Follow BPF on Twitter for more news and views on City, Spurs and Everton.
This is not a false dawn in the blue-half of Manchester. Manchester City are a club on the up, and not just because of their recent FA Cup triumph, which brought about an end to a well-publicised thirty-five year trophy drought.
The FA Cup Final win over Stoke was a great occasion, and a rare moment to savour for Manchester City fans who surely won’t have had very many since their League Cup win in 1976. Of course in the form of a piece of silverware City fans can boast evidence of the club’s progression, but it is consistent improvement in league standings that is the real indicator of how far United’s noisy neighbours are going.
City narrowly missed out on Champions League qualification last season but fifth place showed a big improvement on the mid-table finishes the club had had in recent years; itself a world away from when, less than a decade ago, City were struggling in the second tier of English football. And by finishing in the top four this season City have improved their league position again.
The reason why City haven’t received so much praise for their achievements is, rightly or wrongly, because of their gargantuan investment. Everyone expects them to be challenging at the top because of the money they’ve spent, but you have to bear in mind that they are competing against much more established clubs who have a better infrastructure, a deeper history, and all had fantastic talent laden squads anyway. Breaking up the big clubs is not as easy as spending money; there was a huge gulf for years and no matter how much money you have spent on your squad, having to pick eleven out of a group of twenty-five talented individuals every week when there is no real nucleus to the side, is going to be problematic. Over the course of thirty-eight games you are at a disadvantage to sides who have been playing together for a couple of years and already have that team spirit, with everybody knowing what their job is, and new talent can be bedded into that without throwing it all together at once.
City were always going to take a year or two to gel, and Roberto Mancini and his players deserve credit for their achievements this season.
Take into account the appraisal of Tottenham; City’s conquerors last season at Eastlands in a thrilling decider for fourth spot. Much was made of how Tottenham were the first club since Everton in 2005 to break up the ‘Traditional Top Four’ – a rapidly fading expression in the past couple of seasons, of course referring to the general dominance of the Champions League places in recent years by Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Spurs of course went a few better than Everton did by making it into the Champions League proper, before embarking on a great run to the Quarter-finals, whilst Everton never made it through the qualifying round and have never really threatened the top four since.
Manchester City have now broken into that exclusive club. But City’s achievement is far more significant than that of Spurs or Everton, and here’s why. No one outside of that ‘Traditional Top Four’ had finished in third place since Bobby Robson’s Newcastle did it in 2003, something that seems to have passed under the radar since City secured fourth. Finishing above Arsenal in third this season means that City won’t have to play a qualifying round and will enter straight into the group stages, where, given their squad and the quality of some of the lesser Eastern-European sides present at that stage of the competition, you would have to say that City are a shoe-in for the last 16 already.
So for the first time in eight years, we have a new face in the top three, and with City’s level of investment I’ll stick my head on the block and bet that they stay there. To put it into prospective how the game has changed in the past eight seasons, 2003 was the year that Abramovich decided to buy Chelsea and change the face of English football forever, and incidentally, it was City’s first season back in the top-flight since their last visit to the Football League.