As the teams take to the pitch in Eastlands on Saturday two teams will meet who have a very similar ownership structure and transfer policy. Whilst Chelsea have stopped their mega-spending they did attempt to assemble a squad of the best players at any cost after their initial take over, Manchester City have had to continue to try to ‘buy’ success. As these teams meet Chelsea sit atop the Premier League following a blistering start to the season, Manchester City meanwhile sit 7 points behind in 4th place. Man City have finished their second year under their mega-rich owners and the question remains can they follow Chelsea’s – literal – lead?
In June 2003, Chelsea were sold to Billionaire Russian Roman Abramovich in a move that rocked football. This was one of the largest buy-outs in football history and Abramovich set about by allowing his Manager, then Claudio Ranieri, to spend as he liked in the transfer market. Chelsea improved from 4th to 2nd behind Arsenal in their ‘Unbeatables’ season. Ranieri also took them to the semi-final of the Champions League but bizarrely lost out to Monaco. A change in manager soon followed as the eventual European Champion that year was chosen to take Chelsea to the next level. We are all aware of what happened next as Chelsea went on to win the league and established themselves as perennial title contenders.
In August 2008 Manchester City were bought by Abu Dhabi United Group whose total capital dwarfs that of Abramovich they stated their intent by purchasing Robinho from under the noses of their London opponents. Unfortunately for the club the ownership change arrived too late in the transfer window to allow City to set-up for the season coming a situation that was not rectified until the following summer as they outlaid £100m on new talent. The improvement from 10th to 5th was not enough to keep Mark Hughes in a job. City narrowly missed out on the Champions League and returned to spending this summer with the belief that this investment would make them contenders not just for a Champions League spot but a title run was possible.
The difference between these two stories is, at first glance, the almost instant success at Chelsea after replacing the incumbent manager has not been replicated at Manchester City but to draw your conclusion from that is not accurate as both teams did not start on equal footing. At Chelsea Abramovich had acquired a Champions League team whom he set about improving. They already had recognised stars in Frank Lampard, John Terry and William Gallas. The same could not be said for Manchester City as the new owners took a look at their squad, the excitement around City had been around the potential of players such as Richards, Johnson and Ireland rather than the top class calibre that Chelsea has. Also as alluded to above Chelsea were bought in June allowing Ranieri to improve upon his squad all over the summer, City were hampered in this regard. Finally, the draw of Champions League football was key in Chelsea’s recruitment drive, Manchester City can only offer the potential of the competition in this regard.
Chelsea were the model to follow in regards to ‘buying’ success, Abramovich took a top 4 club and gave them the funds to buy the players necessary to be title winners. Stability has been key to this success it is no surprise that in their least successful season since takeover Chelsea changed their manager in mid-season (Mourinho left relatively early the previous season). Still to call a FA cup and a CL semi-final as ‘unsuccessful’ shows how far Chelsea have come. The core spine of Drogba, Lampard, Terry and Cech were the key to this success and in this regard Manchester City are starting to show improvement their spine of Hart, Kompany, Barry and Tevez may not be title contenders just yet but if they keep those players together they could base their success around it. On the wings Chelsea initially found success with a young pairing of Damien Duff and Arjen Robben. Adam Johnson is the equal of Duff at that stage in his career and David Silva would hope to emulate Robben’s eventual rise to prominance despite his slow start. Full-backs were an issue for Chelsea early on and the same seems true for City. Much like Asier Del Horno (remember him) Kolorov has not adapted to the English game as the club may have liked, it took a tapping up charge for Chelsea to settle one of their full-backs let’s hope City can avoid that route.
Manchester City are starting to show the roots that made Chelsea the team they are today. A win on Saturday could reignite optimism around the club a defeat and the nay-sayers will be calling for unnecessary change. Having started with a weaker hand than Chelsea did instant success was unrealistic, the move to Mancini has not been heralded as a complete success but his style mimics that of Mourinho. Mourinho had the comfort of having a strong team to begin with and therefore had the ability to stay unbeaten until an early season loss (their only loss) to – yep – Man City. Mancini is now in the year where this type of success needs to be replicated. Mourinho did so on the basis of a strong defence, his winning detracted from accusations of boring football. Mancini’s record cannot provide this shield just yet.
Really, Manchester City’s expectations for the rest of the season depend on their result on Saturday if they play for and achieve a draw it is a tacit acceptance of Chelsea’s superiority if they lose then even in September the title looks lost but if they win they could be beginning the season that finally sets them in the Premier League elite and officially confirm them as Chelsea’s (only) bogey team.