How can Manchester City improve on last season’s showing?
Manchester City finds itself with a winning formula, yet still it would be fair to say that there are slight improvements to be made. City knows that one season’s brilliance is not enough; it needs to provide sustainable excellence if it wants to continue to win titles. Having conquered its domestic competition, City will now be targeting Europe, so it will need to be able to conquer the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It would be hard to pinpoint an individual area where the City side is weak and thus the problem must be a more collective one. When you compare City to Barcelona, on a player to player ability basis, there really isn’t much difference. Obviously Lionel Messi is in a class of his own, but otherwise, the players’ ability is fairly even. City’s defence is as good as Barcelona’s, the evidence being that both sides conceded 29 goals last campaign. Barcelona did score 114 goals compared to City’s 91, but when you realise that Messi scored 50 of those it seems far less impressive. Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero are technically better than Sergio Busquests and David Villa.
However, Barcelona has an ethos that is more valuable than all the money that Sheikh Mansour can muster: it cannot be bought, only created. It all begins with “La Masia” (translated as “The Farmhouse”), Barcelona’s factory of talent where they develop potential into tangible quality. The likes of Messi, Puyol, Xavi and many more are all “La Masia” graduates.
City has realised the importance of such a facility and in September 2011 it announced a carbon copy of Barcelona’s. The new academy, situated just a stone’s throw away from the Etihad stadium, will be a vast 80 acre complex, and can provide for 400 youngsters with accommodation for 40 of them. Brian Marwood stated that City wants to produce “a different type of player” and that is a wise objective, as it’s the only way to create the aforementioned sustainable excellence.
However, this “different type of player” will not be first created for until the latter part of this decade, and in that time City needs solutions to solve the conundrum that is sustained excellence. It’s worth mentioning that the only club to achieve what City is aiming for is its neighbour on Sir Matt Busby Way. There are, of course, players at other clubs who City should be looking at to reach such a target. Robin Van Persie is not one of those players. Undoubtedly, he is a world-class striker but he has not performed for enough seasons at this level to merit such a lucrative move. His age is also a worry and everyone seems to have forgotten that this is the same striker who has picked up 27 different injuries in eight years at the club. City needs to look for younger players, still with plenty of proven ability, who have a genuine passion to be successful. The best option for Mancini is another centre-back; Kompany and Lescott are a good pairing, yet injuries would leave City with Savic and Toure who are nowhere near good enough to win trophies.
Mancini should look at Laurent Koscielny, a really tenacious player who has shown over the past season that he can cut it at the highest level. Still young, the Frenchman has several brilliant years ahead of him and would fit seamlessly into the Manchester City setup. However, he has just signed a new long-term deal at Arsenal, who clearly rate him highly, so it would be a real struggle to prise him away.
All in all, City finds itself in superb shape and has come into the new season after a strong pre-season, in which its second team outclassed Arsenal’s first team in a friendly. Nonetheless, Mancini knows that there is a need to “get players quickly” as he sees the new season looming.
Raphael Salama, football correspondent