Concluding this summer’s most protracted will-he-won’t-he transfer sagas, James Milner has finally put pen to paper on a deal thought to be worth £26 million to play for Manchester City. As part of the deal Stephen Ireland will swap Eastlands for Villa Park, hoping to fill the void left by Milner in the centre of Aston Villa’s midfield. Signing Milner brings to a conclusion a summer spending binge of an estimated £130 million which is hoped will give the squad impetus to break into the top four.
Headline making throughout the summer with their lavish purchases has brought attention to Eastlands from rival managers. Following Harry Redknapp’s barbed comments following the opening day draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane in which he claimed that City, “have a long way to go,” before they can win the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson spoke out against City’s “Kamikaze effort to spend their money.”
These criticisms have naturally stung the club. Roberto Mancini, the man who has overseen this summer’s spending, felt compelled to defend City’s hyperactivity over the summer. “It is normal that when you want to buy a good player you have to spend money,” he argued. “United, like City, have spent a lot of money in the past.” After all, why not spend what you have at your disposal? In recent history Blackburn and Chelsea have been accused of ‘buying’ the Premier League title. But how else are teams meant to win trophies? As a historical generalisation, the most expensively assembled teams are the most successful ones. In signing Milner et al., City is negotiating a way to success which has been trodden many times before. The comments, critical though they are, highlight the threat that City pose to the Premier League’s elite. Better to be despised than to be anonymous.
Money spent wisely brings quality and Milner has that in abundance. Moving into the centre of midfield to replace City-bound Gareth Barry proved the making of him at Villa Park. As the weeks went by one of last season’s most intriguing spectacles was Milner’s metamorphosis from a hard-working wide midfielder to all-action centre-midfielder. It was the season he grew from boy to man. Previously let down by his goals and assists tallies at the end of each season, Milner improved markedly on both, proving he has the maturity and talent to take control of games. Although naturally right footed, he is highly capable with his left and emerged to become Villa’s leader on the pitch for much of last season.
In other words, City has signed one of the Premier League’s most complete players. One reservation however is how he will fit into City’s team. A highly versatile player, it is not hard to see him fulfilling a number of roles in Roberto Mancini’s counter-attack based 4-3-3 throughout the season. The conundrum is whether he can take responsibility at City in the same way as he did last season with Aston Villa. It may prove more difficult to do so amidst a galaxy of stars at Eastlands.
Another of City’s most recent signings for Sir Alex and Redknapp to fear is Mario Balotelli. If Milner’s signing was inevitable, Balotelli’s arrival was something of a curveball. Like the departed Craig Bellamy, Balotelli’s career has been blighted by controversy. Within the last 12 months he has donned the shirt of A.C. Milan whilst still contracted to Internazionale, alienated swathes of the squad through sheer petulance during Inter’s 3-1 Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat of Barcelona and infuriated friend and foe alike with his on-pitch histrionics. He leaves Italy as one of Serie A’s most divisive figures. City fans may not be too enamoured to find out that Roberto Mancini is his primary reason for joining. “If he [Mancini] wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t have come.”
Putting the controversy to one side and focusing on Balotelli the footballer, and the reputation is rather more promising. His current manager claims he has ‘everything’, but the praise doesn’t stop there. Jose Mourinho, with whom he endured a tempestuous relationship, admits, “The guy has incredible qualities.” Perhaps leaving the poisonous – some would argue racist – atmosphere of Italy behind him will be the making of Balotelli the man and the footballer. A winning debut goal away to F.C Timisoara in the Europa League qualifier can only help. The booking for violently confronting Dan Alexa won’t.
Two people and players more dissimilar than Milner and Balotelli it would be difficult to find. If both players reach their potential at Manchester City, the fears inherent in rival managers’ comments may be realised.