Wright-Phillips shows spirit money can't buy
Sunday 06 December 2009
For any club that wants to spend its way to a championship, Chelsea are the great template – not just because they succeeded but because unlike other pretenders to Manchester United's crown, such as Blackburn and Newcastle, they endured.
From the moment Roman Abramovich arrived in west London on the July day in which the nation's interest was diverted by David Beckham's unveiling in Madrid, it took Chelsea 18 months to win the title. In transfer fees alone, the bill was £204 million, which is roughly what Mark Hughes has spent to take Manchester City into sixth place.
And yet the men from Abu Dhabi have been careful to point out that they march to the beat of a different drum from the Russian. This season's explicit requirement for Hughes has been qualification for the Champions' League but he needed to prove something more intangible; that Manchester City belonged in this kind of company.
As they tossed away points to Wigan, Fulham, Burnley and Hull at precisely the time when the financial crisis in Dubai proved that Middle Eastern money was not limitless, Hughes for the first time looked as vulnerable as any of the half-a-dozen managers who have worked for Abramovich.
In the space of a week, Manchester City have qualified for their first semi-final in 28 years and beaten the Premier League leaders; a club Hughes considers to be the outstanding side in this division.
The team Hughes has built resemble the one first Gianluca Vialli and then Claudio Ranieri created at Stamford Bridge, which could effortlessly raise their game against Manchester United and then with equal ease be shot to bits at Sunderland. They could put on a show but not for 38 matches.
The lasting memories of this season have been all about Manchester City going head to head against the cartel they are desperate to smash up. Craig Bellamy's dispossession of a dawdling Rio Ferdinand in the Manchester derby; Emmanuel Adebayor's much-criticised dash to his former supporters during the 4-2 defeat of Arsenal and now Carlos Tevez's low-slung free-kick past Petr Cech and Shay Given's penalty save from Frank Lampard. "If we start to beat the lesser teams, we'll be OK," Hughes remarked with a smile.
"The money will always be mentioned," he said. "But this time last year, this was a club that was fighting relegation. I have always said that there can be no short-cuts for us; we have to put the effort in. The top sides are there to be beaten. They are the challenge for us and we want to make life difficult for them but we are early on our journey."
One of a dramatic night's outstanding figures was Shaun Wright-Phillips, who grew up in the club's academy; went to Chelsea like a Hollywood starlet for the money and the exposure and found himself metaphorically waiting tables.
He returned before the Arab takeover to a club where he belonged. The way he threaded himself past three deep blue shirts to pull the ball back for Adebayor demonstrated what a waste of time and potential his years in London had been.
Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong, two signings whose inspiration lay in Hughes's office rather than flights of fancy in Abu Dhabi, were also among the men who made a difference on an intense and passionate night against a Chelsea side that may have been unnerved by the way Manchester United swept to victory at Upton Park, a ground where their ambitions have suffered so often.
Abramovich enjoyed interfering in the transfer market and beyond, which eventually destroyed his relationship with Jose Mourinho, the one man who delivered what was asked of him. The way De Jong, a name that would have meant little on the Arabian Gulf, strangled the most powerful midfield in England should have shown Sheikh Mansour the value of keeping one's distance.
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