As New Year rolled around City were heading back for the box seat, the eight point gap Chelsea had opened up had been chased down, but since then three competitions have become two and the lack of a recognised striker eventually became too greater burden.
The loss to Arsenal was scripted out by the press before hand. Focus shifted to Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero, the latter struggling to the carry a team missing Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, rusty himself from injury.
In addition there has been abject displays at home to Hull and away at Everton, but it was lol’s all round when City provided they could do it on a wet Wednesday night at Stoke.
The draw at Stamford Bridge would usually represent good value, but under the current status quo, it was less than ideal. Chelsea capitulating a lead twice in a season seems unlikely, and the attentions are shifting drastically to Europe.
In other news, City’s attacking options have been bolstered by the signing of Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian will give City more flexibility in style and formation.
The biggest game of the season has to be theupcoming last 16 tie with Barcelona over February and March. City’s European path follows a similar one to last season, but it was roadblocked last year in part by naivety on our front, and some dubious refereeing on Pablo Zabaleta’s.
These frequent meetings now bring more talking points than what takes place on the pitch theses days. Our feature piece this month focuses on the men in the boardroom rather than the men on the hallowed turf, Txiki Berigistan and Ferran Soriano. Enjoy the blog, and enjoy the upcoming game.
February will see City meet Barcelona for the fifth time since they raised the curtain at the then City of Manchester Stadium, with the shares spoiled in those previous four meetings, however Barca have the upper hand when it comes to competitive matches.
It’s seems an age since the Catalan giants came to Manchester in 2003. For City at least, the change over that period is remarkable. Cash strapped and still pushing to meet the fire regulation to have more than the 34,000 season ticket holders attend games, the club were in complete awe of one of the finest sides in Europe that damp August afternoon just over 10 years ago.
12 years on and the Etihad stadium is undergoing unprecedented changes, off the field City are striding towards being the holistic club they targeted being. Owing to that is the acquisition of two men that were instrumental in Barcelona’s rise and dominance across the footballing landscape over the last ten years; Ferran Soriano and Txiki Berigistan.
Soriano; a well versed businessman who cut his teeth studying in Belgium and New York, along with former player Berigistan, were two mainstays of the Juan Laporta premiership in Catalunya.
There is a youtube video that documents their time at Camp Nou, how the club ousted the old and brought in the new. The boardroom was ripped out, the old hierarchy that had lead to years of underachievement since their finest hour at Wembley in 1992 was erased without trace – the dawning of a new era.
The big draw for City fans who were at the inaugural game in East Manchester was of course a rare opportunity to see World Cup winner, Ronaldinho. Had Laporta and his deputies had their way, it could have been David Beckham hugging the touchline that day, having attempted to lure the England captain from Manchester United prior to Ronaldinho’s signing.
Barcelona, like City following in their path with an audacious attempt to bring Kaka to Manchester, realised a marquee signing was needed in order to increase both membership and revenue. When Ferran Soriano took control of Barcelona’s finances in 2003 they turned over €123m. At the the time he departed, this had risen by almost 250%.
What Soriano was acutely aware of was player wages, at 88% of revenue, wasn’t a sustainable model. His target, accomplished during his tenure, was to see this reduced to 50% – not by reducing salaries, but increasing revenue.
When Sheikh Mansour met with Soriano back in 2011, had it not been for issues with Spanair, the failing Spanish airline, he’d have come on board immediately. It’s no conundrum to see why Sheikh Mansour was head hunting Soriano; with Financial Fair Play developing City needed a man who could both tame finances whilst aiding development on the pitch.
Soriano eventually came to City in 2012, with Roberto Mancini’s City seeking their first Championship in almost half a century, but wasn’t entirely happy with what he saw in Mancini’s style of play and leadership. Not that Soriano didn’t respect Mancini, far from it. He was Khaldoon al Mubarak and Sheikh Mansour’s General, but he needed a man he could trust.
Following Soriano’s arrival he sought to bring in Txiki Berigistan, former Barcelona player who represented the club for seven years, appearing no less than 223 times. Of course, Mancini’s failure to progress to the knock-out stages in Europe, the worst Premier League title defence to date and an uninspired performance against Wigan in the FA Cup Final meant his days were numbered.
Soriano and Berigistan were tasked with finding a successor. Many City fans during Mancini’s period of uncertainty would point to the fact there wasn’t a viable alternative, but the Spaniards appeared to have had Pellegrini earmarked all along.
The sacking of Mancini and the resulting recruitment process showed similarities of the transition from Frank Rijkard to Pep Guadiola at Camp Nou. Mancini was an established, albeit unsuccessful, manager in the Champions League. The only experience Guadiola could boast on his CV was managing Barca’s B team.
