Category Archives: Player Analysis

Yaya Toure – A Club Legend & A Fraud. No Wonder His Agent Is Worried.

How times have changed. It’s not that surprising that a 32 year old footballer is rested by a club playing two games every week, but it still hints at a changing of the guard. Yaya Toure only made the bench for the visit of Crystal Palace at the weekend, but was introduced in the 2nd half, and the change in the team style and tempo was immediate. You sometimes don’t know what you’ve missed until it’s gone, though Fabian Delph helped us through it all.

Football fans can argue, and thus disagree about, anything. I’ve already seen a City fan dismiss Kevin De Bruyne as useless, after all. Raheem Sterling is both England’s greatest young talent and just a speed merchant who can’t even shoot straight. Don’t get me started on Jesus Navas. Many other players at other clubs provoke similar divides in opinion. However, has any player attracted the level of debate as Yaya Toure?
The answer’s no by the way.

He’s lazy, he’s slow, he’s overpaid. No he’s not, he’s misused, he’s misunderstood, he’s capable of genius like few others. He’s untouchable. Leave him alone. He’s arrogant. He’s a scapegoat. He should be sold. We’re less of a team without him.

City have, and have had, plenty of players that split opinion. It used to be easy of course – there was a certain consistency in our players, which is not necessarily a good thing, but now the bar has been raised so, so high, and so have expectations. There’s no time for a £50m player to bed in. But no one can dispute that Yaya Toure was excellent value for money, so why does he attract so much attention?

After all, it seems some players are close to untouchable. Sergio Aguero and David Silva can play badly for weeks and there is a wall of silence. Such form may often be fitness-related to be fair, something that is rarely the case with Yaya, though he is no spring chicken now so is surely just as prone to the same issues especially when playing twice a week. Maybe it is because they are “silky” players, who you know little about off the field and who exist without complication. We know what they bring to the table, we know where to play them. They have certain skills on the field that make all football fans go weak at the knees and question their own sexuality. Yaya on the other hand, is harder to bracket, a player with a rare combination of skills, as his career has shown.
Just what is his best position? What’s more, he gives off the impression that he is hard done by in life occasionally, and this may affect how people judge him on the pitch, not just off it.

Manuel Pellegrini thinks it is his languid style that deceives some to think he is lazy. It is certainly a factor. Some fans have even claimed the racism card for the flak he continually gets. Without proof of that, it is a spurious claim. What I do know is that it is certainly not all Yaya’s fault. To exaggerate a point, you wouldn’t criticise Sergio Aguero for performing badly at left back. So why criticise Yaya Toure when he is deployed in a role that neutralises his strengths and concentrates instead on his weaknesses?

“If Yaya Toure had Gareth Barry’s work rate” is a roundabout criticism I read of him recently. If my aunty had balls. If Lionel Messi was 6 foot 4. If, if, if. A pointless strawman argument, as he is not in the team to run around and cover, he is in because of a specific skill set, as is every other footballer in the world. Yaya Toure is a player with magnificent ball retention skills, almost impossible to tackle, world-class passing skills, a deadly long-range shot, a footballer with pure power and poise who has a knack of scoring crucial goals. He is a destructive not a restrictive player. They’re his skills, so utilise them.

We all know that Yaya Toure once played in central defence in a Champions League final, we all know he wasn’t a particularly destructive and offensive player at Barcelona (certainly not compared to his peak in 2013/14). But it is surely clear now that Toure does not specialise in going backwards. He does not prosper in a two man midfield against high-energy opposition, such as Liverpool and Southampton. The problem is he is at his best when close to the opponent’s penalty area, but City have stockpiled players to fill those areas. In fact, even without Toure, it could be argued there are too many. De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Nasri – they’d all prosper behind a striker. I think only Sterling seems more at ease wide, but could see him centrally too. Should Yaya adapt his game to play more of a defensive role? Not really, though it’s natural to suggest he tries a bit harder when he is bypassed by a mobile, energetic opponent.

Anyway, if you think Yaya is lazy during matches, your eyes are deceiving you, perhaps because he doesn’t make those last-ditch tackles or rush back to track runners. Perhaps because of that languid style, a style that seems to produce a slow lumber across the pitch when it really isn’t the case at all. To pick two games where City fans were left frustrated, and one where Yaya was heavily castigated for his contribution in the first 80 minutes, we see that in both games Toure covered the 2nd highest distance of any City player. In last week’s frustrating 0-0 draw against Everton, Jesus Navas not surprisingly covered the most ground, clocking in at 11.81km. What might surprise you is that Yaya was 2nd with 10.91km. In the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, Kevin De Bruyne covered the most ground at 11.42km, and once more the lazy “can’t be bothered” Yaya Toure was 2nd with 10.94km. Maybe he covered it all in the last 10 minutes?
Yaya’s bursts have decreased, the turbo button growing rustier by the month, so his movement is more consistent across the 90 minutes perhaps. He certainly can’t cover 11km by ambling back into midfield twenty times a match, though perhaps we should expect our midfield players to cover the most ground. He is criticised because there are no desperate lunges, no manic sprints, no last-ditch clearances. But then there never have been. It’s just that when he’s not winning the league or scoring 20 goals from midfield, it becomes more of an issue.

