‘Tis the summer transfer season and virtually every player is being linked to Manchester City and Chelsea. In order to win, a team obviously needs good players. Chelsea needs to address the age of their squad and their aging stars. Manchester City, however, has spent something north of 500 million pounds and Mancini says he needs more players? This isn’t an analysis as to who they should or shouldn’t throw money at but why they should pay attention where they throw that money. Both teams may not benefit by buying the best players money can buy…. but buying the best players that play together. I’ll explain what I mean.
Chelsea’s transfer needs are fairly clear as they need to lower their average age, find eventual replacements for Drogba, Terry, Anelka and strengthen their midfield further. David Luiz helped plug a hole created by the departure of Ricardo Carvalho in the central defense and has done an excellent job for the Blues in the second half of the year, scoring ahead of Fernando Torres.
Chelsea has had a massive cash infusion since the Abramovich takeover in 2003 but one thing has never changed: their ability to play together, and play well together. At the core in Chelsea are four key players: Cech, Lampard, Terry, Ashley Cole and Drogba. They were there for the first Premier League trophy of the Abramovich era in 2005, the Champions League final in 2008 and the 2010 Premier League winners. Granted, some legendary players such as Carvalho, Wayne Bridge and Claude Makelele have left and been replaced by the previously mentioned Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Essien, their team core – and ability to play together – has never changed.
The key for Chelsea is to realize that their success was due to talented players – some of which are the best at their positions – that play and mesh very well. The lesson that Chelsea can teach Manchester City is that because they have the talent to win doesn’t mean that have the team to win.
When Sheikh Mansour took over Manchester City in 2008, he gave Mark Hughes a checkbook and permission to sign away. That’s exactly what he did. Transfermarket.co.uk does a good job categorizing the comings and goings at the City of Manchester stadium. Looking at the comings since the money, clearly the best signing for the money was Vincent Kompany. That guy is a beast and has been one of the best central defenders in the Premiership. Along with Nemanja Vidic, they were the central defense for the PFA’s Starting XI. What did he cost? Just £6.7 million. Honorable mentions are Nigel De Jong at £16m; Pablo Zabaleta at £6.5; all still at the core of the Man City backfield.
My point isn’t that they were cheap relative to James Milner, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli, but maybe Mark Hughes was onto something when he was signing some of these players?
Granted, Hughes paid an obscene amount for older, marginal players such as Jo at £18m, Wayne Bridge at £12, Roque Santa Cruz for £17.5m and Craig Bellamy for £14. But maybe, just maybe, he was trying to build a team with quality players that played well together. As Hughes was sacked, Roberto Mancini was named by the new owners to take over the club and the spending has all but accelerated since then. And now Mancini says they need more players. Has that spending really helped them? I say it hasn’t made a bit of difference whatsoever.
With the the real impact of the money being thrown around in the 2009-2010 summer transfer window, more big-money acquisitions of Kolo Toure, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jolean Lescott boosted the squad further. Mark Hughes’s dream of the Champions League was never realized as he was sacked after 7 straight draws. They missed out on the Champions League by three points to a surging Tottenham, earning 5th place with 67 points. This season, they placed third mainly due to a massive slump by Arsenal with some pathetic showings where they gave up a 2-0 home lead to lose at home to Tottenham and gave up a stunning 4-0 halftime lead at Newcastle, forcing them to go home with a tie. Regardless as to the play of other teams, how many points did Manchester City earn compared to the season prior?
Four. Man City spent over £100 million between the end of the 09-10 and 10-11 seasons and improved by four points. That’s a lot of money for four points. Some players, notably David Silva and Yaya Toure, have made substantial contributions to the club this season. Instead of trying to work with castoffs like Bellamy and Adebayor; Mancini went and spent more, buying Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko (among others, of course). That said, I have no doubt about the ability and talent of their squad. It’s deep and talented all around, but if Mancini spent more time worrying about the ability of their squad to play together versus buying the best players, their point total could improve even further without spending another dime.
Chelsea has shown that a team can win with very good players, including some of the best in their respective positions in the world with the core being signed by Claudio Raineri before their first Premier League trophy. However, if the eleven out on the pitch can’t play as a team, they can spend to till the natural gas taps run dry in Qatar and still may find themselves still looking up at Chelsea.