Of wealth and kudos

Published : Jul 18, 2009 00:00 IST

Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.-AP Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.
Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.-AP Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.

Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.-AP Manchester City’s manager Mark Hughes (left), with new signing, Roque Santa Cruz of Paraguay.

Mountains of cash may buy good players, but not the loyalty and desire needed to turn a team into world beaters, writes Paul Wilson.

If Manchester City are trying to be the new Manchester United, they appear to be going a funny way about it. All right, before City fans point out that the world hardly needs another Manchester United, never mind the North-west of England, the Eastlands club are no longer making bullish statements about trying to become bigger than the neighbours.

The last time Mark Hughes was quoted on the subject he said he would be happy to win the Carling Cup, a disarmingly modest ambition though not necessarily one to send John Terry's pulse racing.

Yet, City do want to be playing at United's level, entering the Champions League every year and putting silverware on the sideboard more seasons than not. So do several other clubs, of course, notably Everton, Aston Villa and Spurs, but City have the money to make it happen. Which makes it all the more mystifying why they keep trying to throw squillions of pounds at marquee signings who plainly prefer staying where they are, rather than concentrating on putting an effective team together.

This time last year, when Hughes had just joined City, he said he would be pursuing the same transfer policy he had at Blackburn and looking for value in signings. If the player is getting on a bit the price must be right, though ideally he thought he would be looking for younger players who could give City some of their best years and still have a trade-on value. That is the very blueprint United are now following, while City seem to have abandoned the notion.

There was nothing wrong with pinching Gareth Barry from under Liverpool's noses, and although United might have deemed the player too old at 28, the �12m price was at least a relative bargain. The �17m for Roque Santa Cruz, who turns 28 next month, was not quite as stunning a bit of business, as City were kept waiting for a whole season and ended up paying top whack for a player Hughes had brought to Blackburn for a song.

The Terry business, however, is just plain silly, with echoes of the Kaka fiasco last Christmas. The Chelsea captain will be 30 next year, does not have too many Champions League seasons left, and has never given any public indication that he wants to leave Stamford Bridge. All City seemed to be interested in was making a statement - we can sign the England captain, we can sign anybody, we have enough money to turn any player's head - and all they actually managed to achieve was the not inconsiderable feat of making Chelsea look shrewd and financially astute.

Terry is a good player but by no means the only decent centre-half knocking around. He does not have enough years left to be value for the kind of stupid money City were talking, and even if he had made such an extreme move purely to maximise his already massive earning power his career might never have survived the attendant ridicule. Clearly most people, in most walks of life, would jump at the chance to earn �250,000 a week. But Terry is not most people. He is captain of Chelsea and England, a one-club man who already earns around half that amount per week. City may have fancied the England captain as their signature signing.

Consider instead Manchester United's transfer policy this summer. With plenty of money in the bank after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo - up to �100m, allegedly, depending on how far one trusts the Glazer family's pledges to Sir Alex Ferguson - the club did not make the mistake of seeking a like-for-like replacement and throwing suitcases full of bank notes at a new trickster on the wing. Such a player does not really exist anyway, but it would not be United's style to, say, pitch their tent on Barcelona's lawn and refuse to go away until an offer had been accepted for Lionel Messi.

United are in a better position than City in that most players already want to join them, but when that is not the case, think Alan Shearer in the past or Karim Benzema this summer, they accept defeat with dignity and look elsewhere. It is interesting that United have just signed Michael Owen on a free.

They might have liked him in his pomp, but it is simply not United's style to lay siege to rival clubs or try to wear down their star players with repeated offers. Everton fans might protest about Wayne Rooney, but the club needed to sell and in the end the player wanted to go. Dimitar Berbatov was desperate to leave Spurs once he discovered United were interested.

Ferguson knew he was pushing on an open door and at least Spurs did what selling clubs have to do and extracted top price. Forest were looking to sell Roy Keane, Leeds did not know what to do with Eric Cantona, then could not afford to keep Rio Ferdinand, and so on.

At risk of provoking an argument within the city, United seem to know what City have yet to realise. That the more money you spend on a player the more important it is that he wants to join your club. He must be excited by the prospect, and keen to make the step up. If not, don't bother. Money alone is insufficient motivation. The players United have signed or agreed deals for this summer may be low key, from Wigan, Newcastle and, in Gabriel Obertan, Bordeaux reserves, but what links Owen to Antonio Valencia and Obertan is that they are all thrilled to get the chance to play at Old Trafford. Not one of them thinks they are about to become the new Cristiano Ronaldo, but all are flattered to be part of Ferguson's team-building for the new season.

City have been flashing the cash this summer, or attempting to, though most of the curiosity still surrounds what sort of team United will be deploying. Perhaps United have earned that position over the years, and perhaps City only have their new found wealth with which to compete. All the same, City could learn a lesson or two in humility from their illustrious neighbours.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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