When the next 8-tiered birthday cake is flown in this May, Yaya will be celebrating his 33rd birthday. Plenty of midfield generals have had to adjust their game as time caught up with them. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and more. They weren’t fed to the lions by their own fans, those fans realising they were in the twilight of their career and thus they couldn’t do everything they used to. The solution of course is to use such players more sparingly, but that isn’t the case with Yaya, often the first name on the team sheet, though he is at last being substituted more often, and now rested. Again, is this his fault for being picked? Would he really strop and tear up his contract if given a lesser role?

City don’t rely on Yaya Toure now. That’s the truth of the matter. It is the cyclical nature of football that the man that contributed more than anyone to our success in the past four years is no longer a vital cog in the machine. He’ll move on at some point, and so will we. He still has a role to play, but it is not as an automatic starter every week. He either accepts that under a new manager who won’t automatically stick him in the team every game, or he can move on. Simple really. What’s also simple is that he is close to irreplaceable. When he goes, City’s style may change as he has a skill-set close to unique, certainly unique to his current club.

Now of course he isn’t helped by his off the pitch antics and his personal spokesman.
I’ll not hold any grudges or resentment against the antics that became known as #cakegate as his younger brother was dying, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how horrible that period of his life must have been. We know his agent likes to shoot off with whatever drivel pops into his mind that particular day, but Toure is not going to dispose of a man who is a close friend and after whom Toure’s son is named. We must assume, though it is just that – an assumption – that anything Dimitri Seluk says has gone through Toure first –it’s Yaya’s drivel, so to speak. Do you really think he lets his agent freely say whatever he wants? We must also assume therefore that Toure is the most precious of footballers. He’s not alone in that respect of course. He and his peers demand recognition for their feats beyond wealth and trophies – hence the pointless Ballon D’Or ceremony every year. Getting rid of his agent as many demand will not only never happen, it would change nothing. Then we’d have a new agent saying the same things. And do you care? Apart from a tiresome transfer saga every summer, it’s not highly relevant to fans how precious a player may or may not be.

I have some sympathy for Yaya’s grumblings. African football is not always appreciated, Yaya himself, as we have all seen, is not always appreciated. He’s done it all, but you wouldn’t know this if you perused online for a few minutes. He wants his place in history. Get used to it Yaya – City players don’t get player awards.

Any player can take the attitude of being worried at the rumoured arrival of a new manager. No player knows what this new man wants, who his favourites will be, how he’ll shape the team, though educated guesses can be made. But most level-headed players would welcome the challenge, rather than having sleepless nights.
Hence, Seluk’s recent outburst, desperately trying to paint Pep Guardiola as some kind of managerial fraud, was the protests of a worried man. His client is worried. Very worried. What is Yaya if not the main man? If not a vital cog in the machine? There’s no point being a big fish in a small pond. Toure is now used to being a big fish in a big pond, and it’s hard to give that up. He left Barcelona because he didn’t feel appreciated, and he will probably leave City the same way.

It will be a shame if when the time arrives for Toure to leave, it is not done in a friendly manner. Something deep inside tells me it won’t. It will be a shame because whatever happens in the future, we shouldn’t forgot for one moment what happened in the past. The cup semi-final winner. The cup final winner. The other cup final goal. The two goals at Newcastle. The twenty goals in 2013/14. And so much more. He’s a club legend, and he always will be. It’s such a shame then that some fans can’t even decide if he’s even any good any more. And if his exit is acrimonious, his deserved legendary status will be tainted for some. But never for me.

 

An Ode To James Milner

There was little surprise when it popped up on my Twitter timeline that he had officially gone, subject to a medical he can’t possibly fail. James Milner had moved on after five years, to pastures new, to sign for Liverpool, the lure of Champions League football not sufficient to retain a player wanting to play more often and more centrally. It had been the longest goodbye, that new contract never signed, the rumours of his next club constant and varied.

 

He will be missed, have no doubt about that. Not only are City seeping home-grown players away at a rate of knots, which will probably require the management to purchase English players they don’t really want to sign (at inflated prices), but City have lost a player valued at comfortably over £10m for nothing who will now have to be replaced, under existing Financial Fair Play constraints. No wonder that City tried so hard to keep him, though it is only a matter of time before a croissant-munching Sun journalist bemoans on the Sunday Supplement why City let him go, as Neil Ashton nods in agreement, recalling how City don’t play Englishmen so he was forced to go. He doesn’t justify being one of City’s top earners, but our management realised it was cheaper to overpay him than see him go and have to replace him at much greater cost.

 

Nor should we hold any grudges. City paid £24m for a player for the term of his contract, and any player is perfectly entitled to let it run its course and move on. If City signed someone on a free transfer you wouldn’t be complaining, and calls that he strung City along are drivel, and without any evidence. From what I have heard he really was torn between what to do in the future, and would have signed a new contract with City if he had felt that to be best for his career. It’s hardly as if he has done this for the money, especially after what City are reported to have offered him.

 

The key point is that City are losing a great squad player. James Milner was rarely injured. He was the consummate professional, a manager’s dream. Never in trouble, never causing trouble, never moaning, never letting a gobby agent act as a spokesman. James Milner never wore gloves during a match – he’d wear shorts for training in a blizzard. There is not one skill that James Milner is truly world class at, but there is not a single skill he is poor at- he’d probably even put in a good shift in net.

A tireless worker, he can pass, he can cross, tackle, and he proved himself adept in front of goal. Most crucial of all perhaps, his work-rate meant that when he was in the team, out wide, the full-back behind him was always protected. He made life easier for his team-mates, and allowed the more skilful of them the freedom to express themselves. He isn’t the greatest, but pretty much every squad in England would be stronger for his inclusion, as he could cover so many positions, and protect so many teammates.

