New money but old order won't be moved
Arab millions were supposed to deliver glory for City (and Paris St-Germain and Malaga) but traditional powerhouses are hard to shift
Sunday 08 April 2012
This should have been football's Arab spring – the year when the petro-dollars from Abu Dhabi and Qatar changed the old order in England, France and Spain.
The old order has been rattled rather than removed by the three clubs under Arab ownership. Malaga, the smallest of the three, did manage to outspend both Barcelona and Real Madrid, although Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani did not remotely expect Manuel Pellegrinito deliver La Liga.
Malaga, whose biggest European night saw a modest 13,000 come to La Rosaleda for a Uefa Cup quarter-final against Boavista, are at least on course to achieve their goal of Champions' League qualification. In Manchester and Paris, both Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti were talking like men who did not expect to win, which, unlike Pellegrini, was something they were explicitly funded to do.
At least Manchester City were chased down by one of the great masters of the art. Paris St-Germain have not won in almost a month and have not lost the lead to a Manchester United but Montpellier, a club whose president Louis Nicollin looks like Bernard Manning and talks like Ken Bates, and who said he would "shove a sausage up my arse" if Montpellier won the French League for the first time.
Should PSG lose today's greatset-piece of the French season, the "Classique" against Marseille, then Ancelotti, who according to France Football is paid £13 million – two and a half times what Mancini earns – would find the season running out of control. Embarrassingly for the Qatari Investment Authority, who have authorised spending of €£108m on players, Ancelotti arrived at the Parc des Princes while PSG were top of Ligue 1. His predecessor Antoine Kombouaré's chief fault seems to have been that he was not famous, certainly not "big enough" to manage Javier Pastore, PSG's £35m marquee signing from Palermo. Ancelotti admitted this week that he had not got the best from the Argentinian schemer.
All three of the Gulf owners have sacked the managers they inherited although, significantly, each waitedbefore making their move. They are not Roman Abramovich, or even Milan Mandaric.
Mancini appears most in danger now. He has spent the most money and been given the most difficult assignment. Frankly, with Lyon and Marseille in disarray, PSG do not have much barring their way. This week, both Ancelotti and Mancini talked of bringing in new blood for the next campaign, but only the former can be confident he will be around to do the spending.
As he prepared for the journey to Arsenal that will either revive or extinguish City's title hopes, Mancini reflected that finishing second was "not bad", before adding: "But we were on top for 28 games and maybe in the crucial moments we had problems with important players injured." It sounded like he had already mapped out his concession speech.
Next season City will have a stronger squad, but they will still face the one hurdle that Mancini said was the hardest to surmount – that a side with little collective experience of winning titles will be pitched against United, who will be on course to win 13 championships in 20 seasons.
"Because United are used to staying on top, they don't have the pressure we have because they have won everything," he said. "This is the difference, not the players."
That these players disembowelled United 6-1 in their own stadium may, ultimately, count for as little as the 5-0 thrashing Newcastle handed out to United on another October afternoon, a few months before Kevin Keegan quit St James' Park – a lovelymemory but nothing more.
Having the best team, as Mancini acknowledged, is not enough. "We can change," he said. "At this moment we are not ready. The difference is 20 players, not 11."
They are words that Sir Alex Ferguson's one-time assistant, Carlos Queiroz, would recognise. When he was briefly in charge of the galacticos of Real Madrid, he would glance down his bench and be astonished at how thin it was. He had Figo, Beckham, Ronaldo and Zidane but he had no holding midfielder – Claude Makelele had been sold to Chelsea – and no centre-half. There was no safety net, and Real Madrid fell from eight points in front to fourth in La Liga.
If United win the League, they will have done so after their captain, Nemanja Vidic, had been ripped from their side by injury. City struggled to cope with the loss of Vincent Kompany for four games.
Ferguson could field Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones alongside Rio Ferdinand. All Mancini had was the underwhelming young Serbian defender Stefan Savic.
"We lost Yaya and Kolo Touré for the Africa Cup of Nations," said Mancini. "Last month we lost Kompany, Lescott and Aguero. We are not ready to lose three or four top players. Maybe next year, if we bring in other players, but not now."
However, as their forays in Europe proved, United are in many ways ordinary. London's three principal clubs are in various stages of transition. Lyon and Marseille are unlikely to spend next season in the wastes of mid-table. In Paris and the blue half of Manchester, now was their time.
Arsenal v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
History lesson: October 1975 - City's last League victory at Arsenal
Even this was a win that City almost managed to toss away. Facing an Arsenal side on their way to finishing 17th, which would help end Bertie Mee's 10-year tenure at Highbury, City began brilliantly. They raced into a three-goal lead through Asa Hartford, Joe Royle and an opportunistic header from Rodney Marsh.
But from the moment Alan Ball scored with a drive that cannoned down off the bar City began to feel the pressure, and conceded a second from a cross by a man who is now their assistant manager, Brian Kidd.
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