Actor Michael Emerson once remarked that he had complete sympathy for his character, the devious Benjamin Linus in the hit TV series LOST. “I believe he has a mission and an agenda that he hasn’t shared with us yet. The survival of the earth may depend on Ben’s work, so it justifies his ruthless behavior. Maybe I’m just fantasizing or deluding myself.” Linus was renowned for being predictably unpredictable, staunchly loyal at one moment, utterly untrustworthy at another, a family man in one instant and a lone wolf in another. With a character compass jumping from one extremity to another, it was no surprise his enemies found it hard to negotiate with his wiles.
Premier League football may not put much stock in personal agendas, and clubs do not necessarily exemplify a particular character trait, but the Premier League does have its very own enigma – a club that just refuses to be slotted into a definite category, a club that might threaten to emerge top dogs or in the end just settle for mid-table obscurity, a club that boasts an unending stream of finance, and yet seems likely to totter under UEFA’s new regulations. No other club personifies the Linus syndrome better than nouveau riche Manchester City. After all, is this a juggernaut hell bent on buying everything there is to win, or it just going to be yet another bloated also-ran? More importantly, for its opponents, how do you trust a club whose intentions are still unknown? Unlike Chelsea, another recipient of financial steroids, Manchester City are yet to hit stratospheric heights. While the latter have flexed their financial muscles in the market every now and then, they strangely also seem willing to bide their time in the quest for silverware. There seems to be no indication that City will take a few hints from the managerial fire-at-will policy that rocked Chelsea FC’s world.
It is City’s sheer unpredictability that leaves the Big 4 looking over their shoulder in constant dread, while also giving the mid-table Europa league teams their weekly dose of migraines. While the rest of the league looks on nervously as the rich, powerful newbie looks to settle down in a position it can call its own, the club in question itself seems to be lost in its own zone. No one truly knows what City wants, perhaps not even the sky-blue brigade themselves.
The only thing certain about City derives from what is already known about them – they have a very powerful benefactor in the form of Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi’s ruling Al Nahyan family. That ensures City will continue to remain a financial powerhouse in the coming decades, able to tussle with the best clubs in the world for young talent. City also have the good fortune of having chosen a benefactor with a solid financial standing, and not one based on the fluctuations of the stock market. The oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi, stood firm as its neighbors withered the worst of the global recession, never once looking like they were headed for choppy waters. Opulence is default, in an emirate where ATM machines dispense gold.For owners so accustomed to success, it is surprising they have been almost forgiving of Mancini’s inability thus far to challenge for silverware. City after all are by all accounts looking to replicate the Stamford Revolution – and silverware virtually greeted Roman upon his arrival. What most observers make the mistake of doing is presume Manchester City’s Arab owners are spendthrifts. They are not.
Educated in the fine art of business, and possessing some of the best advisors, the royals know when to make a deal and when to jump ship. DIC, the investment arm, of neighboring Dubai refused to pay a cent more than the nominal price for Liverpool. Fiscal prudence, it seems, is not just the religion of the poor – but also the prerogative of the super rich. Culture might also play its part in the owners’ unwillingness to display the kind of panic that Stamford Bridge came to represent in the post-Mourinho era. They are quite averse to being seen as the trigger happy new kids on the block unwilling to wait their turn. What this all points reassuringly to is that City’s owners are in for the long haul. If all it takes for someone to gauge Roman’s dedication to the Blues, is for him to watch the Russian’s face light up when his team score a goal – then there is no greater indicator of Sheikh Mansour’s commitment to the Sky Blues than his investments in the city of Manchester.
Where City have failed is in fashioning a cohesive unit like Chelsea has. The latter have an army, the former have a horde of mercenaries. Chelsea’s most valuable players have not been their most expensive ones. Terry was homegrown, Lampard came in for a pittance and Cech might well be the bargain of the decade. Along with another relatively low-priced purchase in the form of Cech, these 3 have formed the backbone of the side. The players have formed their own power-centre to rival the manager, and many of them have Roman’s ear. In City, however, players are being increasingly viewed as temporary plyers of their trade. Robinho left in a huff, Adebayor never shies away from making his feelings public, Bellamy was shown the door, the irreplaceable Shay Given found himself in an unenviable, and Tevez is seemingly antagonized by the very mention of Mancini. With the incredibly talented Toure and Silva added to the list, City now resemble a poorly constructed potpourri.
What City are sorely in need of is an unshakable bond at the heart of the team. It would help if the owners looked to build their team around a trio of long-term prospects. An added benefit would be ensuring the trio (or at least two of them) hail from the some nation. Chelsea were Team England at their peak, with the Coles, Frank Lampard and John Terry. Liverpool in its best-ever season boasted Torres, Alonso, Reina and Riera. United have Rooney, Ferdinand, Scholes and Carrick. It may seem the anti-thesis of the modern game, but as the game gets more international, it’s also beginning to make more sense to emphasize similarities and ties that bond.
The board at Man City will need to do more than just bank on their billions; they’ll need to fashion a team spirit out of thin air. They will need something other than mere monetary incentives to forge a relationship between their team’s most valuable players. Perhaps, the answer may not be too hard. After all, as their owners themselves will attest to, there is no greater bond than that of one’s own tribe.