United Still Top Dogs, But City Slickers Are On The Rise

In Football on January 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Following a week of handbags and insults, Manchester United asserted their dominance over their city rivals once more last night, with Wayne Rooney’s injury time header giving them a 3-1 win on the night, and a 4-3 aggregate victory at Old Trafford. They now advance to the League Cup final while City’s fans rue an inability to keep clean sheets.

Rooney's 91st minute winner kept United on top, for now

But despite the familiar sound of the reds fans’ crowing, there is a palpable sense that these clubs are heading in opposite directions.

More and more grisly details are emerging each day concerning the Glazers’ apparent abuse of a worldwide sporting institution. While undoubtedly overstated by the press, these details do paint a worrying picture for Manchester United. Certainly in the short term, their spending power will be reduced, and it may never again be on a par with their neighbour’s billions.

With Alex Ferguson’s imminent retirement set to finally make referees and journalists’ jobs a little more bearable, United face a terribly uncertain future.  Deprived of the two most important elements of their double decade of success – Fergie and spending power – will they continue to compete?

Add to this the inevitable squad turnover which will see such bulwarks as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville finally call it a day, and the club could find themselves in a precarious position. For all their jubilant claims that ‘money doesn’t buy success’ after last night’s game, the squad in red cost far more to assemble, even with the aforementioned trio of Giggs, Scholes and Van der Sar, who cost a pittance between them.

Don’t expect that to be the case next season though. The likes of Garrido, Zabaleta and Boyata will struggle to keep their places in the coming years, and the only reason their value didn’t dwarf that of the home side last night was because of former manager Mark Hughes’ transfer bungling.

The British media did another fine job of disgracing themselves when the Welshman was sacked, working themselves into a frenzy over the cut-throat business tactics of the demons in charge. Compare and contrast with the reaction to Sven-Goran Eriksson’s sacking the year before, which was treated by some red-tops as an excuse for yet more gleeful mirth at the Swede’s expense.

What was the difference? Well, the difference was that Eriksson was foreign, essentially.

Sven had just one season in charge of City. It was a relatively successful one too, in which he earned 55 points while guiding them to 9th place and UEFA Cup qualification. This was achieved with a modest budget of just over £20m for the year.

Hughes, on the other hand, merrily sank over £200m on 18 players, only a handful of which could be termed successes. He showed no understanding of how to assemble a squad, favouring reckless spending over team building. The nadir was his baffling decision to run Richard Dunne out of the club for £6m, before splurging 4 times that on Joleon Lescott. Surely when building a team almost from scratch, the club captain and winner of the previous four ‘Player of the Year’ gongs may be useful to have around. Obviously, Hughes thought otherwise.

Richard Dunne has been a revelation at Aston Villa, while City have struggled defensively

When the decision was taken to sack him, his team had gained just 26 points from their 16 league games. In other words, they were just about on track to pip Eriksson’s points total with over 10 times the budget invested.

Add to this the embarrassing touchline spats, arrogant pursuit of players like Lescott and Hughes’ generally monosyllabic, surly demeanour, and it’s little wonder the men in charge were so eager to cut him loose. Those looking to string up the foreign owners point to the League Cup run and the manner in which he was replaced, but upon closer inspection, these too seem overblown. The fabled ‘Cup run’, which Hughes himself made pointed mention of in his exit statement, consisted of an away win at Crystal Palace followed by home wins over Fulham (aet), Scunthorpe and Arsenal’s reserves. Hardly the kind of results to justify a level of spending that would embarrass Floyd Mayweather.

The manner of his dismissal was also typical of how football clubs operate these days. When replacing a manager mid-season, they must have a replacement lined up. This is common sense. The fact that rumours were swirling in the ether during his final game in charge was inevitable But if you think back, his lap of honour after the game came amid the speculation, while Hughes was obviously fully aware of the situation. This is a far cry from Martin Jol finding out about his sacking via the club website, for instance.

Hughes was always going to have to do something special to gain the trust of ADUG, who never appointed him in the first place. Wasting nearly £50m of their money on players like Jo, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Roque Santa Cruz, and a further £50m on a defence which leaked 27 goals in just 16 league games was not a good start. A run of one win in 10 in the league was the crucial period during which the decision was made to replace him, and this can hardly be quibbled with.

£19m striker Jo was one of Mark Hughes' more high profile transfer blunders

Hughes has come out of this affair about as well as he could though, and has managed to keep his dignity and his reputation intact. He is still a promising young(ish) manager with a now bulging bank balance and will be seen as an attractive prospect for many mid-table Premier League clubs, which is the right place for him as he develops.

Roberto Mancini was appointed to replace Hughes, and a quick glance at their managerial records leaves you in little doubt as to why. The Welshman has built up an admirable resume, from taking Wales to a Euro playoff, three top 10 finishes, Uefa Cup qualification and three cup semi finals with Blackburn, and then the City job. His career was progressing nicely, but with the takeover, he was catapulted into a job which his experiences had not prepared him for.

Mancini, on the other hand, managed to win the Italian Cup with cash-strapped Fiorentina in his first year as a coach. Three years later, he won the same competition with Lazio, before moving to Inter and continuing his dominance of Italy’s cup competition with two more consecutive wins in charge of the nerazzuri.  He also racked up two Super Cup wins and three Italian league titles (although the first of these was handed to him as a result of the Calciopoli scandal). That’s a trophy count of 9-0 to the Italian, for anyone who puts any store by these things. Usually, chairmen do.

New City boss Roberto Mancini has a stellar managerial record

Mancini has so far done an excellent job, gaining 12 points in five league matches. He has also been admirably reserved in the transfer market, the loan signing of Patrick Vieira the only addition he has made to his squad. But should he fail to secure 4th place, his impressive record may not save him. And you can be sure that any run similar to that which Hughes endured will be accompanied by the baying of the press bulldogs looking for blood.

When the former Italian international took charge of his first game at the end of December, his City side kept their first clean sheet since November 1st. For a defence including expensive acquisitions like Lescott, Toure and Wayne Bridge, this is unacceptable. If the Italian can organise this unit better, they will be a serious threat for 4th place. With a legion of strikers and a combative midfield they should get plenty of goals and possession. Along with an improved defence, better options than Wright-Phillips, Sylvinho and Javier Garrido will need to be drafted in on the flanks. Then they can begin to compete with teams like United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

They’re not far off right now though, and if Mancini can build on the positives which Hughes brought the club will continue on its upward trajectory. With all the problems at Old Trafford, it may not be too long before they are the ones with the upper hand in the Manchester rivalry.

  1. Very interesting blog, agree with two major points, even in the loss last night Man City were still eerily in the game, and the Tevez aggregate equalizer sent chills down every United fan’s spine (not in a good way). Despite the knockout… City are close, which brings me to my next point, the managerial situation. At first I wasn’t sold on Mancini, but I then looked back at Hughes record for bringing in players who just don’t fit into the puzzle at Eastlands. City will still need to make a few additions and rid themselves of the junk that they’ve picked up over the past season and a half, but you’re absolutely right, they’re not far off. Cheers mate!

    • Thanks for the comment whit, it’s been a bit of a ghost town here lately!

      There have been 3 Manchester derbies this season, and they’ve all been very competitive. I really thought City would crumble under pressure with all the mercenaries they bought, but they’re going pretty well. As long as they don’t have a collapse, they’ll be right in with a shout of that 4th spot, which is all you can reasonably expect of them this early in their evolution.

      Had a look at your blog there too, it’s good stuff! I’ll keep an eye out in future, good luck with it all

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