Manchester City seem like a football club caught at the crossroads in terms of the clubs accomplishments in relation to the objectives outlined and the investment ploughed into the squad; questions are being raised regarding the current crop of players and their ability to overcome that Champions League hurdle and be perennial semi-finalists at the least while constantly displaying the desire to win in every game. The Fabulous Five of City have all seemingly failed to step it up this season; bar Sergio Agüero, the squad has had to rely more on the lesser heralded supporting cast and players like Samir Nasri and James Milner have had to step up their performance levels whenever they do get to play as their more illustrious teammates have had their struggles, yet it is baffling to see how they haven’t been rewarded with regular shifts ahead of the more favoured Jesús Navas, Fernando and Fernandinho who have all looked a tad bit below the level required at City. Regardless of how we sugar coat it, Joe Hart has been subpar for an elite level goal keeper and the goals he tends to concede leave one questioning the competition he feels for his position at club and national team level, Vincent Kompany has had to focus more on regaining his form after injury troubles and his dominant self has yet to be located while he also shoulders the burden of having to cover for a defensive partner that is not at the quality level required from a starter at City, Yaya Toure was the glue holding the team together in the earlier parts of the season and the team were in good form prior to his absence in January and February when City struggled to play football while Yaya was finding form late on in the tournament to win the 2015 Afcon title with the Ivory Coast; David Silva has not looked anything like the player we have come to expect watching as he weaves magic in that midfield, it’s safe to say that The Magician has seemingly misplaced his cape or changed professions as he looks out of sorts on the left-wing in that outdated version of 4-4-2 favoured by the gaffer. The Injury troubles of Sergio Agüero could coincide with the fact that he had been carrying City’s attacking line for so long that his body gave way, which is a prognosis that is yet to be confirmed by doctors by the way. When fit, Kun Agüero seems like the one of the few players in blue that actually care about the cause and continually seek to give all they can to help the club progress; far too many players seem out to play for themselves and let the gaffer or somebody else take the blame for the general lack of desire and output in an aging and leggy side with no injection of youth to spark a late season revival in the side.
With all those compliments out of the way, we return to the crux of the matter; for all the investment ploughed into City, why are they failing to establish themselves in the Champions League? The club owners clearly want a Champions League title to compliment the good success they have already seen coming into the side, the stature of the team has grown since the early stages of the mega bucks era and City would be more of an attractive destination for talented players if they chose to alter their personnel and build a squad that has the ability and quality in depth to match the desire of the club owners to become a sustainable winning team. The current squad is a bit long in the tooth for a team that seeks to build for a dominant future; Chelsea have a lot of senior players in their current squad yet their player roster reads like a who’s who list of talented young players with great potential, Liverpool have a talented young squad with even more top academy prospects in reserve and the ideology of attracting top young talent and playing good football which seems to make them an attractive option for players, Arsenal are a young squad that perennially seem like they are on the cusp of a winning spell and their conveyor belt of promising young talent will make them hard to beat once they sort out their defensive deficiencies.
Manuel Pellegrini may have fended off the challengers and won City a league and Capital One Cup double last season, yet questions are being raised about his overall handling of the squad and the resources available when his side are in need of a shake-up and the current performances not indicating that he possesses the tactical nous to whip this team into European contenders that win silverware regularly while playing good football. His more relaxed approach would work well for a talented crop of young lads as it would help ease the pressure on them and allow them to play freely within the team structure and playing ideology, such a relaxed approach doesn’t work too well with more seasoned footballers at certain clubs as player power can actually make the working environment unproductive for the manager when the side isn’t getting results as the players find it easier to band together and shift the blame on a gaffer that will begin to look out of his depth with his laidback approach to the players. We took City’s apparent lack of progress into our Boot Room in an attempt to decipher what appears to be wrong within the side while recommending possible fixes for good measure.
During the glory days of City’s dominant spell, Yaya Toure was seen as the most talismanic of the Fabulous Five and his mark was one that many within the side truly followed in terms of performance levels and application; when the team suffered threatening injuries and dips in form within the Fabulous Five, Yaya stepped up and kept the ship afloat and often skippered the side with aplomb in the absence of club captain Vincent Kompany. Yet the industrious midfield general had his absences from the side as well, the fact that the team struggled to maintain their level of output without him will have dampened morale within the camp as a whole; Yaya does not seem as interested in the project as he once was and all it takes is for a few more top players to opt out and the current side will be stripped to its bare minimums for quality. We could easily see an unhappy Yaya packing his bags for PSG or an unsettled David Silva playing for Pep in Munich while an over relied on Aguero jumps ship to lead the line for Madrid leaving more and more players in the side looking around for possible suitors. With the average age of the squad approaching the 30 mark, Financial Fair Play could force the hand of the management team as the players do still have a considerably high resale value and they many of them are on outrageously large pay packets that would lead to the club actually saving money in the long run by moving the players on, the proceeds from a massive clearout at City could help balance the books after they have identified and secured their desired targets to take the club further forward and move it from its current stagnant state.
