FEATURE: Harking back to the past

There aren’t too many Manchester City fans that are still clinging onto the hope that Wilfried Bony will make a success of his time at the club. It would seem that his stock is now rock bottom and the vast majority of supporters wouldn’t give the Ivorian a starting place in the team, opting instead for the youngster Kelechi Iheanacho.

Who can blame them? The Nigerian has shown far more likelihood that he will affect a game during his short time in the first team than Bony has – largely because he’s done it on a number of occasions already, while the former Swansea striker still looks like he’s treading water.

Equally, it’s difficult not to feel a little sorry for Bony. He’s not had it easy in his time in Manchester and there are a number of factors as to why the transfer hasn’t worked out. He signed in mid-January 2015, but wasn’t able to make his debut until the end of February after being called up on international duty to play for Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations.

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His start in Manchester was then hampered by two things. First, he suffered a series of niggling injuries that meant he was available for selection one week, but not the next – and arriving at a new club that’s the last thing a player wants in order to settle. On top of that, the Ivorian was clearly signed for a system that manager Manuel Pellegrini abandoned when it was so obviously not working. Instead of starting games with two strikers as he had been for some time, the boss was using only one by the time Bony was available – and nobody was getting in the team ahead of Sergio Aguero for that spot.

With the chance to get a good pre-season under his belt and hit the ground running for 2015-16, things got worse. He was unable to fly out to Australia for the warm-up matches and training, having contracted Malaria over the summer – and he was thrown into first team action perhaps a little too early, after Aguero’s involvement in the Copa America.

Another series of injuries throughout 2015-16 hasn’t helped his case either and now there is little faith from anyone that he’s going to come into the team and find the net; the rustiness he’s shown in snatching at shots and slicing them wide isn’t going away and his movement in the attacking third is poor at best.

He looks a shadow of the man who was the Premier League’s leading scorer for the calendar year of 2014 and, right now, it’s looking likely City are going to have to take a massive loss on his transfer fee after a failed 18-months.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Premier League

Yet, there are now thousands of fans who are so much wiser after the event. “I never thought he’d fit in,” is a common utterance inside the Etihad now – probably from several of the 10,000 fans that had been at York’s Bootham Crescent in December 1998 or many of the near Maine Road capacity crowd that watched Mansfield knock the club out of the Auto Windscreens Shield that same year. Revisionist history at its best.

The truth is, at the time of the deal, it looked like a shrewd bit of business. Had Bony been able to recapture the Swansea form, he’d have fitted in perfectly at City and could have been the difference between a damp squib ending to 2014-15 (and to 2015-16, let’s be honest) and something more exciting. There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed with how it’s turned out because it should have been so much more.

One of the biggest criticisms of Pellegrini’s City is that they are still heavily reliant on the class of 2012. The spine of the side is still very much the same as the one Roberto Mancini first won the Premier League with, as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero are still under pressure to be fit and available each week.

Since Bony’s failure to impress, another name from that era keeps being mentioned as one the club were wrong to let go: Edin Dzeko.

Burnley v Manchester City - Premier League

It is very important to note, however, that just because the Ivorian has been an underwhelming signing, it doesn’t mean that it would have been the correct decision to keep the Bosnian on and in the team. It’s clear that the club never replaced the goals he would score each season, but there was no guarantee he’d have still scored them this current campaign.

He managed six strikes in 2014-15, in 32 appearances. By the time the curtain came down on the campaign, he was looking just as shot of confidence as Bony is today – and his record has hardly picked up following his loan move to Roma, as he stands on nine goals in 32 appearances so far.

This isn’t to knock what Dzeko achieved at City, either. He was a very important part of the breakthrough side that started winning trophies – he scored the equaliser against Notts County that kept the team in the FA Cup that they won in 2011, before adding more in later rounds. He scored a crucial 14 in the league the following season for the title-winning campaign, including that vital leveller against QPR. He stepped up to the plate in 2013-14 to cover for an injured Aguero and lead the Blues to their second title in three years, bagging five in the last four matches.

Yet none of that is a guarantee that he can still cut it at the top level.

Manchester City v Aston Villa - Premier League

There are sections of City fans that still hark back to players the club have let go, with the other key figure being Nigel de Jong. So few remember that the majority of his appearances in his last season came from the bench and, towards the end of the season, he was the figure introduced to move Yaya Toure further forward.

To this day, the phrase “we should never have let de Jong go” is still heard inside the Etihad on a matchday – largely because people are not too impressed with a disappointing 18-months from Fernando.

Just because Pellegrini hasn’t done so well in the league this season doesn’t make it the wrong call to have sacked Mancini.

It’s clear to see that there is something wrong with the current City squad. They haven’t been able to beat the top sides and their rivals this season, they’ve not put back-to-back Premier League victories together for six months, and they so rarely put in a full 90-minute showing that leaves fans impressed. Perhaps the only fixtures since January 2014 that fit that bill were wins over Chelsea and Sevilla.

For whatever reason, the squad hasn’t performed well together – but just because certain individuals haven’t done it doesn’t mean the club were wrong to let others go. It could be a worthy and credible argument about the quality of the transfers in and whether they fit the system that Pellegrini is attempting to play, but that’s another matter entirely.

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Written by David Mooney.

 

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