The Beatles once sang that money can’t buy you love. That may well be true, but there are plenty of things that money can buy you – a castle or an island, for example. Or a luxury yacht. Or, indeed, a whole host of international footballers. But, then again they also sang that there were eight days in a week, so that could have been an indication that 1964 was the year they started losing their marbles.
With four high profile signings already this summer, the coming season should be something of an exciting one for us Manchester City fans. With a squad that finished just shy of fourth place and the money that has been spent so far this summer – and, if reports are to be believed, there’ll be a lot more of it spent soon, too – the expectations must rise, too. It would be odd to have a strong squad strengthened by (at the current count) roughly £75m and four new faces to make up the gap of just three points. That sort of gap could be bridged for much less.
At the time of writing, in has come Aleksandar Kolarov, a left back with a thunderous free kick, Jerome Boateng, a defender who has a reputation for a tough tackle, David Silva, a midfielder known for link-up play and his ball skills, and Yaya Touré, a midfielder whose strength, technique and ball-playing abilities have looked superb.
Indeed, with those additions, while qualifying for the Champions League must be the ultimate aim for this coming campaign, I suspect privately, if not publicly, Roberto Mancini’s targets will be more focused on closing the 19 point gap between his club and last season’s league winners Chelsea.
In other words, a title challenge.
Call me optimistic (or deluded as I’m sure several fans from one other club in particular may use in the comment box down the bottom of the page), but with the level of investment City have had these last two seasons and looking at where that investment took the club to last season, it can’t be that much of an outrageous claim. I could make much more outrageous claims like Belgium doesn’t exist, or Star Wars is a factually accurate documentary, or that Lily Allen made good music.
Last summer, Mark Hughes made several high profile signings. The likes of Adebayor, Tevez and Touré came in and pushed a squad that finished outside of all of the European qualification places to one that was one win away from playing in the Champions League this season. Now, while it would be foolish to expect such an improvement in the coming season, it isn’t foolish to suggest that City can do better than to finish fourth.
Especially when you consider that, of all the squads in last season’s top five, City’s is by far and away the most improved. Even everybody’s favourite pundit and computer game co-commentator (incidentally, if anyone can explain where his comment “Well, it’s on such things that our games rest,” came from for Fifa 10, then please do) thinks City have, man for man, the best squad in the league. It’s all going to depend on how well the team can play together and whether they can get off to a flying start.
And that rather neatly, and conveniently, brings me onto pre-season. Since Sky Sports decided that pre-season was important a few years ago and presented it much in the same way they do when there’s a round of league or cup matches (“And there’s been a goal at Eastlands, which way has it gone…?”, “It’s finished with another defeat for a Premier League side… Manchester City fans, how are you feeling?”), far too much has been made of pre-season.
I don’t want to sound unenthusiastic and bored by pre-season, but I am. So that’s probably why I inevitably sound unenthusiastic and bored by pre-season whenever I have to comment on it. The problem is that the results don’t actually matter and no teams play like the results matter. In fact, I think it’s only Sky Sports that do think the results matter.
City have been somewhat unimpressive this pre-season. And I don’t care one iota. I don’t for a minute think that winning only two friendlies (one of which was a behind closed doors affair right at the start of the warm-up fixture list) matters when it comes to the two teams that walk out at White Hart Lane on Saturday lunchtime. What will matter is that the players are ready for competitive football – that they are fit to play, that they aren’t still carrying a few pounds of summer holiday weight and that they are ready for a 38 match Premier League campaign. Winning pre-season games doesn’t make that happen, but rather playing pre-season games does.
I’ve not decided if it’s a good thing that City play Tottenham first, either. While traditionally Tottenham win this fixture, City have the strongest team they’ve had in decades. Still, the same could have been said last season and it wasn’t exactly a classic performance from the visitors to the capital, was it?
But this time around, City will be going to White Hart Lane with ambitions of not finishing fourth. This will be a City team who will be looking towards finishing above fourth and who I will maintain (if optimistically/deluded-ly so) should be looking at challenging the Premier League title this season.
Will City win the league? Probably not; it would come as quite a surprise to me if they did. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be trying to and that doesn’t mean it won’t be one of Roberto Mancini’s aims for this season. I spent years trying to dive into a swimming pool without making a massive splash, hurting my stomach and making spectators wince… I aimed to do that. I tried to do that. But I couldn’t do it immediately.
There’s nothing wrong in aiming high. Should that mean at Christmas we have to reassess our aims, then we have to reassess our aims. But, right now, City’s squad is the most improved in the Premier League. So you’d expect that to be reflected in the final table… And hopefully that squad can pick up a trophy, too – be it the Europa League, FA Cup or League Cup; I don’t think any City fan cares which.
Oh, and before I go away on holiday, I’d like to take the opportunity to announce my retirement from international football. Everyone else was doing it and I just didn’t want to feel left out.
Written By David Mooney