By Declan Taylor
A little over six months ago Manchester City were on the receiving end of an 8-1 hammering at Middlesbrough, their manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, had been hounded out despite leading his side to Europe for the first time in five years and there was a warrant out for the arrest of their Thai owner Thaksin Shinawatra. A lot has changed since May.
After working wonders at Blackburn, Mark Hughes was appointed as manager but that news would pale into insignificance next to developments in the boardroom. It was reported in September that the Abu Dhabi United Group, fronted by United Arab Emirates royalty, were buying the club. Their wealth made even Roman Abramovich's capital look like pocket change.
Alongside the whirlwind of publicity came none other than Brazilian starlet Robinho as a new footballing powerhouse threatened to surface from the blue half of Manchester.
The wheels are certainly in motion at Eastlands but they are nowhere near top speed - City sit 12th in the Premier League, just three points above the foot of the table. We spoke to Chris Bailey of the Manchester Evening News about Saturday's visit of Arsenal, Hughes' new-look City and Robinho's grasp of the Manchester bus timetables.
THE STORY SO FAR
“The takeover was the only story in town over the whole of the summer in terms of what it might do to the balance of power long-term both in Manchester and the rest of the country. It is a completely different place to be this season compared to what it was at the end of last season. All the uncertainty and the rumour over whether Thaksin Shinawatra has got his money, or will he ever get his money has gone out the window and City are now run by people who are genuinely ‘super rich’.
“Eventually the spending power will prove vital but they are taking a softly-softly approach to it. They are not just going to throw hundreds of millions of pounds at it willy-nilly. They have got a very tight business plan and the chairman is very calm, very considered and he is eager to express the desire to do things on a proper basis, ensuring that solid foundations are laid.
“This isn’t just a quick hit by throwing 100 or 200 million at something to try and win the league and then clear off, they are trying to build something with substance. They will do it in two ways really. Firstly use the money they have wisely in the transfer market because the team needs strengthening and secondly by building up the academy which won the FA Youth Cup last season. It is going to be a long-term plan rather than a quick fix.”
“The transfer window was unbelievable really. The new owners really had one day when they were in charge and I think they wanted to make a statement – that statement was Robinho. It was a pretty big, bold statement that is for sure.
“Thirty goals is his target he has said. He has got eight already so he is not far off and I can’t see him being too far away given that City are still in Europe. He is playing on the left of a fluid three that sit just behind the central striker. They are Robinho, Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips. In that role he is given licence to float, move and freestyle as long as they all get back and help from time-to-time.
“He brings pace and he puts fear into the opposition. He brings defenders away from other players and he brings the unexpected. He is a world–class footballer and he gets that kind of respect from the opposition and while they are watching him they are maybe not looking so hard at Ireland or Wright-Phillips. He does also bring some hard work to the side. He is not scared to get stuck in and Mark Hughes made him captain last week for that very reason.
“He tends to stay out on the left and cut in which is what he likes doing best. He seems to have adapted very well, he always has a smile on his face. He is living in a hotel in the city centre and he has learnt the bus routes well because he quite often gets a bus into the Trafford Centre with his good lady. He is fully immersed in local life at the moment, he is out in the restaurants, on the buses and he is in the shopping precinct. He seems to be enjoying it and long may it last.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“Mark Hughes has been in a strange position because the brochure for the club that he was originally given by Shinawatra wasn’t quite what it appeared when he got here. He very quickly realised that maybe there wasn’t as much money to spend as he thought. It wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be in the early weeks so he had that to overcome and then of course the Arab takeover too. There will be pressure of course, but it comes, not so much from the people giving him the money, but the supporters who expect the likes of Kaka and Lionel Messi to arrive tomorrow when they are not going to.
“There is pressure on him but he is sensible. He knows that he is able to spend money and he knows that he is in perhaps the best position of any manager in world football in terms of being able to spend money. The only pressure on him is the pressure that he puts on himself, as the board haven’t set him any targets for this season. Next season may be a different kettle of fish.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“They can’t defend, that is what has gone wrong. At home they have not put a bad performance in yet but it is a different story away. They scored six against Portsmouth, three against West Ham and three against Stoke. They were then 2-0 up against Liverpool, got a man sent off and lost, then took the lead against Chelsea and let it slip, then faced Spurs with 10 men - were the better team throughout - but still lost.
“At home they are quite a handful but away from home they are having to score three goals to win a game which is unsustainable. They did it once at Sunderland when they won 3-0 but then scored two at Newcastle but only managed a draw. It is at the back that is the problem and I think that is where he will address in the transfer window.”
“They can only play one way and that is to play football. There will be no hatchet men on show you can be sure of that. It will be a pure game of football and it could be a case of whoever scores the last goal wins; 'if you score three, we’ll score four’. Both teams only play one way and that is good football, there are no cloggers in either team, so we should expect a really good game of football.
“Elano could be called back and then there is Ireland, Robinho and Wright-Phillips with probably Benjani leading the attack. They are all footballers and there will certainly be no kick-and-chase.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“I expect the same as usual and that is technically brilliant football from Arsenal with plenty of movement and plenty of energy. I watched their youth team destroy a Wigan side that actually beat City this season so it may be better for us if the first team turns up. I know Fabregas is out and Walcott too so that will hurt them because City are vulnerable down the flanks to pace so Walcott’s absence could be quite a boost for City in that respect.
“I expect a free-flowing game of football as it always is against Arsenal. It is one of the games you look forward to most in the season, both going to the Emirates and inviting them here. They play pretty much the same game wherever they play and that is always easy on the eye.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source