Jan-Huntelaar. Could he be an alternative to van Persie?

by Rob Wilson

I’m still finding it hard to describe the last 16 months as a fan of Manchester City – I’m not even one of the new glory-hunting types that suddenly discovered adoration for a team I’d never heard of as they started warming up their biceps to lift some silverware. And I suppose that’s what City have been doing ever since Sheikh Mansour took over – warming up their biceps. What has happened since we beat United at Wembley on April 16th, 2011, at 6pm, temperature 17°C – not that I’m obsessed or anything – has been both expected and unexpected at the same time. I saw Sergio Aguero walk five yards in front of me in a City shirt, I saw us lift the FA Cup and I saw us win the trophy I worried would always escape us. The most cathartic strike of a ball ever witnessed in the beautiful game sent an entire team in to orbit. To quote Martin Tyler, “This could be the start of a dynasty.” But this dynasty cannot start if there are still players from the old team hanging around like a bad smell. There are some incredibly aroused dogs attached to our leg and we can’t seem to shake them off. Wayne Bridge has only just been loaned out to Brighton, Emmanuel Adebayor seems to want to move to Tottenham but their managerial fuss has delayed any movement there, and Roque Santa Cruz still won’t seem to disappear off the face of our books – their wage bills being the biggest factor in their leech-like behaviour.

Once we’ve shaken the horny dog from our unfortunate leg, there’s the job of cleaning up the mess. The advantage of removing players such as Adebayor, Bridge and Santa Cruz is that there’s not going to be a mad rush to sign more players to occupy a column on the Excel document containing the players’ wages. Imagine Mancini walking around the club with a huge bin-bag looking for things to send to the charity shop and you’ll have an idea. When it comes to Carlos Tevez, however, Mancini pauses. He picks up an old, dusty trophy that he won when he was a small child. Unsure whether to place it in the bag along with the horny dogs, he places Tevez carefully in the maybe pile. A few charity shops have demanded he be paraded on their shelves, but Mancini can’t quite bring himself to do it – maybe the trophy is due a polishing. I do personally think Tevez still has a part to play in the Manchester City “dynasty”, but whether he feels that he’d like to is another story. Carlos Tevez is more of an enigma than Mario Balotelli, the media just haven’t recognised it yet.

I think our first eleven requires improvement, but it only requires slight improvement. From Hart to Aguero, the team oozes class now. Gone are the days of Paul Bosvelt and Antoine Sibierski, who have now become Yaya Toure and David Silva. But it is rotating these sorts of players that have has proven to be Mancini’s biggest problem, and biggest task to overcome. Stefan Savic was supposed to be the ideal replacement for when Vincent Kompany was suspended or injured, but it turns out he’s an accident waiting to happen. He’s the ice sculpture balanced on the thin pole. Reading through some City forums, it looks like he’s going to be loaned out to either Wolves or Besiktas which leaves us relatively short in terms of options at the back. Boyata has returned from Bolton, but after being part of a relegated defence that looked lost without Gary Cahill I’m not sure if he’ll be up to the standard we require to defend our title.

We also seem to suffer from Yaya Toure’s absence more than anything else. During the time Yaya Toure spent at the African Cup of Nations, we lost our grip on the title before he came back to full fitness and to our rescue along with Tevez. We’ve tried de Jong, Milner and even Zabaleta in Yaya Toure’s position but none of them seem to do Toure’s job with the same amount of finesse, grace or style. Toure has become a powerhouse in his time at City thanks to Mancini’s leadership, and is a strong contender for vice-captain. He’s scored four of the most important goals in our history against United, Stoke and Newcastle and has become arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League. He almost seems impossible to replace, along with Vincent Kompany at centre-back.

Javi Martinez
Rumours about us signing one of Europe’s most exciting young players in Javi Martinez have been doing the rounds ever since he signed a new contract at Bilbao about 18-months ago. His ability to hold on to possession and pass quickly has allowed him to mature in to a marauding centre-back, just as Vincent Kompany has done whilst at City. And after starting his career in central-midfield, the move to centre-back has given a new dimension to his game that could kill two birds with one huge Javi Martinez shaped stone. If Kompany were to miss a game, Javi Martinez could easily be moved in to the team in to a position he’s now capable of playing in, as well as replacing Yaya Toure if he were to miss a game or two. Martinez could also be used as a long-term replacement for Gareth Barry.

For any City fans interested or excited about this potential transfer, we can learn a bit more from my good friend Luke, a Valencia fan, who regularly watches Spanish football: “He is a very good defensive midfielder. Bilbao manager Bielsa converted him into a centre-back, but kept using him in defensive midfield as well at times. He was very close to Bielsa and bonded well with him, which means he could be on his way out if Bielsa’s fall-out with the club has serious problems for his future. He isn’t a very quick player, and not the most agile, but still is quite skillful and knows how to dictate a midfield well. He has a good passing ability and great vision. He is deadly from corners and good at creating chances for himself and others. He’s scored quite a few goals by running at defences like Yaya Toure. A proper engine of a player. Reads players well, tackles well, intercepts well, always in the right places. The only real weakness is that if you chuck a quick little shit like Aguero, Piatti or Messi up against him, he may struggle to deal with them because of his size.”

