Those undermining City’s achievement of all but winning the Premier League title because of money are suffering from short memories…
It is all but certain that Manchester City have won the 2011-12 Premier League title, and it has certainly been a rollercoaster of a ride. The English top flight will culminate this Sunday after another memorable campaign and has seen the City of Manchester become the centre of the English football universe in an almighty struggle between the Reds and the Blues.
Barring an unlikely regression to the ‘Typical City’ of yesteryear, the Citizens should seal the title at the weekend with a victory over relegation strugglers Queens Park Rangers. With all due respect to the present situation of the R’s, they are in my opinion extremely unlikely to get anything at the Etihad stadium, a fortress where City have dropped only two points all season, scored 52 goals in front of their home support, and last lost there in the Premier League way back in December 2010.
In light of this impending crowning, my Twitter feed has been clogged up with many fans who, rather than congratulate City on their marvellous achievement of all but winning their first title in 44 long years, have demonised them for it. It seems some people have sought only to devalue this immense achievement as the only reason they have triumphed is down to the ‘oil-money’ that has flowed into Manchester City ever since the Abu Dhabi based takeover was led by Sheikh Mansour in September 2008. Effectively, they are claiming that City have bought the Premier League title, rather than earning it by playing the best football and being the best team in England.
In my opinion, any allegations along these lines simply come across as bitter and sour grapes because, in the entire history of the Premier League, who hasn’t spent big money in order to win it, as I shall now prove.
Firstly, it must indeed be said that Manchester City have indeed spent a ridiculous amount of money on both wages and transfer fees since September 2008. They have broken the British record transfer fee once - signing Robinho in 2008 for £32.5 million - and would have broken it again in August 2011 with the signing of Sergio Aguero for £38.5 million from Atletico Madrid, were it not for a certain Fernando Torres moving from Merseyside to west London for £50 million that January.
The money spent on acquiring the brilliant Aguero is but the tip of an iceberg, and the fact that all the following signings have come in the past three years is telling of the immense investment this team has received and why so many feathers have been ruffled among the traditional football elite. Carlos Tevez was purchased for around £25.5 million – although rumours continually circulate stating the actual fee is approaching double this – whilst the erratic Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko were purchased for £24.5 million and £27 million respectively.
In midfield, strength in depth has been purchased with the brilliant Yaya Toure – the man who scored the goal that won City the FA Cup and may have scored the two goals that win them the Premier League title – costing £24 million and Spanish World Cup and European Championship winner David Silva came from Valencia for an identical amount. James Milner eventually moved from the West Midlands to the North West for £26 million, Samir Nasri turned down contract offers from both Arsenal and United to sign for City last summer for a reported £22 million, and midfield enforcers Nigel De Jong and Gareth Barry weren’t exactly cheap either, costing a combined fee of approaching £30 million.
Whilst it is said that strikers win you games, defenders win you championships, and City have certainly not shied away from spending money in this vital area of the pitch. Joleon Lescott eventually completed a protracted transfer from Everton in 2009 for around £22 million, and Aleksander Kolarov moved to City a year later for £17 million.
In total, since Shiekh Mansour arrived in east Manchester, City have spent over £480 million on transfer fees in little over four years, and I haven’t even mentioned players like Craig Bellamy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Jo and Wayne Bridge, players who came for sizable fees but were ultimately considered surplus to requirements by Roberto Mancini as he tailored the City squad to his specifications.
Whilst it is clear Manchester City have spent an unprecedented amount in a relatively short space of time, are they really any different than those who have gone before them in the past 20 years of the Premier League’s existence?
At present, four teams have won the Premier League in its two decades of drama and excitement: Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea. If these four clubs are looked at in the context of how they won their respective Premier League titles, the notion of ‘buying’ the title, as City have been accused of doing, is really not that different and can be equally applied to each of these protagonists.
Manchester United: 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11
If we look at City’s fierce local rivals, Manchester United, the idea that the Red Devils have not spent large sums of money to acquire players is simply ludicrous. If we look at the United line-up for the last Manchester derby, we see a team that is not exactly built on poverty or austerity. David De Gea, the most expensive goalkeeper in British transfer history at £17 million, started inbetween the sticks, just behind Rio Ferdinand, the most expensive ever English centre-half at £29.1 million. Up front, the most expensive teenager in history in the form of £27 million Wayne Rooney played as a lone striker whilst Dimitar Berbatov, the most expensive player Sir Alex Ferguson has ever signed at £30.75 million, was an unused substitute and will most likely depart Old Trafford this summer for a fraction of the fee he was purchased for. In fact, if the cost of the two starting-11 line-ups from last Monday are worked out, it is United’s that actually comes out as being the marginally more expensive. So much for City buying the league then.
