A look at Marcos Lopes’ break out performance by @TypicalBlueMoon

Marcos Lopes is held in high regard by City chiefs and City fans alike, and the 18-year-old showed the neutral just why with a man of the match performance against a full strength West Ham side last night.

Manuel Pellegrini fielded a strong team despite having a healthy 1st leg lead, which more or less indicated his desire to win every possible game, whether it’s a final or a dead rubber.

It was the usual fluid 4-2-2-2 formation with Aguero and Negredo upfront, Navas on the right, Lopes on the left, Fernandinho in box-to-box role, and Garcia the deepest midfielder.

With so much emphasis on offensive movements under Manuel, it’s imperative that players on the either flank put in a shift to help out the defence. Lopes provided just about the perfect cover possible for Clichy, preventing any possibility of overloading of wide areas by West Ham.

You don’t generally see an 18-year-old so aware of his defensive duties, which is why Marcos’ performance stood out. One would expect him to fizzle out towards the latter stages of the game due to his tireless running throughout, but it wasn’t the case, which showcased his desire to keep going.

Even with his defensive duties, he didn’t lose his effectiveness offensively, constantly making runs in the final third, shifting into pockets of empty space, getting into good positions, and making himself available to receive the ball.

His spatial awareness is as good as anyone in his age group, maybe even better. Lopes was continuously looking to move into vacant spaces throughout the game.

lopesart1(Lopes moves into the acres of space, making himself available for a cut-back from Navas, but instead Jesus puts in a cross which is cleared)

Due to his low centre of gravity, his balance enables him to ride over the challenges and to control the ball extremely well in tight areas (i.e. Aguero’s goal and a solo run towards half time), as if the ball was glued to his feet.

He used his pace to good effect, knowing when to accelerate and leave his marker for dead. So it came as no surprise that he made 4 dribbles, with only Kun (7) making more amongst City players yesterday. He is blessed with quick feet and has more than decent pace.

lopesart2(Lopes makes a run in a completely unmarked area but Navas, who had an off day, over hit the cross and couldn’t direct it)

Marcos looked calm and composed on the ball and was not hasty in making passes, a common drawback one can see in inexperienced players. Even when he lost possession, Lopes was determined to win the ball back. His work ethic and tenacity warrants special praise, and he made 5 successful tackles, with only Fernandinho (6) making more in the match.

For someone of his physique, the former Benfica youth fearlessly went into 50/50 duels against a fairly physical Hammers. He also displayed his intelligence as a player by putting his body right behind the ball and thereby reducing the risk of losing the ball and helping in drawing a foul.

Lopes put it on a plate for Negredo’s opener, literally. The ‘Beast’ didn’t even had to move, just directed the ball towards the back of the net. Horrible defending by West Ham, I must add.

The second goal was purely about Lopes’ brilliance. He showed exceptional balance, taking on 3 players before pushing the ball through to Aguero. Technically speaking, the ball fell to Sergio from a deflected pass and hence doesn’t count as the youngster’s assist as per the widely accepted Opta method. That takes nothing away from him, though.

The only area where I felt Marcos could have done better was putting more weight in few of his passes. His passes were fairly accurate (88% completion rate is impressive) but he could have pushed the ball out with a more effort a few times so that it reached his team-mates a fraction quicker.

With our next game being against Watford at home, Lopes has a good chance of retaining his place in the team after a great performance against West Ham.

Follow @TypicalBlueMoon on Twitter and share your thoughts on this article with him.


The new narrative: “City get all the decisions!”

Now that it’s obvious the “Arabs” won’t “get bored”, the new narrative for City haters is that we’re buying/paying off the referees.

Firstly, let’s be blunt – City have had some beneficial decisions lately, most notably Sterling’s incorrect offside against us (though Liverpool went and scored minutes later anyway) and Tiote’s disallowed goal last weekend.

But as people rant and rave about City’s good fortune, they forget, or perhaps choose to ignore, that it hasn’t all gone City’s way this season.

