The reality has dawned on far more fans than ever before…
We have a woefully inappropriate squad for the Championship next season, let alone the Premier League for the second half of this season.
Note I chose inappropriate.
January is going to be massive for our club’s future. However, my opinion is that under Smith and Shakespeare, we should remain realistic but optimistic.
We all now know that we are at the end of an era. The chapter didn’t close with Daniel Farke leaving because his legacy remains within this squad, which causes a headache moving forward.
A changing of the guard is imminent, possibly starting in January, certainly during the summer but isn’t it amazing how much, all of a sudden, you miss Alex Tettey, Marco Stieperman and Mario Vrancic as much as Ollie Skipp or Emi Buendia. And doesn’t it become apparent how some limited players, like Todd Cantwell and Kieran Dowell, are without tactically adept squad players around them.
Back in 2016-2017 Stuart Webber and Farke rebuilt and recruited a brilliant, niche team promoted largely on an X-Factor (a compliment not a dig) but much of what’s happened since appears a rabbit warren of errors, perversely contradicted by a second promotion.
However, that being said, I don’t agree with the view that this is the consequence of Delia and Michael’s ownership.
Personally, I believe that many of City’s problems have been tactical. The criticism of Delia and Michael (or rather the preference of having wealthier owners) is understandable but smacks of hypocrisy.
Does anyone consider it ironic that we shouldn’t be sponsored by a betting company from Asia but presumably it would be okay, according to many, for D&M to sell up to a billionaire from Asia or the Middle East, a media mogul or a Russian oligarch?
They are prepared to sell, but only to people they sense they can trust.
Back on the pitch, most recent MFW articles have been about fearing how unlikely we are to bounce back after a probable relegation. For me, the problem remains a recruitment flaw, or more accurately a recruitment legacy.
We went down a rabbit warren with Farke who imposed a tactical template and the sad reality is those players would never be able to transpose a Championship standard of 4-2-3-1 onto the teams they would face in the Premier League. The consequence of that rabbit warren (I’ve referred to it as Pandora’s Box before) is that a huge rebuilding project is now necessary.
There are no two ways about it. Tim Krul will be 35+ and Teemu Pukki 33/34 before the next Premier League attempt, and that assumes an immediate bounce. Furthermore, S&S have an unenviable decisions to make around Grant Hanley and Kenny McLean.
Are they are happy to commit to the long-term cause? There is a consequence for them in that they would forfeit a final lucrative career move.
Whilst we are at it, we need to be realistic about who is deemed good enough from the other senior players. Personally, I do not think Angus Gunn is good enough, Dimitris Gianoullis was kept out of the team by both Jacob Sorensen and Xavi Quintilla last season, Sam Byram is an excellent player whom we can only hope stays fit, but Jordan Hugill, Lukas Rupp and Ben Gibson are average players, not stalwarts – and are the most senior guys possibly remaining.
With the younger players, we have too many to keep happy, and I personally don’t see any extraordinary ability in any of them. ‘Difficult’ teenagers aren’t necessarily going to reach their potential if they aren’t inspired by very average senior pros around them.
Does anyone think a spine of Gunn, Gibson, Rupp, Pierre Lees-Melou and Adam Idah or Josh Sargent is going to cut the mustard?
Webber can buy his kids with potential and sell them on but only after ensuring inspirational leaders and experienced pros are well established into the spine of the team.
Yet as much as I apportion some of the blame on SW, I also get frustrated with the bulk of our non-footballing, matchday attending fans. We’re too nice, sometimes appearing loathed to say boo to a goose and, as a result, we don’t half make it easier for mistakes to be repeated, be they from Delia and Michael, Webber, Farke, Alex Neil or even Nigel Worthington. I yearn for the passion I remember from the Chase-out days and the way Paul Lambert and Grant Holt could get the temperature up.
I miss it. I make no apologies, and I wish more fans truly cared. It’s easy to beat, ‘little old Norwich’ for a reason.