Indeed, United have consistently spent the big bucks throughout the entire history of the Premier League over the past 20 years and before. They have broken the British record transfer fee on three occasions in the past 20 years, spending £7 million on Andy Cole in 1995, £28.1 million on Juan Sebastian Veron in 2001 and £29.1 million on Ferdinand in 2002. The bedrock of United’s first Premier League success was built on spending big, having spent a combined fee of £6.75 million on Danny Wallace, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince, Mike Phelan and Neil Webb, with a £1.5 million captain in Bryan Robson at the helm of the first Manchester United title winning side for 26 years. Perhaps these aren’t fees which are that high nowadays, but in the early to mid nineties, this represented serious money.
Fast forward to the present day, and although City have invested hugely in their squad recently, United have done precisely the same over the past decade. Of those who are no longer there who were bought for substantial fees – besides Veron, Cole, Dwight Yorke, Fabian Barthez, and Henning Berg - £19 million was spent on Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, £13 million on French forward Louis Saha and £17 million on injury plagued central midfielder Owen Hargreaves. In the present day squad, there are plenty of acquisitions in and around the £15 million - £20 million price range, including Michael Carrick, Nani, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Anderson amongst others.
Of course, it must be said that United has a proud history of producing its own players from the youth system. From the Cliff, Fergie’s Fledgling’s – or the class of ’92, as some call them – truly memorable players were produced and nurtured, including Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, the latter duo of which are still on the books at United. After that came players like Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, and Jonny Evans, whilst just this season has seen Tom Cleverley and the promising Danny Welbeck make the step-up to the senior United squad. Whilst it must be said that United have used their youth set-up to great effect, they have still spent money in the transfer window when needed to, and have certainly not been afraid to part with large sums of money to get the players they have wanted. They may not have spent the same amount of money City have in the past few seasons, but United have certainly spent not inconsiderable sums on players over the past 20 years.
Blackburn Rovers: 1994-95
As far as Blackburn Rovers are concerned, they have only won the Premier League once, by a point from United in 1994-95 season under Kenny Dalglish, financed by the millions of Jack Warner and his family. The summer of 1992 saw the start of the revolution under Warner that culminated in Rovers winning their first league title in 80 years.
As magnificent an achievement as this was, it was not exactly done on a shoestring budget, and many of the players Warner bought for Blackburn went on to have highly distinguished careers for many years in the Premier League. Players who came into the Lancashire club in the inaugural season of the Premier League include Kevin Gallacher for £1.5 million, winger Stuart Ripley for £1.3 million – who was briefly their record signing – and of course, the man who would go onto to become the all-time record goal scorer in the Premier League, Alan Shearer. At £3.5 million – in 1992 – he became Blackburn’s record signing and was indeed a record for a transfer deal between English clubs at the time.
The following season saw further investment in players that became the spine of the Premier League Blackburn winning side. It included £2.4 million goalkeeper Tim Flowers, £2.75 million David Batty in midfield, Paul Warhurst endured an injury-hit time in Lancashire but still cost £2.7 million, and the club transfer record was broken once more with Chris Sutton costing £5 million from Norwich City, forming a brilliant strike partnership with Alan Shearer, one that was fundamental to the league triumph in the 1994-95 season.
Blackburn were recently relegated from the Premier League amid a tirade of fury from their supporters over the controversial Venky’s ownership of the club they hold so dearly in their hearts and minds, but nearly two decades ago, they were at the summit of the English top flight, thanks to the money of Jack Warner and his family.
Arsenal: 1997-98, 2001-02, 2003-04
Moving down south, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has often been lauded during his 15 year tenure in the English game for his ability to produce fantastic football on a budget and, until seven long years ago, his relatively modest ventures into the transfer market were enough to win trophies at Arsenal.
But people forget that upon arriving at Highbury in 1996, Wenger spent almost £20 million on Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, a budget that I’m sure many clubs in the Premier League would relish nowadays. Imagine what David Moyes could do with Everton if Bill Kenwright offered him a £20 million transfer kitty this summer?