  

For a while, I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind leaving. I wasn’t being blinkered or deluded, football has its own food chain, and unless you support the biggest club in the world (no, not them), there are clubs below and above you. And right now, a player with over 30 appearances a season for Manchester City should not be considering a move to Liverpool, who won’t be participating in the Champions League next season, nor in my opinion challenging for the title. But slowly, I saw his point of view, as his reasoning became common knowledge.
We know he wants to play centrally, like the Aston Villa player we signed all those years ago. City will never give him a permanent berth there, there’s too much competition, and whilst I am not convinced that it is actually his best position, he clearly thinks it is, wants to play there, and will naturally be swayed by a big club’s manager assuring him that he will play there, though with Brendan Rodger’s track record, I’d get something down in writing.
Secondly, he is the archetypal player who is desperate to play every week, and that trumps a big pay packet and perhaps even trophies. This is his last big hoorah, and he wants to play regularly, on his terms. Fair enough, especially if it helps add to his 53 England caps. Of course playing regularly is exactly what he has been doing in the past 10 months, he’s starred in as many league games as David Silva (though admittedly some were from the bench), but you suspect that with a busy transfer window ahead for City, he saw what lay ahead. Summer is coming, and with it less pitch-time for James Milner, and he never nailed down a proper 1st team place.

 

I just can’t get away from the feeling though that he has made a bad decision. Kudos to him for leaving and seeking a new challenge, and for taking a risk, but I just don’t see it as being a good move for him, I just don’t. As mentioned, he will get playing time in his preferred position, but unless you’re Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, he surely can’t have been promised to be picked every week, and if he has that sets a very dangerous precedent for Brendan Rodgers and his team, especially if he loses form and is still playing every week.

 

Anyway, this is surely a great signing for Liverpool, yes? Well I presumed so, but as I speak, Tony Evans is on Twitter, deriding the ambition of his club Liverpool for the signing. For free, it seems a steal, though it is never truly free with the signing on fee and the weekly wages, and Evans rightly pointed out that it does not say much for a team’s ambition if James Milner is one of your top earners. However, it is still a great signing if it is backed with other signings. I really don’t see how snapping up an England international on a free transfer can ever be considered a bad move. The worry will be that a central midfield pairing of Henderson and Milner has many things going for it, but it will hardly frighten their competitors.  

 

Still, the revisionism can now begin. Free of City’s shackles (as the ITV website bizarrely described his time at the club), now people may truly appreciate his worth, like they suddenly did when Gareth Barry left. Milner was always the scapegoat for England’s failures, and I hope one day that changes, for his sake. I hope he is fairly successful at his new club and has no regrets. City don’t need a James Milner to win trophies, but there will be matches when we would have benefitted from his presence, and will miss him now he is gone.
And so leaves another player integral to the most successful period in our history – we are left with the memories, from Manchester to Munich -all the best James Milner.

Manchester City Player Ratings for Season 2014/15

After an ultimately disappointing season, I’ve had a look at how the squad prepared, with some wildly varied results.

Joe Hart – 8.5

I’ll be honest, I‘ve had my doubts about Joe Hart. There’s no doubt he’s a great keeper, but I’ve never been convinced he is world class. I still have issues – his distribution exasperates, his decision-making for crosses is not always perfect and he can flap a bit, but what keeper doesn’t make mistakes? The truth is he has had a great season, and has improved under a new goalkeeping coach. His performance in Barcelona was phenomenal, and he topped that with the save of the Premier League season against Swansea. He is the number 1 for the foreseeable future – that’s one less thing to worry about, at least.

Willy Caballero – 4

A wasted move and a wasted season for the highly-rated keeper, after years of stellar performances for Malaga. Many a City fan decided he was rubbish after two games, which is a shame, as he is nothing of the sort and Pellegrini, who will know him well, clearly saw him as serious competition for Hart, but whilst England’s Number 1 has improved all season, Caballero has never been in a position to challenge for the keeper’s shirt, and doesn’t appear to have settled. He is more than good enough though for the Number 2 spot, so I hope he stays, but a return to Spain for a small profit seems highly possible – perhaps to Valencia.

Richard Wright – 10

Another flawless season for perhaps City’s most consistent keeper – ever.

Vincent Kompany – 6

The most depressing squad score I will probably ever give (hopefully). It has been a poor season for our once-inspirational skipper, and you’ll all have your theories as to why. He continues to pick up niggling injuries, and his form has been erratic to put it kindly. The defence as a whole has struggled at times of course and you hope that a summer of rest will see him come back stronger than ever in August.

Eliaquim Mangala – 7

The £42m enigma. The man it was hoped would be the final piece in the defence jigsaw has had a mixed debut season, not helped by his expected partner suffering a mid-career crisis. Once the total fee that City paid for him (a fee you suspect City did their best to hide) became public knowledge, then the pressure was doubled on the young Frenchman. For the future, the fee doesn’t matter – it was a ridiculous amount to pay for the defender, ANY defender, and I doubt he will ever truly be valued that highly. However, what is done is done, and there are enough signs to feel that Mangala can still be a huge success at City. He started impressively, carrying Diego Costa in his pocket, and he certainly seems to relish a physical scrap, but a number of calamities soon after, most notably at Hull, damaged his reputation and perhaps his confidence too. The fact is that City’s defence has been something of a mess all season, by our high standards at least, not helped by Pellegrini rarely playing the same back four for two consecutive games, until the title had gone anyway. The fact also is that Mangala played pretty well most of the time, but was let down by the odd rash moment, another foible of a proactive defender. He was often the best defender on the pitch and the criticism has snowballed way past the truth. The problem is that Kompany is a proactive defender too, and two proactive defenders is a dangerous mix. Still, Mangala has to be given a permanent berth in the team now – we’ve invested too much, and his performances are good enough to consider doing anything else.