Here are some examples:

Negredo’s first goal for City is ruled out for offside… but he wasn’t offside. Ironically, this was against Newcastle on the opening day of the season. Do you remember the same outrage from City fans and in the media as on Sunday? I don’t. Granted, we had won the game, but an erroneous offside decision is an erroneous offside decision, no matter what the circumstances.

City are beating Aston Villa away when El Ahmadi scores an offside goal that is given. City lose that game 3-2.

Seb Larsson attempts to cripple Javi Garcia during City’s trip to Sunderland. Not even a yellow card is given. A red card should have been given. City go on to lose that game 1-0.

City did indeed lose that game 1-0, but only after Phil Bardsley had floored Milner with a forearm to the neck, before going on to score. No foul given.

Wilfried Bony equalises for Swansea against City on New Year’s Day… from an offside position.

Yanga-Mbiwa puts Nasri out of action for a couple of months with a nasty tackle. Yellow card given rather than the deserved red card.

(Thanks to “kun” on Bluemoon for several of these images)

The difference is, City fans tend to move on with life after a few hours or a day of annoyance, while certain other fan bases spend the next week expressing their fury in a variety of despicable ways or just blame those damn Arabs for paying off the referees.

The poor decisions against us in the Sunderland and Villa games cost us a possible 6 points. How often do you hear these mentioned when its said City are getting the rub of the green?

Get over it. City have suffered countless bad decisions in the past few years, including a handful this season like the aforementioned (and several not shown there, such as Bayern Munich’s offside goals). Your club probably has too.


So, we all want to see Jovetic and he should be back soon. In the meantime City fans have taken to asking #WheresJovetic on Twitter.

Here are some of the best sightings!







Analysing and rating City’s new signings for the 2013/14 season (so far)

Going into last summer’s transfer window, the usual marquee names were linked with City. Cavani. Falcao. Reus. You know the type. So it came as a surprise to many when City director of football Txiki Begiristain opted for slightly less glamorous signings, ones he felt would offer good value for money.

Half a season has passed since then and we’ve had chance to see all five of the new signings in action – some more than others. So how have they fared, taking their transfer fee and expectations into account? Here’s my view.

Jesús Navas
£14.9m from Sevilla

City’s first signing of the summer was speed merchant Navas, one of the few old fashioned wingers left in Spain. Navas had been supposed to join Chelsea when he was 20, but chronic homesickness killed the deal and kept him at Sevilla for years, despite interest from top clubs.

Having overcome his issues, Navas made the big move to Manchester, giving City a speedy and direct winger, something City fans had been pleading for but the type of player Mancini wasn’t too keen on in his system.

Navas made a hit-and-miss start, showing plenty of pace and trickery but delivering little in the way of assists and goals. His assist against United in September was his first in the league, but City career didn’t really explode into life until the 6-0 massacre of Spurs, where he put in a near flawless performance that included two goals and an assist.

Since the Spurs game, whether as a starter or off the bench, Navas has been in tremendous form. In his last four appearances, he has managed three assists and one goal. He has already matched his total number of assists for Sevilla last season, with half of this year’s campaign still to go.

It’s quite amusing really that Navas’ form is improving in the midst of a cold English winter. If any player fit the lazy stereotype of the foreigner who would struggle on cold winter nights in English football, it’s Navas. But he has gotten better as the weather has become chillier!

Navas has been a quality signing for City and offers a genuine “Plan B”, something we had been missing under Mancini. £14.9m for a World Cup and Euro winning Spain international looked a good deal on paper, and has been in reality.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Álvaro Negredo
£16.9m from Sevilla

The £16.9m signing of Spain international Negredo came as a disappointment to those who were expecting Edinson Cavani (£55m to PSG) or Radamel Falcao (£50m to Monaco), as they had were the marquee names on the market and both linked with City.

