Kaka, Manchester City & Great Expectations
For the Manchester City executives that have been in Milan all day trying to to confirm a deal for the signature of Kaka, today has undoubtedly been an eventful one. There have been protests outside the office where the negotiations have been taking place, which took a turn for the bizarre then the midfielders father turned up (as he had done before) to speak on behalf of his son. Milan stand to do very nicely indeed out of this deal. The current weakness of the pound against the euro means that they could stand to make twenty-five per cent more in real terms than they would have done six months ago. This transfer on its own may have gone a long way towards curing the malaise that the red and black half of Milanese football has been suffering from over the last couple of seasons or so. For now, though, City have been turned down against, although ruling anything out permanently would be foolhardy.
We’re also learning a lot about English football – the media, the fans and our own in-built opinions of the clubs themselves. I first used the phrase “football supporters are inherently conservative” on here a couple of years ago, and nothing that I have seen in the publc domain over the last couple of weeks or so has changed that opinion. Manchester City, to be frank, are being ridiculed over this transfer for “not knowing their place”. This isn’t, it’s important to add, a reflection upon the wisdom or otherwise of spending £100m on one player. The very concept of making such a move at the start of a year in which anything up to one million British workers may lose their jobs leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. It also remains depressingly likely that Abu Dhabi United’s venture into Premier League football will end in tears before bedtime, and that those that will suffer in the long term will be their long suffering supporters. These are all valid arguments (which we have had on here before). Tonight, it’s time to have a look at this from a slightly different angle.
Over the last ten years or so, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have built up quite a comfortable little hegemony at the top of the Premier League. For all the chest-beating when they play each other, they all understand one fundamental truth. It doesn’t really matter who wins the Premier League. What matters is who qualifies for the Champions League. The methods by which they have built this unprecedented domination have been slightly different at each of the four clubs. Manchester United were, of course, already “brand leaders”, but the Glazer family’s leveraged purchase of the club has left them with an enormous debt. Liverpool, worth less than Manchester United, found themselves in a similar situation but are desperate to increase their match day revenue by building a brand new, bigger stadium. Arsenal have built the stadium but have fallen behind the pack as servicing this debt has meant that they have not been able to spend as much on players as they might otherwise have done. It’s likely that they will have to, eventually, allow Alisher Usmanov a greater degree of control at the club in order to be able to spend more of his (some might say dubiously acquired) millions. Chelsea have followed the sugar daddy route, with the club now hundreds of millions of pounds in debt to Roman Abramovich through the loans that he gave to club to spend lavishly on some of the worlds finest players.
And then along come Manchester City, brashly promising to blow the other three out of the water with a series of transfers that will change, yet again, the way that we look at the transfers of top players in Europe. They paid £32m for Robinho at the end of August, and promised that this would be the first of many. The signing of Kaka is notable for the sheer, eye-watering size of the sums concerned, but they have also been sniffing around after some of the other elite players in Europe, such as Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon. It may or may not start next season and it may or may not involve Mark Hughes, but Manchester City are determined to be in the Champions League in the next couple of years or so. They have been met with honking derision in the British press. There is previous for this. When Chelsea, formed in 1905, first broke through four or five years ago, supporters of the other clubs sang “you’ve got no history” at them with glee, and this was mirrored in the press. Chelsea were regarded as being somehow vulgar, as if their money was somehow different to that being thrown around by the other biggest clubs. History is now repeating itself.
The “you’ve got no history” songs haven’t started yet. There’s no need, while City are failing to achieve on the pitch. The other biggest clubs will continue to laugh at them for that alone, for the time being. However, this is unlikely to stay the same for very long and, at this point, the patronising will begin. There has definitely already been an atmosphere in the press that Manchester City don’t deserve all this money. This may well be true, but one cannot help but feel that the same rules wouldn’t have applied had Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or (perhaps to a lesser extent) Chelsea been taken over by someone so wealthy. Manchester City may be going about their assault on the Champions League in completely the wrong way (just think what £100m would do for their youth academy, for example, and precious few people have actually questioned whether, for all the hype, Kaka would actually be of any use to them in their current predicament) and they are almost certainly going to start another round of ridiculous Premier League hyper-inflation, but the idea of them breaking up (or at least having a go at breaking up) this comfortable little group is, in some ways, quite an appealing one.
For this season, however, all of Manchester City’s posturing, all of this is an irrelevance. The only people that would be likely to do well out of this deal are Silvio Berlusconi and Kaka himself. Manchester City are offering a phenomenal amount of money for one player – enough for Milan to pay for four or five world class replacements. There’s nothing particularly surprising about their interest. It’s likely that his transfer would have allowed him extravagant bonus and release clauses, including quite possibly a release clause should they have failed to reach the Champions League next season (not, you might have noticed, one that was invoked at Milan following their failure to reach that competition at the end of last season). Kaka, however, has a higher calling and, for the time being he doesn’t seem to wish to get involved in a desperate battle to get into the First Qualifying Round of next year’s UEFA Cup. Still, at least City seem to have snapped up Craig Bellamy and Nigel de Jong.
At the time of writing, the deal is off, but that doesn’t mean a great deal in the modern football climate. Kaka has made the right noises, and Berlusconi appears to have realised the depth of his own supporters feelings, although the pull of a massive pay cheque may yet cause him a few sleepless nights. Should the deal finally be extinguished (and there’s every chance that official confirmation of this may be released by the time that you read this), which is the best of all possible outcomes. City supporters are spared the inevitable enormous disappointment of signing a largely inappropriate player, and we will get to enjoy another episode of this extraordinary soap opera (which I am provisionally entitling “The Manchester City Premium”, in honour of the extra zero that every club chairman is adding to the value of their best players, should City enquire as to their availability. Meanwhile, back in the present day, Aston Villa continue to grind out enough points to keep Arsenal out of the top four, having eschewed a sponsorship deal in favour of a shirt deal with a charity, under the watchful gaze of the most talented British manager out there at the moment, and on a sustainable wage budget. If you’re shopping around for a Premier League team to support at the moment and you’re looking to make something approaching an ethical choice, Villa remain the one you should be looking at. It’s doubtful whether the Abu Dhabu United Group care that much about such considerations, though.