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Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Unlimited resources keep Man City in hunt


LONDON — The balance of power in Manchester is changing.

Christopher Davies

Sir Alex Ferguson calls Manchester City "a small club" and will never overtake United "in my time." Unless Ferguson's time at Old Trafford is going to end suddenly, United's era of dominance, not just in Manchester but in English football, appears to be drawing to an end.

The title may well stay in Manchester, but on the blue side of the city not the red. In a season when none of the traditional heavyweights are knocking out opponents as in the past, it is not beyond City, seven points behind leader Chelsea, to become English champions.

United, which has led the way for 20 years, is in real danger of being left behind as the new power brokers of English football flex their financial muscles.

Sheikh Mansour has pumped £400 million into City over the last 18 months and there is plenty more where that came from.

While Chelsea has been busier paying compensation to managers rather than bringing in new players recently, Roman Abramovich can write a check for £70 million without the blink of a Russian eye, and if American sports entrepreneur Stan Kroenke completes his takeover of Arsenal, as many believe he will, the Gunners will no longer need to rely on Arsene Wenger unearthing French or Spanish diamonds.

In contrast, the Glazer family borrowed money to buy United, which is £700 million in debt, and paid £40 million in interest last year. On Monday, the club announced plans for a £500 million bond issue to safeguard their ownership, and while it is not quite financial meltdown at Old Trafford the club needs to raise money quickly.

If Bayern Munich was willing to sell Franck Ribery for £50 million, it is unlikely United would be among prospective buyers despite the unspent balance of the Cristiano Ronaldo fee.

When City beat Blackburn 4-1 earlier this week, the following players were not in their starting XI — Robinho (who will play for Brazil at the World Cup), Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay), Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott (England), Kolo Toure (Cote d'Ivoire), Vladimir Weiss (Slovakia), and Patrick Vieira (France) plus Stephen Ireland (Ireland) and Emmanuel Adebayo (Togo), who may not be in South Africa this summer but are still more than useful players.

The catalyst for City's improving form has been the defensive organization installed by new manager Roberto Mancini — one goal conceded in his four games in charge compared to nine in Mark Hughes' final three matches — and the 11 goals scored by Carlos Tevez in his last eight starts.

Ferguson would not pay the £25 million it would have taken to keep the Argentina international, whom he saw as more of an impact substitute, at Old Trafford. The United fans, who adored Tevez, appreciated his energy and work-rate and sang "sign him up" to Ferguson, who obviously did not believe he was worth the investment.

Tevez has been a first-choice for City, while Robinho, who cost a British record £32.5 million, is warming the substitutes bench, when fit.

It speaks volumes for Ferguson that he has managed to keep an under-performing, injury-hit team so competitive because many observers believe this is the worst United side since the Premier League began in 1992.

The champions have lost their fear factor, while there is a lack of quality in a team bereft of the charisma and solidarity of previous years.

True, United has had excessive injuries especially in defense which highlighted the lack of strength in depth at Old Trafford.

As concerning as anything is the next generation at Old Trafford. Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda, Gabriel Obertan, Zoran Tosic and the Da Silva twins are not doing enough to stake a claim for a first-team place and seem unlikely to take over from Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Wes Brown, John O'Shea, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes.

In contrast, Wenger has a growing collection of crown jewels at Arsenal. Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Denilson, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs are all 22 or under, most already established in the Arsenal team.

Money can buy success, as Blackburn proved in the 1990s. I hope Wenger's way is rewarded, but the City checkbook may yet have the final word.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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