Manchester City Hoping La Liga Infusion Takes Back the Premier League

NOTE: This is only an excerpt of the full article at my new site, The One Two. Click here to read it in its entirety.

It’s only been a few weeks since Manchester City were officially dethroned as champions of the English Premier League but with the recent rumors, the impending arrival of Manuel Pellegrini and the apparent signing of Sevilla midfielder Jesus Navas, it looks like the team from the blue half of Manchester is attempting to bring in as much talent from Spain and the country’s top flight as possible in a bid to re-gain their spot atop the Premier League perch in 2013-14.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not surprising that the new City executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain are favoring Spain as the place to get City’s transfers from this summer as the two formerly worked for FC Barcelona. One would imagine that they have a better grasp on who is and isn’t good in the Primera Division thanks to their time at Camp Nou. However, I believe that this runs deeper than simply trying to emulate what Barcelona does at the Etihad. No, this is a case of building a sense of familiarity amongst the team and picking up a few players who can be linked to the Spanish National Team’s current domination of the world.

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Goliath Needs David: The Premier League’s Brand of Entertainment

Yesterday, the Premier League came to a rather fitting close. Arsenal dispatched Newcastle despite Theo Walcott hitting the post on a shot that seemed harder to miss, setting up a few terse minutes for the Gunners and in doing so sealed their spot in the Champions League for the umpteenth straight year. And yes, they celebrated like it was 2004 all over again.

The fact that Arsene Wenger and his boys got to lift their pseudo-trophy once more is of little significance. What is important is that the Premier League hierarchy had been maintained for another season — that is, if we are to consider Liverpool’s position as one of the Big Four a thing of the past now ceded to Manchester City.

Laurent Koscielny's goal sealed Arsenal's place in the Champions League for next season -- nothing new here.

Laurent Koscielny’s goal sealed Arsenal’s place in the Champions League for next season — nothing new here.

If I were to make an extremely early prediction about the Prem’s next season, no one would call me crazy to assume that Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal would be the teams occupying the top four positions. Put them in whatever order you desire. Tottenham will likely finish fifth with Everton behind them. Liverpool will finish well out of Champions League contention and Brendan Rodgers will be sacked in favor of whoever the hot commodity is at the time.

It’s nothing new that the Premier League is an oligarchy of the rich, powerful clubs and with the financial restrictions coming into play soon, it’s going to persist for the foreseeable future.

New manager or not, United will never finish below third. Chelsea will have some bumps in the road, but as soon as they find a manager who can survive a season (coughJoseMourinhocough) they’ll be fine. City is building for the future at all costs and has the money and talent to keep themselves fighting for silverware in the meantime. Arsenal will always be happy with fourth place.

Therein lies the perceived problem with the Premier League. Take a trip to ESPN or any other sports site and check out the comments on most articles about the Premier League. In an effort to save you time, it’s mostly people whining about how boring and uncompetitive that league is. The uncompetitive quip is more than likely true, but the boring part… not so much.

The Bundesliga is currently touted as Europe’s most entertaining league because there are multiple teams that challenge for the competition’s top spots and in most seasons, there isn’t a run-away champion.

I’m going to tell you two things about that: One, German football has been and is still dominated by one team. Two, competitiveness has no correlation to entertainment.

Surely, I’m already being called a Premier League apologist but hear me out before you banish me to the realm of people who are ignorant to the world’s other leagues and their pluses over England’s league.

Because the Prem’s best talent is consolidated in a handful of teams, Goliaths, the entertainment comes from the other teams, Davids, beating them. Southampton thumping City 3-1? Painful for City supporters, entertaining for everyone else.

If you were to go back through the years, the most memorable games are probably either titanic struggles involving United, Arsenal or Liverpool or some upstart knocking off United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

A little club is going to fight harder against a big club than the big club is going to fight against the little one because the larger club is much more used to winning. For example, West Brom fighting for a 5-5 draw yesterday in Fergie’s last game. You are never going to see United and City score 10 goals in one game unless the score is 9-1.

In no way am I saying relegation six-pointers aren’t as memorable, I am only arguing that the battles between the haves and the have-nots are what makes people call the Premier League the world’s greatest show.

An ultra-competitive league is actually a negative. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to see the club they support struggle in every game of the season. I doubt Bayern Munich supporters stopped going to games because the Bavarians had the league wrapped up months ago.

However, from a neutral standpoint, competitiveness is what we want and that creates the fallacy that competitiveness breeds entertainment. The beauty of the modern world is that we can pick and choose the games that we want to watch.

But how many of us neutrals can say that we tuned in to watch Deportivo La Coruna play Getafe or Greuther Furth face off against Düsseldorf? Not many, I’m sure.