Martin Demichelis – 7

A fair season once more for the suave Argentinean, shaking off World Cup final disappointment to put in a steady shift, as we expected he would. Didn’t hit the heights, but didn’t disappoint either, though it’s hard to quantify his level of performance considering the changes made to the defence each week. Here for another year, you’d expect him to be used more sparingly next season.

Dedryck Boyata – as you were. No idea why he is still at City, apart from quotas of course.

Pablo Zabaleta – 8

Many will claim that City’s number 1 cult hero had a mixed season, and there is some truth in that, as his performances did dip earlier in the season, though he was hardly alone. Impending fatherhood obviously played on his mind, but for me he still was a rock for most of the time, and was clearly a class above new arrival Bacary Sagna, not that Sagna had much opportunity to prove his worth.

Bacary Sagna – 6.5

There seems to be a common practice amongst a minority to label all of our “back-up” players as utterly useless whenever they manage to get on the pitch. Sagna was nothing of the sort, but had little impact on our season, though was given the nod in the odd big European game. The disappointment for me was that I vaguely recall him putting in a succession of excellent crosses as an Arsenal player, but we saw very little evidence of that in the past season. The question is, will he want to remain as an occasional player? I doubt it.

Aleksander Kolarov – 6.5

On his day, Kolarov is a wonderful asset for City. Powerful surges down the left, bullet crosses that any decent striker should relish, and a wonderful repertoire of free-kicks. Unfortunately, it’s not always his day, and to me he seems utterly disinterested some games. Half the problem is that Pellegrini (or many of us) don’t know who the best left-back at the club is, which benefits no one. Kolarov plays best after a continued run in the side, as most players do, something he only got at the tail-end of the season. This is an area that I feel City need to improve, with someone new.

Gael Clichy – 6.5

Favoured for more league games than Kolarov, he’s been ok, as usual, but never really excelled – that is Clichy all over. Never terrible, never brilliant, he is for me an able back-up but not good enough to take this club forward – no left-back at the club is.

Fernando – 5

Well done to Fernando Reges, the Premier League player with the highest pass completion (91%) in the league last season. Proof, if proof were needed, that stats can mislead. Again, to continue the theme, Fernando was not as appalling as some make out, he just had very little to offer, is nowhere near the dynamic player we were led to believe, and is not good enough at screening that defence, though this is not always his fault, as responsibility lies with the formation chosen by the manager and his midfield partners. He will undoubtedly be given more time, and we have a tradition of hating our defensive midfielders until they begin to find form and are promptly sold, so hope springs eternal.

Fernandinho – 6

Another play for whom 2014/15 was disappointing, though I’m not sure it was his fault. Clearly traumatised by the shellacking handed out by Germany at the World Cup, Fernandinho was a slow returned to the City fold, and his season was split between the pitch and the bench, which made little sense as he rarely failed when called upon. For some reason Pellegrini didn’t see him as integral to our shape, but I hope we see more of him next season, as otherwise what’s the point of spending £30m on a great player to use every other game? He is a victim I guess of the “midfield problem”, of finding the right pairing in the middle, especially when playing two upfront. With Yaya Toure now looking to stay, that problem is set to remain.

Yaya Toure – 7

Ah yes, the most-talked about player yet again this season, with the world’s most idiotic agent. It’s been a bit of a comedown season for Yaya, after the season-defining contribution of last season. Of course he suffered terrible tragedy during the summer, which puts arguing over a cake into perspective somewhat, and with yet another African Cup of Nations depriving City of his services for over a month, his season was underwhelming. Still, he still did more of note than most players, and chipped in with 10 league goals from midfield. As always, the problem is playing him in a 4-4-2, where he can get overrun, where his position fails to play to his strengths, and where the better teams and those that play a high tempo game can ensure that games pass him by. I think the time might be right for him to go, but will be secretly delighted to see him remain – I just hope we make full use of him next season, as the team’s success is closely linked to that.

Samir Nasri – 6

A season that has promised much has rather fizzled out for the enigmatic Frenchman. He put in some promising performances, and scored a vital goal in Rome, but it hasn’t really happened for him since and injury finished his season for good. I get the feeling he will go this summer, after a City career that was good but never quite scaled the heights. Still, for annoying Arsenal fans by winning stuff and telling them where to go, he has my eternal gratitude.

Frank Lampard – 7

Brilliant for a short-spell (and scorer of some important goals), it’s been a strange but enjoyable cameo from one of my all-time Premier League favourites. When he first arrived, I didn’t really give it much thought, as I didn’t expect to see much of him before he jetted off to the States in the New Year. As it turned out, he had a great purple patch in the autumn, including a crucial equalizer against Chelsea. Soon he was the cause of a diplomatic incident with New York City, and it seemed a fruitless exercise falling out with a sister club, as his appearance waned thereafter, but he has featured again much more as the season drew to an end, and capped it off with a trademark last-day goal. A credit to his profession, and a thoroughly decent bloke, it was good to see him in City’s colours, if only briefly.

