28 January 2010

In respectful disagreement with the mystics

Rooney is the difference between knowing you are a big club, and aspiring to be one. He is the world-class player who United own — and, however many millions they throw at Kaká or Fernando Torres or any of the rest of that small world-class elite, City can only covet.

―Matt Dickinson, The Times
I don't know whether it's possible to be patronising towards a football club that could buy and sell all our asses put together and platinum-plated, but this must surely come close. To this extent, Dickinson takes a line common to a lot of discussion on Manchester City since they became the eighth emirate (yeah, I had to look that up). Moreover, it borders on the mystical, putting faith in bigclubness: the mystical property that makes great teams great. Those without this are, by definition, fit only to be patted on the head and told not to bother their silly ikkul noses with idea that they can reach the stars. Go out to the yard and play catch with your imaginary friend, whydontcha.

No. The cult of Wayne Rooney is one I can get behind, but it shouldn't blind us. Dickinson also singles out the experience of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes for particular praise. But Alex Ferguson did not form Rooney out of clay and breathe bigclubness into him — United paid an eight-figure sum for the right to pay Rooney a seven-figure salary — and United's success has not been driven solely by their now senior players, no matter how fine their contributions have been, and sometimes still are. What United's extraordinary success and City's ambition have in common is that they are facilitated by money, and cannot be otherwise. Ferguson's genius is beyond dispute, but it's with the vast financial backing his genius has received that it has attained such comprehensive fulfillment. Money allows a team not only to buy greatness, but also the room to make big mistakes. For every Rooney, there's been a Verón; for every Keane, a Kléberson; for every Schmeichel, half a dozen Taibis.

Later, Dickinson says:
All the sheikh’s money has bought City some fine players but this was a reminder that they are only a few steps into the long journey.
There is a difference between the two clubs' means of attaining their respective stashes: United by a symbiosis of on-field triumph and a frighteningly effective commercial operation, achieved over time; City by sheikh ex machina. But the result is — City hope — the same. A more apt comparison is between City and Chelsea. Fingers were wagged when Roman Abramovich bought the latter with the aim of turning them into the best team in the world; we were told that it takes more than a book full of blank cheques to make champs. In the six full seasons since, Chelsea have won more than in ninety-eight previous years of history.

Dickinson seems to think that there exists an alchemical formula to success, known only to a chosen few, but he exaggerates. For instance, when we think of City's failed bid for Kaká, we think of Garry Cook's hilarious turn as a big-shot boor ("If you want my personal opinion they bottled it"). We forget that City were not exactly laughed out of town by Milan or Kaká. It was a closer-run thing than all that; Kaká's Evita impression would hardly have been deemed necessary otherwise. But for some reason, City "throw" money around, whereas United and Chelsea and the rest of the establishment, presumably, invest with utmost prudence. Hmmm.

The only way City could match the risible bombast of Cook's periodic boasts would be to develop nuclear capabilities. But Cook is comic relief, a footballbiz incarnation of Neil Kinnock's notorious election rally performance; his manifest earnestness means he is hardly to be taken earnestly. This isn't the real standard against which City are to be measured. They just have to put together a football team competitive with the elite. That just is enormous, of course. It ain't what you got, it's what you do with it, and what City do with it remains to be seen, though they've started well enough.

Immortality is a swindle. There was a time when City fans could, and did, mock United for last having won the league in 1967 (the days when smallpox-ridden infant chimney sweeps were sent abroad to defend sugar plantations for King and Empire) while City's last title had come in 1968 (the year the world went from black-and-white to colour and sex was invented (yeah, you heard, Larkin)). And how long ago that seems. "Money doesn't necessarily buy success" is a true statement. "Money doesn't buy success" is superstition.


Fredorrarci 28/1/10 11:07 PM  

"Money doesn't buy happiness" and "money doesn't buy class" are, of course, different issues...

Elliott 28/1/10 11:15 PM  

Brilliant! "sheikh ex machina."

I also think people overlook City's history in the topflight - these things go in waves, and the United debtfueld spend-a-thon is threatening to come apart at the wheels.

If the owners can't get a new 0% credit card in the next six months, they can't pay wages and Rooney may have to...put his child up for adoption. Or sell some cars.

Fredorrarci 29/1/10 5:06 PM  

As it happens, I didn't really have United's current financial situation in mind when I wrote this, though it's certainly relevant.

Ted Harwood 29/1/10 9:11 PM  

It's interesting to compare football with the NFL in America, which has a salary cap, and lots of "parity" when it comes to clubs. The theory being, one supposes, that giving everyone the same amount of money levels the playing field. Just don't tell the Cleveland Browns or the Detroit Lions.

MisoSoup,  28/3/11 11:27 AM  

I thought sex was invented sometime between the Lady Chatterley trial and The Beatle's first L.P....?

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