Can Manchester City win the Premier League?
Fuelled by millions of petro-dollars from the apparently bottomless pockets of their Abu Dhabi owners Manchester City have spent the summer accumulating what is beginning to look, on paper anyway, a squad that will challenge for the title.
Significantly, the players bought by manager Mark Hughes are tried and tested in the Premier League which augurs wells for City’s chances of shaking up the established pecking order in English football.
Opposing managers must have watched with a growing sense of awe and no doubt a little envy as Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers), Carlos Tevez (Manchester United), Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal) joined to form a formidable looking strike force while defender Kolo Toure (Arsenal) was recruited to beef up the back four and England midfielder Gareth Barry signed from Aston Villa.
Consider the likes of Robinho, Craig Bellamy, Shaun-Wright Phillips, Wayne Bridge and Micah Richards, who were all part of last season’s team, and City already boast arguably the strongest squad in the Premier League with the transfer window nowhere near closing.
But can they win the league? Are the new recruits going to bridge the 40-point gap between champions Manchester United and City last season or eben the 20-odd extra points they will need to challenge for a Champions League spot.
Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill certainly thinks so.
“City might not be favourites to win the league, but they should be,” O’Neill said last week. “They have as good a chance as anybody of winning it.”
Vast riches are no guarantee to silverware but as Chelsea proved when Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, factor in a coherent transfer policy and an astute coach and anything is possible.
It did not happen immediately at Stamford Bridge and it wasn’t until a year into the Abramovich reign that Claudio Ranieri was sacked, Jose Mourinho recruited and Chelsea won the league for the first time since 1955. Another title followed as Chelsea became the dominant force in English football for a while.
Man City are a similar size club to Chelsea, both in terms of support and history.
They have not won the league since 1968 and you have to go back to 1976 for their last major domestic silverware when they won the League Cup.
Should they fail to end that long wait this season Hughes would almost certainly pay with his job. There can be no excuses from Hughes this season. He has been given all he wants and no manager will be under the spotlight more than the Welshman.
It would be a major surprise if City are not challenging in or around the top four before long this season, though. Arsenal look particularly vulnerable to the new threat from the North West, while even champions Manchester United, minus star player Cristiano Ronaldo, will be keeping a close watch across the city.
Buying success may not be popular, unless you support the team in question, but it has been done before and watching City’s progress will be fascinating this season.
Just spare a thought for the other clubs who clawed their way to the fringes of the top four in recent seasons such as Villa and Everton.
O’Neill summed up the mood. “I’m deflated by it,” he said last week. “You think, ‘Well, you got quite close last year and suddenly another club has just stepped over you’. It kind of punctures you.”
So what do you think? Are Man City title contenders?
PHOTO: Emmanuel Adebayor (R) of Manchester City is challenged by Thomas Sweswe of Kaizer Chiefs at Loftus stadium in Pretoria, July 25,2009. REUTERS/Denvor de Wee