David Silva – 8.5

My all-time favourite player, possibly worth a 9, but I had to separate him from Sergio somehow. Again, not perfect, though this season saw him improve slightly in front of goal, which is his only obvious weakness, apart from goalkeeping, caber-tossing and origami (so I’m told). Still, another season of Silva doing what Silva does, and it continues to be a joy to witness most matches. Beautiful ball control, exquisite passing, he works between the lines and is a nightmare for opposition teams. If he ever leaves I’m off to support Chelsea.

James Milner – 8

The Yorkshire Figo has probably played his last game for City, and more’s the pity, though I still retain some hope that he sees SENSE and re-signs for the project.
An important squad member, if not a clear first-teamer, he has had a good season, putting in a series of consistent, steady performances, taking up the striker mantle when we didn’t have any, and coping excellently, and generally doing all the things you expect him to do. Tireless worker, some assists, some goals, no moaning, few injuries, he is the perfect professional. Let’s hope he realises that playing in the middle every week is not worth going to a weaker team.

Stevan Jovetic – 3

It’s hard to get lower than a 4/10, but Stevan managed it. A disastrous season, capped by being dropped from City’s Champions League squad so that Wilfried Bony could sit on the bench instead. A season where it was hoped that Jovetic would finally show his worth never materialised, and he was eventually frozen out by Pellegrini, sneaking back onto the bench for the final league match. He will surely leave in the summer, naturally for much less than we paid for him, which is a shame, as I had high hopes for him, but it just never happened, much like his ability to dress himself properly.

Jesus Navas – 6.5

A player I really like, but as we know, frustrates much of the time. The frustration is that you just know he is capable of anything, but always seems to fall just short. Still, he is what he is – a good squad player with bags of pace who works hard and stretches opposition teams. I hope he stays for years to come. His blind crossing marks him down, though most crosses by definition will find a defender, and also because his goal threat has dried up completely, which is not really good enough for a wide man, who should be chipping in with at least a few.

Scott Sinclair – 10

One of the greatest prospects in world football, Sinclair has been brutally side-lined and his career wrecked by a club with more money than sense. Clearly the best player at the club, with also the best looks and most buxom girlfriend, his repeated omission from the side remains one of the greatest mysteries in the modern game, and I just hope he can resurrect his career at Aston Villa, where at least Tim Sherwood will appreciate his tremendous skill and passion for the game. Shame on you City. Shame on you.

Sergio Aguero – 9

Well, what really needs to be said? Another injury lay-off that had the knock-on effect of him being below par for a few weeks on his return have probably prevented him having a record-breaking season, but in a team that failed to live up to expectations and bowed out of cup competitions often with a whimper, he once more outscored everyone with ease and was a class above, though it should be noted he is human and still had his off-days like most of us do. The best striker in the Premier League, I keep praying that he stays for the next season, for when he does go I may cry a bit, or perhaps a lot.

Edin Dzeko – 4

Let’s face facts – Edin has been utter pants this season. His grumpy face as he traipsed round the Etihad pitch after the Southampton match told a story, resembling a hen-pecked husband told he has to spend 8 hours helping his wife find a nice blouse in the Trafford Centre for Tracey’s hen do the following week. Basically I’m saying he didn’t look very happy, and with good reason, though he has resorted to lazy mode this campaign, with the ball-retention skills of Adolf Hitler (see the Albert Hall archives for further details). This time around, he couldn’t even come good at the business end of the season, despite getting a few outings. A summer exit would be best for all, and thanks for all the memories.

Wilfried Bony – 6

Hard to jusge too much just yet as he was signed whilst away in Africa, and came back soon before Manuel Pellegrini finally twigged that playing one up front may be the way forward. Just the two goals then, has come on and looked lively, but with some erratic finishing – he will be judged properly next season.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – 7

Tough one this. Many think he should get a 3, after a frustrating season where his stubbornness seemed to derail the whole season, and his inability to adapt cost us dear, the nadir being a terrible 8 defeats in 15 games from early January onwards. And yet, whilst the pressure may have been off, we did once more finish strongly, yet again winning our final 6 games, we finished clear in 2nd, 9 points ahead of United, we were beaten by a team in Barcelona who are quite simply on another level, and whilst the domestic cup performances were appalling, I blame the players as much as Pellegrini, and the knock-on effect of a mid-season jaunt to Abu Dhabi, which left the players in revolt. It looks like he will stay for another year, and with some proper investment in the summer, I am hopeful he can sign off on a high.

Manchester City Mid-Term Squad Scores

Joe Hart – 8

I’ve always liked Joe Hart, but there’s always been that nagging feeling that he isn’t quite good enough to be in a world-class team. Anyway, when his stock is low, he always responds, and this season he has done just that. He hasn’t been perfect (what keeper is?), but there is no discussion of who the number one goalkeeper is at the club, which says it all. His distribution is still awful, but he has knuckled down and is a dependable guard behind the back four. Recent performances have been crucial in City’s good run, and the team were beginning to build up league clean sheets, crucial for any title push. However, a wobble over Xmas has seen him lose half a mark.

Willy Caballero – 4

Many would argue that Joe Hart is obviously the number one as the competition is as weak as ever. I say you’re all wrong. Having no life, I have watched plenty of La Liga games in recent years, and Caballero has been top class. The deal to bring him to City made perfect sense, seemed a bargain, and provided Joe Hart with real competition – in fact I am convinced that Pellegrini, knowing Caballero well, considered him as a possible future number 1 keeper. Anyway, that didn’t happen. Caballero has made a few appearances, hasn’t done very well (though not as disastrously as some seem to think, who have decided a keeper they have rarely seen before is rubbish). Caballero is a great keeper, but so far it has clearly not worked out. With goalkeepers rarely injured or suspended, he may be regretting his move.