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Millions upon millions watch the Premier League every season then head to message boards to complain about how boring it is to watch United crowned champions every season. Believe me, I agree that it’s boring to watch United crowned champions season. I’d much rather see City crowned champions every season.

the amount of money the Prem is raking in from TV deals is astronomical when compared to the other leagues in Europe and it’s all because the same four teams win every season and the other sixteen try to pull off a big win against those four.

Summer Transfer Speculation Shows Lack of Respect for FFP

Throughout the season, we’ve heard teams were going to be spending less with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. Straddled with the fear of being excluded from the continental competitions, clubs were supposed to be looking to expand their sides with the cheapest possible options or relying on their current players to improve in an effort to foster progression. However, one look at the moves being lined up for the summer will tell you (whether they are true or not) that most of the bigger clubs don’t believe FFP is an issue.

Soon-to-be Ligue 1 side Monaco has money to spend and they seem to be in pole position to land Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid in a spectacular transfer coup and yet, there are reports linking them with numerous other high value players such as Carlos Tevez and Bacary Sagna. I find it hard to believe that Monaco’s income will balance out their purchases if they do indeed get Falcao and, let’s say, Tevez. Those two players alone would come with a ridiculously high price tag.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco's high-spending ways.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco’s high-spending ways.

The Ligue 1 new boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Chelsea and Manchester City look to be back in for big summers with new managers coming to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, respectively, despite the Premier League instituting it’s own financial regulations. Manchester United posted record profit, but getting Cristiano Ronaldo would put a gigantic dent into it.

And you can bet that the rumblings that financial fair play is actually illegal has something to do with the empty threat that it poses.

Just last week, news broke that Belgium-registered agent Daniel Striani filed an official challenge to the rules with the European Commission claiming that they restricted his income.

Striani will be represented by Belgian lawyer, Jean Louis-Dupont. If you don’t remember who he is, in 1995, he represented Jean Marc-Bosman and defeated UEFA and the commission when Bosman’s football contract denied him freedom of movement. Prior to this, clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent their players from transferring to other countries even if their contracts had expired.

UEFA believes they have an open-and-shut case because the European Club Association agreed to the rules. However, the ECA only has 207 members. All Striani needs is for other clubs to back him and the expected five-year legal fight may not go in UEFA’s favor.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it looks like clubs are willing to continue to spend wildly in order to improve their squads. It’s simple math. If a club wants to win trophies, they have to spend money. If they don’t win trophies, they won’t make money. If they don’t have the quality to win, they won’t win trophies anyway.

The solution? Throw caution to the wind, forget about FFP for a summer and break the bank to win as many trophies and as much money as possible before it catches up to you.

Is Manuel Pellegrini the Answer?

It’s been plastered over the newspapers and the internet. Roberto Mancini was sacked weeks ago with Malaga’s manager Manuel Pellegrini replacing him. Since the FA Cup loss Saturday to Wigan, Mancini was supposed to have been relieved of his duties on ten different time frames. I’ve seen reports that he wouldn’t make it through the weekend, yet he’s still with the team and preparing to face Reading tomorrow. I’ve also seen reports that he has a few more weeks as gaffer at the Etihad. However, that’s neither here nor there. We’re here to discuss whether or not Manuel Pellegrini is the answer for Manchester City.

I, as I’m sure most City fans do, respect what Roberto Mancini has done for Manchester City. The FA Cup loss hurt, but City has seen much worse. If it weren’t for Mancini, winning or losing the FA Cup would be the least of our worries.

Now, onto the topic of Pellegrini. The Chilean who has managed a host of Chilean football clubs as well as River Plate, Villarreal and Real Madrid, has been in charge in the south of Spain since 2010.

Manuel Pellegrini is the supposed heir apparent to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Manuel Pellegrini is the supposed heir apparent to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Malaga’s league standing is irrelevant in this argument as we all know that this is not the reason he is being linked with Manchester City. If anything, Mancini is the better option when it comes to league play. You’d have to have something against Mancini to think he couldn’t keep City in the top 2 of the Premier League for years to come.

With their financial struggles and no prospect of European football next season, Pellegrini led Malaga to the quarterfinals of the Champions League before they were knocked out in the last few minutes by Borussia Dortmund. And with the end-all, be-all nature of Champions League success, this little run along with his quarterfinal and semifinal appearances at Villarreal puts him leaps and bounds above Mancini and his shed of domestic glory.

However, when Pellegrini had the top job at Real Madrid… he flopped. Pellegrini was in charge when the Merengues bought Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema. The total cost of those four players? Somewhere in the region of £200 million. I’m seeing a similar knock against Mancini here.

It wasn’t long before Pellegrini’s Real Madrid side lost to Segunda División B side AD Alcorcón in the Copa del Rey Round of 16 by an aggregate score of 4-1. Then in March of the following year, he and his team was bounced from the Champions League in the Round of 16 by Lyon. Of course, they also finished second to Barcelona that year albeit while accumulating 97 points.

