Don’t sneer at Manchester City for spending big in the pursuit of greatness
One of the most popular challenges on Sports Interactive’s Football Manager simulation game is the ‘bottom-to-top’ challenge. Managers take charge of a team from the lowest division and aim for the very top – domestic cups, league titles and, of course, the Champions League.
Sometimes it takes 20 seasons; sometimes managers never achieve success – distracted by other opportunities or sacked after years of David Moyes-esque stagnation.
What’s so enthralling about this particular scenario? Why do players keep putting themselves through the ups and downs of lower league management?
It’s simple: They’re chasing the dream.
So, too, are Manchester City.
Same old accusations
Reports that they are due to spend upwards of £55 million on Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte have been met by snorts of derision from opposition fans, and Manchester City’s position – 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League – has been met by disclaimers that Pep Guardiola needs to spend big in order to succeed; that anybody could win the league spending such vast sums.
The old slurs have come out again: ‘Oil money’; ‘Buying the league’; ‘No history’.
Discounting the fact that City’s record signing is still not as expensive as Manchester United's or Chelsea’s, one imagines these remarks are met by a shrug at the Etihad: ‘So, what?’
They could be content with finishing mid-table every year, as they had done before Sheikh Mansour’s investment. The financial rewards for mediocracy in the Premier League have never been greater.
Last season, West Brom earned £120 million for finishing 10th; Sunderland – bottom by some margin – earned just shy of £100 million.
It would be easy for City to sit pretty, earning plenty of money, being a mid-table side; maybe even taking plaudits for it.
Eddie shows Howe it's done
Bournemouth and their manager Eddie Howe have undoubtedly been successful on their journey through the divisions, and their 9th-place finish last season shows remarkable progress. Howe is held up as a future managerial great; Bournemouth, a blueprint for other clubs who want to reach the promised land.
No doubt, 50 years from now, some loyal Bournemouth fans will speak about those halcyon days under Eddie Howe and how they went toe-to-toe with domestic heavyweights – and even claimed some famous victories along the way.
The truth, though, is that last season, Bournemouth were closer to the relegation places (12 points) than they were to the final Europa League qualifying spot (15 points). Whilst they are undoubtedly punching above their weight, is this the pinnacle for them?
Do ambitions on the south coast really end with a pat on the back for losing 16 games and a goal difference of -12?
What about the dreams of the Football Manager gamers? What about winning Champions Leagues and league titles and filling the cabinet with trophies?
Managers talk about realistic goals and play down expectations – When a club can’t compete with European money and the big names of the English game – and owners, investors and fans accept 9th place.
Should City be blamed for being brave enough to dream?
Manchester City could have accepted it, too. They were taken over by Sheikh Mansour in 2008 and didn’t win a trophy until the 2011 FA Cup. They spent big on players like Robinho, a £32.5 million capture from Real Madrid, and saw nothing on their return. What if they had thrown in the towel?
Fans of football should be thanking City for daring to dream; for not only taking on the established elite - but for beating them too.
There’s a generation of City fans who now know success, and that has only been possible as a result of bravery – and, yes, the investment – of those at the top of the club; those who had a vision of what the club could become and an unwavering determination to see that become a reality.
And, 50 years from now, those City fans will remember these days – but it won’t just be them. It will be fans of football who remember how Pep Guardiola revolutionised the Premier League; rivals noting that this was the period a ‘big club’ was born.
Nobody starts a bottom-to-top challenge aiming to replicate ‘steady Eddie’ on Football Manager; so, why bash City for targeting greater heights than 9th place?
City are, in fact, the new blueprint – it’s a shame more clubs don’t share their ambition.