The blue half of Manchester has high hopes for the new campaign after a record summer spending spree, says Gavin Hamilton
By Gavin hamilton
Failing to sign Kaka for a world record transfer fee of £100million last January could be the best thing that ever happened to Manchester City.
Ridicule was heaped on the club’s executive chairman Garry Cook after he accused Milan of “bottling” the deal and City, backed by millions of Middle Eastern petro-dollars, were accused of running before they could walk – especially as they went on to finish only 10th in the league.
But six months on, with Kaka preparing for life as a galactico in Madrid, City have instead spent £80m on players who will genuinely enhance their bid to break into the top four.
The signings of Carlos Tevez (Manchester United, £25.5m), Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal, £25m) and Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn, £18m) may appear, initially, to pander to the more fanciful attacking preferences of City’s billionaire backers. But the arrival of England midfielder Gareth Barry (Aston Villa, £12m) and the aggressive pursuit of Chelsea defender John Terry suggests City manager Mark Hughes is building a squad of Premier League-hardened competitors who will win points and prizes before plaudits.
Whether Hughes will be given enough time by City’s owners remains to be seen. The summer spending spree has piled the pressure on Hughes and raised expectations that City can overtake Arsenal, the weakest of the top four.
The downside of City’s spending on established performers was the departure of promising youngsters Joe Hart and Daniel Sturridge, who left in pursuit of first-team opportunities.
City may have distorted the transfer market with their seemingly unlimited bidding – including an offer to Terry of a £250,000 weekly wage – but there is no escaping the fact that the balance of power has shifted from the Premier League to Spain’s La Liga.
The world-record sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid may have left champions Manchester United with £80m to burn, but manager Alex Ferguson is in no rush to spend just for the sake of it, saying: “You don’t want mercenaries, to pay over the odds for players not willing to give their all for the club.”
Cautious spending has also been the order of the day elsewhere, even though clubs’ revenue was not affected by the collapse of pay-TV company Setanta after ESPN paid £90m for the rights to the 46 games that would have been shown by Setanta.
Nevertheless, the poor value of the pound against the euro, combined with a new 50 per cent tax rate for high-earners in the UK, has made Spain a far more attractive option for players. At both ends of La Liga, from Ronaldo to Zaragoza-bound Jermaine Pennant, there is more money to be made than in England.
With United so far reluctant to splash the Ronaldo cash, it raises the possibility of a more even league contest. Liverpool, assuming Fernando Torres stays fit and Steven Gerrard stays out of jail, will again be strong contenders, while only a fool would write off Chelsea under new coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Manchester City are likely to generate most of the season’s more outlandish headlines and, despite the global recession, we are guaranteed more tales of overseas owners seeking their piece of the Premier League pie.
However, it remains almost certain that the title will end up with one of the established powers again.