Sunday, January 18, 2009


Just because some Rich Arab needed to turn a randomly-picked Premier League team into a branding name doesn't mean a whole lot, if you study your history. When Kaka refused to sign with Manchester City last week, it sent an earthquake throughout the footballing world (everywhere save North America, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at any rate)! Why? Well, because Mammon is our God, dude! Could this signal the rise of altruism in football? Hmmm! Doubtful.

Not only is the effervescent Brazilian rich and subtly brilliant on the pitch, he is also a practicing 'Christian' and loyal to his club in a sweet, old-school sort of way.  All he really wants, the brilliant young master repeatedly insists, is to earn enough money to build the world's greatest church for his home city of Sao Paolo. Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, Shitty's brand-new owner, who is, I see in the Observer, the fifth richest man in the world, had offered, depending which newspaper gossip you believe, between 110M and 300M in Pounds Sterling to Kaka's club, A.C. Milan and wages of a half a million pounds per week to buy him. A.C. Milan, who are owned by the Italian Prime Minister and media baron Silvio Berlusconi, who is approximately the world's 32nd richest man, accepted this bid. No wonder, as his team is filled with aging dinosaurs like Luigi Maldini, 41, Pippo Inzhagi, 34, Genarro Gatusso, 32, Emerson, 34, Nelson Dida, 32, and many others who are long past their best. It's enough money to help completely rebuild the squad. Unfortunately, Kaka ain't no kaka to the club's fans. In fact, 250,000 fans showed up to demonstrate against the transfer outside the San Siro stadium before a game with Lecce. After the match, Kaka wept like Sophie having her son taken at Auschwitz and refused the the traditional swapping of team shirts with the opposition.

It seemed quite simple two week ago today. Manchester City--heretofore referred to as Man Shitty by the author who still despises the sky-blues with an abiding passion and still remembers them for happily representing the Proddy Dog* part of the population of Manchester, and still recalls every sectarian blow that was both gifted and received--made an offer A.C. Milan could not refuse. Then, depending on which paper you believe, Kaka turned the offer down. His refusal was either because... 1.)It rains a LOT in Manchester and Brasilenhos like the sun; 2.) Kaka adores A.C. Milan's fans back and likes the colony of other Brazilian players-Ronaldinho, Dida, Cafu, Pato and Emerson-in the squad; 3.) David Beckham, who is on loan to the club from the L.A. Galaxy, owns 100% of his own image rights. Kaka's agent likes the idea of that. Man Shitty wanted to split image rights 50/50 with Kaka and, thus, Kaka's agent, who also happens to be his father, refused to negotiate for less than 100%; or,  4) Kaka really wants to play in La Liga for Real Madrid in Spain, where the weather is pleasant and the referees are far more protective of great players. The latter is logical: If you're Kaka, you shouldn't have to put up with the kind of vicious tackling accepted in the English Premier League and Serie A in Italy. The answer is.... all of the above, although I'm a tad dubious as to whether Real would want to let Kaka control all of his image rights, either.

This circus has cemented all of Shitty's problems and shown them up in a very public way. If you've only followed E.P.L. football for a while, I doubt that Shitty are even on your radar. The glamour clubs are United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and, lately, Aston Villa. The big rivalry in the rainy north-west of England is between Manny U and Liverpool. It wasn't always that way, though. A powerhouse before World War Two, Shitty allowed their best pre-war player, Matt Busby, to leave the club and take over as manager at Manchester United, which was a predominantly Roman Catholic club.

The fortunes of the two clubs slowly changed as United's stadium, Old Trafford, rebuilt after being bombed in WW2, became far bigger than Shitty's Maine Road stadium. United's fan base, mostly Anglo-Irish Catholic was always more loyal. Busby also built a youth academy, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom.  The club became rich and successful and Busby was knighted in 1969, after winning the European Cup in 1968: A first for an English club. That same year, City won their last ever Division One championship. A few minor wins occurred in the 70s, but there has been no serious success since. Indeed, when I'm home, even their most vociferous United-hating fans, like the comedian Bernard Manning and the pop star Beatle-wannabe, Liam Gallagher, refer to them--yes, their own team-- as 'Shitty.'