Gael Clichy – 7

A month ago I probably would have given him a 5. There was no doubt in my mind that City needed to buy a top-class left-back, especially after dodgy performances against CSKA Moscow and at West Ham, and I think we still will next summer, but Clichy has really risen to the occasion in the last few weeks in the absence of Kolarov, and he even got a goal. With all the injuries City are carrying at the moment, his good form has been crucial, so I have scored him generously. I still don’t think he’s top class and doesn’t offer enough offensively, but right now he does alright by me.

Aleksander Kolarov – 6

The resurgence of Kolarov last season was one of the great surprises of recent years, but this season hasn’t really got going for him, not helped of course by an injury that has kept him out for many weeks. Back in the squad now, Clichy will need some rest over Xmas, so let’s hope we see the best of him again soon. Having said all that we saw a brilliant performance against Crystal Palace followed by an abomination against Burnley.

Vincent Kompany – 7

As I type, Kompany is on the verge of returning from the 74th injury of his career. The man known as the glass man at Hamburg is still prone to endless niggles, and so has never got a head of steam up this season. When he has played he has done many of the great things we expect of him, but there have also been aberrations. Not a perfect season so far.

Eliaquim Mangala – 7

A roller coaster ride for a player who has been ridiculed by many for not instantly living up to his large price tag. A brilliant debut was followed by a horror-show at Hull and nervy moments and aberrations persist, but with playing time he has slowly grown into his role, to the point that I am happy to see him in the team. There is still work to do, but sometimes players take time to settle into a new country, league and style of play. Then there was the “bull in a china shop” display against Burnley, but few came out of that game with praise.

Martin Demichelis – 8.5

For Managala, see Demichelis a year ago. Demichelis is the classic example of not making knee-jerk reactions about players and giving them a chance. Since his resurgence, Demichelis has become the consummate professional. An experienced, wise-head, he goes about his business effectively and calmly. A great purchase last season and an important part of the team.

Pablo Zabaleta – 7.5

I want to give him 10 because, well, he’s Pablo Zabaleta. However, it hasn’t been the best season for Zabaleta, with the odd off-colour performance, though he hasn’t been helped at times by not being supported down the right flank. Still, we saw in Rome what he brings to the team and what City means to him and what he means to us. He’s added goals to his game too in recent weeks, and there’s so much more to come from a club legend, including fatherhood it seems!

Bacary Sagna – 6.5

Sagna has not been bad as some have claimed, but has not really excelled either, though it is hard to as back-up. Good squad acquisition for free, but as an Arsenal player I remember him whipping in endless dangerous crosses, and we’ve seen little of that at City. Mostly solid, but nothing more so far.

Dedryck Boyata – 6.

Meh. Still here, because he’s homegrown. That’s all I’ve got.

Matija Nastastic

Missing, presumed dead.

Scott Sinclair – 10

Hasn’t put a foot wrong when on the pitch.

James Milner – 8.5

I pray that the rumoured new contract is signed soon, because Milner has been reborn this season having been given sufficient playing time. You all know what he brings to the team, qualities clearly invisible to numb-skulled England fans, and has been an important cog in the team this season, a reliable, hard-working, honest player with no little amount of skill – and of course extremely versatile. We need him to stay.

Samir Nasri – 8.5

My thoughts about Samir Nasri mirror quite closely those of Joe Hart – I’ve always had a nagging doubt as to whether he was quite good enough.  This season, I have thankfully had to eat my words. The day I write this, he set up the winner against Leicester, he has covered the huge whole left by David Silva’s injury, and of course was the key man in securing Champions League knockout stage qualification. Has quite simply been immense over recent months, and contributed more goals and assists than before too.

David Silva – 8

Again marked down a tad by simply being injured. Otherwise, you know the score – one of the most skilful players (if not the most skilful of all) I have had the honour to watch. If only he could shoot, he’d be untouchable, though he seems to manage it for Spain easily enough, and has thankfully made me eat some words in recent weeks, filling in the striker void with aplomb.

Yaya Toure – 7

It’s fair to say it’s been an eventful few months for last season’s main man. It needs repeating that he lost his younger brother in the summer, and you cannot calculate the devastating effect that can have on a person. In the early throes of the season, his performances were underwhelming, but he has certainly returned closer to the player we love in recent weeks. You still have to wonder if this is his last season at City, his desire to leave still there, but for now he is playing well, though not quite at his peak.

Frank Lampard – 8.5

Higher mark than those that have contributed more may seem illogical, but for his time on the pitch, his contribution is unmatched (with one exception). With no strikers on the pitch against Leicester, his contribution summed up what he has brought to City this season – far more than I could have imagined for a player in the twilight of his career. Six goals already For City and the intelligence, composure and sheer skill that he has possessed for well over a decade now is still there. Expect his loan period to be extended, as he wants to stay and we all want him to stay.

Fernandinho – 8.

Brazil’s 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup seemed to have had a lasting effect on Fernandinho.  Like his midfield partner in crime Yaya Toure, he started the season sluggishly, and hasn’t always featured. However, in recent weeks we have seen the player of last season and he has been imperious. With Fernando picked against Leicester, you could see how much the team missed his energy.

