Thursday, January 22, 2009

For a club who’ve often thrived on their underdog status, Manchester City may well be feeling the culture shock of being a team who people want to see fail. The press coverage of the Kaka deal-that-never-was demonstrates a substantial level of ill feeling towards the gauchely super-rich City: the media is happy to benefit from the lurid stories the club is generating, but happier to kick the club after a failure. A speculative attempt to pull off the most audacious transfer in football history has resulted in them being painted as bunglers.

The Observer reported at the weekend on rumours in Italy that Silvio Berlusconi had followed a strategy that had no intention of selling Kaka, but would provide good PR for Milan when the player stayed. (First news of the transfer broke on a Berlusconi-owned website.) This idea is given credibility by City and Milan’s differing accounts of what stage negotiations had reached before the deal collapsed: City claim they never talked to the player, but Milan claim it was Kaka’s decision. Kaka’s get-a-room statement of undying love for his present club seems aimed at emphasising this.

City’s chairman Garry Cook, who is fast emerging as a man so awful he makes Peter Kenyon merely look like scum by comparison, has been left to bluster about Milan ‘bottling’ the deal in a desperate attempt to make the situation less embarrassing for City. If Milan never planned to sell Kaka – and I agree with Mark Lawrenson (that’s a first) that the club wouldn’t have risked a £100m asset by continuing to play him if a deal was imminent – then it has undeniably worked out well for them. They’ve confirmed the loyalty of their best player and, although they had good reason to cash in on him (the fee would have wiped out the club’s debts), they have ultimately done what the fans wanted.

It’s also far from inconceivable that Milan were keen to put City in their place. However much Sir Alex laughs it off, City’s new spending power is bound to be of concern to Europe’s big clubs, who know that City have enough cash to unsettle any player. Milan have done themselves, and every other club with a player City might want to buy, a favour by embarrassing City.
Although Kaka might have seemed the obvious choice for such a massive bid, his image as football’s boy scout would have taken a heavy knock. Would it have been worth the huge piles of cash to play for a club which can’t offer Champions League football until the season after next at the very earliest, and is genuinely at risk of relegation this year? (It would be satisfying to see Cook’s reaction if that happened: he has stated that he would like promotion and relegation to be abolished. Added to the fact that Cook is a lifelong Birmingham City supporter, this tells you all you need to know about him.)

Milan have done the football equivalent of taking the nouveau-riche members of the country club down a peg or two. By emphasising the (possibly untrue) notion that Kaka himself made the decision, Milan have made it more difficult for other players to accept the City shilling. As they look to secure Premiership survival, City would do well to choke it down, stop playing fantasy football and instead keep looking for players like Wayne Bridge – a very good player, proven in the Premiership, who already has a few winner’s medals but would like to be first-choice somewhere.

‘We’re not anybody's fool,’ Cook said yesterday. ‘The perception that we are out there throwing money around is simply not true.’ City have just purchased Nigel De Jong for a fee reported to be £17m. The BBC notes that a clause in the midfielder’s contract would have allowed him to leave in the summer for £1.8m. Draw your own, presumably hilarious, conclusions.

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