What some failed to realise is that Negredo had entered his prime in the season just gone and was outscoring many of the big names. His physical presence also made him an ideal match for the Premier League, moreso than his countryman Roberto Soldado who has looked half the player Negredo has in England, despite the two being on a similar level in La Liga.

Negredo isn’t a hard signing to judge – he has been a complete success and proven more than value for money. Goals have come frequently from “The Beast”, but just as important has been his overall contribution to the team and partnership with Aguero. For example, he didn’t score in September’s derby win over United, but was a nightmare for Vidic and Ferdinand, and notched up two assists. He has been a true “system” signing, someone who has slotted in like a well oiled cog.

The longest Negredo has gone without scoring is four games, and one of those was the aforementioned 4-1 win over United where his performance was phenomenal. Before his 35 minutes on the pitch against Palace at weekend, Negredo had scored in nine successive home games, something that has led to him already becoming a cult hero at the Etihad.

If there has been one flaw in Negredo’s first half-season, it is his lack of goals on the road compared to at home. Dzeko has been scoring more away from home, but Negredo’s lack of goals doesn’t mean he has played poorly. His assist for Milner against Fulham is an example of his contributions on the road.

At 28, Negredo is in the prime of his career and probably has 4 or 5 years left at this level. Should he be able to maintain the quality he has shown so far, £16.9m will be one of City’s greatest ever bargains. Cavani and Falcao – who needs them?

Rating: 9 out of 10

£30m from Shakhtar Donetsk

When Fernandinho become the third most expensive player in Manchester City history, behind only compatriot Robinho and modern day icon Aguero, eyebrows were raised. The obvious questions surfaced, such as how good could he be having played in the Ukraine until he was 28? How good could he be having only five caps for Brazil?

Anyone who saw Fernandinho light up the Champions League for Shakhtar last season knew the quality of the player. Up against Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus in the 2012/13 Champions League, he didn’t just hold his own against some of Europe’s top teams, but outshone many opposition players.

Fernandinho’s price tag worked against him in his early days as a City player, with some unfair criticism of him. He wasn’t perfect at first and was very prone to picking up yellow cards, but his performances weren’t as bad as some made out and in the games he was average in, his midfield partner (Yaya Toure) wasn’t any better.

His stellar performance in the Manchester derby, where he made United’s £27.5m signing Fellaini look like a pub league player, started to win the doubters over, but it was in the second half of October that his adjustment to English football seemed to end and he moved up a level.

Fernandinho has become not only one of City’s best players this season, but one of the Premier League’s best players. A good site for player performance stats, WhoScored, has him down as the 8th best player in the league so far this season, higher than any other summer signing in the Premier League.

Fernandinho combines what both De Jong and Barry brought to the team, but offers so much more, such as his ability to join in the attack. He played a box-to-box role at Shakhtar and has had to adapt to a more disciplined holding role at City, but more and more we’re seeing him surge forward and it’s a sight to behold, with the Brazilian’s creativity allowing him to pass between the lines and create chances.

One gripe about Fernandinho is, or was, his lack of goals. He’s wasted some good chances in front of goal, but his brace against Arsenal including one peach of a goal has started to remedy that.

A potential worry is that Fernandinho has spent many years in Ukraine, a slower league with fewer games. No player has started more games than Fernandinho (24 starts) this season and City run the risk of burning out the Brazilian in his first season experiencing the intensity of English football.

Many would rank Negredo as the signing of the season and there is a strong case for him, but I give the nod to Fernandinho. Partnered with Yaya Toure, he has moved City’s midfield up to the next level, something that has also benefited us in the Champions League.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Martín Demichelis
£3.5m from Atlético Madrid

City’s failed pursuit of Real Madrid’s Pepe led to a late scramble for defensive reinforcements in the summer window. They opted for the experienced Demichelis, who had been named in La Liga’s Team of the Year playing for Málaga under Pellegrini.

At 32 (now 33), Demichelis was obviously a short-term solution and the intention was likely for him to act mainly as a backup, as he would have at Atlético Madrid behind Godin and Miranda.

