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.

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.

 

 

 

End of an Era: Sir Alex to Retire

It’s official, Manchester United will begin their title defense next season without Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline. It’s still fresh in our minds and we still have another two games of outrageous amounts of stoppage time, but it will take a long while before we get used to seeing someone else in United’s dugout. My money’s on David Moyes, but that’s a conversation for another post and another day.

Having served United for 26 years, Fergie has been the Red Devils’ gaffer longer than any other manager in team history and has led them to 13 of their 20 Premier League/First Division championships. His success is known far and wide, even extending outside of the football world. He’s managed some of the best players of all-time and built some of the greatest teams.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits and the end of an era.

Sir Alex’s retirement marks more than an end of an era at Old Trafford. On the precipice of a huge TV deal, Sir Alex’s retirement marks the beginning of a transition to a new-look Premier League.

The door is now open for another powerhouse to rise to the top of the heap. Mind you, I’m not saying United are going to become a bottom-of-the table club but they’ll have to search far and wide to find a manager who will be able to get what Fergie has out of some of the mediocre players over the years.

Sure, Jose Mourinho probably could… while simultaneously pissing off the other half of the team.

Without the money of a Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United will lose some steam in the transfer market as players are swayed away from the club without Sir Alex on the touchline.

Regardless, it’s a story that couldn’t have had a better ending. No one would have wanted to see Fergie go out with Manchester City holding the Premier League trophy — except myself and every other City supporter.

He’s got his umpteenth trophy and now he can ride off into the sunset.

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.

The Cost of Relegation

QPR and Reading have already secured their tickets to the Championship next season with the struggle to avoid being the third team to face the drop heating up with only a few games remaining. Wigan, the team currently sitting one spot below the safe zone, has a game in hand over the sides above them which is likely causing a few gray hairs for the likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland.

Harry Redknapp has committed himself to staying at QPR, but many of his players won't do the same.

Harry Redknapp has committed himself to staying at QPR, but many of his players won’t do the same.

Whoever the third team may be, they, QPR and Reading will be facing a new challenge that isn’t as easy it sounds. The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season haven’t fared well in the Championship. Bolton is in the last playoff spot, only by goal difference. Blackburn is lingering in mid-table obscurity and Wolves… Wolves have clinched a second consecutive relegation.

The relegated teams will miss out on the £70 million domestic and international TV pot that will be split among the 20 teams of the Premier League in 2013-14 and will face financial constraints in the less lucrative championship.

This is not as much of a problem for Reading and Wigan, who is the likely third member of the relegation trip, because their wage bills aren’t ridiculously high. After all, Reading only just came up from the Championship as last season’s winners. However, it’ll be a different story for QPR.

The Hoops have a wage bill which can be compared to Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea, but they play like that group of guys in a Sunday League who all think they are Cristiano Ronaldo. It doesn’t help that Harry Redknapp decided to go on a spending spree in the winter transfer window

Luckily for them, their roster is choked full of players who have no intention of playing in England’s second tier. The likes of Julio Cesar, Loic Remy, Esteban Granero and Jose Bosingwa, just to name a few, will all be forcing their way out of the club. While the club will struggle to cope with the large wages paid to players who don’t choose to take this opportunity to leave.

Parachute payments from the Premier League are there to ease the transition for the relegated, but they only go so far to help clubs in their first season in exile and for a club like Wolves, it didn’t help them at all.

I’m tempted to say that QPR will see a similar collapse to Wolverhampton or AEK Athens in Greece’s top flight if you are familiar with their story.

Redknapp will be forced to sell his better players in response to the loss of TV money and other shared revenue while the large pockets of QPR’s owners will be largely negated by the Championship’s financial constraints and the fact that star players are not going to be willing to sign for a team that’s fresh off relegation.

The same problems will face Reading and whoever faces the drop with them and QPR. At the end of the day, the cost of relegation is much higher than a loss of TV revenue the Prem.

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.