The uncertainty around the future of Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has intensified in recent weeks due to bad on field performances and rumoured fall outs with key players. His stay at the City of Manchester Stadium could soon be over with a variety of names including the recently available Jurgen Klopp being bandied around the tabloids. City have not quite had the season that many expected and Pellegrini will pay the price for that although the full blame may not lie solely at his feet. It is the players who win the matches, not the manager so the current squad must take on some of that blame as well as the clubs executive management team who sanctioned their transfers in the first place.
City’s transfer policy in the past has been flawed. Given the vast financial resources available to the club, they have spent frivolously on players and most of the time paid over the odds in order to get their targets. Much of this happened in the early stages of their new ownership with the finger pointed firmly at former manager Mark Hughes however this is unfair as it was the City owners and management team that negotiated the fees not Hughes. The Welsh boss merely identified the players he wanted and the club pursued them with vigor and tenacity. The arrivals of Roque Santa Cruz for £18m, Jolean Lescott for £22m and Robinho for £32.5m are three examples where City has arguably paid over the odds for players. Although the latter was used as a way for the owners to show the fans their ambitions of turning the club into genuine contenders both at home and abroad, the move ended in failure with the Brazilian sheepishly leaving for AC Milan three years after his arrival for less than half what he was bought for. Unfortunately for City, they did not learn their lesson and have continued their brazen approach to transfers with Javi Garcia (£15.8m), Stefan Savic (£6m), Eliaquim Mangala (£40m) all being brought in much on higher than expected transfer fees, much to the delight of the selling clubs.
A new approach is needed focusing on the long term and for a good example of one in action City don’t need to look very far. Southampton’s recent success in the Premiership is a direct result of two fundamental changes they made to their transfer approach. The first was to look for emerging local youth talent from the surrounding areas and entice them into the club with the promise of personal development and first team exposure. Over the last six years since Southampton recovered from financial ruin and relegation to League One, the club has produced a host of talented youngsters like Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Adam Lallana who were eventually sold for large transfer fees. Even before this, the club was bringing through the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale who also moved on to greater things for significant fees. The money received in all these cases was split between funding the first team development and refinancing the existing youth programs. City do not need to be a selling club like Southampton but investments in youth development could save them millions in the future.
Secondly Southampton has targeted up and coming talented players abroad who then became bigger stars at the club. Instead of purchasing readymade internationalists at a premium, they brought in players like Morgan Schneiderlin, Dusan Tadic and Dejan Lovren for low fees who have become more valuable over time. Lovren’s move last summer to Liverpool netted the club £20 million off of an initial investment of £8.5 million only a year before. These clever purchases have made Southampton both successful on the pitch as well as economically sound off of it. City has too often looked for the complete player rather than one that needs development. This works in the short term but in the long term is set to fail. Generally these “complete” players are older having plied their trade in a variety of different leagues, honing their skills along the way before City swooped to buy them for an elevated fee. By buying them sooner, they could have saved some of that fee and used it to develop the player themselves which in turn would add further value to the player and the team.
In order to balance the books and comply with the heavily enforced UEFA financial fair play rules, City needs to sell some of its existing aging squad, starting with the players on the highest wages. First up is Yaya Toure, who has been a mainstay in the City midfield since his arrival from Barcelona but in recent years has seen a drop in form and desire to play for the club. Inter Milan are rumoured to be watching his situation with interest but may baulk at his staggering £250k per week wage demands. Another player that City wants off their books is Jesus Navas with the Spanish winger failing to settle in the north east. In total there could be between 10 to 13 players that City choose to sell this summer as a major revamp of the squad is done. Much will be dependent on the new manager who will arrive with his own philosophies and approach. Regardless City must address their approach to transfers if they are to transform the club this summer. They will likely spend big once again but the question remains if they adapt their signing style or continue to fall into the same pattern of paying over the odds for players they desperately want.