Throughout the years, although United have had their ups and downs--while Division One was renamed the Premier League, and Liverpool enjoyed short-lived dynasty status -- Shitty have been a wet dud of a firecracker. Let me repeat and reiterate: Not one major trophy has been won by Manchester City since 1968! But then came the tsunami. After a 40-year-revolving- door of owners, board members, coaches and disastrous purchases in the transfer market, Shitty fans woke up last December, on the morning of New Year's Eve, with their four decades of prayer finally answered. Just like in some daft Disney movie, Man Shitty had been bought by a rich Arab with much more money than sense.

Sheikh Mansour was, he announced, going to use the club as a marketing tool for his scores of investments in fast food restaurants, electronic media, household goods and clothing. A cornucopia of 'stuff' dolled up in Man Shitty sky-blue. Shitty's ship, they thought, had finally come in. To prove it, on the last night of the transfer window, Shitty stole Real Madrid's malcontent, the thumbsucking enfant terrible, Robinho, out of the grasp of the Russian oil oligarch, Roman Abramovich before he could sign him for his toy football club, Chelsea. The problem with the Sheikh's record buy, however, is that, even though Robinho really is a rather special 'flair' player capable of scoring lots of goals, he is not the type to carry a team on his back. Buying one really great player for an ordinary middle-of-the-table team has added virtually nothing at all to a group which needs not only a massive injection of quality, but also a heart transplant. 

In simple terms, Shitty win or draw most of their home games at the sterile City of Manchester stadium and tend to lose most of their away matches. In fact, statistically, they were a slightly better team last season before Robinho arrived. The boy is brilliant. A fantastic dribbler and a sometimes breathtaking improviser. Yet the English game is rough. Referees tend to only protect veteran flair players; never wet-behind-the-ears kids who suck their thumb after scoring goals. At 5' 7" and nine stone (126 ibs), Robinho needs a team to be built around  him. Hughes spent 2oM at SV Hamburg on a tough Dutch lad named Nigel De Jong, but he, too, is young, 22 and new to thePremiership. Another 16M was spent on another hard-case, the stocky, spunky journeyman, Craig Bellamy, who can theoretically play next to Robinho and protect him from the league's thug brigade. An aging veteran goalkeeper, the wily Shay Given, was purchase for 12M. All very well and good, save for the fact that Bellamy and Robinho are both too short to compete in the air with ruthless 6'2"+ centre backs like John Terry and Nemanja Vidic.  The club manager, Mark 'Sparky' Hughes had wanted to bring in his old centre-forward, the 6'4" Paraguayan Roque de Santa Cruz, but the problem which will plague Shitty forever showed up.

Roque De Santa Cruz is a passably good striker, but way past his best, having given his pomp years to Bayërn München, and been a crafty veteran for Sparky's previous club, Blackburn Rovers. He is worth perhaps 8M, but certainly not the 15M Blackburn were asking. After a couple of bids were turned down and much Hughes rhetoric about 'not being ripped off,' City finally bid 15M a week before the transfer deadline. At that point, Rovers new manager, Sam Allardyce, moaned at a press-conference that it would be impossible to replace Santa Cruz at such short notice. Consequently, Rovers decided the fee had to be 20M. Then, after much humming, hawing and brinkmanship, City came up with the money 20 minutes short of the deadline. Naturally, with City's balls to the wall, Allardyce insisted the fee was now 25M. Negotiations were still going on as the deadline closed; unfortunately, the Sheikh seems to have been otherwise occupied in the mosque. It's pretty clear that, when a player who is worth 8M miraculously transmogrifies into a brand-name-vehicle worth 25M, Shitty have problems. Whether they like it or not, the whole footballing world thinks of them as suckers: The Beverly Hillbillies of the game.

