ootball is incorrigible really. When some muddled lunatic cruelly fractured everyday life in Manchester and beyond last week, I wondered when official England’s observance of grief rituals would give way to the itch to get back to business as usual. Would it be Labour clambering up the polls while divided against itself. Would it be Theresa May with her tinny Thatcher impersonation. Maybe the sensitive souls of UKIP would be back among us spreading their slurry.
Instead, it was Manchester City, once the self-proclaimed people’s club of Manchester who got the big show back on the road. Having matched United’s half million donation to the Manchester emergency fund, City cheerily announced that they had spent proper money, £43.6 million of it, on a 22-year-old Monaco player. If you can’t beat them, buy them is the new managerial imperative.
Having secured Bernardo Silva, who couldn’t make Portugal’s Euro squad less than a year ago, City are expected to head straight back to Monaco to abduct their left-back Benjamin Mendy. Having only previously managed at clubs where the team came pre-assembled, Pep Guardiola has learned that success now entails going to the bother of raiding clubs where people still actually coach. Bad news then for Monaco, Spurs, and Benfica. Even for Barca. Pep has been loitering outside La Maisa crooking his finger at Pablo Moreno, Nico Gonzalez, and Ansu Fati and promising to take them away from all that. To help young Nico see the light, City have already hired his Daddy as a coach.
The fact is that for all the money which has been splurged on Premier League squads in the recent past, this summer finds every club in the top six in need of serious refurbishment. If you are mobile and can kick a ball without falling over — and preferably if you aren’t English — you can expect a chilling phone call pretty soon, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know how you play. If you are looking for money, I can tell you I have money. I do have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will sign you… And then maybe I will put you out on loan.”
Time and football wait for no man (City). I can’t remember a season which has ended up looking quite so much like the prequel to a forthcoming blockbuster.
Manchester City made the Champions League but one trophy-free season for Pep was a catastrophe. A second bald year will bring a harvest of ‘whatever happened to Pep’ nostalgia pieces. City don’t seem to have a style that Pep likes or a squad that he enjoys. Being in dire need of two attacking full backs, Mendy of Monaco should be joined by Kyle Walker of Spurs while Benfica’s keeper Ederson can expect no peace until he accepts about £35 million. Who knew that Claudio Bravo had anxiety issues in environments involving a football?
Over at Manchester United, Mourinho has pulled off perhaps his most remarkable feat of management yet, expensively transforming United into the most boring team in the Premier League. They won the Europa League with the trademark verve and style of a mid-table Championship team. Mourinho seems content enough for the tedium to be the message but give him a quarter of a billion pounds and he will spend it for you. Continuing the wheeze of buying back United discards, he will somehow seduce Michael Keane away from the fleshpots of Burnley and then make busy telling Antoine Griezmann that he is the only striker he has ever really loved. He will then tell Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, Dries Merten, Pierre Aubemeyang, and maybe Andrea Belloti the same thing until one of them runs weeping into his arms.
Having been taken completely unawares by how many games there are in a regular season, Mourinho will also have to buy another midfielder, a winger, some back-up players and a therapist to help Luke Shaw get his confidence back.
At Chelsea, if Diego Costa seems to have decided that bullying one billion Chinese is not his next career move but maybe going back to Atletico is, Chelsea still need a striker. At the Bridge they know how to sign strikers but sometimes have trouble signing the right ones. Kezman, Shevchenko, Mutu, Pizzaro, Di Santo, Torres, and now Batshuayi. And after a year with a very light match schedule, Conte is going to have to bulk up his squad considerably. Chelsea’s system of stockpiling players to loan out is like a larder in which nothing ever ripens so more spending seems unavoidable, Then there is the John Terry shaped hole in the dressing room. Terry dictated the mood in there. In his absence Conte might find it wise to bring in a number of his own signings in case the old lags start downing tools again.
Liverpool did well to qualify for the Champions League but playing at that level will stretch for a thin squad till embarrassing holes appear. They are high in energy but low on top quality. Klopp needs six signings and confusingly can’t get them all at the Southampton Super Store. He needs an entire defence, a recognisable top striker and a good keeper, I’ve only seen one team do well without a striker and that was Barca pre-Suarez. They had Messi and Xavi. Liverpool don’t.
Spurs have a critical lack of squad depth and know that they have to convert this season’s promise into a trophy. That comes with pressure. Not as much pressure as there is down the road at Arsenal, though. If Arsene gets a reprieve from death row he’s going to have to spend like a lottery winner, coach like a much younger man and woo Sanchez like a Casanova.
With Real Madrid having set the tone of the summer by signing a 16-year-old for €46m and with Barca, Bayern, PSG, and the Peoples Republic of China etc all running around waving money, the world could be facing a critical deficit of talent this summer. Anybody remember what that whole Academy system was all about? There aren’t enough top class players to go around but of managers with more cash than sense, there are plenty. Meanwhile I’m blaming Trump and I’m becoming a football agent.