The 2011/2012 season is only days away, and the most talked-about city in football this season will be… Manchester. United and City have spent money in the summer transfer window -– not big-ridiculous-Abramovich-Chelsea-money, or even City-in-past-years-money – no, not that kind. They have spent it wisely. Let’s break it down.
United: The Red Devils have brought in David “Van” de Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young for approximately 18 to 19 million pounds each. De Gea comes in to replace Edwin Van der Sar, a man for whom a case could be made has been a top-three-goalkeeper-in-the-world the last half decade. An impossible task for a 20 year old, one would think, but you’d be forgetting that special driving force we know as “SAF”, a man who can turn youngsters into the world’s best players in nothing short of record time. If de Gea can cope with the ridiculous pressure the English media will place on him (and those who have followed him in Madrid are certain he can), he can be even better than his predecessor. Sure, he let in two goals against City on Sunday, and as expected, the media crucified him, brought his skill into question, and everything in between. But that was 90 minutes of football. United have bought a player for 20 years, not 90 minutes.
Phil Jones impressed me at Blackburn, and continues to do so at United. He outclassed his seniors, Vidic and Ferdinand, in the Community Shield, and seeing him in person at Red Bull Arena only amplified my optimism: this kid is the real deal! He is young, strong, talented, and man is he deceptively fast! Future England national team anchor? I think it’s inevitable.
Ashley Young, at 26, feels to me more like “insurance” than “the future”. With talks of Nani potentially leaving the club (I don’t think Ferguson will allow this to happen), Giggs nearing retirement, and Park strolling into his 30’s, Young is a solid winger who can fill the gaps as needed for the next five years or so. With a healthy Nani and Valencia, I don’t think Young is going to see as much playing time as everyone expects, though one never knows with Ferguson; the man loves to rotate players, and that’s another reason United are so strong every year.
On a quick side note, here’s an interesting comparison of United’s main lineup from 3 years ago, compared to the one that wrapped up the Community Shield on Sunday (see table, right):
You can place this team on the EPL podium until at least 2022. Easy money.
Conclusion: Sir Alex Ferguson has quietly “out-Wengered” the gunners’ boss by buying solid, outrageously talented young players with limitless potential. This side of Manchester measures a football club with a carefully-assembled formula of youth, talent, agility and potential mixed in with experience. In the last 20 years, there has never been a time that I recall a break in this formula; young players like Scholes, Giggs, Ferdinand, Keane and others grew into the world’s most respected footballers, and they served as the perfect mentors for the next line of young players, like Ronaldo and Rooney, and now, the other newcomers.
City: Over at Eastlands, Mancini chose quality over quantity, or so it appears. Granted, City have picked up several players (like Savic from Partizan, and Clichy from Arsenal), it is clear they focused on one – “El Kun” – Sergio Aguero. For a mere 45 million. Chump change. Aguero is basically the exact opposite of Balotelli: he is not a prima-donna, and he works hard for every single ball, anywhere on the pitch. He doesn’t give up on a challenge, and when he finally gets the ball, he is really really tough to dispossess. He has a low center of gravity, and marvelous feet. The ball may not stick to him as well as it did his father-in-law (some may remember this other Argentine… a man by the name of Diego Armando Maradona?), but it will be enough to drive Premier League defenders insane. I can’t imagine what wonders we’ll witness between El Kun and the most underrated star in the league – David Silva. You can count on intricate one-touch passing and deceptive give-and-go’s, not to mention superb diagonals to the Argentine from the Spaniard. I, for one, cannot wait to see it. I believe Aguero may have more of an impact for City this season than Chicharito did for United last season.
Moving past the acquisition, one can’t talk about Manchester City without talking about their size! These boys are massive. Now… United are no slouches either, but seeing the two teams face off in Sunday’s “friendly” really emphasized just how big the City lineup is. The numbers don’t really do it justice, because most of these guys are solid. Regardless, here are some numbers anyway: Hart is 6’ 5”. Touré and Džeko are 6’ 4”. Kompany is 6’ 3”. Lescott, Kolarov and Balotelli are 6’ 2”. And then there is Micah Richards – he is 5’ 11” and built out of the same reinforced steel with which they make airplane black boxes. See picture, right.
Conclusion: Mancini has put City’s hopes on a solid world-class up-and-coming striker. Add to this team’s size the sheer talent of Silva and Aguero, the shot-stopping ability of Hart, and the possibility that Carlitos Tevez and Balotelli might actually stay in Manchester this year, and you can’t help but think that these guys will shut teams down with furious tenacity. They did it last season, but the difference now is that they actually have a striker that will make a difference at the other end – this math difference might just mean “title”. If at least one of the two problem children grow up this year, we’re in for some serious Manchester domination. On this side of town, they measure a football club with a ruler. And the measurement-takers are the same guys that used to train Ivan Drago.
This season’s EPL trophy will remain in the City of Manchester – the question that remains is, will youth prevail over size? The answer will determine which side of Manchester will be celebrating come May.
And so it begins…
Famous Football Quote of the Day:
“If you understand football, you make substitutions during the game. If you don’t, you make comments after it.”
- Hristo Stoichkov, former Bulgarian winger