However, injuries to Kompany and Nastasić have meant Demichelis has played regularly for the Blues. Before his recent injury, he had completed 90 minutes in twelve successive Premier League and Champions League games, only being given the night off in a couple of Capital One Cup matches.

Demichelis hasn’t been a mega-hit signing like Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho. But neither has he been the disaster the faux pundit Alan Hansen would have you believe. At times he has struggled with the pace of English football and makes mistakes, but his reading of the game is impressive as is his forward thinking passing. He is also a threat in the opposition box from corners and free kicks.

Overall, he has been a solid signing, about what you’d expect from a 33-year-old who cost £3.5m. Having to play so many games at his age can’t have been easy with the ferocious pace of English football. He has adjusted to English football much better than £6m flop Stefan Savić did, and with so many injuries in central defence this season, has proven decent value for money.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Stevan Jovetić
£22m from Fiorentina

There is an unwritten rule in football that when you sign players in a bulk, at least one of them has to be a disaster. Jovetić would be the closest to that so far, but to call him a flop, misfit, disaster or any such moniker would be unfair. To receive such titles, you surely have to fail on the pitch, something Jovetić hasn’t even had the chance to do.

Of all the summer signings, the Montenegrin excited many City fans the most. A versatile and technically gifted attacker, Jovetić joined City on the back of an excellent season at Fiorentina. One, I might add, that was mostly uninterrupted by injuries.

His first half-season at City has been ruined by injuries, though. Bizarrely, some in the media are ignoring this and pretending he is some kind of misfit who just can’t get a game. This isn’t true, of course, and we have been left frustrated by the many setbacks keeping “Jo-Jo” out of the City team.

Jovetić has played just 187 minutes for City so far, in that time scoring a brace against Wigan in the Capital One Cup, a tantilizing preview of what we can expect. He was also outstanding in the summer friendly against AC Milan. And during one of his spells of fitness, he outshone Rooney in the “number 10” role in the World Cup qualifier between England and Montenegro.

Jovetić is now training again and seems very close to a return. Pellegrini has spoken of his hopes for Jovetić and City believe he can be like a brand new signing in January. Fingers crossed he can put his injury hell behind him and show us what he is capable of.

Rating: N/A

There is a lot of skepticism about the “Director of Football” model in England. Most top clubs outside of England have someone in this role, overseeing transfer policy and other areas of the club, but most previous attempts in England have failed badly – Damien Comolli’s £110m spending spree on mediocre English talent at Liverpool is the perfect example of that.

Txiki Begiristain’s work in the summer transfer window (and in other departments at the club) has proven that this model can work in England, as long as you have the right man in charge. And the former Barcelona chief has proven to be the right man.

Rather than go solely for the A-listers (besides Pepe, who Real Madrid wouldn’t sell because of Varane’s injury), he used his knowledge and City’s scouting network to acquire players who have proven to be fully compatible with the style of football City want to play, most of them at good prices.

City were also close to signing Isco from Málaga and chances are he too would have been a great signing, but the resurgence of Nasri means few are still disappointed about missing out on him.

There is nothing scattergun about City’s transfer policy anymore and these new signings have proven it. With the exception of Jovetić, who I’m very confident can be a great signing if he can just stay fit, all of them have contributed something, with Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho making this an undeniably successful group of signings.

City set to move for a midfielder… but who?

Manchester City's Yaya Touré and Fernandinho
There are two pieces of evidence that point to City signing a new central midfielder in January.

Exhibit 1: Transfer master Gianluca Di Marzio, who has come into his own as Europe’s most respected and reliable source for transfer news, reports that City have had a cash + Javi Garcia bid turned down for Benfica’s Nemanja Matić.

Exhibit 2: Respected football man Tor-Kristian Karlsen, formerly employed by Monaco, Zenit, Leverkusen and other clubs, claims that City are after a reputable midfielder (from outside of the Premier League).

