It would be nice to say that City had fought their way to the
top of the Premier League with a team of young players moulded by
the club, mixed with astute signings and a manager who had cut his
teeth in the lower divisions. Like Brian Cloughs Derby County who
were champions in 1972 in a decade when six different clubs won the
But the truth is that City team would not have been permitted to
survive. As soon as they came within touching distance of the
elite, the best players would have been picked off by bigger,
richer clubs. The manager would have been lured away with promises
of more money and better players. They would have lit up the league
for a while and then, like the proverbial Mario Balotelli firework,
The City that play United tonight are robust. The wages they pay
mean that they are insured against losing players to the
establishment teams, and there are none more established than
United. Their Abu Dhabi owners have spent roughly £800m to get them
there. These days, buying the players is no longer a guarantee of
long-term success, you have to buttress your squad against the
Woody Allen once famously compared a relationship to a shark:
It has to move forward or it dies. In the Premier League, the
stakes are higher. Moving forward is not enough, as the likes of
Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa have found out. The quicker and
the further you move forward, the more chance you have of being
eaten. The only alternative is to develop a bloody sharp set of
teeth and eat someone else first.
It will be interesting to see what fate befalls Newcastle United
in the next 12 months, having become the latest club to challenge
the elite for a Champions League place. Tottenham did so in the
past and after their two fifth-place finishes in 2006 and 2007 they
eventually lost Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov. Their second
wave of success under Harry Redknapp means they will probably lose
Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to bigger, richer clubs.
Would it be better for City to be playing United as
almost-equals for the league title tonight without the help of a
Middle East dynasty? Of course. Just as Chelsea would rather have
had the success of the last nine years without the approximate £1bn
that Roman Abramovich has invested. At both clubs the question of
money is a sensitive subject, especially for the fans who know it
will be forever used against them.
We would all like our clubs to succeed with a team made up of
academy lads and a break-even budget. But City or Chelsea would
never have caught the elite that way. They would have been picked
off before they even reached the door. Chelsea qualified for the
Champions League in the 2002-2003 season but they did so having
gone to the brink of their resources. Their only signing that
season was Enrique de Lucas. By the time City hit paydirt in 2008,
it had become even harder to break into the top four.
In the modern order of European football, most leagues have
their elites. Spanish footballs hegemony is as entrenched as the
one in Scotland. In Italy, Juventus have risen to the top again
despite the Calciopoli scandal and their demotion to Serie B. Ajax
lead in the Netherlands. In Portugal, Porto have dominated for the
best part of the last 10 years. Turkeys big two are well clear of
the rest again.
France and Germany have become more open in the last two seasons
but Lyon won seven straight titles in the previous decade. Bayern
Munich have won 10 out of the last 20 titles. This is not to say
that they, as with the likes of Barcelona, United and Porto, do not
have shrewd people in charge who make good decisions. But Champions
League participation has become a self-perpetuating way of
reinforcing the advantage.
Chelsea have already made £45m from the competition this year,
with a further £2.8m if they win the final. That does not include
the matchday revenue from their six home games. City have earned
£21.3m from their first year in the Champions League – a drop in
the ocean for them until you consider that last seasons Europa
League campaign was worth a relatively paltry £4.5m.
The Champions League is the only show in town. The billionaires
who have pumped money into City and Chelsea know that. They want to
get into it and stay there so they can stop spending so much. Both
clubs have invested heavily in academies, and academy players.
Abramovich even now supports Uefas financial fair play, according
to Michel Platini, the Uefa president.
Your revenue stream is not going to come unless you get into
the top four, Citys former chief executive Garry Cook said in
July 2009. That means bringing in players to get you there and
spending above the odds on wages before the revenues start flowing.
Youve got to invest in one before you get to another. Any business
Brutal, isnt it? But that plan has ultimately led to the
significance of tonights game, one of the most exciting potential
winner-takes-all finales to the season in 20 years. Some people
will always regard City as the crass over-spenders. They may well
have to survive without the affection of the neutrals, even against
United. But they had to do it this way. Otherwise they would never
have made it at all.
If Liverpool show is open it will be worth the
Last week, a fellow reporter challenged his Twitter followers to
come up with a title for the Liverpool fly-on-the-wall
documentary/movie to be made by Fox Soccer Channel. There were some
beauties. Youll Never Talk Alone was the best I saw. I Cant
Believe What You Did Last Summer and Con Ayre got pretty close
Graham Taylor once told me that he participated in his famous
Do I not like that documentary in 1993 because he wanted the
public to see the England job – dealing with the players, the
press, the fans – as it really was, and he was prepared to take the
consequences. I have always admired him for that.
That seems to be the lesson: if the Liverpool programme has
no-holds-barred access and no limits over its final cut then it
should tell the truth about the club. Which is admirable, even if
it is invariably never easy for those involved.
Guardiola may regret walking out on Barça
When Pep Guardiola finally announced his resignation on Friday,
I was reminded of Sir Alex Fergusons words after last Mays
Champions League final. The Manchester United manager was told then
that Guardiola might walk away from Barcelona. Ferguson responded
by saying that if Guardiola did, he would never touch such heights
again as a manager.
Every man is different, and no one could doubt Guardiolas
contribution to Barcelonas history. But sometimes it is just about
gritting your teeth and getting through it – I cant go on, Ill
go on, as Samuel Beckett wrote. Ferguson should know.