few teams not to be doing this are accused of destroying the beautiful game.
No, what City are doing is buying better players to try and gain success. You might disagree with this, which is fair enough. But it is no different from doing what already successful teams have done and will continue to do. So do already successful teams have a greater right to splash the cash, due to having earned more money on the back of their success?
Well whatever your opinion, many other sports in the world would not allow this financial domination by a successful team. In fact, I cannot think of many other situation in world sport that rewards success more than being an English top four side.
In the US, you’ll probably be aware they have a draft system, first seen in 1935 to prevent sporting domination by one team. This system can also be found in sports in Canada, Japan, Australia, Russia and the Philippines.
It can be very complicated, and the rules are slightly different across the main sports, but fundamentally, it’s a case of the teams that finished ‘last’ in the season get the first pick of the new talent that becomes available the next year. Getting the first pick in the NFL or NBA draft can instantly change a team’s fortunes almost overnight.
In baseball it is harder to use the draft to turn around fortunes, but teams do try to use the draft to stockpile talent, with the idea that “2 or 3 years down the line” a team can contend -this worked for Oakland over many cycles throughout the years.
Continue reading on Page 3
It’s not quite that straight forward, as ownership of young players tends to last 5 years, after which they could become free agents and get signed by one of the big boys.
You can also factor in salary caps which exist in the NBA, NFL, NHL and decent collective bargaining agreements for merchandise and TV deals which prevent teams in large markets having a HUGE advantage in terms of getting money through local fan bases. I’m sure some Premiership teams (including City) would love their own TV deals like Barcelona and Madrid to stretch the gap between rich and poor.
So do City fans care about how we go about our business now? Well I can’t speak for all of them of course, but almost everyone I know seems pretty comfortable with it all. Served our dues and all that. Thirty years, and not a sniff of a trophy (the scars of that 1986 Full Members Cup defeat still run deep).
Ideally I’d like to see City successful and loved, but then I’d like world peace, the end of all disease, beer running out my taps at home and an endless supply of ice cream, but it’s not going to happen.
The whole scenario is ridiculous, no doubt, and some City fans have become greedy about big signings. I saw a link to an article online the other day that said “City to bid £70m for Torres”, and I couldn’t even be bothered opening it. In the old days I used to scan 289 pages of Ceefax or ring up premium hotline numbers to catch an update on the possible loan signing of Egil Ostenstad. Sorry about that phone bill mum, I’d heard we were after Rob Hulse.
Then of course there is the media coverage. The Sun talks of how Toure will pocket £56m in wages from City. Obviously all these mercenaries coming to City don’t have to pay this thing called TAX, which the British government have set at a very fair rate of 50%. Obviously The Sun are aware of this thing called TAX, so are claiming that Toure’s wages before tax are £112m, or the equivalent of around £430,000 per week. He must have one hell of an agent.
Duncan White in the Telegraph said that City’s splurge is money bleeding out of the English game – this is a continuation of the ridiculous ill-thought comments that began two years previously with Mark Lawrenson saying that the money could be used to build hospitals and schools. Of course it suited White’s agenda to ignore our pursuit of Milner, and our previous acquisitions of Johnson, Barry, and Lescott. And Bellamy, and Adebayor. And Given and Toure. But more pertinently, it is not English money anyway, so how could he have a problem? We weren’t spending anything when we were previously skint, so either way the English game is not going to be reliant on City is it? And if it is, that’s a sad day. And if we buy £6 billion pounds of players from abroad, we would presumably have to sell some players – probably some to other English teams. It’s not rocket science is it?
As one agent commented, other clubs are waiting for each City transfer to occur. They create a ripple effect, and their money feeds right through the football system.
And not just from transfer activities. Ask the school in New York transformed by the rooftop pitch, or Hyde United, whose future has been secured by City (though some Hyde fans are still not happy, probably due to the kit colour changing from red!). Ask the taxman how many hundreds of millions will be pumped into the British economy, ask the local community in Beswick about the £1 billion project for the area around the ground. Whatever the right and wrongs, the season ahead should be an absolute cracker. I can’t wait.
Written By Howard Hockin