City take stock by cashing in loss leader

Can Manchester City write off the sale of Shaun Wright-Phillips as simple profit? Andy Hunter looks at the bottom line in the age of the 'trickle-up' effect
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The Independent Football

The club's manager Stuart Pearce, encouraged by initial feedback from the 23-year-old after the friendly at Tranmere Rovers, stirred surprise and relief in equal measure in City's own support with the declaration that the England international would be staying at the club he called home.

Then, hours before another pre-season run-out at Macclesfield on Saturday, came the call that ended the pretence. A stomach upset, Pearce was informed, would keep Wright-Phillips out of the game. Oh, and by the way, he would like to talk to Chelsea.

This week City headed east to Thailand to partake in the Premier League Tournament minus the player who had allowed their loyal and tortured support to fantasise once again. He was heading west with Chelsea to the United States, establishing a geographical distance between his current and previous employers that reflects the gulf between the clubs back home.

"It wasn't that much of a shock but we are despondent," said David Wallace, editor of City fanzine King of the Kippax. "He is irreplaceable. We have watched him develop into an England international and produce what us laymen expect of our top players. With the money Chelsea have got and the position they are in, it wasn't that much of a shock when he decided to go."

City, accustomed to greater upsets than the one that befell Wright-Phillips on Saturday and therefore sanguine in their response to the latest, were at least compensated with £21m.

Pearce reacted with typical pragmatism. "I'll just have to reignite the team and get on with it," he said. He now gets to invest half of the transfer fee on a threadbare squad in dire need of new strikers. So far only Kiki Musampa, on a renewed season-long loan from Atletico Madrid, and the 33-year-old ex-Manchester United striker Andy Cole have joined a club that have lost Paul Bosvelt, Steve McManaman and Wright-Phillips since last season.

The City director Dennis Tueart said: "We didn't expect Shaun to go but it will allow money to be released for Stuart to go out into the transfer market."

Only six weeks remain in this transfer window, although the sense of urgency at City is not merely confined to how Pearce will spend his unexpected transfer fund. The club is anxious to move on, if only to preserve the optimism engendered by their new manager at the end of last season when, but for Robbie Fowler's stoppage-time penalty miss against Middlesbrough on the final day, they would have leapt from the relegation fringes to the Uefa Cup in nine games.

"Despite what we have been through in the last few years it is still very difficult to accept that we are not a top six team," Wallace said. "We have the new stadium, 48,000 people at every home game, the basis of a good team and we really felt as though we were moving forward. It's hard to be critical of Shaun, though perhaps there should have been a bigger hands-off message. Now we are getting Andy Cole instead. We don't want to go down that route again but who knows, maybe he'll do a Denis Law and relegate United with a back-heel."

Yesterday, Cole flown out to Thailand to join his new team-mates after passing a medical at Eastlands.

City prepared to commence life without their irrepressible winger in Bangkok, where they face Bolton today. In Lee Croft, Willo Flood and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the younger brother with whom Shaun shares a home, there is optimism about more home-grown success.

City were the only team to beat Chelsea on their drive to the title but, even with reduced debt and at least £10.5m to spend, they have been weakened by the magnetism of the élite. And so has the Premiership.

"Even a United fan said to me that it's not good for the game when what used to be top clubs are losing their best players to other clubs purely because of money," Wallace said. "It used to be a fall-out with the manager or something extreme for top players to leave, now it's whoever has the most money.

"The league has always been dominated by a few clubs but in the not so distant past other clubs were capable of winning a championship or a cup, like Everton, Spurs or even Derby. But there is more to supporting a club than winning the biggest prizes and that will remain. It is a way of life.

"You have to have hope, and Everton proved last season to an extent, that you can move on without your star player. It's the same with music. People said Pink Floyd couldn't continue without Syd Barrett, but they were sensational at Live 8!"

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