'We need more players to defend title,' says Mancini
Second-season syndrome worries Manchester City's manager with time running out in transfer window, so no surprise to see Barcelona businessman recruited to the ranks
Manchester City have a new signing from Barcelona and Roberto Mancini has a message for him as his defence of the Premier League title begins against Southampton today: "We need more players." The new man is not one of them, but Ferran Soriano, formerly chief executive of the Catalan club who joined City on Friday in the same position, has contacts that could prove invaluable as the manager continues pushing to strengthen the champions' squad before the end of the transfer window on Friday week.
Jack Rodwell has joined from Everton, making the right noises about a challenge but knowing he is unlikely to start many first-team games, at least once Gareth Barry is over his hernia operation. Mancini says of his other plans, which may include signing Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi: "We have 10 days, time is very short. We now have only 20, 21 with the young players. And this year there is the African [Nations'] Cup." That could mean the absence in January of the Ivory Coast's Yaya Touré, even if Mancini hopes against hope that he might give the tournament a miss.
The nitty-gritty negotiating to secure new recruits will remain with Brian Marwood, the former Arsenal winger and ex-Professional Footballers' Association chairman, who at any other club would be called director of football. But when he joined City, the then manager, Mark Hughes, did not like the implication of that name, so the title "football administrator" was coined.
Marwood had himself been brought in by Garry Cook, a former colleague at Nike, who resigned from his £2m-a-year position after inadvertently sending an offensive email to the mother of City's Nedum Onuoha. Now Soriano has finally arrived to succeed Cook, hoping perhaps to have Marwood and Mancini singing from the same songsheet again.
The manager's favourite ditty has been "Money (That's What I Want)" and he has hardly been starved of it since Sheikh Mansour's takeover four years ago. Marwood's task has been to improve the playing staff at the same time as keeping wages under control and working towards something more acceptable to Uefa's new Financial Fair Play regulations than last year's record £197m loss.
If that has meant a certain tension between the pair, Mancini was more relaxed about it this week following the signing of Rodwell on the same day that City recovered to beat Chelsea 3-2 in the Community Shield. "I don't have a problem with Brian," he said on Friday, even using Marwood's first name as opposed to his surname, as had recently been his habit. The problem is by no means confined to City, as Rafael Benitez often showed at Liverpool: having identified a player, managers always want him signed by yesterday whereas transfers at the highest level these days are more complicated than ever.
Marwood explains the background to a typical move in David Conn's new book about City, Richer Than God (a reference to Abu Dhabi rather than the club). The dossiers City compile on a transfer target, he says, can run to 40 or 50 pages and include information on all aspects of the player's background and character as much as his career and abilities. City, Marwood says, "have crammed 10 years' work into 12 to 18 months" on and off the field. It might normally have taken five years to become champions; having done it in two, Mancini is under pressure to establish the club as a European force, which is why he keeps demanding more players at the same time as counselling that a team playing in the Third Division a dozen seasons ago cannot become Real Madrid or Barcelona overnight.
"These clubs have 100 years of history. They won the Champions' League and I don't know how many titles, so this is not easy," said Mancini on Friday. "If we work well, maybe we can stay there with this team and we can be with this team for a long time but we can't change history in five years. For us it's important to stay on the top."
To do that they must cope with the whole business, familiar to Manchester United, of defending a title: the upmarket version of second-season syndrome. "Our mentality is better than last year, but the year after you won the title is very hard," Mancini said. "It's important to start the season well because every game will be difficult. You should forget what we did last year. It will be harder."
Today Southampton arrive from the Championship with a bright young manager in Nigel Adkins, and new signings from the same level in Nathaniel Clyne, the promising Crystal Palace right-back, and Jay Rodriguez, a striker from Burnley who could form a lively partnership with Rickie Lambert. Lambert has scored 78 goals for them in 132 League games but all those players, plus their manager, need to prove they can adapt quickly to the higher level.
A defeat – even by several goals – need not deter Saints, as Swansea City proved after losing the opening game at the Etihad 4-0 this time last year. "They don't have anything to lose against us," Mancini said. "For that reason if you don't pay attention then the first game is always difficult. Southampton is a good team, they showed in the Championship last year. They will be strong like Swansea last year in the first game. We won 4-0, but we had trouble for 60 minutes."
Manchester City v Southampton is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
City's striking options
The goal that won the title was his 23rd from 31 starts and confirmed him as City's No 1 striker.
Made most people's team of the tournament at Euro 2012 and needs to carry that into domestic season.
Pragmatically forgiven his Munich indiscretion. Worked as hard as ever when recalled for last 10 games.
Never quite as convincing as a record of 14 goals in 16 starts suggests. Must now be fourth choice.
Loan spell at Tottenham suited him but now that City need him off the wage bill, nobody can afford him.
Roque Santa Cruz
Forgotten man spent last season on loan at Betis, where he scored a modest seven times in 33 games.
The young Swede impressed with City's youth and reserve teams and on loan to Feyenoord last season.
And United's striking options Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, Federico Macheda, Dimitar Berbatov.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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