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Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Money not enough to give Manchester City the title


LONDON — When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, David Dein, the former Arsenal vice chairman, remarked that the new Stamford Bridge owner had "parked his Russian tanks on the lawn and is firing £50 notes at us."

Christopher Davies

It was difficult to visualize any club having bigger financial resources than Chelsea, and Abramovich has poured more than £400 million into winning the Premier League.

Step forward Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group which has so far spent £300 million in the two years it has been in control of Manchester City. The oil-rich owners will continue to spend, spend, spend until City wins the title.

Whatever it costs, whatever it takes, the funds will be provided.

Money usually guarantees success eventually, but billionaires are not known for their patience, and as the new Premier League season begins manager Roberto Mancini knows the minimum expected of him is a Champions League place. No club has the depth of squad that City possesses, yet the feeling remains it is more quantity than quality.

The club with the best team, not necessarily the best players, usually wins the title.

City does not have a defensive leader like John Terry or Nemanja Vidic, a midfield inspiration like Steven Gerrard, nor does it have a goal scorer in the class of Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney or Fernando Torres.

In fact, City's strength is also likely to be a major problem for Mancini — there are some serious egos in the dressing room and established internationals do not take kindly to being left out of the side.

Mancini also has the problem of galvanizing a team with up to six new faces.

Sir Alex Ferguson called City the "noisy neighbors," but he has made it known he is confident that United has what it takes to continue its domination in Manchester and take the title back from Chelsea. In Mexico international Javier Hernandez, Ferguson seems to have found another gem, a winger oozing confidence and class.

Rooney, with 26 Premier League goals last season, appears to be over his World Cup blues and maybe, just maybe, Dimitar Berbatov will belatedly prove to be worth £30 million.

Ferguson usually cuts his losses and moves on players who have not measured up to requirements but the Scot has remained loyal and supportive of the Bulgarian.

For champion Chelsea, the return to fitness of Michael Essien is like having a £40 million summer signing, while Yossi Benayoun (£6 million from Liverpool) and Brazil's Ramires (£18 million from Benfica) are more than adequate replacements for Joe Cole and Michael Ballack.

Chelsea has the experience, the quality and the cover for injuries.

To the amazement of just about everyone, Arsene Wenger continues to believe Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski are top-class goalkeepers.

Loyalty is one thing, but Wenger's faith in the pair crosses into blind faith. The Gunners need key players to stay fit which, for some reason, too many fail to do.

Defender Laurent Koscielny and striker Maroune Chamakh, recruited, almost inevitably, from France, must settle in quickly, while Cesc Fabregas needs to put Barcelona out of his head.

Arsenal fans are fed up with seeing the best football and no trophies, and pressure is mounting on Wenger to deliver.

Arsenal, along with Tottenham, Liverpool and City are the main candidates for third place.

Spurs have not signed any big-name recruits, but Harry Redknapp has a strong enough squad to build on last season's fourth-place finish.

Roy Hodgson has restored credibility and calm to Liverpool after the Benitez era.

Aston Villa was rocked by the resignation of Martin O'Neill on Monday, his departure not a huge shock though the timing was unexpected.

O'Neill found himself banging his head against a financial brick wall, unable to secure the funds from American owner Randy Lerner to move the club on from three impressive sixth-place finishes.

Lerner will claim that in O'Neill's four seasons the manager spent £82 million net on new recruits with the wage bill increasing from £50 million to £70 million on gates of 38,000.

The boardroom's view was that it could not gamble its future on the possibility of finishing in the top four.

As has been the case for the past 10 years, the challengers will have to finish above United and Chelsea to win the title.

* * * * *

FABIO CAPELLO'S man-management skills are as bad as his English. Despite being England manager for 2 1/2 years his command of the language is embarrassing, his news conferences almost painful to listen to.

Capello struggles to communicate with the England players and the cold-blooded way he ended David Beckham's career showed all the compassion of a hangman.

As England beat Hungary 2-1, Capello said that Beckham, 35, was "probably too old" to be part of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. To end the 14-year international career of former captain Beckham, whose 115 appearances makes him England's most-capped outfield player, in such a manner was a public relations own-goal.

While Capello's decision is logical, it was delivered almost as a joke, an afterthought. Beckham, a great ambassador for his country, deserved at least the courtesy of a telephone call, though Capello's English is so poor had he spoken to the Los Angeles Galaxy player he would probably have thought he was being made captain again.

Beckham may eventually return for a farewell friendly appearance at Wembley when he will rightly be given a standing ovation by the crowd which recognizes how much he has given to England.

It is a pity Capello did not show Beckham more respect, but this presupposes the Italian gives a toss what people think about him.

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


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