City have two outstanding but overworked central midfielders, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, and the large drop in quality when either is injured or rested continues to worry City fans.

Garcia works hard, but just can’t seem to get to grips with the English game. Rodwell is a promising player, but is regularly injured and after 1 1/2 seasons still can’t be relied on. Milner’s best position seems to be on the flanks – at least according to Mancini, Pellegrini, Capello and Hodgson.

City are set to sign Bruno Zuculini in the near future, a promising young Argentine, but he is said to be rough around the edges and a loan deal could be the starting point for his European adventure.

So it would come as no surprise if City are actively pursuing a new central midfielder of proven quality. But who could it be?

Combining market rumours from recent months and our own information, here are five possible signings from abroad City may be considering for January.

Nemanja Matić
Nemanja Matić (25, Benfica)

We start with the one City have already tried to acquire, at least according to Di Marzio. Nemanja Matić is a “Chelsea reject”, which has predictably led to the question: “So why would City want him?”. Well, that is simple enough to answer. Players improve! Matić was deemed expendable by Chelsea and thrown into the deal that saw David Luiz head to Stamford Bridge. Funnily enough, it was the sale of Garcia to City in the summer of 2012 that saw Matić given a chance to step up as a regular in the Benfica first team, and he impressed. The 6’4″ warrior has matured into a commanding presence, capable of winning duels both on the ground and in the air. But Matić is more than your typical midfield destroyer, possessing a good pass and the ability to attack. He seems a far more ideal fit for the Premier League than Garcia, and having already spent a couple of years at Chelsea would have few problems settling. His fellow Serbian internationals Kolarov and Nastasić are already at City, a detail that could help lure him to Manchester.

The chances?

As already mentioned, City are said to have made a bid of cash + Javi Garcia for Matić, but Benfica rejected the deal. City could go back with an improved offer, but there are potential complications such as Garcia’s wages and rival interest in the player. Chelsea are known to be keen on taking him back and Ramires said in a recent interview that he thinks they should sign him. PSG are also known to be interested and have spoken to the intermediary Jorge Mendes about a possible deal. Benfica are thought to have lowered their valuation of Matić recently and £25m should be enough to sign a player who is only in his mid-20s and has massive upside.

Blaise Matuidi
Blaise Matuidi (26, PSG)

City are known admirers of France midfielder Matuidi, who Carlo Ancelotti last year described as “one of the best midfielders in Europe”. Matuidi’s ability to read the game, much like Fernandinhos, is exceptional and also like the Brazilian he is a modern day midfielder with not only excellent defensive skills, but also the ability to contribute to attacking play. Matuidi’s passing and technical ability would also make him a good fit for City, the 26-year-old having a 91.3% pass accuracy in Ligue 1 and 94.1% pass accuracy in the Champions League so far this season. He would join fellow French internationals Nasri and Clichy at the Etihad Stadium if City could tempt him away from the French capital.

The chances?

Matuidi was expected to have renewed his PSG contract by now and still could in the next month, but if he doesn’t there will be a frantic race for his services from some of Europe’s top clubs. If contract talks with PSG continue to stall, Matuidi will be the bargain of next summer on a free transfer – unless someone can tempt PSG to part with their influential midfielder in January with a cash offer. A tough task with PSG still in the Champions League and top of Ligue 1. City, Chelsea and Barcelona are the three clubs most commonly linked with Matuidi, a clear sign of his talent. Everything depends on the outcome of his final contract talks with PSG, but if City could snatch him it would be a huge coup.

Xabi Alonso
Xabi Alonso (32, Real Madrid)

Alonso needs little introduction. A bona fide superstar of world football, Alonso has been in the spotlight for years at Liverpool, Real Madrid and of course for the Spanish national team, with whom he has won the World Cup and European Championship. Alonso is now 32 but remains a fantastic footballer with outstanding technique and one of the best passing ranges in European football. Alonso has very little pace, something that can be a problem in the Premier League (see: Garcia, Javi), but his intelligence and ability to read the game make said lack of pace a non-issue as already shown when he was one of the Premier League’s best midfielders for Liverpool. Alonso might not be a long-term option, though these deep-lying playmakers can go well into their 30s, but would add proven ability and experience to the squad while suiting City’s playing style.