Whilst Wenger has done extremely well given what he has spent during his time at Arsenal – he is comfortably the best manager they have ever had – he has spent money when needed to and the names he has brought in have not exactly been for a shoestring. The great Thierry Henry initially looked to be a ropey buy at £11.5 million, before becoming the greatest foreign centre-forward the English game has ever seen. Besides this, Arsenal have spent money on what have eventually turned out to be flops in the form of Sylvain Wiltord and Jose Antonio Reyes at £13 million each, whilst Arsenal’s record signing, Andrei Arshavin, whose career at the North London club now looks to be over after a series of exasperating performances this season and is currently on loan at Zenit St Petersburg, came for a hefty £15 million.
Moreover, a man who indeed left Arsenal for the riches at Manchester City, Samir Nasri, initially went to the Emirates in a deal worth almost £16 million, a few summers after Aleksander Hleb joined the North London club for nearly £12 million. In recent times too, the Gunners have indeed spent money that many clubs in the Premier League can but look on in envy at, including £12 million a piece for English duo Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They have also spent £10 million a piece for the following players; Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Gervinho. In addition to this, it is expected that Wenger will once again strengthen his squad this summer and names such as Rennes defensive midfielder Yann M’Vila is rumoured to be on the Arsenal radar, costing £17.7 million and would become Arsenal’s record signing if it occurs.
As much as the latter named players have not won the Premier League – not even close to it – the above evidence dispels the myth that Arsenal have not spent money in their quest for glory. Wenger has previously spent big money in the transfer market, perhaps not on the scale of either the Manchester clubs or London rivals Chelsea, but they have nonetheless spent money that would indeed be the envy of many clubs in the Premier League nowadays.
Chelsea: 2004-05, 2005-06, 2009-10
Finally, we come to Chelsea, indeed the club that started the modern trend of rich owners coming into the English game and splashing the cash at a particular club. Roman Abramovich has been merciless and unwavering in his egotistical quest for glory with the west London club, clamouring for nearly a decade to win the Champions League, and this is reflected in the vast amounts of money he has spent in bringing some of the best players in the world to Stamford Bridge.
Upon buying Chelsea in 2003, Abramovich embarked on a Real Madrid galactico-esque spending policy which had never been seen before in the English game. That very summer, Chelsea spent nearly £100 million on player transfers, including £16.8 million for Adrian Mutu, £15 million on Manchester United flop Juan Sebastian Veron, £16.8 million on Argentine striker Hernan Crespo, £16.6 million on defensive midfielder Claude Makelele and £17 million on winger Damien Duff, amongst others.
The following summer, when Jose Mourinho replaced Claudio Ranieri as manager, the Portuguese accepted Abramovich’s riches with great relish as he won Chelsea’s first league title for 50 years. In Mourinho’s first season, he raided former club FC Porto for the services of Portuguese pair Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho for over £30 million, spent £12 million on young Dutch winger Arjen Robben, £10 million on Scott Parker and £24 million on Ivory Coast centre-forward, Didier Drogba. The following summer, Mourinho continued with his project backed with the finances of Abramovich by spending £21 million on winger Shaun Wright-Phillips and £24 million on Ghana midfielder Michael Essien. It has been under Abramovich that Chelsea have twice broken the British transfer record, first by spending £30 million on Ukrainian striker Andrey Shevchenko in 2006, and then secondly by spending £50 million on Fernando Torres. Neither have proven to be great hits in west London.
Besides all these exorbitant sums, I could mention many others who Roman has got his chequebook out for in recent years. Jose Bosingwa cost nearly £17 million in 2008, Russian Yuri Zhirkov cost £18 million in 2009, Ramires cost an identical amount in 2010, whilst the much criticised David Luiz was overshadowed by the arrival of Torres in January 2011, but he still cost nearly £25 million. Last summer, new boss Andre Villas-Boas began his doomed reign as Chelsea boss by signing, amongst others, Juan Mata for £24 million and young Belgian Romelu Lukaku for nearly £20 million.
Therefore as can clearly be seen in this extensive piece, every club that has won the Premier League has done so by spending money. Some clubs have taken it to the extreme (in the form of Chelsea and, potentially, Manchester City), some have always splashed the cash (Manchester United), some have done so intermittently (Arsenal) and others have seized their moment when it afforded itself to them (Blackburn Rovers). Make no mistake about it, every club that has won the Premier League has spent money to varying degrees and, in this respect, Manchester City are no different than those clubs that have preceded them. Fans of those clubs who have won England’s top prize in its most recent guise may wish to look at their own teams financial outlay when they have previously triumphed before criticising the men at the Etihad stadium too much.