Manchester City: An Odd Sense Of Impermanent Dominance

And so to the final team, champions Manchester City. Philip Cornwall says that there seems a weird impermanence to City's dominance. Is he right..?

Last Updated: 15/08/14 at 10:45 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Premier League
1st, 86pts, +65 GD Champions League Last 16 FA Cup Quarter-finals League Cup Winners Top league scorer Yaya Toure 20 Bookings 72 (3rd) with one red card

Manager Manuel Pellegrini (since June 2013; age 60) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (15th=)

Players in Eliaquim Mangala (Porto, £32m), Fernando (Porto, £12m), Willy Caballero (Malaga, £6m), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Frank Lampard (New York City, loan).

Players out Jack Rodwell (Sunderland, £10m), Gareth Barry (Everton, £1m, from loan), Costel Pantilimon (Sunderland), Joleon Lescott (West Brom)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £271m, 3rd

Wage bill in 2012-13 £233m, 1st

In the end Manchester City refound their feet just as Liverpool lost theirs and Manuel Pellegrini repeated the feat of Jose Mourinho in 2004-05, with a Premier League and League Cup double in his first season in English football. But the larger of those triumphs came against the background of UEFA sanctions over unfair financial play, to the evident consternation of a club hierarchy convinced they had done enough to satisfy the criteria. It is a unique situation and no one can be sure what it means for City and the rest of the Premier League.

Most immediately, it has meant that the largesse of previous summers has been replaced by relative parsimony. The big purchase, Eliaquim Mangala from Porto, arrived this week for £32m and the champions have strengthened shrewdly, too, picking up Bacary Sagna on a free and Frank Lampard in an unusual loan. The other spending was on Fernando (£12m) and Willy Caballero (£6m), while £11m was recouped by selling Jack Rodwell and Gareth Barry. The limit on spending imposed by UEFA is £49m.

The rest of UEFA's sanction - the fine and the restriction on their Champions League squad - does not affect City unduly but the need to limit spending and maintain the current salary bill puts Pellegrini and his bosses under pressure now and for the next two years at least. Pellergini said on Thursday: "It's not finished, until the last day we can do different things ... We had a lot of problems also with financial fair play with the restriction of the amount of players we can put in our squad. So maybe I don't think that we are going to sign another player because we cannot do it."

The English game's attitude to City's successes has been more subtle. Since Sheikh Mansour's takeover, the club have won two Premier League titles - but no manager of the year awards. The League Managers Association have often eschewed the champions' boss, only rewarding that individual on six occasions since the award was inaugurated in 1994 and choosing Brendan Rodgers in May. The Premier League's sponsors' award has been far more conventional; until they chose Harry Redknapp in 2010, only George Burley in 2001, taking Ipswich to fifth, had usurped the title winner. But Roberto Mancini missed out to LMA winner Alan Pardew in 2012, and Tony Pulis - now the former manager of Crystal Palace - beat Pellegrini last season.

Looking at that campaign, City's overwhelming firepower was their outstanding feature; 102 goals was the second highest total in the Premier League, behind Chelsea in 2010, with Spurs' 1961 top-flight record of 105 coming in 42 games. Yaya Toure's 20 goals from midfield was an outstanding performance and in all competitions Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo also passed 20. Any opponents know that they are going to face a barrage.

But while City scored five or more on nine occasions overall, five in the league, there were some high-profile failures: they lost home and away to Chelsea and at Liverpool in a game that took the destiny of the title out of City's hands for a fortnight. Given the goals they scored, it is obvious that there was some defensive fragility - exemplified by Joe Hart's mid-season problems - preventing them storming clear.

Sunderland were overcome - just - in the Capital One Cup final, while Wigan pulled off another famous win in the FA Cup quarter-finals. More important, in Europe Pellegrini bettered Mancini and came through the Champions League group comfortably enough, reaching the quarter-finals. Toure has said this week that this is the minimum target for this season but it is worth asking whether the owners be happy with more of the same, or whether they will only be satisfied with the big prize.

The champions kick off at Newcastle on Sunday, before hosting Liverpool on bank holiday Monday evening. Mark Hughes then brings his new City, Stoke, to Eastlands for a 3pm Saturday game. After the international break, City travel to Arsenal on Saturday lunchtime then host Chelsea on a Sunday, before a Saturday 3pm date at Hull. Facing the other members of last season's top four inside the first six games gives Pellegrini's men the chance to turn this campaign into something of a procession but they could also find themselves in another battle.

There seems to be an air of impermanence about Pellegrini, and about City in general. Perhaps it is a product of the club's comic instability from when I was 10 to when I was 40 but they are hard to take entirely seriously, especially given the randomness with which they ascended from middle of nowhere to top of the world. The first marquee signing of the oil era, Robinho, was always rumoured to have thought he was joining United; the owners did not make the same mistake, they always knew what they were buying, but you have to wonder if they would have launched the takeover had it not been for the footballing fame that the Reds have give to Manchester. The hope on financial fair play was in part that the development in the community would count in City's favour but it can seem as if that was its purpose, rather than being done for its own sake.

Maybe it will work out for Pellegrini this season, at home and in Europe. He may even win a manager of the year award. But money can't buy you love.

Philip Cornwall

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