The chances?

Much like Matuidi, a January move could be difficult but not necessarily impossible. He is another out of contract next summer and according to Marca today, he is leaning towards a Real Madrid exit despite a 2-year offer being on the table. Alonso may want a new challenge and an ambitious club like City could offer him the chance to continue playing at a high level while competing for trophies. Alonso’s financial demands are likely to be high, but any transfer fee in January would be fairly nominal due to his age and contract situation. If Real Madrid do agree to let him go in January, City would face competition from a host of clubs, but the Spanish connection and standing of the club would give them a good chance of landing El Señor.

Fernando (26, FC Porto)

Porto midfielder Fernando is the third player on this list who is down to 6 months left on his contract, something that has alerted clubs around Europe. City scouts are very active in this part of the world and will have noted his excellent performances this season for Porto. Nicknamed O Polvo (The Octopus) because he never stops running, Fernando is another tenacious holding midfielder who could help add some steel to a City side that often looks too open. He is a very industrious midfielder with excellent tackling ability, but also a clever player with a surprisingly good disciplinary record for a battling midfielder. His impressive season so far has led to a tug-of-war between his native Brazil and Portugal, who he is eligible for, with both wanting to call up the uncapped player.

The chances?

Fernando is the lowest profile of the names on this list, so he could be the easiest to acquire for City if they move for him. United were briefly linked with him in October, but Liverpool and Fiorentina have been more commonly linked with him recently. Porto are notoriously tough negotiators, but find themselves in a weakened position and are out of the Champions League. Fernando’s release clause is £25m, but with his contract up in June they will be lucky to command £10m for him. Given Porto’s regular need to sell, the chances of him leaving in January are very high, and one phone call from City could be enough for a deal.

Lassana Diarra
Lassana Diarra (28, Lokomotiv Moscow)

A name well known to Premier League fans, Lass Diarra has played for Arsenal, Chelsea and Portsmouth in the past. An excellent season for Portsmouth led to a £19m transfer to Real Madrid at the beginning of 2009, and he spent 3 1/2 years in the Spanish capital. Diarra was no flop at Real Madrid and played regularly, but the nature of that club means there is a high turnover of players and he was finally sold to wealthy Russian sides Anzhi last year. Anzhi’s cost-cutting led to a “first come, first serve” fire sale and Lokomotiv Moscow snapped him up in the summer. He has impressed at Lokomotiv, being named player of the month by fans in both November and December. This has led to speculation about his future with both City and former club Arsenal linked with him this month. At 28, Diarra should just about be in his prime and deserves a better platform than the Russian Premier League to showcase his skills. He is an all-action midfielder who is familiar with English football and would add more quality depth to City’s midfield. His versatility, which allows him to play at centre-back and right-back, is arguably something City need – a few more James Milner types who can play around the pitch when the squad is beset by injuries, as it has been lately.

The chances?

Let’s be honest, Diarra would probably jump at the chance to join City, so the real question is whether City genuinely want him or whether the reports from Russia are agent talk. Diarra has played at the highest level for top clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid) so could be considered a low-risk signing for City. Monaco and PSG were thought to be keen on him before he moved to Moscow, but have probably moved on to other targets now. His transfer fee to Lokomotiv was thought to be in the £10m range, so assuming the Russians are willing to do business, this is the sort of offer that might land the 28-year-old.

These are just five possibilities and I’ve tried to keep it realistic. But who knows, it could be someone not on this list that City are after. City have been linked with the excellent Paul Pogba for example, but a £40m+ swoop for him in January might be out of the question and Juventus have no reason to part with him just yet.

