By Cameron Dickinson
Last season Tottenham finally broke the Big Four’s dominance over the Premiership’s automatic bids to the UEFA Champions League and, in the process, emerged as a potential force in the title race for the quickly approaching Premier League season.
Spurs’ title hopes are more than just a fading hope. They have a vibrant young team full of pace and skill up front, coupled with one of the best centre-back pairings in the league in Michael Dawson and Ledley King and, of course, they have the added pulling power that only top European football can bring.
But in all the excitement about Spurs’ possible breakthrough people seem to have forgotten Manchester City has been splashing the cash already as it bids to not only finish in the top four but also challenge for the title.
Everyone knew City would be spending a lot of cash after it failed to qualify for the Champions League, but the caliber of player City’s lured to Manchester this offseason is that normally associated with that other club in Manchester. Even with their first two signings, it’s likely more will follow.
First came the announcement that they had beat a number of top European clubs to ink Valencia winger David Silva.
The Spaniard was one of Europe’s hottest properties, thanks to Valencia’s financial woes forcing them to sell and was expected to sign for Barcelona, Manchester United or Chelsea, but City underlined its title hopes by swooping in for Silva.
The deal is said to be worth around £24 million, not as high a price as many newspapers expected a club to pay, and he will be on around £140,000 a week – making him one of the highest paid players in the Premier League.
Many doubted City’s ability to attract players of his standard after it finished fifth last season, but it have shown a combination of ambition and a whole lot of money can attract the best players.
And manager Roberto Mancini views this as a statement of intent by the club. He told The Sun “I think David Silva can make a big, big impact. We are showing the world we are bringing the best players here and that we hope to win the League.”
A bold statement indeed considering City did not get near to even challenging for the title last season, but one that will not be scoffed at thanks to the capture of Silva.
Two days later confirmation came through that defensive midfielder Yaya Toure had become the next superstar to join Mancini’s revolution.
Many considered Toure to be the unsung hero during Barcelona’s incredible season in 2008/09 where it won every competition it entered. Everyone praised Andres Iniesta and Xavi for their sterling attacking play, but few lauded Toure’s fantastic ability to win back possession so those crafty forward-thinking Barca players could pour in some more goals.
Last season he played a much smaller part, losing out on a place in the starting line-up to Sergio Busquets, and it certainly showed in Europe where the Spanish giants and crashed in the semifinals against eventual winners Inter Milan.
Many feel that the Catalans missed his calming influence and ability to win the ball without needing to dive in to unnecessary tackles.
He will be a fantastic signing for City even at £24 million as he has the pace and power needed for the English game while also being blessed with tremendous passing ability.
It calls into focus the roles of Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, both of whom play in a similar role to Toure, but if City is to take the next step then the Ivorian is the man it needs to build its midfield around.
Of course Toure will be joining his older brother Kolo at Eastlands, and there is no doubt that the defender’s presence at the club was another major factor in his decision to move. Indeed he cited the opportunity to play alongside his sibling as the decisive factor.
He told the club’s official website: “This is a dream come true, I have always wanted to play for the same club as my brother, and I’m so happy that it has finally happened. Kolo told me it’s an amazing time for the club and a very exciting project. They want to make some big signings, and I needed a big challenge.
“I’m very happy to sign for Manchester City. I love the Premier League, and I watch it all the time and City did very well to finish fifth. But I hope we can improve on that by qualifying for the Champions League. This is a big club and that has to be our first objective and then we have to look at winning championships as well.”
Of course it would be massively premature to suggest that Man City are going to take the Premier League by storm based on these two signings as Robinho has shown it doesn’t matter how talented a player is if he isn’t interested then he’ll flop.
City has also signed German defender Jerome Boateng from Hamburg for a measly £10 million, showing that Mancini at least recognizes his side was pretty weak at the back for a good portion of last season.
More signings are needed though to bolster that weak backline, particularly at full back as City has no cover at either position.
Some of the names being bandied about as potential signings are pretty scary for their rivals. In recent days Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, Inter Milan’s Mario Balotelli, Lazio’s Aleksandar Kolarov and Koln’s Lukas Podolski have all been linked with a move to Eastlands and don’t bet against at least one of those deals actually happening.
The players who are already part of the club are optimistic about what they could achieve this season. No. 1 goalkeeper Shay Given is one of those players already in the squad who has played in the Champions League before and he firmly believes he will again next season.
He told Sky Sports “everyone knows from the signings that we have made this summer that we mean business. The new owners are obviously ambitious. They want us to win trophies and challenge for the Premier League, and we have a strong squad already. I think we’ll get a couple more players which will boost the ranks at the club, and it’s an exciting time to be a player or a fan of Manchester City.
“Obviously we are not up there with the likes of Chelsea and Man United in terms of trophies on the mantelpiece, but by the time we have put our whole squad together by the end of this window then we will have as good a squad as them which will hopefully mean that we will be able to challenge them.
“We want to win something this season. We have a good squad of players, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be challenging for top honours.”
It’s understandable that he and many others feel that way. There is a real feeling this season that Mancini and the owners are going to pull off yet more big transfer coups.
They must remember of course that it is not all about ‘galacticos’, it is about building a team who can function well together from back to front with plenty of competition for each position on the pitch.
That means signing players like Boateng is just as important as the superstar signings otherwise egos will get in the way and they will accomplish nothing. But Mancini is no fool, so he will know exactly what is needed to achieve what is required of him, and if he doesn’t then he will lose his job just as Mark Hughes did.
This season promises to be one of the most intriguing for a long time as it seems some clubs are finally ready to break the ‘Big Four’ stranglehold on title races. On this summer’s evidence, one challenger is ready to rise higher than all the others and take its place among the elite. It’s taken a good few years and more than a little money, but it really does seem that Man City’s time has come.
Cameron Dickinson is a writer for The National Game. His column is reprinted with written consent.