It's been a few weeks since Mike Rigg, the Manchester City technical director who has football agents the world over entreating him to consider how brilliant their clients are, sat in a continental stadium, explaining to the representatives of a player who has been a peripheral target how Uefa's financial fair play regime has had a radical effect on the club's ability to pay big transfer fees. The answer he received when he had finished speaking made him wonder why he had wasted his breath. "So, about this player I was telling you about," the agent struck up. "We're talking €50m [£44m]. Great value..."
Ever since City entered Abu Dhabi ownership 32 months ago, they have had to contend with what has been known at the highest levels of Eastlands as a "City price" – an agent or selling club's practice of adding an extra nought or so when doing business with City, a wealthy club desperate to get somewhere in a hurry. But City have broken through the Champions League tape just before the strictures of Uefa's new regime kick in and the cash tap will never gush in the same way again. The messages emanating from Wembley over the weekend suggested a distinct difference in outlook between manager Roberto Mancini – "we can buy" – and Brian Marwood, the football administrator with Uefa's regime on his mind – "there will just be tinkering". But there was no such confusion at the one-day conference City staged in London on Friday for the 30 or so scouts who were invited to the FA Cup final in recognition of their work. The conference's theme was: How we operate in the world of financial fair play.
"I will go into meetings with agents and the opening line is: 'Oh, you can have him for €40m,'" says Rigg (above), formerly chief scout at Blackburn Rovers who was brought to City by Mark Hughes to help overhaul a club deeply dependent on agents to find them players. "I'll say, 'What?! Where did you get that figure from?' Then it's: 'Yeah, but he's a good player and you're Manchester City. Everybody knows about Abu Dhabi...' We are trying to make them see that the answer to that has to be 'No' now."
It has taken time for City to take control of their own destiny in the market. When Thaksin Shinawatra bought the club in the summer of 2007 and promptly installed Sven Goran Eriksson as manager, time to build a team was in short supply and an overseas scouting network non-existent, so the agent Jerome Anderson effectively built Eriksson's team for him. Eight players arrived – none is still at the club – in a £100m outlay on transfer fees, wages, agents' fees and associated costs. Abu Dhabi's inheritance included a four-line written rationale for all this outlay, the reasons for buying one striker being simply "plays centre forward, scored a good goal today, nice right foot". Rolando Bianchi was one of those signed, for £8.8m, on the basis of a once-in-a-lifetime 15-goal spell for the Serie A side Reggina. He wasn't good enough for City and has vanished back to the Serie B side, Torino.
Rigg has since overseen the establishment of a scouting team which, part-timers included, numbers 30, with those the club invited to that London conference last week including the two staff from Africa and the seven from continental Europe. There is Andy Sayer in Germany, Rob Newman in Spain and the Spanish former Celtic striker David Fernandez, operating throughout the Iberian peninsula – individuals whose work enables City to analyse future prospects from every angle. The 40- to 50-page dossiers on some players include information as varied as the type of house David Silva lived in (so City could find him something similar) to Yaya Touré's migraines. "In 2009, there were two or three people covering games at places like Grimsby, Brighton and Southend," says Rigg. "This is the real old school mentality of what scouting is about – go out, scribble a few lines, have a cup of tea, go home, leave 20 minutes before the end of the game. Agents drive things because the clubs have got sloppy and that isn't the agents' fault. They're doing what clubs should be doing themselves. We still get it all the time – agents ringing us up and saying, 'What are you looking for in this transfer window?' We say, 'What do you mean?' We do our own work now.'"
The word value now means everything at City, with Uefa ready within months to begin shadowing clubs whose losses exceed the initial fair play ceiling of £13m a year. (City's published losses in October are expected to exceed last year's £121m.) Sayer's relationships with German clubs, for instance, seem to have helped conclude a €200,000 compensation figure last week with Stuttgart for the young goalkeeper Loris Karius. The need to sign young players before they are tied up to contracts – and thus save a transfer fee of, say, £2m – is now deemed critical.
But though this season has fleetingly delivered up elite development squad players – such as Dedryck Boyata, Alex Nimely and Abdul Razak – Rigg admits that Mancini, with his need for instant results, cannot take the same delight in a 17-year-old such as Karius. Though he does not put it, or view it, quite this way, Rigg is actually stuck between the Mancini and Marwood perspectives. "Roberto's not going to say to me: 'Great, Mike, we've a got a 16-year-old right-winger coming in,'" says Rigg. "He's going to say: 'That player's going to be of no use to me for another four years.' But then, the club are interested in how the right-winger we paid €400,000 for would have cost us £30m in four years' time. It should not be the case that a manager – like Steve McClaren at Wolfsburg – can find himself sacked on the basis of players that had come to the club on the say of someone else [Dieter Hoeness]. I also don't think it should be the case that the manager can buy any player he wants to – because there are enough people like me, whose job is to support him 100 per cent."
Mancini has reasons to have faith in Rigg. Though a collective effort has been behind City's signings, Nigel de Jong is a player Rigg was watching at Blackburn until a knee injury stalled things, and at £6m Vincent Kompany, arguably the Premier League central defender of the season, looks as good value as Javier Hernandez. Mancini is used to having a say at this time of year. This is the man who personally approached David Platt to get him to sign for Sampdoria in 1993 when he was captain there, and effectively ran the club with Gianluca Vialli and president Paolo Mantovani. But City's days of wine and roses have gone. "I'm sure we will do tier one signings when we can, where it works in the financial fair play model," Rigg says. "But it's got out of control with every player you talk about costing you £40m or £50m. Things have changed. It's a different world we're in now."
Rigg's City CV
* Built up a 30-strong worldwide scouting network, enabling the club to spot players early and establish good contacts with other clubs and associations to ease transfers.
* Creates detailed dossiers on target players, covering everything from psychological make-up to performances at home and away against tough and weak opposition. The security of a player's background and family is important. Took advice from the Miami Dolphins NFL team.
* Keeps an information bank to help players acclimatise in Manchester. Mark Hughes told Rigg how when he signed for Barcelona in 1986 they offered him a contract but no help on accommodation or acclimatisation. At City, it was established which area of Manchester would suit David Silva and what Mario Balotelli's favoured recreations might be.
Three City signings from the Rigg era...
Vincent Kompany The Belgian centre-half cost only £6m from Hamburg and is a fixture in Roberto Mancini's defence
Nigel de Jong Bought from Hamburg for an estimated £18m, the combative midfielder has settled in with ease
David Silva City lessened the gamble involved in paying £26m with extensive scouting, right down to finding a home similar to the Spaniard's in Valencia
...and one from the bad old days
Rolando Bianchi Bought for £8.8m off the back of a rare run of goals in Serie B for Reggina – scored five times before heading back to Italy
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