Manchester City’s arch foes Michel Platini and Jose Mourinho were probably wearing smug grins after Manuel Pellegrini’s team won their seventh consecutive game in both the Champions and Premier Leagues.
But why would UEFA’s Little Napoleon and Chelsea’s Snide One be smiling when City, the team everybody now loves to hate, had maintained momentum with a hard fought 1-0 win against rock bottom Leicester City?
The answer is found in three words – one corrupt and contradictory concoction – Financial Fair Play.
UEFA’s cancerous manifestation masquerades as a policy to safeguard against unscrupulous owners of clubs who, either through mismanagement or malice aforethought, threatens the very existence of their vulnerable charge.
Sustainability and the long term well being of clubs is very much a secondary consideration of FFP. The primary, but unwritten, objective is to protect the self interest of Europe’s old guard cartel, and deprive newcomers such as City, the opportunity to gatecrash the party.
FFP – Fraudulent Foul & Pernicious – prevented Manchester City from operating to optimum levels in last summer’s transfer market.
Punitive spending caps and the slashing of City’s squad size for the Champions League, were substantial elements in putting Pellegrini in a position where he is now without a fit, recognised senior striker.
City’s Premier League winning trio of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic are all injured and unavailable. As we all know, the ‘fourth man’, Alvaro Negredo, departed to Valencia on transfer deadline day.
The reasons for the Spanish striker’s return home vary wildly, depending who you talk to, be it the man himself, Mrs Negredo, Manuel Pellegrini or people who purport to have the inside track on Alvaro’s private life during his time in Manchester.
The bottom line is City were hamstrung by FFP and the Champions League squad constraints, when they could have bought a top striker to replace The Beast.
With a busy Christmas schedule in the offing, City’s front line consists of Jose Angel Pozo – an 18 year old of undeniable potential, but totally unproven in the senior ranks.
City’s spectacular successes of recent days – the opening of the wonderful City Football Academy facilities, superb financial results, progress in the Champions League and a fifth PL win on the bounce – would not sit well with the ‘suits’ in UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Having spent endless hours seeking to ‘screw’ Sheikh Mansour, Platini the petite tete de merde, will doubtless be quietly satisfied that injury woes could yet be the undoing of City’s season.
A perceived lack of City firepower will sit well with Mourinho, especially after his team’s eight point cushion was stripped back to just three, within the space of a week.
The irony of City’s sixth away victory was that the winner came from New York City’s, Super Frankie Lampard – the man who Mourinho let go and the loan signing who side stepped the FFP shackles.
In hitting his fourth PL goal of the season and 175th of his career, Lamps drew level with Thierry Henry on the Premier League all-time top scorers list.
Lampard looks set to surpass the Arsenal legend as City seek to extend his stay at the Etihad beyond the end of December, most likely for an extra three months.
The playmaker and goal taker extraordinaire scored with his weaker left foot after marvellously re-adjusting his stance to connect with a Samir Nasri assist.
Nasri, enjoying a purple patch of form, passed through a cluster of four defenders, before Lampard swept the ball home from seven yards out, past rookie keeper Ben Hamer.
Making only his second senior appearance Hamer had earlier pulled off fine saves from Jose Angel Pozo and Yaya Toure, to frustrate a lethargic City, clearly disrupted by Dzeko’s calf injury sustained in the pre-match warm up.
At the other end Joe Hart had almost been caught out by an Exocet missile of a free kick from veteran Argentine Esteban Cambiasso, the 35-yard strike going just wide.
Joe acknowledged the quality of the shot with a smile and thumbs up to the ex-Inter Milan midfielder.
Another ‘ThirtySomething’ Argentinian – Martin Demichelis – will be vital to City’s title ambitions as the games come thick and fast, after Vincent Kompany succumbed to a recurrence of his hamstring injury.
The Demi-God will form a central defensive partnership with the fast improving Eliaquim Mangala as City seek to build on the recent glut of clean sheets – four in the last five fixtures.
If the Goals For column won’t be stacking up as quickly as in recent games between now and 2015, then keeping the Goals Against column static assumes even more importance.
City attacking injury woes will doubtless be greeted with delight and derision by many – the same media outlets who give endless air time and column inches, along with tea and sympathy, to Louis Van Gutteral’s wounded defensive corps.
We would expect nothing less, which will make it all the more satisfying if City can continue to grind out wins, such as they did at the King Power Stadium.
Nigel Pearson’s team, now 11 PL games without a win since thrashing Manure’s Gaalactico’s 5-3 in September, fought ferociously for what would have been a precious point.
It’s a measure of City grit that after five games in 13 days – four on opposition soil, 11 goals scored, only 1 conceded and 15 points garnered, they overcame mounting casualties and fatigue.
Pellegrini won’t want to desert his philosophy of attractive, expansive attacking play, but even this football purist will accept a more pragmatic approach in the short-term.
Three more wins over Crystal Palace, WBA and Burnley will see City going into the New Year in excellent shape and Txiki Begiristain ready and willing to clinch new deals to boost City’s depleted squad.
Swansea’s Wilfried Bony looks a likely target to boost City’s frontline in a move that might see invisible man Scott Sinclair return to Wales.
The Ivorian centre forward is a proven Premier League force with 23 goals in 49 games. He would bring a physicality often lacking in Edin Dzeko’s game, the only drawback would be his departure to the African Cup of Nations with Yaya in January and February.
If unflappable Manuel is wearing a big cheesy Chilean grin at the end of May what’s the betting the smirks will have long since left the faces of the two faced Platini and Mourinho?
By David Walker
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