London: Brian Marwood, Manchester City’s sporting director, joins the well-heeled and well-keeled in Monaco on Thursday, to attend the Champions League draw and listen to the Uefa president, Michel Platini, talk about the importance of financial prudence.
In the background will be the clinking sounds of yachts, Champagne flutes and roulette wheels, making Monaco a slightly surreal setting for a discussion on tightening belts and balancing books. Marwood, though, does not need any advice from Platini’s Financial Fair Play document or any prompting on the need for fiscal restraint.
Contrary to popular perception, the buzzword “sustainability” has long been heard within the corridors of power at City. The owner, Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, initially invested lavishly, including more than pounds £500 million on transfers, in making City competitive, in reaching the Champions League and winning the Premier League. The Shaikh will sanction further signings this week, starting with Swansea City’s Scott Sinclair, possibly Benfica’s Javi Garcia with Roma’s Daniele De Rossi a long shot, but the mantra of “sustainability”, of building a club with solid economic foundations, will remain a priority. Good.
Even with some late outlays City’s spending has slowed, a frustration for Roberto Mancini, the manager clamouring for high-class recruits as the clock ticks down to Friday’s transfer deadline. The fascinating dynamic between the measured Marwood and City’s driven, occasionally emotional manager provides the human incarnation of the current great debate over transfer budgets.
There’s no falling out, just a tension inevitably heightened in the final week of the transfer window. With Mancini too smart to criticise Mansour or the chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak, Marwood is the easiest target on which to vent any annoyance over club policy.
For those of us who admire Marwood and Mancini, the feeling remains that two good football men can work in tandem to shape a robust future for City. As players, Mancini the striker would certainly have enjoyed the service from a winger like Marwood. The 52-year-old Englishman is not some faceless accountant sitting behind a desk stymieing the manager’s plans.
Marwood has acquired an extensive knowledge of the game while racing down the flank at Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal, Sheffield United, Swindon Town, Barnet and England (for 10 minutes against Saudi Arabia). He has been chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, a media pundit and cut his teeth in the business of sport working for Nike. He deserves Mancini’s respect. And gratitude.
Marwood focuses on the long-term success of City as well as short term. If Mancini completes his new five-year deal, he will probably be fielding some of the players Marwood has drafted into the academy, like two highly regarded attackers, the Spaniard Jose Angel Pozo and the Portuguese-Brazilian Marcos Lopes.
Mancini and Marwood share much in common. Both are hugely ambitious for City to find a permanent place amongst the European elite. Both are strong family men with sons trying to make their way in the game (James Marwood on loan from Gateshead at Halifax Town, Andrea Mancini at Valladolid B while Filippo Mancini remains on City’s books). Marwood has an office close to Mancini’s at Carrington where they own one of the most amazing coffee machines ever conceived by an Italian designer.
Maybe the pair need to have the occasional quiet espresso and enhance a working relationship that is so important to City’s prosperity. Mancini should reflect that he is fortunate to possess a good squad anyway, that he has retained the stars that won the title, losing only Adam Johnson, a bit-part player anyway. Mancini should also remember that certain other managers have players imposed on them by their club’s owners.
Marwood does not interfere with his manager’s transfer choices. Any private reservations that Marwood might have harboured about Roque Santa Cruz were put to one side as he brought in a striker coveted by Mark Hughes, Mancini’s predecessor. The manager’s desire for a player is paramount yet now set alongside the club’s view of the value being realistic. This is where “sustainability” enters the equation, demanding the sums add up. City eventually ended their pursuit of Eden Hazard because of the cost for the Belgian playmaker which eventually hit pounds £32 million. They also baulked at paying a pounds £6 million fee to Hazard’s agent, John Bico. Mancini is understood to have ultimately agreed with City’s refusal to countenance such expenditure.
Hazard’s duck-to-water landing in English football must still be a frustration for Mancini to behold. Similarly, City’s interest in Robin van Persie cooled because they would have had to make the Footballer of the Year the second highest earner in the squad after Yaya Toure. Again, “sustainability”. Again, there must be irritation for Mancini in watching Van Persie hitting the ground running, shooting and scoring for Manchester United.
Mancini is a fine coach, a Premier League winner deservedly rewarded with that long contract, but he is not infallible. His decision to play three at the back against Liverpool, particularly giving the hapless Kolo Toure a starting place ahead of Joleon Lescott, was ill judged (although rectified late on).
The Italian’s loyalty to his compatriot Mario Balotelli, a controversial striker who needs to contribute more consistently, remains debatable. His recent purchases have been intriguing. Sinclair’s switch from Swansea for pounds £6 million has aroused some surprise as Mancini does not particularly deploy wingers, one reason behind Johnson’s determination to seek regular action at Sunderland. Jack Rodwell arrived for pounds £12 million from Everton. Again, Rodwell’s recruitment raises issues. The midfielder is very capable technically. His tendency to play the ball conservatively, usually passing short to the likes of Yaya Toure, may simply be showing respect to his new, illustrious teammates while settling in. Rodwell has not really charged forward with the ball, something he is capable of. While it is encouraging from an English perspective to see Sinclair and Rodwell getting a chance of involvement in the Champions League (with a nod of sympathy to Johnson), it would surely have worked better for Marwood and Mancini to pool that cash for a more sustained assault on the barricades that Roma have erected around De Rossi. If they are to progress from the Champions League group stages, De Rossi is more likely to guide their path than Sinclair or Rodwell. Marwood and Mancini need to improve their communication.
It’s good to talk. They are on the same side.