They’re past it, and there’s nothing the Sheikh can do about it. That appears to be the prevailing wisdom about Manchester City Football Club, after their title defence all but disappeared against Crystal Palace on Monday night. Of their 10 starting outfield players, only 26-year-old Sergio Aguero and captain Vincent Kompany are below the age of 29, and Kompany turns 29 on Friday.
The first wave of investment, £1.2bn, or if you like, 20 million barrels of Sheikh Mansour’s oil, is gone. Another wave is needed, but it’s too late. The Financial Fair Play regulations will not allow it.
The reality is more complex though, and need not be quite so pessimistic. Manuel Pellegrini claims he is “not worried about his job”, even if not everyone believes him. He has also been at pains to point out that this season, which is now almost over, is the one in which City have most felt the constraints of FFP. Pellegrini has asked to be judged on what happens when Uefa’s constraints, imposed last summer, are lifted.
He has also admitted that there do not appear to be any gems about to be unearthed in the club’s expensively established academy, one that has produced Stephen Ireland, Micah Richards and Daniel Sturridge. This has been a club that has bought talent off the shelf and now, the thinking goes, much of it must be replaced all at once and doing so while balancing the books is impossible. But not necessarily.
Pellegrini has every reason to be optimistic that Uefa will lift its transfer restrictions on City this summer, a season early, as the club’s finances have now been brought well within the European governing body’s limits on losses.
The focus, always, is on transfer fees, but it is of great significance that City have reduced their wage bill from £233m to £205m, now significantly lower than Manchester United’s £214m.
The new television rights deal and new commercial partnerships brought in a record £346m in revenues last season, cutting City’s losses in half to £23m, of which £16m was Uefa’s fine.
Should they decide some of their ageing superstars can be let go, not least £200,000-a -week Yaya Touré, that is a vast amount of wage capital to reinvest.
Though this squad arguably should have won more trophies, its market value remains cast. Alvaro Negredo’s alarming dip in form at the end of last season did not prevent City turning a profit on his loan – complete with obligatory purchase clause – to Valencia.
The need to “rebuild a squad” is a phrase that perennially does the rounds. Rarely does it involve more than a handful of transfers. Chelsea’s recruitment of Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa over two transfer windows last year, almost entirely funded by the sale of David Luiz and Juan Mata, would constitute a rebuild even without the other, minor transfer business that took place around those deals.
Chelsea’s success is difficult to achieve, not least as it required the bravery to sell Mata, twice their player of the year. Squandering cash is far easier. Defender Eliaquim Mangala, bought for £42m, sat on the City bench at Selhurst Park. Wilfried Bony, signed for £28m in January, was missing with an ankle injury. But new heights of positive thinking would have to be scaled to imagine he is the sort of player who will reinvent his club’s fortunes in the way Costa has at Chelsea, or Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal, both acquired for similar sums.
Nevertheless, if the right players can be found, and Juventus’s Paul Pogba should be the priority, there is no reason to think City’s existing squad does not offer sufficient leverage to rebuild substantially, and well within the confines of FFP.
Not so golden oldies: City’s ageing stars
Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero were the only outfield players under the age of 29 in the Manchester City starting line-up that lost at Crystal Palace on Monday. The average age of the team – even including Joe Hart, who has recently turned 27 – is 12 days shy of 30.
J Hart 27 years 19 days
B Sagna 32, 54
V Kompany 28, 358
M Demichelis 34, 108
G Clichy 29, 252
J Navas 29, 137
Fernandinho 29, 333
Y Touré 31, 325
D Silva 29, 89
S Aguero 26, 285
E Dzeko 29, 21
Average age 29 yrs, 353 daysReuse content