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Manchester City

Four of the worst Manchester City signings in the Sheikh Mansour era

Martyn Cooke

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When Sheikh Mansour purchased Manchester City in 2008 it signified the start of a new era in English football, with The Citizen’s emerging as the new superpower of the domestic game as the Abu Dhabi Group made astronomical investments in all aspects of the club.

The money provided by Mansour and his partners has enabled City to re-shape the very essence of the club with vast swathes of cash being spent, for the most part, wisely on infrastructure, a new purpose built £200 million training centre and links with clubs in the United States, Australia, Spain and the Far East.

The club’s new-found financial muscle has also allowed them to shake-up the transfer market, with an estimated one billion pounds being spent on players since 2008, that has seen the arrivals of prestigious figures and world-class personnel such as Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.

However, not every penny spent by Mansour in the transfer market has been a success. Here The Boot Room looks at four of the worst Manchester City signings of the Sheikh Mansour era.

Roque Santa Cruz

Mark Hughes had previously worked with the Paraguayan striker whilst at Blackburn Rovers where the forward had scored an impressive 23 goals in his debut season in English football. However, a string of injuries the following year had left Santa Cruz short of form and fitness whilst there were some early signs that his goal scoring accomplishments of the previous season had been little more than a flash in the pan.

Despite the warning signs, Hughes still elected to spend £18 million to bring the striker to the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2009 where he signed an exaggerated contract that would tie him to the club for the next four years. The Welshman had obviously been viewing the Paraguayan forward through rose tinted spectacles because Santa Cruz looked a shadow of the player that had burst into English football in 2007.

During his four-year stay at the Etihad Stadium the striker scored four goals and made just over twenty appearances as injuries, a seeming inability to make an impact in matches and the arrival of other star names coincided with his diminishing ability. He was shipped off on loan to Blackburn, where he failed to score, before temporary season-long moves to Spain with Real Betis and Malaga where he experienced mixed success.

Santa Cruz departed City in the summer of 2013 following the expiry of his contract having made little impact at the club despite the heavy cost the initial transfer fee and four years’ worth of wages.

Wilfried Bony

Prior to joining Manchester City Wilfried Bony was one of the hottest strikers in European football having averaged a goal every other game whilst at Swansea City. The imposing Ivorian appeared to possess all of the characteristics to become an outstanding forward – power, strength, pace and an instinctive presence around the eighteen yard box – although supporters at the Etihad Stadium would see very little of that during his stay with the club.

In January 2015, City purchased the striker for £25 million and signed a contract that was rumoured to be worth in excess of £128,000 per week. What an expensive, disastrous decision that would turn out to be.

Bony struggled for game time at the Etihad Stadium and never looked capable of holding down a regular first team spot despite the supporters willing him to be a success. His lack of playing time appeared to facilitate a dramatic diminishment in his physical ability and instinct in front of goal and he was quickly cast into the depths of reserve team football.

He scored just six goals in his first two seasons with City before he was sent out on loan to Stoke City. Unfortunately the striker failed to make any impact in The Potteries and by December he had had been consigned once more to reserve team football, this time in a red and white strip.

Bony returned to the Etihad Stadium in the summer and was purchased by Swansea City for half of the fee that they had sold him for three years previously.

Jack Rodwell

By the summer of 2012 Jack Rodwell had emerged as one of the brightest, young English talents in the modern game after bursting into first team football at Everton. The central midfield was mobile, strong and appeared to possess an impressive range of passing that had many predicting that he would soon be a regular starter in the senior England squad.

Roberto Mancini opted to invest £12 million in the then 21-year-old and there was a genuine excitement around the Etihad Stadium that the club had purchased a player that, seemingly, had vast amounts of potential.

Unfortunately for Rodwell his debut against Southampton would exemplify his struggles at Manchester City. He was directly responsible for both of the goals scored by The Saints and, although City would ultimately win the contest 3-2, he left the field with a shell-shocked look etched across his face.

The following two years would not be much better for the youngster. He made less than 30 appearances for City, the vast majority coming from the bench, and he appeared completely incapable of fitting into life at an elite football club. City quickly decided to cut their losses and in the summer of 2014 the club, somehow, managed to convince Sunderland to pay £10 million for Rodwell’s services – where he would become part of the team that suffered relegation in 2016.

