Three weeks ago Manchester City clinched their first Premier League title in dramatic fashion, beating QPR with two injury time goals. It was a remarkable day, and a fitting way to end a thrilling, season-long title race with bitter rivals Manchester United. Since then, they have been praised by the media and fans alike for their impressive achievement, and rightly so.
Regrettably however, there are plenty who have shamefully taunted City for ‘buying’ their success, accusing them of ruining the English game by reducing it to a financial pissing contest. Mainly bitter fans of other teams, they seek to undermine the achievement of Roberto Mancini’s side by declaring that it was the minimum expected for a club who had spent so much money. This is a lazy, knee-jerk reaction to their success which, as well as being highly predictable, smacks of jealousy. It’s a shame that Manchester City’s fans, who have lived for so long in the shadow of United, aren’t allowed to enjoy one of the proudest moments in their club’s history without having to listen to such negative drivel.
It’s clear to even the most casual observer that big spending does not automatically translate into trophies. Since being taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, City has spent money like it was going out of fashion, yet this season they only just beat Manchester United to the Premier League crown, with goal difference deciding it in the end. Last season they didn’t challenge for the title, and the season before that they failed to even finish in the top four. This has not been because they haven’t played well; in fact there have been times in the last three seasons when their football has been of the highest calibre. It’s just that breaking into the top echelons of the English game is extremely difficult; never mind winning the league itself.
While it’s true that winning football matches is easier for teams with better players, much more than money is needed to win silverware, especially a league title. Just ask any Chelsea supporter: they’ll tell you that good management and consistency are crucial. I think it’s fair to say that given Roman Abramovich’s huge investment in his club, most people would have expected Chelsea to win more than three Premier League titles in nine seasons.
When Chelsea has won their league titles, it has been with Mourinho and Ancelotti, two of the world’s finest managers, at the helm. Big names like Ranieri, Scolari and Villas-Boas were unable to add league titles to their collection, despite having huge transfer budgets at their disposal. Many people forget that Mourinho and Ancelotti themselves also failed in title races, a fact which only serves to highlight Roberto Mancini’s feat.
In fairness, Chelsea now also has a Champions League, as well as multiple FA Cups, but these were won with more than money alone. The point of this example is that they have also had periods of distinctive underachievement, despite the resources available to them.
Another very recent example of this is Liverpool. Since being taken over by John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group, they have embarked on an ambitious strategy of rebuilding, fuelled by high-profile acquisitions in the transfer market. Despite splashing out on the likes of Suarez, Carroll, Henderson and Downing, they have only a Carling Cup and an eighth-place finish this season to show for it. Fenway Sports Group saw this as an unsatisfactory return on their sizeable investment and it has cost Kenny Dalglish his job.
In recent years, the assorted leagues of Europe have been littered with clubs who have spent big and achieved relatively little. Aside from Chelsea and Liverpool, names like Leeds United, Real Madrid, Malaga and PSG come to mind as examples of this. The truth is that having money may help your cause, but trophies are only won when a club has excellent management and buys well. The argument that spending money alone ensures that a club will enjoy success on the field is overly-simplistic and flawed.
Another point City’s critics make is that with such expensive talent in the squad, anyone could have been the manager and they still would have won the league. This is also nonsense. Roberto Mancini has done magnificently well and without him, the title would surely be in Sir Alex Ferguson’s hands. This season he certainly had the beating of Ferguson, as he masterminded two crucial victories in the league over his opposite number. He also gave Manchester City much-needed consistency, especially at home, where they dropped only two points over the course of the campaign.
His handling of some of the biggest egos in football was perfect, of which the most obvious example was Carlos Tevez. Mancini, whose man-management skills have been criticised in the past, did exactly the right thing in banishing the troublesome star after the September’s fiasco in Munich, which threatened to derail City’s season almost before it started. Late in the campaign, with his back against the wall, the Italian swallowed his pride and recalled Tevez, who then produced some fine performances over final stretch. It was a move which probably won his club the title. That’s man-management at its best, if you ask me.
So while Manchester City will always be the target of bitter resentment as long as they spend more than everyone else, it is wrong to attribute their triumphs solely to money. Many clubs over the years have tried and failed to win titles with their chequebooks. Although City has outspent their competition, they have also earned their success, and as such should receive the same recognition any other club would.