Fernando – 6.5.

One of the few disappointing features of the season so far for me. Fernando is there to screen the defence, he will not be up and down the pitch, but he hasn’t really got going yet, especially considering the glowing reviews that accompanied his move north. He hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t imposed himself either – hopefully there’s plenty more to come.

Jesus Navas – 7

Raised eyebrows aplenty at the score no doubt, but I have no time for the whingers who cannot see what this player brings to the team. If he really was playing so badly week-in week-out as some claim, do you really think Pellegrini would keep picking him? Yes, he can really frustrate, and with his pace you’d hope he skinned his man a bit more, but he has contributed plenty, works back and helps the defence with little praise, and stretches the opposition and keeps their full-backs often pinned back. An important squad player.

Stevan Jovetic – 6.5

It won’t have surprised you to hear that Jovetic had picked up an injury prior to the Leicester game. The biggest disappointment of the season for me, with fitness I expected to see a top performer, but you get the feeling he has almost too hard in matches. Little flicks and threaded passes haven’t come off, and he is yet to really get going, like others. Seemingly injury-prone too, his stop-start time at City continues, though he has shown enough class whilst on the pitch to suggest he can still be a huge success at City.

Sergio Aguero – 9

Almost 9.5. Almost. Sergio Aguero is not perfect – he has his off-days, he can be selfish (like any great striker) and of course he can be injured. Not marked down like other injury-prone players as his was more recent, his performances this season have been, at times, world-class. The greatest striker I’ve seen in the shirt, he is simply world-class, and it’s such a shame he picked up yet another injury with many a scoring record under threat. Under a new contract too and apparently not a fan of warm weather, he could be here a lot longer than I had anticipated, especially as he wants to win the Champions League with us (insert your own joke).

Edin Dzeko – 6.

A season that hasn’t really got going for Dzeko, and having come back from injury, he has immediately injured himself again, which will mean no more football in 2014. We all know that he tends to come into his own in the business-end of the season, so let’s hope for better times ahead as he is currently in his infuriating period, though things have just gone against him really.

Angel Pozo

Not really fair to score a player with such little playing time, Pozo has somewhat been thrown to the wolves in recent weeks due to key injuries. Time will tell on him as he hasn’t been allowed to display his strengths in his best position.

Manuel Pellegrini – 8.5

Despite winning 2 trophies in his debut season, it seems that for some Manuel cannot win. Like last season, City got off to a sluggish start, and the manager received much criticism, some of it justified, for his stubbornness in sticking to a 4-4-2 formation. Anyway, City will not be retaining the Capital One Cup after a lame display at home to Newcastle, but City qualified out of their Champions League group (somehow) and are now back on the heels of league leaders Chelsea.

Mario Balotelli’s Back In English Football? Meh….

Oh no, anything but this. The prodigal son is back, playing for a major rival, ready to wreak havoc. He’ll be their hero, their cause celebre, there will be thrills and spills, crazy goals, excitement galore and us City fans will look on and pine for bygone days, for the memories and wish he was still with us. Right?

Erm, no. I’ll be honest, I think Mario Balotelli moving to Liverpool is the best news possible for Manchester City football fans. I’m guessing most of you disagree. Before unfollowing me on Twitter, bear with me for a little while.

It is undoubtedly true that Mario Balotelli holds a special place in the hearts of many City fans. Not me (fond as I am of the man), but for many others, certainly. Balotelli was a maverick, a character. Crazy stories followed him wherever he went and he was different from the norm, he was and is one of the few footballers that gauges a passionate response when you mention his name. He is certainly box-office material in a sport that needs little publicity. He was a part of a glorious part of our history, for which he deserves our thanks.

All well and good. But whilst football needs characters, personally I’d just prefer if they weren’t at my club, thank you very much. I now prefer to see a squad of professionals winning multiple trophies. Yes, the game would be boring if it was full of Gareth Barrys (this is not a dig at Barry, I should add), but you don’t need “characters” at your club to find eternal happiness. I have had endless joy over the past couple of years watching beautiful football from players I adore that make news for what they do on the pitch, not off it – that is after all what they are paid handsomely to do. David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany are not boring. They provide entertainment in a way that benefits the club they represent. Balotelli’s time at City is largely recalled by what he did off the pitch, or if on the pitch, what he did after a whistle had blown. This is not much of an endorsement for his return, not that he was entirely to blame.

Secretly we do want controversy in football. We love to see a fight, a bad boy, shocking revelations, bust-ups, bad tackles, corruption and sleaze. We love to see them elsewhere. I have had enough of all of those things in my 30+ years of supporting City. Players like Balotelli make the game more interesting, they stir up emotions and occasionally bring a smile to our face, but you don’t get extra points for that. It’s a very cold view of course, that takes sentiment out of the game we love, but I imagine that’s how managers have to assess players when deciding who to buy.
Besides, how much fun did Balotelli bring to the game? There was the “why always me?” T-shirt at Old Trafford (respect for that) and the excellent winding up of Rio Ferdinand an co. after United were defeated at Wembley (I doff my imaginary cap for that), but apart from shouldering a shot into the Norwich net and the uber-coolness of his penalties, I’m struggling. Most the stories bandied about were made up, apart from the endless parking tickets and the darts flying through the air towards youth players. A legend has been built up around a man, a mystique, that largely relies on falsehoods.

