by Peter Ames
The sighs of relief across Manchester would have been audible on Monday afternoon when David Silva finally put pen to paper and signed a five-year contract that ties the man nicknamed ‘Merlin’ to Manchester City for the five best years of his already-impressive career. Several City commentators have suggested that it is perhaps not a coincidence that a deal that has failed to materialise over the summer, despite what must surely have been the best efforts of the club, has been completed within the first weeks of the reign of new Chief Executive Officer Ferran Soriano.
Soriano’s prompt finalising of the deal represents a contrast to the lengthy contract sagas of Mancini and De Jong which felt as if they were dragged out for a large portion of the summer, with the latter ending in tears for many. If the former Barcelona president can characterise his career with Manchester City with work of a similarly swift, decisive and impressive nature then it promises to be an exciting few years for the club.
If the most reasonable figures are to be believed, Silva’s deal is said to be worth around £120, 000 a week plus performance-related bonuses; a basic wage that is comparatively reasonable for one of the world’s best players, and if the Spaniard performs to the sublime level that he is capable of, few fans of both Manchester City and the Premier League would begrudge him a bonus. It is a piece of business that demonstrates the financial acumen for which the former Barcelona president has been brought to the club. Upon Soriano’s arrival, City’s official media outlets made sure to highlight the turnaround in the Catalan club’s fortunes that took place during his tenure, turning losses of €57 million into profits of €88 million in five years; something he would be required to replicate at Eastlands. This quality, perhaps already evident in his work on Monday, would be a welcome relief after a summer where the strangling fingers of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations could be felt as City occasionally struggled in the transfer market.
The loss of the aforementioned Nigel De Jong pained many at the club, not merely because he was greatly loved, but due to the fact that a world cup finalist of considerable quality had been sold in his prime for £3 million, £15 million less than the amount that he was acquired for. He may have been in the final year of his contract, but so too was Scott Sinclair who arrived at the Etihad the following day, for twice the price. Similarly, the sale of promising winger Vladimir Weiss to Pescara for a meagre £1.7 million raised eyebrows. This is on top of the club’s quest to offload deadwood in the form of Wayne Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, that had such an air of desperation about it that it would not have been a surprise to see Brian Marwood setting up stall at a Sunday morning car boot sale.
Incoming deals were also problematic, with the club losing out on Eden Hazard and other prime targets due to a combination of exorbitant agent’s fees and their own financial restraints. This has not been helped by the ‘City tax’ that the club have had to pay when procuring top talent. It has long been a theory at Eastlands that selling clubs will demand more money, knowing that Sheikh Mansour can afford it, and his club are the ‘new kids on the block’; naive with money to spend. The occasionally gaffe-prone Gary Cook, Soriano’s predecessor, did not help this image, with talk of £100 million pound deals for Kaka one of many infamous episodes that made the club seem somewhat less than serious in its ambitions to sit at Europe’s top table.
The Spaniard comes with a much grander reputation; as a former president of the biggest football club in the world, he is unlikely to accept some of the poor deals laid out for City in the past. He is used to being treated like the best, and he will be unwilling to change this attitude. Financial targets will be easier to hit for a club run by a man who is not used to selling quality players for pennies, and bringing in replacements who cost fortunes. There may have been a touch of this influence in the deal to bring the impressive Javi Garcia to the Etihad for an initial fee of less that £16 million, just as the Silva deal represents a determination to not pander to greedy agents; signs that the tide may be turning at the crucial moment financially.
With such deals demonstrating City’s determination to adhere to FFP, there is one final area of experience that Soriano brings from his time at Barcelona that makes him the ideal man at the helm of a club that hopes to move into a profitable era, both on and off the pitch. Plans for the ‘Etihad Campus’, a state-of-the-art community for the club’s top-class young footballers built on waste ground around the stadium, have recently been given the go ahead. It is a complex modelled on Barcelona’s La Masia academy, with the focus on building a sustainable club with a team eventually drawn from the best youth prospects from Manchester and across the world, living and working together. There will be no need to buy in the world’s best talent as has been the case thus far, that talent will be bred in the city. Soriano’s time at the Catalan giants coincided with the most fruitful harvest of players from La Masia that the club had ever seen, with graduates such as Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Pedro and Iniesta blazing a trail for both club and country. It will be the Spaniards duty to steer the Manchester club in a similar direction, employing the tactics that brought Barcelona huge success both sportingly and financially. With Soriano’s input, Manchester City may finally be able to overcome the ‘moneybags’ label, and the footballing community may finally see Sheikh Mansour’s investment for what it truly is; the generous gift of a sustainable football club that also benefits the national game, and an entire city.