Season Preview: Manchester City Part 2

For Part 2 of our our Manchester City season preview (Part 1 is here) we turn to Howard Hockin who I’m sure you all know and love, because he’s an excellent City writer. Howard has also recently a great book. The details for that can be found here and if you buy it you’re also contributing to two extremely worthy causes – The Neuro Society and Macmillan Cancer Support. Get on it. And now, to the preview…

Let’s start with the basics – What are your expectations for this season? 

I expect us to be in contention for the title with at least two other teams, to stay out of the headlines again, to keep playing attractive football and to hopefully pick up at least one trophy. I expect Chelsea to be very strong this year, United will obviously improve massively (they could hardly get worse) and have a huge advantage by not playing in Europe whilst Arsenal are beginning to spend their money in a more productive manner.

As for the Champions League, the minimum expectation is to qualify from the group and progress through at least one of the knockout stages – basically, to improve year-by-year. I don’t see winning the competition as realistic just yet, though anything is possible. When Real Madrid can spend £80m on a player every summer and we have a limit on purchases, it only makes things all the more difficult. I’d be very happy to reach the quarter-finals.
On a separate note, I’d expect City’s medical staff to get a handle on the excessive number of muscle injuries suffered by players last season – let’s hope our squad can stay relatively fit.

A lot of the talk about City’s transfer activity has centred around the club the club filling in gaps in the team which needed to be filled. Is this the right approach or should we have gone for big fancy signings like some of our peers? 

It’s entirely the right approach, not that we have much choice. I saw an article written by a writer I admire very much on (Daniel Storey) questioning whether City were making the same mistakes in the transfer market as two seasons ago, but this summer has bore no similarities to that whatsoever. Two summers ago we went after a number of players, failed to get them then made some panic-buys as the window drew to a close. This summer we have acquired our targets and whilst there is no certainly of success with the signings, they are the players we were always looking to sign this summer irrelevant of FFP and they were mostly tied up quickly and efficiently.

A big fancy signing is always appreciated by fans but in what position? We don’t need any additions to our attacking line-up unless we sell players and there is no one I’d really want to sell. We can’t make a big striker signing on the assumption that Aguero might be injury-prone, as we either need to trust Aguero or sell him. If he stays fit and we sign a replacement, then we are overloaded, have spent unnecessary money and it will affect those damn quotas. The only obvious need was a central defender. That is being addressed, Hart and Zabaleta have strong competition now and we have at last (hopefully) a proper defensive midfielder to replace De Jong.

Two years ago as champions we needed to strengthen the squad to maintain the domination, as Mancini pointed out, and we screwed it up. This time round though, fine-tuning is all that is needed, especially as all the big stars will still be around next season.

We’ve got a lot of very talented youth players and this brand new academy which looks almost complete; Is it all a big waste of time or can you see young graduates playing a big part in City’s future? 

Loathe as I am to promote the Daily Mail website (or any aspect of the paper), the article this week about Patrick Vieira and the youth set-up tells you everything you need to know. The aerial photograph of the new academy that has been doing the rounds on social media cannot fail to get any City fan a tad excited. City’s youth teams are already beginning to pick up silverware throughout the age groups. The revamp of how City’s youth are recruited, trained and live their lives has been so vast that it will inevitably take time to see the fruits of all that labour, but if a young player is good enough, he will get his chance – football is a squad game after all. Various members of City’s staff have reiterated many times how it is a priority to bring through English talent, which is good to hear. Only time will tell how productive the academy will be, but I doubt our owners have spent such a large amount of money on the new academy unless they demand impressive results.

It seems that your favourite hobby is picking up how often and egregiously the club is misrepresented in the media. I know we all joke about it, but is there an actual bias against City or are we just paranoid? 

No, there’s not a particular bias and no, we are not paranoid (well not all of us). City’s treatment by the press (to generalise) has gone through a distinct cycle since 2008. At first there was widespread vitriol at the money being spent. This slowly abated after City took a few (hundred) journalists to one side and showed them the other side of the story. Nowadays the club is largely judged on its merits on the field, though jibes about buying success still remain and will probably never disappear entirely. I think if you asked any football fan they will point to a level of prejudice against their team. What I think is more likely is that individual journalists do have prejudices, which they would deny. After all, they are football supporters like you and I, and you cannot be a football supporter without a certain level of bias.

A lack of widespread prejudice from the media does not mean fans are paranoid however. A lot of rubbish is published nowadays (some of it may be mine) to fill space on websites and to get hits, and it should not be a surprise if fans take offence.

Because it’s me, I have to ask – Where do you stand on the owners? Should off field concerns be taken into consideration by City fans or should we ignore them in favour of the football?  

It is of course a very delicate subject. Our previous owner was clearly a bad ‘un and by the time he left the club everyone was pretty aware of this, even if most of us wouldn’t admit it. That’s the thing with football supporters, the desperation for success will lower the moral bar and make many turn a blind eye if it means a few good players passing through the door. City fans after Stuart Pearce were as desperate as it’s possible to be, so we consoled ourselves and we convinced ourselves with the stance that Thaksin Shinawatra was the subject of a malicious slur campaign and if people had died then it was only a few evil drug dealers after all, and he was just being tough on crime. After all, he gave us all a free curry in Albert Square, so give the man a break.

We are no longer desperate, but we still don’t want to think ill of our best ever owners. I’m as guilty as most for shrugging my shoulders at stories of malpractice back in Abu Dhabi. Perhaps it’s because I have become desensitised to the many horrors of the modern world, maybe I’m a hypocrite because I don’t want our owners scared away, or maybe it’s because I don’t see what difference it makes in getting angry. My excuse this time is that the Sheikh’s ownership of City has actually helped bring the matter into the public eye and hopefully will help make them re-evaluate their practices. City is a PR venture for them so it is in their interests to act. A poor excuse, admittedly.

My other excuse is that unless I see proof of our owners being directly linked to any malpractice (and you can of course make a link of sorts easily because of their position in Abu Dhabi society and government) then I don’t see why they should have questions to answer. But the fact is that journalists and fans have every right to feel discomfort over the matter and to raise the issue and push for change. Our owners do not directly participate in horrific practices but are part of a ruling government (of sorts) in a country that is not big on human rights. I could make excuses about different cultures, but it would be a poor excuse. What goes on there is no worse than what any other government participates in, but then the British government doesn’t own a football club, so it’s irrelevant when discussing City.

Finally, who do you think will make up the top 4 at the end of the season and who will get relegated? No ambiguity. Solid predictions only, please. Balls on the line etc

1. Manchester City

2. Chelsea

3. Manchester United

4. Arsenal

Relegated: QPR, Crystal Palace, Burnley.

Thanks again, Howard. 

Interview by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter

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