Claudio Bravo

Pep Guardiola is recognised as one of the greatest football coaches / managers of the modern era and his arrival at the Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2016 was a definitive statement by the club that Manchester City intended to join the elite of European football.

Bizarrely, one of Guardiola’s first actions as manager was to shake-up the goalkeeping department where he opted to freeze out long-standing first choice ‘keeper Joe Hart. The England international was eventually excluded to Italy, where he joined Torino on a season-long loan, with Claudio Bravo being brought in for £15.4 million from Barcelona as his replacement.

The suggestion was that Bravo was more confident and adept with playing out from the back with his feet, a key aspect of Guardiola’s style of play, although it soon became apparent that the Chilean could not use his hands!

Bravo was immediately thrust into the City first team and never truly looked comfortable in the rough and tumble of Premier League football. He seemed incapable of saving a shot, at one point conceding eight goals from eight shots on target over the duration of a month, and made a number of high profile errors. By Christmas he had been replaced by reserve team goalkeeper Willy Cabellero, who would be released at the end of the season, and in the summer of 2017 Guardiola spent £35 million on a new first-choice goalkeeper, Ederson Moraes.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Manchester City

Manchester City must guard against complacency

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Photo: Reuters

Manchester City have been absolutely fantastic this season after they failed to pick up any silverware last term, the first time Pep Guardiola has gone a whole season as manager without winning a trophy of some description.

It looked like the Premier League leaders would become the second side to complete an invincible campaign but Liverpool ended their hopes of that with a classic 4-3 win.

After the weekend’s action, the Citizens have a 16-point lead over 2nd-placed Manchester United but must make sure they don’t let that slip away.

It is an extremely tough task for any of the Premier League’s top sides if they want to catch the Citizens but they certainly shouldn’t lose hope of closing that substantial gap.

In the two games after losing to Jürgen Klopp’s side, Man City didn’t falter and scored six goals to earn six more points but in the third match, they failed to beat a resilient Burnley unit.

They drew 1-1 which was disappointing after taking the lead from a scorching Danilo strike in the first-half.

The two results against the Clarets and Liverpool have showed that Pep Guardiola hasn’t built a completely bulletproof team.

The two matches that they have dropped points in since the New Year were against very different teams.

Liverpool are sublime going forward but leave a lot to be desired for at the back, while Burnley are an incredibly tight defensive squad with little cutting edge in attack.

The latter relied on an 82nd-minute ‘smash-and-grab’ equaliser while the former overcame City with a furious nine-minute spell in which they scored three goals to put the fixture beyond doubt.

This should give confidence to every other team in the league as a side who aren’t considered by anyone as one of the Premier League’s ‘big teams’ managed to take points from them.

Man City are facing a few tough fixtures in the league as well as some congestion as they are still fighting on four fronts.

Their next four matches are in four different competitions with one in both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, and their first leg of the last 16 in the Champions League, before a return to Premier League action.

Their two league games after next week are against Arsenal and Chelsea and while wins in those would be considered as them getting one hand on the title, they could easily slip up.

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To win the Premier League, Pep Guardiola’s side currently sit at odds of 1/500, so you’re likely to find more value in the race for the top four, where you can back Chelsea at evens and Arsenal at a HUGE 14/1.

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With four matches in the space of three weeks, including the EFL Cup final and a Champions League match, Manchester City might encounter some injuries and that could be their undoing in the games against Chelsea and Arsenal.

The two London sides have certainly got their problems but the Gunners look like a different animal with a couple of very good January signings while Chelsea can be absolutely fantastic if all of their players are fit and firing, especially Eden Hazard who has been linked with a move to Man City.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side are in an unbelievable position to go on and win their third Premier League title but as their Spanish boss has said, they aren’t over the line yet and still have a lot of work to do over the next 12 matches.

It would be unimaginable for them to let their lead at the top of the table slip but a run of poor results or a bad set of injured players and they could be in a bit of trouble.

However, they are still on for a sublime quadruple and at the end of this month they have the chance to win their first piece of silverware in the EFL Cup final against Arsenal.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Arsenal

Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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