As the world turns towards England’s fortnight in the World Cup, the Premier League has taken a backseat in the papers, on the radio and on tellybox news reports. And, in a world where transfer fees are high, footballers’ wages are skyrocketing and, for some reason, the well known cutting edge investigative news programme Panorama disappoints with an edition that is nothing more than a propaganda tool for the anti-Glazer movement, the team that the football world has condemned from all sides has been conducting business on the quiet.
Well, as quiet as they could when nobody’s been paying attention.
Since the takeover in September 2008, Manchester City have been tried and found guilty by the people’s kangaroo court of being responsible for the ludicrous state in which football has found itself in – the high transfer fees and wages, the end of youth development and the fact that clubs tend to look abroad for talent instead of within the English football pyramid.
Ignoring the fact that other teams have been breaking transfer records, wage records and splashing cash abroad long before City joined in (I’m looking at you, Manchester United and Chelsea, in particular), I have to ask the question: what in the name of sweet baby Moses on stilts do City actually have to do to not be fronted with these accusations? Of Roberto Mancini’s four signings, two have come from lower league English teams and one of the others was free. Around £10m has gone abroad on Jerome Boateng; while £7m went to Middlesbrough for Adam Johnson and what is currently believed to be £250,000 plus percentages has gone to Swindon for Alex Henshall.
I’ve never heard of him either, but someone at City has seen enough of him to think he’s going to be a good player, so I’ll have to trust their judgement.
That’s also two English players, incidentally, that City have signed out of their four incoming transfers in 2010. With Joe Hart, Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips going to the World Cup, it’s the first time City have had three players in the England squad together (Bell, Summerbee and Lee were never named in the same squad) – and Adam Johnson narrowly missed out.
Before the nasty business with John Terry, Wayne Bridge would also currently be in South Africa. Had he not been injured, I expect Joleon Lescott would have joined them, too. He, like Barry, joined City last summer from another English club when City were doing nothing to help English football either domestically or internationally.
I know they say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but I’ve never claimed to be an excessively witty person. Sarcasm and cynicism are two of my biggest assets.
Three players is how many Manchester United had (before Ferdinand’s injury, so we’ll give them that) in the squad; three players is how many Liverpool have in the squad; three players is three more than Arsenal have in the squad – how come when these teams buy players, at home or from abroad, they don’t face the same level of criticism from fans, pundits and commentators? I mean, come on, fair’s fair.
Chelsea – who were also accused of destroying the English game – have four players in the squad. Tottenham, who, incidentally, haven’t faced the same accusations despite spending over £100m on transfers that included just two English players with a chance of getting near the squad (Defoe, Crouch) since City’s takeover, had four (before Dawson was called up to replace Ferdinand and made it five). City are just the latest in a long line of clubs to have spent big.
The truth is, no matter how obscene the money spent by any Premier League club is, it hasn’t damaged the quality of the England national team. Despite having the ability to spend millions and millions, the best English talent isn’t being overlooked: twenty of England’s twenty-three finished in the top seven in the Premiership last season, and a lot of them played regularly.
As another City fan friend of mine has pointed out, if the situation for English talent was that bad then, surely, there would be more English players plying their trade abroad? If first team opportunities were that limited, you would expect players to sign for top class clubs abroad. If you’re good enough, you’ll make the cut.
Should the reports that City and Aston Villa have agreed a fee of £28m for James Milner be true and the deal goes ahead, then there is no evidence that the deal will tip the balance of the game over the edge of precipice into oblivion, just as there wasn’t when City signed players last summer. It’ll be just another English player moving from one English club to another English club, all of which will, quite conveniently, be forgotten if England are knocked out of an international tournament that they’re not favourites to win and the press are looking for someone to blame.
It’s the easy and, frankly, lazy excuse.
Not one column inch, not one moment of airtime, not one pundit will look to the press themselves. We expect a football team to go and win a World Cup, despite spending the four years since the last World Cup undermining our players, ridiculing our coaching staff and doubting our managers. Perhaps the team would do better if we all got behind them, instead of splashing scandals of our players in nightclubs and stripjoints, or exposés of our players’ relationship issues across the pages of tabloids and entertainment news shows.
Will England win the World Cup? No, I don’t think we will. That’s not to say I don’t want us to win the tournament and it isn’t going to stop me supporting the team to the full, I just think it’s unlikely to happen and I won’t be disappointed if we come home early – I’m a City fan, not winning anything has been a staple of my footballing diet from the moment I was born. However, there’s a difference between being cynically realistic, while wanting the best for a team and purposefully destabilising their balance to sell newspapers, earn website hits and bring in viewers or listeners.
Written By David Mooney