The smart money would be on City shuffling the supporting cast around their headliners and ensuring that they have the quality foundation they require to overcome that Champions League hurdle while constantly remaining competitive on all fronts and still playing that attacking and clinical brand of football that The Punishers were renowned for during the more glorious phases of their dynasty. The alternative to that would be a more comprehensive squad overhaul that sees some of the bigger name players leaving as well, using that transfer revenue to balance the books long term in line with Financial Fair Play guidelines and take full advantage of their well rooted scouting network to bring in specific player types for the playing ideology that that club wants to implement going forward, allowing that squad to grow together and be strengthened on a needs basis as the squad is assessed in relation to the targets set.
Tactically speaking, a successful City side is typified by an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation that allows their star players to have the creative freedom to influence proceedings for the betterment of the side; it’s a far more flexible formation as it allows Yaya to play further forward in the 10 against specific opposition or have El Kun play as a secondary striker while Yaya drops deeper to allow for an extra goal threat upfront in bigger games. The constant selection of Jesús Navas is the most eyebrow raising of all matters, his direct game doesn’t fit in with City’s two touch passing game and it seems evident that he is a much better Plan B type of player when the opposition is playing deeper and the team needs to stretch their defensive line by getting in behind at pace. Edin Džeko is a goal scorer of a high quality, yet he is more suited to that super sub role as he can sometimes get caught out during the build up play and find himself lost in the game during its earlier phases when City look to hold the ball and feel out their opponents and ascertain their intentions for the game; he would be a quality player to bring in off the bench when the team needs a couple of goals for the cause.
When it comes to quality, City can be accused of not having anywhere near the level required from a side that seeks to win a Champions League; the recruitment of players at City has often been questionable but the current task team involved with transfers and recruitment needs to be taken to task. Why Vincent Kompany struggles for a defensive partner when lads like Matija Nastasic and Jack Rodwell were on the books and could have been developed to play in that role instead of an over the hill medium rare Martín Demichellis is just one of the questions we should pose to the current management team. The outrageous income that will be netted off selling Alvaro Negredo after his loan move to Valencia ends should have gone towards acquiring a younger central defender who would grow into a seasoned regular, a £20m bid for John Stones would have left a little change in the bank for a different type of forward that would complement the versatile nature of the squad as Wilfried Bony is not too different from Edin Džeko and they both suffer from a lack of versatility and that limits a gaffers tactical options. The fact that there are no young home-grown talents breaking into the side is also a cause for concern; for all the recourses poured into development at the club, not a single academy grad has made the grade thus far and the recruitment of top young British talent has been subpar and the lads rarely get to play regularly even if they manage to sign for City; years on and hundreds of millions invested into personnel, facilities and youth development programmes, it seems as if City still haven’t learned much from the Michael Johnson case and the limitations their current ideology places on youth development and recruitment as a whole. The transfer ideology needs to be tweaked if the dynasty is going to have any longevity to speak of, they need to build a side capable of dominating for a period of 5-6 years if they are serious about meeting their long-term objectives and not just becoming another good side that could always have done better for their team and its supporters.
Big decisions need to be made in the blue half of Manchester, just as they were made in the red half some months ago; be it that the gaffer stays and the players go, the players stay and the gaffer goes or we see a personnel overhaul at all levels. The “Barcelona Boys”, Txiki Begiristain and his mate Ferran Soriano were brought in to take the club forward, they have seemingly failed to do so while their recruitment policy has left us all looking at City with eyebrows raised; since replacing the redeployed Brian Marwood in 2012, Aitor “Txiki” Begiristain has spent over £190m on 12 players across 5 transfer windows with a partly £41m recouped from the departure of 23 players. Of all the players he has brought in, Jovetić was the biggest acquisition for the club and they seemed to have no idea on how best to use him in that attacking line; there seems to be far less planning when it comes to the deals and its not surprising to see that it’s the players brought in under the former regimes that constantly prove that they deserve to be at the club. It’s time for City to show just how much they value their status as a premier side at the elite level; money bought them a seat at that table, but ethic and desire will justify their claim to feast alongside the kings of the football realm, and Bob’s your CE Europa adoring osaba mate.