While Manchester United celebrated their progress in the Champions League finals and have one hand on the Premier League title, their derby rival Manchester City are following in Liverpool’s footsteps by snatching headlines on internal conflicts. Rumors of the imminent departure of manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, gain traction by the day.Ever since owner Thaksin Shinawatra indicated publicly his unhappiness with City’s poor form and wanted change, Sven’s future has become the subject of intense debate. Is Sven a victim of his own early success? After all, City got off to a flying start, and they even manage to ride roughshod over Manchester United twice this season with dominant performances.
Such overwhelming form deserted City since the turn of the year and they have slipped down the rankings due to a series of sputtering displays. Their recent 1-0 loss to Liverpool ensure they are still stuck in ninth spot with one game left.So far, no firm indication has come from Thaksin’s camp as we are told only about his ambitions – City to qualify for Champions League football within the next two years by signing top quality, internationally recognized players. Nevertheless, fans can read between the lines that Sven is deemed only as a half-way house by Thaksin and not the right candidate to lead City into their golden era.
It could be the remnants of mediocrity from the England stint that I have little sympathy for Sven. When we consider the highly successful reign of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea can be undone by a rocky relationship with the owner, what is there to stop Thaksin from removing Eriksson whose title winning record in the Premier League is as yet unproven. By the way, Abramovich will be having the last laugh if his chum, Avram Grant defies all odds and clinch the prestigious double.Eriksson conceded that Manchester City fans’ mass show of support for him in the 1-0 defeat at Liverpool will not be enough to prevent owner Thaksin Shinawatra from sacking him. The fans are desperate to cling on to their most successful manager in recent years, evident from their loud slogans and banners of “Hey Thaksin, Leave our Sven alone,” in the stadium. Similar scenes can be seen at Anfield where the fans are simmering with hostility towards the American owners.
Losing to Liverpool was expected but Eriksson did himself no favors when he lost to relegation-bound Fulham 2-3 last week. A victory will have secured an European spot and strengthened his hand in negotiations with Thaksin over transfer budget, new signings, as well as his own future.Asked if the Swede would still be at the helm next season, Eriksson’s agent Athole Still said: “It’s looking odds against. If Dr Shinawatra was going to give a ringing message of support, I think we would have heard it.” Still added Eriksson was unhappy that Thaksin had aired his displeasure with the team’s performance so publicly before communicating with each other first.
Currently, the major factor in Eriksson’s favor is his popularity as most of the supporters feel this season has already been excellent. It is only phase 1 of the makeover and key targets have already been met – a commendable effort as nobody expected them to be champions. Indeed, a win next week at Middlesbrough would give City its highest Premier League points tally. When Sven was appointed after the England debacle and his indiscreet romances, it was assumed that his magic touch has vaporized and he does not have the panache to mold a championship team.I believe Eriksson should be given another season before hanging him out to dry. Consistency does not happen by coincidence, money and patience are needed to lay a solid foundation. Blackburn, Aston Villa, Everton or Portsmouth are starting to see results by placing faith in their managers.
However, there are questions regarding Eriksson’s desire to extricate the team out of its slump. City has declined into a clueless and nervy team and the cumulative effects from insipid displays against Everton, Wigan, Reading, Derby and in the FA Cup elimination by Sheffield United have killed a promising season. In fact, City will be in the relegation zone if they started off on this form.Moving on to Eriksson’s purchases, it is not reassuring as there are more misses than hits. Rolando Bianchi came for the price tag of £8.8m, a club record signing. Those who have watched him at Portsmouth will agree he is a decent striker; before his arrival at City, he took over a season before hitting a purple patch for Portsmouth. His brilliant form must have caught the eyes of City’s scouts and an aggressive bid was mounted.
I am sure Recapped is laughing all the way to the bank as players like Bianchi are a dozen a dime for a shrewd recruiter like him. Eriksson prefers a cautious style of play and launching counter-attacks so it is not surprising that Bianchi finds it even harder to excel in such an environment. Spending so much money but lacking the confidence to keep faith in Bianchi smacks of bad management. Eriksson must make extra efforts to help Bianchi achieve success instead of hoping for miracles from a bench-warmer. Elano and Martin Petrov have shown their talents in flashes but they should be shouldering carrying more of the club’s expectations given their sublime skills. City received lots of plaudits when Elano was creating and scoring goals freely. His loss in form is a major reason for City’s poor poor play in 2008. Eriksson also needs to examine if dead wood like Dickov, Corradi, Samaras, Danny Mills and Mpenza can be better utilized.
Sadly, the foundation of City’s success belongs to players whom Eriksson inherited, such as Richard Dunne and Micah Richards. Castillo and Caicedo are worth keeping but they are a long way off from being world-class players, that is if they even develop under Eriksson. The silver lining is Eriksson’s latest pursuit of Jo may indicate that he finally realizes what a quality striker looks like.Sven has made a mistake by signing too many new players in such a short time frame. I know the money is free-flowing and he does not feel the pinch but the influx of players can disrupt the stability of a team and gives the manager more headaches. Established players take months to assimilate into the system or club culture while young talents take even longer to blossom.
When this process is interrupted and discontent boils over, the manager ends up with more on his plate than he can handle. Another of Sven’s flaw, as with England, is his dependence on the best players for his first XI, cast them in their preferred roles and allow them to weave the magic. With several injuries down the road, the missing key players spoiled his plan A and he doesn’t know what to do without a feasible plan B.In truth, the investments City have made on new players is paltry compared to the other Premier League clubs, especially when seen in the context of a 3-5 year plan to conquer Europe and the Premier League. City will probably need another half a dozen first team players to stand a chance of competing with the Big Four.
Despite spending more than 40 million pounds, Thaksin is aware of the buying spree needed when he said: “We have to sell some players and buy some new ones. We need some defenders, midfielders… midfielders are the key.” This statement is certainly debatable as strikers should be the main priority, unless he is talking about attacking midfielders in the mold of Cristiano Ronaldo or Kaka.It is not surprising that City experience fatigue after Christmas as the hectic schedule exposes their lack of depth. In addition, teams are able to grasp and counter Eriksson’s inflexible tactics after the first round. But City should not recklessly loosen the purse strings and implement a comprehensive overhaul of the rank and file. If Thaksin suddenly gives up on the club or disappears tomorrow, the fans will have another Leeds United ready to implode on the back of deep deficits.
Thaksin is right to expect returns in the long run, after forking out the initial investments. This is the only way for the club to be self-sufficient and less dependent on a sugar daddy’s money for survival.I believe getting rid of Sven may set City back as the appointment of a new manager spells a new regime and the players have to adjust all over again. However, if Thaksin has made the decision to sack Sven, I can only hope that the post is filled by another experienced manager, not the likes of say, Steve McClaren.