Manchester City’s footballing master plan has kicked up a notch in recent weeks, with attacking reinforcements acquired at a rate that has rattled a transfer market already reeling from Real Madrid’s early summer moves.
In the signings of Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Gareth Barry — to name just three — City have added a host of players who have played for, or were once coveted by, members of the ‘Big Four.’
As a result, the message the club is sending out is clear — Manchester City are in it to win it.
Whether the players mentioned above will be enough to catapult City to title contention is debatable, but what is certain is that the players currently at manager Mark Hughes’ disposal make the club realistic Champions League contenders — especially if the defensive reinforcements are brought in before the season starts.
Interestingly, the two targets manager Mark Hughes has identified to solve his defensive issues, John Terry and Joleon Lescott, exemplify better than most the differing attraction of City for certain players.
On the one hand, Lescott is the sort of signing that many clubs in Manchester City’s position would love to make. The 26-year-old has proved himself an outstanding Premiership defender over the last two seasons, chipping in with crucial goals, but most importantly — playing a pivotal role in making Everton a difficult side to beat.
Everton’s understandable inability to break into the Champions League — and their failure to win last year’s FA Cup — would lead him to be intrigued by any offer from Manchester City who, while finishing lower in the league than the Toffees last term, seem to have the personnel and the financial clout to challenge the dominance of the ‘Big Four’ across all fronts.
A bid of £15 million for the former Wolves player has already been rejected, but anything nearer the £20 million mark is likely to seriously test the resolve of manager David Moyes.
Lescott’s conduct throughout the transfer process should also renew Hughes’ desire to try and sign him. Lescott, while privately keen on discussing a move with the Eastlands club, has so far refused to confront Moyes with his wishes, and has declined from making any public comment about the situation — a viable option if he wished to engineer a move away.
Lescott’s actions illustrate a player more concerned with playing football to the best of his ability than maximizing his earning potential.
“Absolutely we want Joleon to stay. I don’t think anyone would want a player like Joleon to leave,” Lescott’s teammate Leighton Baines told the club’s official website after the club’s midweek friendly with Rochdale.
“He’s done so well for the club over the last few years. His mind isn’t elsewhere and he’s fully focused on what he’s doing here at Everton at the moment. That’s great.”
Hughes might well feel such an upstanding character would be a welcome addition to a dressing room quickly being filled by multi-millionaires, whose footballing desire has been publicly questioned.
Another man whose character seems highly desired by Mark Hughes, is Chelsea defender John Terry — the subject of a £30 million bid from the club that was apparently rejected by the Blues.
“I played alongside him at Chelsea and I admire him as a person and captain from afar,” Hughes said this week. “He’s obviously the type and calibre of player we need if we are going to progress and compete at the top level.”
Yet City’s bid for the England international has created more questions about Terry’s character than it has given answers.
The 28-year-old is a man who has carefully and deliberately cultivated the image of being ‘Mr. Chelsea.’ It is a status that has enabled him to be more than looked after by his club (his wages are believed to be around £130,000-a-week), and even rise to captaincy of his national side on the back of his much-vaunted leadership skills.
For a man whose defensive abilities are not above criticism, Terry cannot be said to have underachieved.
But without his reputation as a talismanic leader, Terry would simply be another example of the overpaid and over-pampered modern footballer, brazenly parking in disabled spaces and more interested in the size of his pay check than the size of his trophy cabinet.
If that was the case, the England captaincy would surely have eluded him.
Surprising, a refusal to deny an interest in Manchester City suggests that such an analysis might not be too far from the truth after all. Surely a real ‘Mr. Chelsea’ would not consider leaving Stamford Bridge for a club that is still some way from reaching the same standing in the world game?
Surely, after regularly stating his desire to win the Champions League with his boyhood club, he would not turn his back when the possibility of such a dream being realized is still realistic?
The answer to either question is as yet unclear.
But in refusing to make any comment about the situation, Terry is doing his own image more harm than good.
There appear to be two likely outcomes from the whole saga. The first sees Terry join City for a giant transfer fee that perhaps overplays his importance as a player, but underlines his significance as a leader.
For such a move, he will doubtless be handsomely rewarded with an astronomical weekly wage.
The second outcome would see Terry stay at Chelsea, but use Manchester City’s interest as a bargaining chip with which to squeeze more money out of Roman Abramovich, upping his wage from its current £130,000.
Terry might pass it off as the price of loyalty. Others might simply see it as greed.
But with either outcome, Terry will see a rise in his income.
In the modern game, the chance to increase earning potential is almost as powerful an attraction to a player as the opportunity to increase their chances of winning trophies.
This summer, City are in unparalleled position to provide an attractive proposition to players motivated by either money or potential titles. They can attract players otherwise out of their reach (Adebayor, Tevez), as what they can offer financially outweighs what they cannot provide in short-term opportunities.
But they can also attract ambitious players at clubs outside the ‘Big Four’ with the otherwise unlikely prospect of Champions League football somewhere down the line.
The task facing Hughes is to find the right balance of either type of player in his squad.
The way things look at the minute, some might suggest it is a hungry player like Lescott the club needs most, rather than John Terry — a player whose character suddenly finds itself firmly in question.
Alex Dimond is a columnist forBleacher Report, the open source sports network.