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“are you threatening me?”

July 22, 2009

Alex Ferguson, Manchester United.
So, predictably, Sir Alex Ferguson has come out this week and said that he feels that Manchester City and their millions are no threat to his Premier League title this season. That would, on the whole, seem to be a fairly uncontroversial statement – I don’t think anyone really and truly expects Manchester City to challenge for the title. They may push the top four if things go really well, but a Europa League spot looks most likely at the moment.

However, Mark Hughes has responded to Ferguson’s comments in confident mood, suggesting that he believes that after their summer recruitment Manchester City have a decent chance of pushing the top four not just for the Champions League, but also for the Premier League title itself. I have to say though, I’m disinclined to agree with him. I think City have bought some quality players, but I think real success needs more than money, it needs time.

This isn’t the first time that Ferguson has cast doubt over City since their bank balance (and thus their expectations) swelled considerably. Last season, in the week leading up to the first Manchester derby after City’s takeover, Ferguson was asked if he felt that City would go on to pose a threat to Manchester United, in terms of becoming a similar sort of footballing powerhouse to what Man Utd have become. That time too, Ferguson responded with scorn, but I think that he was in fact being coy, playing mind games, and that he recognises that in the long term, City could be a threat.

The three key elements to establishing long term success are 1) managerial charisma & stability, 2) a good youth academy capable of moulding first team players and 3) a very healthy cash supply. These are the ingredients that Ferguson combined in the early nineties to establish Manchester United as England’s most successful club, and he knows that City have all those elements in place too – they just need time to grow. This is an argument I developed more fully at the time, and you can find that article here.

However, while that time I was fairly sure that Ferguson was playing games with Hughes and Manchester City, and that his scorn was in fact designed to make them doubt their own endeavours, I think this time Ferguson is being 100% honest. He doesn’t believe that City will be a threat to his title this season, and he think he’s absolutely right. And once again, as with previously, it comes down to time.

Last time, Ferguson knew that in time City could potentially progress to become a club to challenge United in all respects, but that it would take a significant growth period. This time, Ferguson recognises that success on the pitch, in terms of challenging United for the Premier League title, will also take time. It is too soon for City to put together a realistic title challenge, no matter how many world class players they sign. And he’s right.

Because whatever your opinion of the merits of Tevez, Adebayor, Santa Cruz and Barry, it takes more than world class players to win trophies. Indeed, there’s a perfect example of this fact: Real Madrid. The first galacticos era brought epic financial gain but little on pitch success, despite the fact that they undoubtedly had a team full of world class players. I would predict that this time will be no different, and that neither Real Madrid nor Man City will see immediate reward for their significant financial outlays this summer.

The fact is that no matter how talented your players are, you can’t simply buy the sort of team spirit and mental toughness that is required to win the Premier League. Last season Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea went through rough patches in form. They all had periods where they suffered injuries and bad form, and it took a lot to come back from that and get back winning again. It required a certain mental toughness, a togetherness, for them to be able to look at each other and say “lets sort this out”.

That sort of bond, the knowledge that you can admit to one another that you aren’t playing well and that you need to get it together is something that develops only over time. Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have added to their squads a lot of the past few seasons, but the spine of each team has remained constant. That’s important. That means that they have experienced guys in there to give the whole squad a kick up the arse when it’s needed.

Manchester City don’t have that though, and they won’t have that this season. The players who have been at the club a few seasons are not the big name players. It’s a very new squad with few established leaders, few established big dressing room personalities. Furthermore, the fact that they are bringing in lots of high profile players will further disrupt that cohesive environment, especially in the striking department.

All the news players coming into the club will be vying both with the other new arrivals and the established players to prove themselves, to establish themselves as important members of the squad both on and off the pitch. That means that City will lack a certain amount of harmony, and even if they do miraculously all get on (and they won’t), the bond between the players will simply not be developed enough to give them that mental toughness that is essential in a long and gruelling season.

So no, whatever Mark Hughes says, Manchester City will not win the Premier League, and they will not provide a realistic title challenge. They may keep pace for much of the season, but at some point they’ll stumble, it’s inevitable, every team will go through at least on rough patch. The difference though, will be that while United, Chelsea and Liverpool will pick themselves up reasonably quickly, City will fall divided, and thus their title challenge is doomed to failure.

Alex Ferguson is the master of mind games, and he is extremely liable to say something that he doesn’t mean in order to acheive something for his club. But in this instance, Ferguson is speaking plainly. He knows from experience that a club needs a lot of toughness to win the Premier League, or even to challenger for the title. He knows that this sort of togetherness takes time to develop and he knows that Manchester City do not have time to develop such a bond before this season begins. In short, Alex Ferguson knows that Manchester City won’t win the league, and he’s right.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2009 6:12 pm

    Yeps, I dont see Man City winning the EPL … a top four finish would be an achievement in itself.

  2. July 22, 2009 6:26 pm

    Cool post. Good picture as well :D

  3. VASANTH permalink
    July 22, 2009 10:39 pm

    cheers ;)

  4. wllmhll permalink*
    July 23, 2009 12:17 am

    it depends how quickly city cohesive together, with so many strikers fighting for a place in the starting line up there will be friction within the team.

    ps. that is a brilliant picture, and brilliant text. brilliant pictext!


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