Perhaps Txiki Begiristain will spring a surprise like he did when he opted for Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho over high profile names who had been linked with the Blues – signings that raised some eyebrows but have been masterstrokes. A diamond in the rough from La Liga, maybe? Time will tell, but any high quality midfielder would add crucial quality in depth to one of the few positions lacking it at City.

New City songs for the 2013/14 season

City fans are well known for coming up with some cracking songs. The Mario Balotelli song from 2011 went viral and featured on international news channels.

The Yaya/Kolo one, which is still heard at City games despite Kolo’s departure, has become a hit at clubbing hotspots all over Europe! For example, it was sung at Zante 2013, about 2,250 miles from Manchester!

Oh, and it recently stopped traffic in Newcastle.

But on to the new City songs for 2013. The biggest hit has without a doubt been “Here’s to you Vincent Kompany”.

So good that fans of the Belgium national team nabbed it for their captain, who is also City’s captain!

Zabaleta is City’s biggest cult hero and has been for a while. “Pablo Zabaleta do-do-do” is heard at pretty much every game. But away dayers have come up with a new one for Zaba that is maddeningly catchy.

The newest song heard at away days is a popular European tune used for Fernandinho.

Another terrace hero in the making is “The Beast” Alvaro Negredo. Fans chant “Beast, beast, beast!” after every goal, but Shaun Goater’s “Feed the Goat” song has been reinvented to “Feed the Beast” for Negredo.

Negredo has a second song, but it is more of an away day anthem and hasn’t caught on yet at the Etihad.

Banter… what would football be without banter? The arrival of football genius David Moyes to Manchester United and his stellar work so far has City fans singing in praise for his achievement of getting United into 8th place.

Yeah, yeah… we know United won’t be this bad forever, that’s why it’s worth savouring now before they do what they criticised City for, buy their way out of trouble.

But this Moyes/Fergie song has caused a fair bit of debate among City fans. Some think it is out of line, much like the Wenger song from United fans in the past, while others reckon it’s harmless banter.

Barca v City – things about to get a little Messi


Courtesy of City Blog writer The ItaliA.N.

Barcelona, Man City, and the Dirty War…

To understand the political nature of a club like Barcelona you need only look at the treatment of one Johan Cruyff.  Made honorary president in 2010 by outgoing president Joan Laporta, at the time, Cruyff ‘s influence on the club was directly responsible for all of the success the previous decade had brought.  From Rijkaard to Guardiola, the tiki-taka football which saw Barcelona sweep all before them had its roots in a philosophy Cruyff brought to the club first as a player, then as a manager, then finally as de-facto advisor to Laporta and Txiki Begiristain.

This title, which was akin to the freedom of the Camp Nou, was unceremoniously revoked by incoming president Sandro Rosell only a few months after Cruyff received it, as the battle lines between the former board and the new board began to take shape.  Cruyff claimed Barcelona owed his charitable foundation money, Rosell claimed Barcelona weren’t going to pay the money until they understood what it was for, and Cruyff retaliated by saying “I will not go to Camp Nou as long as Rosell is president at Barcelona”.

At the same time as going to war with Cruyff, Rosell also went to war with the previous board of directors, in particular Ferran Soriano. Soriano, the current Manchester City CEO, was Vice-President of Finances under Laporta, and was accused by Rosell and his team of spying on Nou Camp employees and going so far as to hiring private investigators to access the private emails of these employees while on the board at the club.  The claims were made in a lawsuit filed in Catalonia by Barcelona F.C against Soriano. City’s response to the allegation was to describe Barcelona and their directors’ behaviour as a “dirty tricks” campaign. Barca went on to accuse “Manchester City directors” of trying to poach Barcelona players and staff as hostilities became more public.