This disheartening season was, from a tactical perspective, predictable in the months leading to promotion but the blinkers were on. Our repeated failures to survive are not about Delia and Michael, they are about Webber and managers who made wrong tactical calls. Again, Lambert got it right.
This is also why Brentford are managing. Pragmatism over glamour. Being the team that wins the Championship sides does automatically stand you in better stead than the team that came second up via the play-offs. The latter is normally the start of momentum, the former usually about a base formation that only needs refinement for the Premier League.
City’s cavalier chargers under Farke were never suited for survival but ‘boring’ Sheffield Utd (Chris Wilder’s) and Brentford are proving to be so. They were better organised in the Championship and were, therefore, easier to refine into being even more organised in the Prem.
Under no circumstances do I suggest it’s viable in the second season, but it’s still an improvement over little old Norwich in that crucial first season.
Farke and Webber were naive with the 4-2-3-1. If you get promoted and you then need players City cannot afford to make that formation work. But so hell-bent were they on proving that way was viable, they left themselves ill-prepared for flexibility.
This came to the fore when Farke started the season with 4-3-3, presumably a panic move, despite having only one central midfielder, McLean, in the squad
On the other hand, establish a more pragmatic base formation while rebuilding in the Championship, get promoted with 3-5-2 or something loosely similar, and perhaps only three or four key signings are needed. Some missing logic there for me.
However, for all that being said, I would still rather watch a bouncing team and enjoy the emotion, actually winning matches and some silverware. I’ve no interest in watching players on £60-400k per week play at Carrow Rd thanks to an immoral billionaire takeover when a betting sponsorship won’t do.
I don’t want to pay the consequential £1200 season ticket and be surrounded by tourists taking selfies at football matches because that is where, with most established Premier League clubs, you end up. Oh, and City rarely win.
But survival in the first season, on a limited budget, within our model is still, for me, doable. I think it just needs an evolution from sporting director to head coach. A more traditional structure to be realised. Ask Paul Lambert. Ask Chris Wilder. Ask Thomas Frank. In my opinion, it’s not doable the way SW has attempted it thus far.
In fairness to Webber, his five-year plan went out the window because, ironically, we had premature success with the first promotion. We couldn’t afford, then, even more signings than what are needed now, namely because the defence hadn’t matured.
And with that success came awareness to players like Buendia, Ben Godfrey, and Jamal Lewis. Things got all out of sync. Give it time. I think S&S have a maturity and experience in the game to bring the stars into alignment.
I’ll leave the final word to MFW colleague Andy Head:
“To do so [to survive] the recruitment has to be spot-on however and focussed on providing the tools needed to achieve that for one season. Buying players who may earn you more in sales long-term is an absolute waste of a war chest. This is Webber’s biggest failure. Buying potential in the Championship is commendable. Adding a future star when you’re already established in the top flight is good planning, but buying for the future when you don’t have enough for the present is foolhardy”.
Bang on 👍🏼
I don’t like Stuart Webber… Also why is it two Norwich legends, Rob Newman and Grant Holt, have been employed at West ham for recruitment – Rob after leaving Man City. Aren’t we missing a trick here?
Herr Cutz says
Jim, I think you‘ve hit the nail on the head, it‘s all well and good having a computer based system processing data on potential player recruits but at some point there should be experience people such as Rob and Grant helping in the decision making. I also agree with Andy Head‘s statement ˋbuying for the future when you don‘t have enough for the present is foolhardy´.
“Midfield Mike” says
Due to my poor grammar, a key sentence was missed out. That is, the peculiar decision to go from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 was, in my mind because of panic. There dawned a reality on DF of “we need 3 midfielders to cover the loss of Skipp, and we need 3 attackers to cover the loss of Buendia”. Or basically, a squad engineered for a specific style for multiple seasons was suddenly inflexible for anything else and we had no other tactical options left. Cheers
Inside Right says
“They are prepared to sell, but only to people they sense they can trust.”
I respectively disagree.
The criteria would never be met for any potential purchaser. So in theory while the door appears open, the door is thrust firmly in any suitors face.