When Laporta’s board were considering Luis Felipe Scolari, it was a non-starter. Barcelona would not compromise their philosophy and style of play. Jose Mourhino was the obvious choice having worked at the club during Sir Bobby Robson’s time and winning the Champions League with (Porto) a team very much flattered to be called a European giant when compared to Barcelona – a team owned by it’s fans, having not bored a commercial sponsor on it’s shirt for more than a century.
The fact was this; Mourhino was too self centered, despite his motives to deflect attention away from his team, and he didn’t meet the hierarchy’s nine point checklist. The only candidate who did, was Guadiola, former team mate of Berigistan and mentor to a crop of players who went on to win the European Cup three teams under his tutelage.
Guadiola, like Pellegrini and Patrick Vieira (the Chilean’s supposed successor) met the nine point plan that made playing football from the back, respecting the wider model of the club, respecting club values, pre-requisites for the job.
By comparison, City’s revenue remains much smaller than Barcelona’s. When Soriano left the Spanish giants he’d turned a deficit of €73m to a profit of €88m against a turnover of €308m, and growing. It’s a machine that was built by Soriano for expansion and dominance, and although City snook through the door before Financial Fair Play closed it, it was Soriano’s financial stewardship that meant Barcelona didn’t even hear it shut. They were already sat around the table with their counterparts fine tuning FFP.
If there’s a statement that gives rise to faith in Soriano and Berigistan’s partnership with Sheikh Mansour, Al Mubarak and the City Football Group, it’s this; they set a target of profitability by the end of the 2014 season and had it not been for FFP penalisation, it would have been a cake walk.
Arguably it’s FFP that will mean the next probable chapter of the relationship between the two clubs won’t be written; the transfer of Lionel Messi. City, despite the financial backing of the Abu Dhabi United Group, wouldn’t meet FFP guidelines, most likely posting a loss if the sale did take place.
Barca are in a state of mini-turmoil, and if Messi were to leave, now is the most likely time. The same can be said of City’s chances of advancing in Europe at their expense. Presidential elections will centre around, not who can Barca sign (they face transfer embargoes of their own for tapping up youth players around Europe) but who can retain the services of one Lionel Messi. The four time Ballon D’Or winner’s breakdown in relationship with manager Luis Enrique is well documented, and keeping Messi is likely to mean Enrique’s head will roll come election time.
It’s undermined the manager in the dressing room, raising questions over his approach, style of play, man management and command. To boot the reliance on Iniesta and and Xavi is much less than it used to be, Barca are looking to evolve.
It’s a series of problems that Laporta, or whoever wins the election will fix, but it’s a far cry from the harmony we are experiencing in Manchester at the present time, at a club level.
Shifting focus on to the tie itself, it’s arguably the meet-up of the round; but living up to the billing remains to be seen. It’s fair to say of ourselves, there’s no guarantee which City will turn up based on recent form, and we await the impact of the Ivorian returnees; Bony and Toure. The head to heads around the pitch are mouthwatering though, and need no preview; Messi-Kompany, Aguero/Pique, Neymar/Iniesta.
Last year it was Dani Alves who stole the show (after Martin Demichelis was dismissed for a professional foul). The space he was afforded allowed him the probe the right flank, assisting the first goal and scoring the second. Arguably this time out the player feeling the least love at City could be the most important when the teams meet; James Milner. The Englishman was rested due to a ligament strain for the win over Newcastle. The rout could tempt Pellegrini to stick with the same team, and Milner’s absence, often taking up a more disciplined role could be City’s undoing. City will need discipline in order for the front line to thrive without the team being exploited, and if we emerge from the first leg with a slender 1-0 margin that leaves City in a much better position ahead of this years trip to Catalunya.
Fans will be frustrated that the players didn’t learn from the experience of two years ago. Advancing to the last 16 is progression on that, but the title defence has stalled again on occasion. Barca could be a much needed kick-start. The game does have that feel of make or break for the current season.
Off the pitch though, when you peel away from the first team and the headlines it grabs on the pitch, it’s easy to see Sheikh Mansour’s vision has become a reality, meaning we will come back again and again. There are the elements of that vision; the stadium and its expansion, the football academy, Melbourne City, New York City, arguably even down to the recruitment and nurturing of Patrick Vieira. Then there is a list of people responsible for making that happen; and behind Sheik Mansour, Khaloon Al Mubarak, and Brian Marwood with his role in the Academy, then comes the now familiar names of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Berigistan.