These incidents, although for the most part, a tit-for-tat game between huge ego’s in the world of football, have had a significant impact upon Barcelona.  The biggest impact, and one which is hotly refuted by a Catalonian press in denial, is Pep Guardiola leaving his managerial post at the club.  Although Guardiola had always insisted he would not coach Barcelona “forever”, he left abruptly in the summer of 2012. Privately, Pep was hugely disappointed by the treatment of first Cruyff, his hero and mentor at Barcelona, and then Laporta, Soriano, and Begiristain.  The four men had been instrumental in bringing Pep to Barcelona as a coach, and then in giving him successive promotions until he was coach of the Barcelona first team. He owed his managerial career to them and found it difficult to work under Rosell who so angrily and publicly disavowed the former board.

The knock on effect of Pep leaving wasn’t felt in the first half of the 12/13 campaign as his former assistant Tito Vilanova stepped into the breach and tried to continue Pep’s footballing philosophy. However, Tito’s ill health meant he had to step down in the summer of 2013 and Barcelona quickly replaced him with Tata Martino.  Martino was seen as a safe pair of hands due to his relationship with Barcelona’s golden boy Lionel Messi. His appointment also meant that all of the coaching ties with Guardiola’s golden era at the club had been severed once and for all.

Last week’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Ajax (Cruyff will have been grinning like a Cheshire cat no doubt at the final whistle) and Athletico Bilbao, have given rise for many to now question Martino’s credentials. Keen Barcelona observers have been dismayed to see the devolution of the ‘Barcelona way’ as Martino’s team play a more direct style of football to the tiki-taka of the last decade.  The question the Barcelona faithful dare not ask though is how do the players feel?

Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Pique, Valdes, Puyol, Pedro, et al, were all players who came of age during the Laporta/Guardiola years.  They were part of a winning club, but more importantly, part of a football club that prided itself on its traditions, on its history, and on its place as a footballing forerunner. Players, now older, some of them coming to the final stretches of their careers. The men who brought them to the club, molded their careers and helped them achieve unparalleled success they’ve experienced, have all left. At the club they have spent their whole career at begins what is an inevitable process of transition, it’s little wonder players such as Iniesta are stalling on renewing their contracts.

We woke this morning in England to stories that Barcelona were preparing a bid for Sergio Aguero. Catalonian newspaper Sport claimed Aguero had gone so far as to inform City manager Pellegrini that he wanted to move to Barcelona.

Is it coincidence that this story comes so close to recent press reports linking Lionel Messi with a move to Manchester City?

Anyone who has followed the ongoing rancor between City and Barcelona would have to say “absolutely not”.  Barcelona are a club in transition, playing football in a league which is financially on the brink.  Barcelona’s finances are no different.  They generate huge amounts of income, but also carry large amounts of debt which limit how much player trading they can do.  They certainly are not a club who need to sell to buy, not by a long stretch of the imagination.  However they are also staring down the barrel of a squad which needs significant refreshment regardless of outgoings.

Raising the funds for this refreshment is something they will have to do at some point.  As they saw in the summer of 2013 when their number one target Marquinhos moved to Paris, the competition for player acquisition at the highest level is as fierce as it has ever been, with subsequent transfer fees and wages being much more inflated than they have ever been.

Transferring Lionel Messi would of course be political suicide for Rosell. The notion of this happening and Messi moving to Manchester City to rejoin Soriano and Begiristain must be ageing Rosell prematurely.

However, it is foolhardy for them to try and fight fire with fire by linking themselves to Sergio. City have recently tied him down to a new long-term contract, and in today’s marketplace his transfer would have to be a world record fee.

Even if Barcelona could afford this fee without selling players of their own, they would need the will of the selling club, and it’s unlikely that City will sanction the sale of their best player to a club with whom they have such bad relations.  Sadly for Barcelona, with Iniesta’s contract coming into its final 12 months, and Messi’s buy-out clause being one which Sheikh Mansour is rumoured to be prepared to pay,  they will struggle to keep those players if City are seriously interested.

What this means for the watching world is a Catalonian soap opera played out in front of the world’s footballing media over the next six months.