The whole club was – and increasingly is – compromised by the stubborn refusal from the majority shareholders to invest and attract investment. That is a fact.
This relies on a miracle worker like Lambert to gel a squad well and punch above its weight, with some shrewd purchasers, of which there has been few.
Webber without question has to take some of the blame, but he has to cast the net so wide for bargain buys, he will have to see what’s going on in Venus or Mars because he is so financially compromised.
The most frustrating thing – apart from our owners – is that every time we get ourselves in a half decent position, we mess it up with a capital ‘F’.
You can’t run a club like this.
Bernard Owen says
On the tic-tacs I always thought Farke wanted to play 352, but season after season our center backs seemed to have a competition to see who could be under the physio the most.
martin penney says
I agree with your sentiments but the payoff line is worthy of a Carry On film 🙂
Tim BALL says
I wholeheartedly agree Bernard.
Rafa Benitez got a very ordinary Newcastle United side promoted from the Championship to the Prem and kept them there, a miracle really as then they didn’t have players like St Maximin or Wilson.
However he admitted that upon promotion he had to ditch 4-4-2 to play 3-5-2 as he said he didn’t have the quality of player to play 4-4-2 in the EPL. It left them too open.
If Daniel Farke had had enough centre backs fit I am sure he would have gone 3-5-2 the last time we were in the Premier League.
I also agree with Midfield Mike that 4-3-3 was a panic move. By this time Daniel had had a enough time to see what the new boys could do, if they were fit, and to my mind he wasn’t encouraged.
Finally Mike that last sentence from Andy Head is why you guy’s are the journo’s and we are just the contributors.
“But buying for the future when you don’t have enough for the present is foolhardy ” I have been trying on here ad nauseum to express my frustration with our poor recruitment policy this summer, especially the buying of so many younger players, but that line cannot be bettered.
Yeap, I think Andy Head said, in that paragraph, what I’ve muttered about for months,.. actually a few years. We just got away with it with that second promotion and that covered the cracks.
Regarding the first PL season under DF, the 3 CB was never uttered about until about January when Paddy Davitt dropped it in an article. It have never been mentioned, I was at many of those pre-season games and even BEFORE the injuries, DF never played 3. Sadly, and I mean this as bluntly as it sounds…. And of course it is unfounded…. But that 3 man thing OVERNIGHT became an excuse. ‘Oh actually i always wanted a back 3’. I don’t think so. You don’t start a season with only 4 CBs on the books if you want to play 3 of them and let’s not forget, fuel to that fire, he had (then) the option of both Raggett and Klose which he didn’t use. If he wanted 3, DF did initially have the option, I believe he chose against it and then it became, unwittingly thanks to a journalist, an excuse.
David Bowers says
I wonder if the current owners would meet their own criteria.
They are not willing to cover any debts and they’re not willing to invest. Surely the most basic requirements of a modern day football club owner.
I’m surprised at the lengths people will go to to protect our owners from criticism.
We were outbid for our number one target by Brentford. Our whole recruitment is based on the gamble that we buy unproven players at premiership standard in the hope they develop quickly into the standard required. The alternative is good players with an appalling injury record in the hope they stay fit.
This approach prevents our owners from having to invest to buy more expensive players of the required standard.
This approach has now failed for a third time and at the same time made the club look a basket case now readily ridiculed by all sections of the media.
We have to face up to the fact that if our owners cling on for much longer it’s not the championship we’ll end up in but far lower.
Look at the wealth list of owners in all four divisions and you’ll see ours are amongst the poorest and then ask if we can compete financially in the transfer market. Not their fault just the way the game has developed, like it or not!
Don’t blame Webber, he’s trying his best with too limited financial resources.
To become an established premiership club requires a large degree of financial speculation and this is not going to happen under self funding. It’s a dead end street.
