When the financial and managerial reins to Manchester City Football Club changed hands early on this season for the second time in fairly quick succession on both fronts, this time with the Blues having instantly catapulted to the top of the world football rich list, everyone’s attention immediately turned to the January transfer window. What already looked a fairly competent side on paper, it was thought, was mere months away from becoming a sure-fire threat to retain its UEFA Cup spot – and not via the Fair Play rule this time.
Fast-forward to the past 30-odd days, and the verdict? Yeah, not so much.
While City did make a handful of sensible moves – Nigel de Jong in from Hamburg and only putting Jo out on loan to Everton being probably the best among them – it appeared at times that the Blues, a club with suddenly more money than they’d know what do with…well, didn’t.
Several bids for Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz, one of first-year City manager Mark Hughes’ former charges, were turned down by the Ewood Park club, and who could forget the audacious (and ultimately fruitless) bid in excess of £100 million for AC Milan midfielder Kaká, which Hughes seemed particularly gung-ho about until the very end and which club executive chairman Garry Cook had the gall to accuse the Italian giants of “bottling it” on a deal that would have paid Kaká the obscene sum of £500,000 a week at Eastlands and in turn set a potentially dangerous precedence where footballers’ pay, especially in a global recession, is concerned.
The Kaká narrative is what the January window should (and will) be most remembered by in the blue half of Manchester, especially as, much like with City’s successful bid for Newcastle and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given, it was one that would have sent the wrong message to those players in the Blues’ current lineup. Throwing the two transfer targets together for the sake of argument, bringing in both Kaká and Given would have been seen as replacements for Stephen Ireland and Joe Hart, arguably City’s two best players so far this season.
The transfer window has left Hart especially unlucky. The 21-year-old keeper has been a rock for City since coming back from loan spells in 2007 at Tranmere Rovers and Blackpool, rarely if ever putting a foot wrong since taking over the starting job at Eastlands. What’s more, Hart is arguably the reason City are still alive in Europe, having made two saves in a penalty shoot-out at the end of the club’s UEFA Cup qualifier at FC Midtjylland back in August, a shoot-out that City really only made it into by accident after a late own-goal from the Danish side gifted City what at the time was a largely undeserved shot at reaching the competition’s first round proper.
Bearing that in mind, while City are bringing in another reliable goalkeeper for what is believed to be in the vicinity of £8 million, something will invariably have to give there. Hart will likely not remain a candidate for a regular spot in the full England squad any time soon if he’s playing the understudy at his club team, and it therefore seems inevitable that either he or third-stringer Kasper Schmeichel – who at one stage looked a solid prospect for an international call-up for Denmark or possibly even England as the Danes haven’t yet capped him – will be on their way out in the summer.
With what we know about what has transpired over the last month and change, then, it’s hard to look at City’s dealings in the transfer window as anything much better than one step forward and one step back. The Blues did manage to shore up a couple of their shortcomings so far this season, but at what cost? City stand to lose one if not two solid goalkeepers come the end of the season on account of lack of first-team playing time, and they’ve loaned out for more or less the same reason a player they had spent a reportedly estimated £19 million on to another Premiership side that’s still in with a shout to be back in the fold for European football again next season.
Then again, if the new signings fail to help steady the ship, how other clubs in the Premier League’s top half are getting on will be the least of City’s worries.