Manchester City's manager is Mark 'Sparky' Hughes. Formerly a star striker for Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern München, Sparky took a huge career risk leaving a fine coaching job at a Blackburn Rovers club he had shaped and revitalized and lead into the premiership top ten on a shoestring budget. A legend for his sense of drive and craft as a player, Hughes, in taking over at City surely realized that he has burnt his bridges, having once been part of the giant extended Manchester United family of ex-players and fans that tend to guarantee a lucrative career after retirement. City's owner at the time, Thaksin Shinawatra, a Thai wheeler-dealer who had just stepped down as President of his country, promised Sparky a limitless budget and the chance to buy the best players in the world. Unfortunately, political turmoil in his country, charges of murder and corruption and a decision by the Swiss government to freeze his money, left Shinawatra and, consequently, Manchester City F.C., high and dry. What Sheikh Mansour bought on the cheap was the second club in the third city that is absolutely football crazy. To be sure, it is an absolutely ordinary team, but the club do have a fine youth academy and its first team squad started giving early chances to young players like Michael Johnson, Stephrn Ireland, Micah Richards, Nedim Onuoha and Daniel Sturridge. A few days after Mansour's purchase, at one minute to midnight on the last night of the transfer window, the Sheikh beat out Abramovich to Robinho's signature.


Over the first twenty games of this season, City have been ordinary. Robinho has scored 11 goals, but his only consistently competent colleagues, Elano and Stephen Ireland, have had to play with a squad of burned-out veterans, lazy mercenaries and plain-old bad buys. This group was not all put together by Hughes, to be sure, but the nose Sparky showed for quality, low-cost players at Blackburn, has deserted him now that his wallet is thicker. 15M for a hapless beanpole of a Brazilian striker, Jo; 12M for the 'potentially brilliant' Vincent Kompany, who has been played out of position in the midfield; 8M for the laconic Israeli centre-back, Tal Ben-Haim, who has never recaptured the form he showed at Bolton two seasons ago; 6M each for the erratic Benjani and Felipe Calcedo, each of whom looks like they would be superstars in the Finnish Premier League. The last batch, bought to service Robinho, as I said earlier, have upped the expense ante. De Jong, a hard-tackling, post-to-post midfielder cost  20M. This move should at least free up Vincent Kompany so that he can help out the slow-witted, slow-footed Richard Dunne at Centre Back. Pablo Zabaleta might work out at right back at 7M, but someone has to slot in behind him when he executes his attacks down the right wing and 'forgets' to haul his arse back in any kind of urgent way. Wayne Bridge is certainly better at left back than the thuggish Michael Ball, but 18M is surely three times what he's actually worth at 31-years-old. Hughes' biggest gamble is the 18M spent on the irritable, albeit sometimes brillant presence of Craig Bellamy. As with Bridge, Hughes has definitely paid three times more than his actual market value. The point, I guess, is for the ebullient, ultra-physical tattooed Welsh warrior to act as a ra-ra team leader and plunge his boot up the posterior of the lackaidazical, but also brilliant Robinho. This tactic was already attemped by Real Madrid's old coach, Bernd Schuster, when he sic'd Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Raul on him to 'toughen him up!' It didn't work. Robinho went on  boozy walkabout, screamed to get out. Thus Real sold Robinho to City, where he carries on in the same manic-depressive fashion, and fired Schuster.

As I write, Robinho has just returned to the club from his home in Brazil, and will receive a fine of app. 300, o00 for leaving the club's training cap in Tenerife without seeking the club's permission,. He has also been questioned by police about a possible nightclub rape. Having turned down a move to second-place Chelsea, where he would have had the chance of a fine run in the European Champions Cup and only slightly less money, Robinho already wants out. Sparky may get along well with the volatile Craig Bellamy, but he's had no luck with the Brazilian lads. Jo, Elano and Robinho. If he can't kiss and make up with Robinho, who wants more of his Brazilian compatriots on the City squad, not less. I expect he will be gone by June.

My stern old Grandmother brought me up well and was never shy about her use of clichés. Be careful what you wish for... was one of her favourites.  There's supposed to be a fairy tale at the end of a sad historical story. Ideally, in this one, a fine Arab prince would ride in on his steed and rescue Manchester Shitty's  army of defeated, humiliated fans from being the butt of a million bad jokes and the sarcastic nods and winks of their rival fans at Manchester United and Liverpool. Improvement may soon be gradually forthcoming, but the winning of any kind of championship is more than a few seasons away. Messrs. Robinho and Hughes will surely both be long gone and our old object of desire, Mr. Kaka, will surely have won three or four more championship medals for A.C. Milan and built the world's biggest church back in Sao Paolo.

*Proddy Dog aka Protestant

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