I think SW stopped the Ajer move. I have lost count on the multi-million pound development players we’ve signed in the last few seasons, including I think, someone from Ipswich, P’Boro and McCullum who appears the only one worthy of first team football. That’s all about SW’s philosophy…. Which I’m not against…. I just think there is a better order of things,,, and getting these development players trumped the transfer fee for Ajer.
Thanks for the comment
I don’t know where to start on this but here are some comments
– recruitment this year and on promotion last time has been woeful – where is the CDM we needed, why buy lots of wingers and then play a forward not suited to crosses
– Southampton were bought yesterday – we would have buyers but the owners want a NCFC supporting billionaire – there are obviously lots of these
– Farke had to go as to play Farkeball in the EPL needs much better players than we can afford and the early season games were bad as was the we can’t expect to beat this team attitude , I fail to see Smith as a step up or even sideways – he was available
– as to the fans not wanting “conflict” that’s very societal people seem to accept so much more these days than they did in the time of Chase etc , there needs to be some show of anger (?) at what has gone on – we are a laughing stock – though most fans of lower clubs would like to be in the EPL but only if they made a go of it. We just seem to need to go up to survive as a club – what sort of existence is that? The EPL is not the promised land unless you have massive resources and even then Everton for example are still crap.
As for next year clear all the players out and play our youngsters and a few from the lower leagues as under PL with a couple of older heads – not the Mayor or Gibson.
An interesting and in depth analysis and considered replies.
While studying the furore that followed the unveiling of the bk8 betting brand sponsorship it became apparent that the bulk of the noise came from a familiar cabal of “fan spokespersons” all of whom are otherwise wholehearted in their support of delias fiefdom.
In any case does anybody really believe that if Newcastle United were to approach Ciy with an obscene offer for one of our players that it would be turned down on moral grounds? Really?
Webber seemed to lose focus and commitment to the cause following the fall out and everything seemed to go downhill from there.
Exactly, thanks for the comments.
For sure Webber star rose very high, but now is a fallen Star. This means his dream so often stated by him, was his long term wish was to work abroad. Guess that ship has sailed.
Think in the early days he believed he was better than he was.
As stated elsewhere the total business plan at NCFC is to buy cheap, and down the line sell as many as possible at massive profit. Nothing else seemed to matter. DF was a very good manager weighed down by an awful business plan.
Well with the last awful intake, that ship has sailed as well.
Don’t blame Webber, the ex groundsman with an atrocious reputation and we trust him and this women to buy what we need. John F – we could have got Ajer – if we hadn’t got Gibson we could have got Armstrong – if we didn’t get Gunn and Sargent… , this is my point. He is making the wrong decisions too often and making us a laughing stock whilst at it! Admittedly the funds aren’t great but he is wasting what funds he has and I can’t forgive him for that.
I agree with you that Webber hasn’t covered himself in glory this summer but the transfer ceiling is set too low by the financial short comings of the self funding model.
What happens if the parachute payments stop, as requested by many clubs in the championship?
Time for change loams.
Ajer from what I heard was very close the stumbling block was wages and Brentford paid him what he wanted,
Armstrong would have been a good signing but wasn’t looked at for some reason maybe his agent let it be known what he expected so scared city of.
With buying the type of players we would all like to see at city comes hefty salaries, I would presume all those that signed a permanent deal have agreed wage reductions if relegated maybe Ajer and Armstong weren’t agreeable to that and maybe others we were interested in saw it that way as well.
Southampton now with a Chess Master and the Brentford FC architect the new sporting investment group have paid less than half what the Chinese businessman Jegneng paid in 2017 to the Liebherr Group for the same 80% stake.
It was rumoured they had approached 4 other premiership clubs before settling on Southampton it would be nice to know if city were in that group and if so why didn’t it meet the required standard needed if our current owners as you say are will to sell.
Errors roll down hill never go upwards and no matter what system a manager prefers to use he has to cut his cloth to what he can afford and with our present owners there is little scope but to buy cheap and hope an uncut diamond is found.
With an ever increasing possibility of relegation the spine might want out but where to
Krul 35 next a first team position for us in either league, a big payday at another club maybe but not much game time unless he goes back to Holland then no big payday.
