Taking a walk around the centre of Manchester these days, you can’t help but notice an increasing abundance of the smuggest, most self-congratulatory football shirt that this town has produced in a long, long time: TEVEZ, 32. And, of course, it is printed onto City sky blue. For United fans, the Argentine is now an unforgivable traitor, the man who not only defected to the upstart locals, but the previously revered terrace-favourite who aimed some sacrilegious parting blows at Ferguson, too.
For City fans, his scamper to Eastlands is heroic: the giant ‘Welcome to Manchester’ billboard erected by quick-thinking publicists evokes that decades-old City refrain about Old Trafford lying outside the town’s borders- the Blues are laughing loudly, and loving every minute of this pre-season.
Tevez arrives with a cohort of other expensive talents (and towering expectations for one of the league’s most consistently inconsistent clubs) in the most ambitious sporting revolution since Ambramovich bought 2 Premier League titles for Chelsea in 2005 and 2006. But, as the saying goes, football isn’t played on paper, nor on bank cheques for that matter, and City have everything yet to prove on the pitch.
Powerful financial backing has brought success before in our domestic game, but the only guarantee becomes the inevitable pressure to perform: in this respect, Mark Hughes might get off lightly compared to Manuel Pellegrini, a manager who must handle the looming paradox of being in football’s most enviable and unenviable position simultaneously- Madrid’s ownership demands that mountains move, a task not incomparable to toppling the empire of footballing sublimity that has risen in Barcelona.
Real Madrid’s heavyweight spending trumps even City’s- the combination of power, prestige and potential has lured the world’s most devastating attackers in Ronaldo and Kaka, each at record fees, along with a group of undoubted quality. Ronaldo’s painless acclimation will be crucial for Real, in a league which many pundits believe is taylor-made for his particular brand of high-speed, technically superior football.
The relentless Florentino Pérez is difficult to satisfy (in 2003, he fired Vicente del Bosque for delivering only the European Cup), and the question remains whether a team with obvious defensive deficiences can the scale the heights which the club craves for itself. Madrid’s progress in Spain and Europe will be intriguing for English fans, particularly given the likelihood of a meeting with one our top four at some stage in the Champions League.
Certainly, Manchester and Madrid have been the epicentres of this summer’s transfer activity- United have lost a valued player to both City and Real, two teams who have between them shaken European football profoundly. Does it not almost seem that many major transfers, when not involving either of these clubs, are instigated with a view to replacing players whom this new axis of power has already swooped to capture? Valencia to United, Glen Johnson to Liverpool, even Fabian Delph to Aston Villa- the reverberative effect of Abu Dhabi City and Galacticos II will surely continue to ring for any number of seasons, both on the field and in the transfer market.
Only European qualification, as an absolute minimum, will be accepted at City, and Madrid have targeted every possible trophy as the justification for its blazing achievements in funding and recruitment. As the new season draws close, the strengths of the big spenders will soon be tested: only then can we form some early judgements, when the speculation is silenced and goals become more valuable than pounds.