Thursday 18 June ~
I don't know what to think about Manchester City. It's a problem that City fans will have faced many times in their club's turbulent recent history. I'm not a supporter but their welfare feels like it should be my concern. As soon as the new fixture list was published the media began poring over the "head to heads" between the top four that are expected to once again decide the outcome of the title. I'd love to see the tedious cartel at the top broken up and City with their immense reserves of cash seems to be best placed to disrupt it. In fact they seem to be the only plausible challengers. So I have to wish them well – for now.
While Everton and Villa finished fifth and sixth for two years running they were nonetheless more than ten points adrift of fourth place. Both are hampered by the fact that failing to qualify for the Champions League makes it harder for them to attract the players they'd need for a concerted challenge to the top four. Like the two main clubs in Spain and the traditional big three in Italy, the Premier League quartet are shopping in quite a small market – there are very few players who can make a significant contribution to a team that is looking to win the Champions League while also ensuring that they continue to qualify for it. But City have barged their way into the cosy club.
Robinho's £160,000 weekly wage makes him the highest paid player with an English club while the City squad receive an average of £44,000 a week, more than twice the Premier League average. Their total wage bill is less than any of the top four but they have closed the gap significantly within a year. Club chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak has complained about clubs putting up their prices when City are looking to buy – "I'm frustrated with people assuming that we're going to throw crazy money at deals" – but it seems that the club are nonetheless prepared to offer Samuel Eto'o over £190,000 a week after tax, more than twice what Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard earn.
This highlights my dilemma. I want to see City shake up the stasis and push someone, probably Arsenal, down into the Europa League among the ordinary mortals for at least a year or two. But I don't want City to become embedded in the top four because that will represent a victory for the power of money. No one seriously believes that City's owner Sheikh Mansour will stick around for the long haul if the club are not at the very least playing in the Champions League in a couple of years' time. His family's investment is intended to buy them some global sporting prestige – they won't get any of that through owning a team that finishes eighth and has the occasional run in the Carling Cup. So they can have their moment but then I want someone else to get a turn, while City are shifted on to new owners by the ultimately disillusioned Mansour family. If this mini boom and bust cycle gains momentum the hope would be that Chelsea, the ultimate billionaire's toy club, will eventually feel the gravitational pull of the rest of the League. But that is probably expecting too much – and unlike Roman Abramovich I don't want to be greedy. Keith Upton