A fair and promising assessment for the City fans looking forward to seeing him in a blue shirt.

Estimated fee: £25m+

Robin van Persie
And now the transfer saga that I predict will last all summer. After refusing to sign a new contract at Arsenal, it appears that Robin has decided it’s time to move on after a seven-year stay at Arsenal. I imagine he’s grown impatient of Arsenal’s emphasis on financial stability, rather than trophies. In fifteen years’ time when Arsenal are fresh off the back of a treble of trebles we’ll look back and say they were right to sustain themselves financially first, but van Persie doesn’t have fifteen years left in his career and wants to win things now. It’s clear to see that van Persie is capable of being City’s main when it comes to striking forces in their team due to Balotelli’s unpredictability, Tevez’s foot always being halfway out the exit door and Dzeko’s inconsistency, but I do think title-winning hero Sergio Aguero will remain the poster boy of the City attack. Whether van Persie is willing to play second fiddle to Aguero after having such a fantastic season last time round is another question, but Mancini has tamed some of the larger egos in the team so I see no reason why he can’t do it with van Persie

I asked my friend Lewis, who seems to have a lot of experience when it comes to watching players and leagues from all around Europe, what he thought van Persie’s strengths and weaknesses were, or who we could go for instead if the van Perise deal never happens: “RVP works well in a system where the main point of play is a second striker. He links the attack and midfield and creates chances, as well as scoring frequently. But I don’t think City don’t need that as they have too many attacking midfielders that could potentially occupy his position. If I were to replace Tevez, I’d go for Huntelaar as Gomez isn’t available. He finished as the top scorer in the Bundesliga, he’s an aerial threat (something City don’t possess in abundance up-front) and he’s absolutely lethal inside the area. Aguero provides a more subtle, skillful approach to playing up-front but Huntelaar provides raw pace and strength as well as clinical finishing. Aguero and Huntelaar together would be perfect.”

So, should City go for van Persie or Jan Klaas Huntelaar? van Persie would be less of a risk, admittedly, because of his experience in the Premier League already but with Huntelaar seemingly finding form again at Schalke, would he be worth a try?

Estimated fee: £20m+

I asked Lewis about what he thought we’d require as a team to be able to take the next step and trouble Europe’s elite: “Every great team has the “deep lying playmaker” role that is was so well played by Pirlo in Euro 2012 – orchestrating a great Italian team majestically from that defensive midfield position. Barry plays a similar role for City but isn’t of the level that City want if they’re aiming for which is CL semi-finals. Every great team needs one: Frank Lampard was Chelsea’s last year in the CL, playing a deeper role, Liverpool had Xabi Alonso (and now Real Madrid do) and Barca have Xavi. Javi Martinez is a great player but currently flirting with Barca and is more of a box to box type player, a la Yaya Toure. I don’t think them two would work well together in centre-midfield. I think City need a world class “deep lying playmaker” to replace Barry to reach the heights they are aspiring to: somebody like a Nuri Sahin (who doesn’t get played at Real Madrid and is a very good player, despite his very young age) or Marco Verratti, who has been dubbed the next Andrea Pirlo and could turn out to be one of the best players of the future crop of young stars.”

To a certain extent, I would agree. Barry isn’t getting any younger or quicker so unless we can find the creative spark Milner seems to have lost during his time at City, we may need to invest in a player that played a similar role to David Pizarro. I do think we need to focus more on a wide-option in terms of finding an immediate fix. Adam Johnson has actually developed backwards – if that’s possible – and disappeared up his own arse (thanks, Capello) and needs to be replaced. We could consider a very cheap option and welcome back Vladimir Weiss from his loan spell at Espanyol, or look for Junior Hoilett who is now out of contract at relegated Blackburn after we lost out on Lavezzi, Hazard, Elia and Shaqiri. But I don’t see any reason why we can’t go for one of Swansea’s impressive two – Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer. Due to the confusion unfortunately surrounding Swansea at the moment after losing Gylfi Sigurdsson and Brendan Rogers, there could be a clear-out ahead of Laudrup’s time there. City could take full advantage of this situation and acquire on of the two for between £5m-£15m.

Whatever happens, we can all guarantee another summer at City will pass with rumour, speculation, money, promise and potential. Will we defend the title, who knows? If we acquire some of the names above then I fully expect us to do so, but Chelsea’s new-found youth in Marin and Hazard, along with United’s desire to prevent themselves from going two consecutive seasons without a trophy should be a cause for concern. I’m sure I’ll still be blue in the face and without nails by the end of it all – again.