Since the takeover in 2008, it would be fair to say that the signings City have made have been hit and miss. This isn’t unexpected: every club makes signings that don’t really live up to expectations, and City are no different. What sets us apart from other clubs in this situation is the issue with wages. Obviously, City’s financial power is common knowledge, and this can simultaneously be of positive and negative effect: it gives us an advantage over other clubs in chasing players, but it allows those players to demand higher wages, simply because they know City can pay them. In this regard, the player and agent clearly have the upper hand in transfer negotiations, and City have given in to their demands far too easily in recent years.
This presents a huge problem when it comes to moving on the players who haven’t lived up to expectations: they aren’t good enough to play for City, yet the wages they get at City are unlikely to be matched by many other clubs, particularly when you consider that it’s much more likely for a player who hasn’t impressed to be moved to a club lower down the league than City are. So City were therefore stuck in a catch 22: they were paying astronomical wages to players with lengthy contracts who weren’t playing, but couldn’t move them on because of those wage demands. Additionally, some players were sent on loan to other clubs with City paying the majority of their wages, so City were essentially paying players to play for other teams. Where’s the sense in that?
This wage inflation was particularly symptomatic of Mark Hughes’ tenure as manager. He made some of the best signings in recent years: particularly Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta, both of whom are model professionals and remain absolutely vital to the team. Notably, both of those players were signed before Sheikh Mansour officially took over the club, so the transfer fee and wages were much more reasonable. Following the takeover, Hughes signed players such as Wayne Bridge, Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz: all signed for large transfer fees, with higher wages than their ability as players deserved, and mostly disappointed on the pitch. This has been a huge problem for City; especially with the Financial Fair Play regulations looming large, as it means millions of pounds in wages have gone to waste. It isn’t a problem limited to Hughes: the signing of Scott Sinclair may present a similar problem. However, most of the disappointing signings Roberto Mancini made, such as Jerome Boateng and Stefan Savic, have been moved on more easily.
Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Much of the deadwood signed by Hughes has been moved on (albeit at a fraction of the price paid), and the contracts of the remaining few are coming to an end this summer. Indeed, since the end of the season Kolo Toure has moved to Liverpool on a free transfer, and this morning it was confirmed that Wayne Bridge has joined Reading, again on a free transfer. This is a huge relief to City, as it allows for the wages they were being paid to be reallocated to players who are more deserving of the sums they were earning, while minimising the impact such signings would have on City’s ability to pass FFP. In that regard, these contracts are ending just in time.
However, it shows how careful City need to be in terms of who they sign: a scattergun approach akin to that of Hughes is both unsustainable and damaging in the long term. Thankfully, however, it would appear that Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano understand that, and will be much more careful and considered in the players they target to ensure that situations like that created by Hughes do not happen again: by ensuring that players with high transfer fees and high wage demands truly deserve that outlay. Whether City have truly learned the lessons of seasons past, however, will become clear in the coming year.
written by James Halfpenny