Hanley heart and soul for city but injuries in each of his seasons since joining have made many clubs wary of him so could stay
Pukki 33 next year will he want another hard championship season or go to a lesser league and maybe win something or stay for another title tilt with city what ever he choose city will not get a large fee for him.
As for Dimi he lost his place due to injury, Gibson was a risk taking last season but has proved he isn’t premiership as for Sargent and Idah one or both could come good but I would like to see one go out on loan this window
Andy Head says
Excellent work Mike. As I was reading it I kept thinking how much it smacked of some of the debates I’d been part of in recent days!
I totally agree that the model can work. We’ve just made some odd decisions in recruitment. PLM is one that strikes me as an impulse buy and not part of a fully integrated plan. Top flight player who became available at a reasonable price so we jumped without asking what he would add tactically and whether he fit with our structure. Not a terrible player, but no better than any other “number 8” midfielder like McLean, Normann, Gilmour, Rupp etc who all look better alongside a Tettey or Skipp minding the shop and allowing them some freedom. We lost those players and added midfielders like PLM who don’t/can’t do that job. It’s all a bit of a mess.
Tim BALL says
For some while now I have felt that our main summer recruitment was like “muck spreading”
Massive risks on young players, something you can get away with in the under-23’s to a certain extent but not for building a robust, strong, athletic team for an extremely likely relegation scrapp.
Look at Burnley they perhaps do lend weight to Mike’s opinion that a “self- funding” can survive in the EPL. As far as I can find out Ben Gibson is still their most expensive club signing at £15 million..
But Sean Dyche has built a strong physical outfit that doesn’t get bullied.
And they are not exactly doing a Manchester City in terms of spending but what is unknown is what are they paying in wages ? Burnley and Watford are the only clubs who as far as I can find out are not owned by billionaires though its seems ALK who own Burnley maybe heading toward billionaire status.
But I do fear relegation for Burnley this year as for me it is us, Watford and them.
That’s the world we are being asked to compete in. Lambert/Culverhouse did a great job in achieving Premier League status as did Chris Hughton but I would argue that it is a lot harder to do that nowadays. The money has just got so much more important.
Where I struggle with Stuart Webber’s comments is that along with a lack of pace the last foray into the EPL we badly lacked strength and physicality yet two out of our three midfield summer signings were Pierre Lees-Melou and Billy Gilmour ?
Just look at what we got after £60 million a squad which I doubt strongly would not get promoted from the championship.
Colin M says
An interesting read Mike, thanks.
Our owners are paupers in footballing terms a few £m verses a league of billionaires, interesting that Burnley and Watford, although far wealthier owners than City, are also poor in comparison. Just goes to prove what a mess Newcastle have made given their former owner’s wealth.
If it ends up with City, the Hornets and Clarets going down it will be a very sad day for football and proof, if any is still needed, that the Premier League dream is dead unless you’ve billionaire owners.
Criticism of last Summer’s recruitment is fine but worth remembering many transfers and big money signings at other clubs fail, I reckon as many fail than succeed, same with managers although they all ultimately fail of course.
If we can get our best players fit, playing regularly and start scoring then we still have a chance of survival but City need to put together a squad to be solid in The Championship next term. It’s time to rebuild, a new 5 year plan is required, the previous one ended a few months earlier than anticipated.
The great thing is if the Premier League next season has 20 clubs owned by billionaires, 3 will still get relegated! Be careful what you wish for.
City and proud of it!
“Midfield Mike” says
Thanks for all the comments so far. Lots of mentions of Burnley and if memory serves me correctly, didn’t they go straight and buy Chris Woods for £10m or something from a Championship rival who scored so many of their goals. This is where NCFC really do agitate me: mitrovic at Fulham or Brereton at Blackburn. I’m not being flippant here but those 2 have scored as many goals this season, in the first week of January, as what Pukki scored in the whole of last season. Chris Woods was similar for Leeds before Burnley INVESTED in him.
Gary Gowers says
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