As Balotelli reaches the prime years of his career, his value depreciates or stalls with each move. Why would this be, I wonder? If reported figures are true, Milan will recoup pretty much what they paid City for him, but this hardly speaks well of his career in that time that he has not increased in value. What’s more, don’t expect Milan fans to be rioting in the streets protesting at his exit.

Of course there is the argument that this time it will be different. This time he will display his new-found maturity, Brendan Rodgers will take him under his wing, he will stay out of trouble and all will be well. Liverpool have a great psychiatrist as well, he’ll keep Balotelli grounded. The thing is, this is precisely what all his previous managers thought –Mancini, Prandelli, Mourinho et al. Mancini after all was like a father to him, and he ended up scrapping on the training ground.

This piece is not intended as a character assassination, especially considering the obstacles that Balotelli has had placed in his way from an early age. It is entirely understandable if he is not perfect, as none of us are. I am merely trying to assess the pros and cons of signing this particular player.
There is after all another side to all this. There can be little doubt that Balotelli can be one of the greatest strikers in the world. In glimpses we see it every season. In recent seasons Milan fans have seen it more. He started on fire for Milan, but blew hot and cold last season. A good scoring record for Milan tells you what he is capable of, and makes their agreement to sell him on as somewhat questionable.   What’s more, we all know about the ridiculous circus that followed him during his time in England. Various false stories abounded and whilst he often let himself down on the pitch, he was also the recipient of some extremely harsh referring decisions. When Graham Poll is appearing on Talksport decrying his hairstyle, it gives you a good insight into how match officials enter the field with agendas and preconceived ideas. Maybe Balotelli deserves it then. Hey, he doesn’t smile enough for my liking, throw the book at him.
Compare this with some of the preferential treatment England’s golden generation got on the pitch, be it a Scholes mis-timed tackle, a Gerrard lunge or a Rooney elbow.

Journalist Miguel Delaney has called it a possible “moneyball” transfer, in that he is signed relatively cheaply with the intention that his value will increase in the future. But how sure can Liverpool be of this happening? Considering some of the fees paid out for other players who have underwhelmed, perhaps it is not the biggest gamble ever seen. There is also the argument that the stats for Balotelli at City are somewhat misleading as he was not utilised to his full extent – centrally, as a lead striker, the place he is clearly at his most effective. What’s more, at Liverpool, his penalty-taking prowess will get a work-out at least three times a match.
You can see why teams take the risk – a striker with amazing talent for a few million pounds more than Shane Long, it could be a bargain buy (and I like Shane Long). Whatever happens in Balotelli’s career, big clubs will be prepared to take a risk on him at that sort of price. He could be a success, I could be eating humble pie, and I might spend two weeks wiping any evidence of this blog from the internet.

But for all the ridiculous press coverage he received. Balotelli partially brought it on himself. He seemed to get bored easy and his concentration and professionalism waned as a result.  His assist for THAT goal was the only assist for City in his whole time at the club, a damning statistic (still, not a bad time to get it). If you are looking for why Balotelli would be a bad signing, you’re not looking at ability, as he has that in spades. Ability is nothing without application and that’s the key to whether he will be a success at Anfield. I watched him enough to remember swathes of games that passed Balotelli by, periods of play where he got increasingly exasperated and a red card seemed inevitable, not that he has actually been sent off THAT much. He will however be a target from the minute he steps on the pitch because of the reputation he has. After Luis Suarez, you’d think Liverpool would want a replacement who was a tad less controversial  and less likely to hog the headlines.

Either way, this is of little concern to City. Whatever Balotelli does, City had to sell, as the City experiment had failed. It was the right move for both parties, and we should all have moved on by now. A club who has Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure , Dzeko and the rest in its squad does not need to pine for Mario Balotelli. And if he scores against City, then so what? We’ll come up against plenty of ex-players in the coming years and some will do well against us. If they hadn’t played against us then the player in their place might have done even better, so there’s little need for recriminations. It will hurt a bit, but there’s a bigger picture to view.

If Balotelli does succeed, I accept that there will be a tinge of regret. Hey, there may even be one the first time I see him in a Liverpool shirt. I’ll get over it. To be brutal, he’s not a City legend, so there’s no reason for me not to. And whilst I have said that I don’t hold anything against the guy, likeable as he seems to be, I hope he fails miserably as I hope that of any player in a rival’s team. Or at least I hope he doesn’t succeed at City’s expense. At United’s expense? Yeah, that would be fine.

So what I am basically saying is that I am a boring old fart who likes dependable players who never get into trouble. Sorry. I spent endless hours defending Balotelli (my Manchester City 2011/12 season review was little more than a Balotelli blog with the odd league title and derby win thrown in) and I wish him all the best, but I don’t pine for him, or De Jong or Barry, or…
We have the best squad right now that I have ever seen, many of them on fresh new deals that will see them commit for most of their career, and that will do me. Concentrate on them, they’ve earned it.

For Liverpool, they’ll consider it a risk worth taking, as long as they have the squad depth not to be in a position of relying on Balotelli. He pays his way commercially, he is capable of brilliance and if he fails he will still probably recoup most of his fee.

Back in East Manchester, things have changed. City’s new holistic approach suits me down to the ground. A less combustible manager and a squad devoid of the likes of Carlos Tevez,  Mario Balotelli or a shouty Roberto Mancini may be a boring world, but it’s a world that breeds success. I’ll take that any day of the week thanks.
Now if the rumour about Georgios Samaras going to West Brom is true, then that’s an entirely different matter….