Twelve months ago, Mark Hughes was struggling with the high expectations placed on him by Man City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at City. Ian Holloway and his men were doing everything in their power to shake off the tag of “relegation candidates” in the Championship.
In the year that followed, Hughes and his most loyal supporters in the City dressing room have been turfed out of the City of Manchester Stadium and replaced with Roberto Mancini and practically another squad full of highly priced internationals. Across Lancashire, Blackpool defied all the odds to end the Championship season in sixth place, before completing an incredible first year under Holloway’s management by defeating Cardiff City in the Play-off Final to secure their return to the top flight of English football for the first time in 39 years. Now the two teams are members of the same division and are only separated by four points. That is where any similarities between the two sides quickly end.
Manchester City’s owner Sheikh Mansour wants to win the Premier League and see his side competing in the Champions League as soon as possible. Blackpool owner Owen Oyston did not expect his club to be promoted to the Premier League last season and sees every point earned as an added bonus on an incredible season. To say they are already planning for next season in the Championship would do them a great disservice but anything other than relegation will be heralded as even more miraculous than their initial promotion.
The fourteen players that Holloway used in the deserved 2-1 victory over Liverpool were recruited for a quarter of the£24m that was spent on David Silva; just one of Man City’s six big money signings of the summer. Silva, like his fellow new signings, has been rewarded handsomely for joining the East Manchester club with weekly wages running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Their Blackpool counterparts have not quite enjoyed the same million-pound lifestyle. Blackpool chief executive Karl Oyster even threatened to resign from his position as club chairman before Blackpool’s Premier League adventure had started because his stringent waging structure was in danger of breaking.
One benefit of the strained budget that Ollie must work within has to be his squad’s apparent togetherness and team spirit. Where his counterpart Roberto Mancini seems to spend each weekly news conference denying claims of dressing room rifts and spats from many of his senior players, including club captain Carlos Tevez, the Blackpool players are lining up to back their manager, his tactics and his mentality around the club.
Unfortunately for the Tangerines, they will have to do battle with Man City on Sunday without their inspirational leader leading them into battle. Slapped with a touchline ban for improper conduct against Blackburn, Holloway will have to watch on from the stands as his team, put together on a shoe-string take on the richest club in the world. It really will be a match that pits the “haves-too-much” against the “have-nots.”