At the end of last season the chairman made it very clear to supporters that City’s arrival in the Champions League was nothing less than expected. The club has now moved into what he rather excitingly coined “Phase 2”, which is clearly to win the Premier League and become the top club in England. It’s fair to say that “Phase 2” is progressing superbly, and whilst as City fans we always expect the unexpected, given the quality of our squad I believe the whole club will be moving into “Phase 3” next season: an all-out assault on the Champions League trophy.
We are already the best team in the country. Unless we blow this campaign, we will pick up the silverware to prove it in May. Any other domestic achievement this season is for vanity and would not adequately compensate for the huge statement that the Premier League trophy would make across the world. But the patchy form and tactical shortcomings shown in this year’s Champion’s League campaign suggest that further changes need to be made before City can hope to frighten the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
But which of the resources currently in place are suitable for this step, and where do we need to invest and improve?
In terms of infrastructure, the club is sensibly several steps ahead of the game with the exciting development of The Etihad Campus. As well as two fingers to the FPPR, the intention is clearly to develop world class players here in Manchester. The stadium is an area where expansion will surely eventually occur, if the club intends to stand on it’s own feet financially. ADUG’s thoughts remain a closely guarded secret but the rumour mill has buzzed with news of ground expansion, organically or via a new stadium, and I believe this will happen at some point in the next five years.
This is required, and this perhaps should be noted by fans, because the one area City tail all peers is matchday revenue. Before any ground expansion I expect to see a development of corporate facilities and a significant middle ground, where fans are paying high prices for the best seats. This process has already started and will continue over the next few years. There will be blood, tears and much hand-wringing amongst fans priced out of their seats. The club will show some loyalty to working class fans and continue to offer cheap season tickets, but ultimately I expect the best seats around the half way line and in the second tiers to be several times the price of the inferior seats at the front and behind the goals. Whilst this is pure conjecture, I’d advise you not to get too attached to “your” seat if you are working class and sit on tier two or at the front of tier three.
With regards to the playing staff, I believe a nucleus is in place for phase 3, but there are a number of players, some key parts of the transition from phase 1 to 2, who will become surplus to requirements, especially given the enforced limitation of squad size. Here’s my opinions on which players will be involved in Phase 3, and which ones are for an early bath.
England’s best, the premier league’s best, and certainly good enough for a Champions League winning team. He has one or two flaws in his game which he appears to be ironing out, but a superbly athletic keeper with a real professionalism. Pass.
Shows signs of being good enough to be a number two, because that’s all that’s likely to be on offer, so worth keeping I’d say. Pass, I think.
Always had the attributes to be one of the best and proves it every week now. Definitely good enough to be one of two right backs in phase 3’s team. Pass.
Whilst I love Lescott’s consistency and consider him to be a major asset to the current team, I think in phase 3 side he will be a second choice centre half. So I’ll Pass him, but don’t see him playing a huge number of games.
Barry’s another player who is integral to everything at the moment, and has been an unsung hero of our progression. But his lack of pace and advancing years, and likely desire for first team football means he may well be sacrificed. Fail but with sadness.
Until this season I didn’t believe him to be good enough for phase2, let alone phase 3. But the change in City’s system has brought some wonderful form out of him. Like Lescott, he probably wouldn’t be a regular starter in my fantasy phase 3 team, but his versatility and professionalism earns him a Pass.
Running at defenders AJ is as good as there is, and he can be incredibly dangerous when the opposition are defending deep. He is much less effective, due to lack of pace, in less open games. I’d Pass him but I suspect he may seek a move to ensure regular first team football.
The surprise transfer of this season, Clichy has been a revelation and a big part of our resurgence. He may find himself competing with another top line left back, but he’s a resounding Pass for me,
I’m afraid Pablo, whilst a huge part of phase 1, will be suplus to requirements. His versatility, toughness and professionalism have kept him around the squad this season, but his lack of pace and creativity makes the gap between him and Richards too big for phase 3. Fail.
There isn’t a centre half in the premier league I would swap for our captain. Pass, and captain wherever we go.
He wasn’t good enough for phase 1, is way off the pace for phase 2 and the less said about phase 3 the better. Fail.
The gap between him and Clichy is already worryingly big. His lack of pace is a major problem. Nice left foot, but not much else. Definitely not good enough. Fail.
Nigel De Jong
There are more questions about Nigel De Jong now than at any time in his City career, after some patchy performances this season. For me, as a squad player, he is well worth keeping and using for those European games when it is backs to the wall. I think he will be back to his best soon. Pass.
I’ve blogged about Ya Ya before, a strange an unpredictable player. I do not see him starting as many games in phase 3, but in the right games, in the bread and butter of the premier league, he can be a great asset. Pass, as long as he can accept playing fewer games.
The best player in the premier league and one of the best in Europe. Pass. Obviously.
Whislt greatly skilled, I’m yet to be convinced Nasri can do it in anything other than games where the opposition are running scared and giving us the ball. He goes missing in the rough and tumble. He may prove me wrong but at this stage I’m going to plump for Fail.
His balance and ability to get his head over the ball, allied with holding ability and Niall-Quinnesque deceptive skill, gets him an easy Pass.
Irrelevant as will surely be gone in January. Would have been an asset, and will be for someone else, but we’re a better team without him. Fail.
I’m convinced there’s even more to come from Aguero. Lightning quick, skilful and a super-cool finisher, I believe by the end of this season he’ll be seen alongside Silva as our best player. Pass, easily.
Pacy, direct, skilful and mean, Balotelli has everything. Whilst there has to be a chance of some kind of implosion, maybe involving prison, murder or both, he is a resounding Pass.
A strange signing, although he’s done OK in the few minutes he’s played. I don’t believe he was signed with anything other than this year in mind. Fail.
Savic and Boyata
Both look like top class defenders of the future to me, and I believe if this progress continues they will be integral to our team of the future. Pass
Nedum Onuoha, Wayne Bridge, Gunnar Nielsen
None of them are good enough now, let alone the future, and are Fails. All deserve to be moved on to get regular football elsewhere.
There will be casualties, but the exciting thing is that I believe the majority of the current squad are good enough to at least play a part in a champions league contesting squad, and there is a core of players – Hart, Richards, Kompany, Clichy, Silva, Aguero and Balotelli – who are good enough to win a future Champions League final. I believe that one day soon we will see that final and we will see Vincent Kompany lift that trophy. Oh my giddy aunt.