After being sacked, he criticized the club’s “Galacticos” transfer policy.

“We didn’t win the Champions League because we didn’t have a squad properly structured to be able to win it,” he said.

Sound familiar?

Whether or not Roberto Mancini is sacked, Manuel Pellegrini is not the perfect candidate. When the pressure was on to win, he didn’t. When he had the money to drop £200 million on players, he failed. The sexy pick isn’t always the best pick.

 

 

 

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Should Clubs Sell Players to Rivals?

We’ve seen it before, a club being forced into a sale by a player and that player being sold to a direct rival of said club. Arsenal sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Obviously, this is only one example of this happening but I chose him because  van Persie played direct roles in Manchester United winning the Premier League. I’m sure a quick search could yield more results of players going from one side of a heated rivalry to the other.

After this season, Mario Götze will join the list of players who moved between rival clubs and it begs the question of should clubs sell their players to clubs who are rivals, either historically or in the grand scheme of winning a championship in their league.

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City after a loan deal, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Hypothetically, we would like to say that clubs shouldn’t do this and I tend to agree. Nothing would anger me more than United somehow prying Vincent Kompany away from the Etihad, but not because United had gotten better but because City sold him to the other side of the city.

Transfers are meant to strengthen clubs and we know that sometimes, clubs’ hands are forced when it comes to want-away players. Would Arsenal have benefited more from sending van Persie to Italy, Spain or Germany? I’ve seen a modified table taking out every club’s top scorer and United would have theoretically still won the Prem, but that’s only when using the season’s actual stats.

Tottenham is doing it the right way. Any time Gareth Bale is linked with a Premier League team, he is also linked with an astronomical transfer fee. They would rather send him to Spain and never play against him than send him to United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea and have to face him multiple times a season.

I also think the big two in Spain are good about not doing this. How many times have you seen a player leave Real Madrid for Barcelona or vice versa. There aren’t many stars who have made that particular move in either direction, I can assure you.

At the end of the day, money is the name of the game. No club is going to turn down a big paycheck, no matter where its coming from. City’s money is good at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s money is good at White Hart Lane and Everton’s money is good at Anfield.

But at some point, on some purely competition level, some executive has to step up and say “No, our clubs are rivals and I refuse to sell him to you regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.”

Edit: It seems in my haste and fog of early morning, I accidentally said Tevez was sold to Manchester City. I apologize for the mistake.

Was Nastasic Excluded Because He Isn’t English?

Matija Nastasic joined Manchester City from ACF Fiorentina in the summer at only 19-years-old. No one expects a player, let alone a defender, to go from one league to another at such a young age and perform well but that’s exactly what the young Serbian has done this season. Nastasic’s exclusion from the PFA’s Young Player of the Year Award final six shocked me and apparently it also shocked the man who lost his spot in the starting XI to Nastasic, Joleon Lescott.

“I have no gripe with him. You don’t begrudge someone who comes in and does well,” said Lescott told the Daily Telegraph, “It was a bit harsh he was not nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year. He plays beyond his years and if he was English he would have had a lot more recognition. He’s not a glamorous sort of player who comes out with the ball. He just does his job exceptionally well.”

Matija Nastasic, one of the best young defenders in the Premier League but not one of the best young players?

Matija Nastasic, one of the best young defenders in the Premier League but not one of the best young players?

Not glamorous. Lescott’s right. If you look at the award’s shortlist, Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke, Danny Welbeck, Romelu Lukaku, and Jack Wilshire are all midfielders or forwards. Wilshire is the closest you get to a defensive player but even he gets forward.

Nastasic’s consistent play is easy to go unnoticed. I can’t remember the last time I saw the 20-year-old Serb lost a battle in the air. He’s been instrumental in Joe Hart’s (an omission from the PFA Team of the Year which shocks me) league-leading 15 clean sheets and the team’s outstanding defensive play, also league-leading.

However, I also have to agree that he was excluded because he isn’t English. If, for argument’s sake, Rio Ferdinand was 15 years younger, would he have been included in the list? If Steven Caulker has had the breakout season that Nastasic had, would he have been included?

I’m inclined to say yes on both accounts simply because Danny Welbeck made the six-man shortlist. Welbeck, in my opinion, has been largely underwhelming for Manchester United this season. It may be due to the arrival of Robin van Persie, but 1 goal and 4 assists in 29 games isn’t the type of stats that should be having your name in the hat for any award.

Speaking of United, Rafael is another player who should have been in the running for the award but alas, he is also not English.

With those two examples in mind, it begs the question of why one of the two defenders I mentioned weren’t included? Is it because they are defenders or because they aren’t English?