Why Manchester City should not be criticised by Manchester United for spending their way to the title
The narrative of the 2011/2012 Premier League title race bears a strange, if not farfetched, resemblance to this year’s United States Presidential election campaign. The premises of both contests pit red against blue; the GOP versus the DEMS, United versus City; both match ups inflamed by the divisiveness and disputes of partisanry. Evidently, English football and American politics do share some common grounds, particularly in the form of a heavily politicised buzzword: money.
Where voters have expressed concerns about the ability of big corporations to influence the electoral process, football fans have voiced their displeasure at the influx of wealthy investors upsetting the economic balance of the beautiful game with ‘financial doping’. The Premier League’s top two teams, the Reds and Blues of Manchester - United and City - represent two-thirds of English football’s moneyed superpowers, turning cash into points, and points into trophies. Both sides have spent hundreds of millions to ensure success, outbidding opponents in the transfer market and outplaying rivals on the football pitch. And yet, in spite of the astronomical figures bandied about, pasted in newspapers, splashed across our screens and trumpeted on radio shows, money, or rather, Manchester City’s much referenced superior spending power, was not the deciding factor in the title race – claiming so does an unfair and unjust disservice to the tactics and management of Roberto Mancini, the heroics of Vincent Kompany and the indefatigable characters of the City dressing room.
As far as two horse races go, The Theatre of Dreams and The Etihad are palatial stables for a royally affluent pair of steeds. Both are finely preened and pruned, enjoying the attention of world class trainers, while surrounded by a milieu of millionaires. Rival teams might attempt to comfort themselves with the old adage suggesting the grass isn’t always greener, but, for City and United, it is certainly richer. The Manchester clubs operate at a higher tax bracket than everyone else, excluding Chelsea. Even on bad days, when their glasses appear half full, they can rest at ease, assured by the fact that they’re nonetheless still sipping champagne.
While City’s spending has been well documented, fomenting an anti-Abu Dhabi consensus, United’s record breaking transfer dealings have been overlooked, ironically portraying the Reds as underdogs dining on porridge rather than caviar. Strangely, Ferguson’s men have been relegated to a lower league of financial dealings, consigning United’s clout to a working class status. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Reds have been breaking British transfer records for decades, outmuscling and strong arming rivals to sign players, raising prices and cornering the market in a manner very much akin to modern day City or Chelsea. United have raised the bar for British spending on numerous occasions, dating all the way back to 1995 with the signing of Andy Cole for an unprecedented £7 million. Six years later they shattered the glass ceiling, splashing £28 million on Juan Sebastian Veron. A year later they would break their own record with the £29 million acquisition of Rio Ferdinand from Leeds. That was in 2002. To put those figures into context, it should be reiterated that Ferdinand cost more than Samir Nasri, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko. For all the talk of City’s incredible spending, it should be noted that United paid £25.5 million for a 19 year old Wayne Rooney – the highest fee ever paid for a player under the age of 20 – while spending £20.4 million on Anderson and €25.5 million on Nani (in the same month). Ferguson has also paid upwards of £15 million on players like Michael Carrick (in a deal possibly rising to £18.6 million), Antonio Valencia (£16 million), and Dimitar Berbatov (£30 million).
Old Trafford regulars will be quick to differentiate themselves from the billionaires at the Etihad, defining the Glazer era as a period of austerity. Findings, however, prove otherwise, as the Glazers arrived in 2005, financing big money moves for the Nanis, Andersons and Berbatovs. Since taking over ownership in 2005, United have spent approximately £236 million on transfers. Contrary to popular opinion, the Reds have indeed been busy, at times acquiring players at astonishing rates. For instance, in the summer of 2007, a hefty £61.7 million was spent on bringing in Carlos Tevez, Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves, Rafael and Fabio Da Silva – players who would go onto play in the first team and win titles - not to mention Rodrigo Possebon, Tomasz Kuszczak and Manucho.
While it is true that Manchester City were able to bring in Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Stefan Savić this summer, United were no paupers, signing David De Gea for £19 million, and both Ashley Young and Phil Jones for £17 million each.
On the last day of the season, City fielded a side worth a combined value of £161 million, United £169 million.
Just a few games ago, prior to the Reds’ fateful defeat at Wigan, when Ferguson’s men were 8 points clear of City with six games to go, very few people, if anyone, spoke of United’s financial inferiority. Then again, title after title, no one complained about their financial superiority. It has been all too easy to dismiss Mancini’s success on the grounds of finance. While clubs outside the top two, bar Chelsea, and maybe even Liverpool, would be well within their rights to voice concerns regarding the inequity and inequality of ‘football doping’, the billionaires and multi millionaires of Old Trafford would be best served evaluating their own pockets. Money does talk but in the Reds’ case, it needs something new to talk about.
A conversation discussing defensive frailties would be beneficial, as would a word or two about quality midfield options. Perhaps even an analysis of a rare late season slump. All of these topics should be covered in the red half of Manchester. No doubt, what should be on everyone’s lips is praise for the Premier League’s new champions. Money may buy you star names, but hard work and determination wins you trophies.