Manchester City are the new champions but, as Tony Curran explains, their unethical hoarding of players has tarnished their Premier League victory
Harry Dowd was a goalkeeper who played for Manchester City during their glory years of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was a reasonable keeper but apparently an excellent plumber. Legend has it that he used to negotiate job offers with crowd members behind his goal, offering competitive rates for bathroom re-fits when play was at the other end.
However, Dowd's understanding of the transient nature of his income was not unique, as even the more glamorous names from that era had one eye on the post-career rainy days when the football money dried up. Mike Summerbee went into fashion retail, Colin Bell established a popular restaurant and, most famously, Francis Lee eschewed the regular after-training routine of snooker and beer to set up a recycling business that ultimately made his fortune.
It is unlikely that any of City's Premier League-winning class of 2012 will be losing sleep over what to do when they hang up their boots (let's assume here that Nigel de Jong's executive car dealership is more of a hobby than a salary supplement) as the club's annual wage bill – last quoted at £174 million – offers lifetime insulation from the cold chill of austerity.
The Abu Dhabi owners have effectively ridden roughshod over basic business principles to follow their dream and promote their brand, with wages far exceeding turnover. This has understandably led to shouts of foul play from many observers who are both dismayed at the prospect of foreign investors essentially "buying" a title and sceptical of the political background of those who have achieved it. The City chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, is an intelligent, erudite and gracious man and as such makes an excellent ambassador for Abu Dhabi, but many would like to see him also apply his compassionate nature to the ostensibly less than progressive social statutes of his mother country.
There are also human considerations to be taken into account at Manchester City. There have been, since 2008, a raft of players who have been brought in at considerable expense and summarily discarded before being able to make an impact. Others have been simply cast aside as the club, in kid-in-a-sweetshop mode, pursues another option. This had led to players such as Emmanuel Adebayor, Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz being paid huge sums by City to play for other clubs via the loan system, a situation considerably more vulgar than the transfer fees and salaries that lured the likes of Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero to the club. These are genuine world-class performers at the peak of their powers who are at least being given ample opportunity to display their skills. Even the cushion of £170,000 a week cannot stop a proud man like Adebayor from believing his reputation has been unfairly tarnished by his Manchester experience.
All this is a far cry from the 1967-68 Championship-winning side, that homely mix of local talent – ten players from the youth ranks appeared that season – and other waifs and strays accrued at modest expense from lower-league teams. This was a team whose talent was galvanised by great coaching, with the genial Joe Mercer's man-management skills still, at that time anyway, able keep the simmering ego of his mercurial apprentice Malcolm Allison in check as the pair created a team of real attacking verve.
It remains a concern that of the current squad only Micah Richards might be considered "home-grown" and that's a stretch, as he was snaffled from Oldham Athletic when he was 14. The traditionally much-vaunted conveyor belt of talent emanating from the club's youth academies has either dried up or, more worryingly, is being ignored as the club favours ready-to-go signings instead of player development. Not a single member of the excellent side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2008 has made the breakthrough to the current first-team squad. Vladimir Weiss, who is considered by many to be the best prospect the club has had in years, is now on loan at Espanyol as he attempts to make a career away from the club that nurtured him.
Despite all this, City's title win was as broadly well received, particularly by the media, as it was 44 years earlier. Of course, much of this was a case of popularity by default: the snatching of the title from Manchester United in "Fergie Time" was as delicious as irony gets – keen students of schadenfreude had a field day. That City had kept their nerve to rattle off six straight wins to finish their season also finally put to rest any nonsense about Alex Ferguson's mystical "mind games" that transfix opponents come "squeaky bum time". Actually, the more I think about it, the more it seems like money well spent.
From WSC 305 July 2012