herald

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hard to see City's march being halted

The Manchester City players and staff on the buses pass the crowds of fans gathered on the route during the trophy parade in Manchester
The Manchester City players and staff on the buses pass the crowds of fans gathered on the route during the trophy parade in Manchester

English football is facing up to a major crisis after Manchester City's domination was highlighted in brutal fashion with their FA Cup final win last Saturday - and now we wait to see whether Premier League officials have the guts to stand up to them.

My Herald column last week caused a stir and got some firing abuse in my direction on Twitter, as I suggested City's trophy successes were clouded by the reality that they had built their empire using finances which have not been properly accounted for by the game's authorities.

I stand by every word written on these pages and the widespread negative reaction to City's embarrassingly easy FA Cup final win led me to conclude a lot of people support my opinion.

UEFA are reportedly threatening to throw City out of the Champions League for breaking Financial Fair Play rules, yet I would be surprised if that ever happens as they have the financial muscle to take everyone who threatens them to court with the best lawyers in the world working for them.

Reluctant

Worryingly, the Premier League have seemed less reluctant to question City's financial structure at this moment and that's a problem because this issue should have been dealt with a long time ago.

In truth, the root problem here started when the Abu Dhabi money machine was thrown behind City after they bought the club in 2008, with their arrival at a relatively small club viewed as something of a novelty in the first few years.

That allowed them to inflate transfer fees and wages to levels no-one else in English football could compete with for a sustained period of time, with all at City waiting for the day when they would be winning domestic trebles year after year.

Well, we have reached that inevitable moment now and while none of us will deny they are a fantastic team, football in England is about to become very boring unless someone stands up to them now - and I don't just mean on the field.

Liverpool deserve all the credit in the world for finishing a point behind City in the Premier League title race, with their final total of 97 points a figure they will struggle to repeat next season.

However, I expect City to get stronger after another summer of spending and there is every chance they could have the Premier League title wrapped up by March next season, allowing them to focus on trying to win the Champions League for the first time.

I can't see any other scenario than City winning the title for the next four or five years and it may need another billionaire owner coming into English football to give them a run for their money, but that's not the way it should be.

Business

Defenders of City's business model say Liverpool spent £150m to sign Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, but the reality is that Barcelona paid for those two players when they agreed to pay a very similar amount of money to sign Philippe Coutinho, so the net cash outlay was minimal.

Then you look at Liverpool's Champions League final rivals Tottenham - they have spent nothing in the transfer market and they are still trying to compete with City.

Manchester United are the only team that has spent crazy money to try and keep up with their city rivals in recent years and while they have made a right mess of it, by making some horrible signings, the chasing pack are all now wondering whether City's dominance can be halted.

It may be that their domestic rivals need to target the FA Cup and League Cup as trophies they can win because I don't think it's realistic for teams to keep pace with a City team that has been assembled with more than £1billion of cash and shows no sign of losing its appetite for more trophies. When you looked at Guardiola on the bench at Wembley, he looked embarrassed as his side scored their fifth and sixth goals against Watford, because he knew that scoreline highlighted the chasm in class between a team built with huge amounts of cash and the teams that simply can't compete with them.

Battle

We may well have reached the point where the battle for a top-four finish and the relegation scrap will be the only interesting aspects of the Premier League season because City will be so far ahead at the top in what may still be loosely called a 'title race'.

Manchester City have bought their way to a position of supremacy in English football and even if the authorities belatedly stand up to them now and try to punish them for breaking the rules of the game, it will take many years to knock them off their perch.

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