£120 million. The figure the hacking scandal has cost Rupert Murdoch so far. The figure the Hunger Games was expected to make at the box office on the opening weekend. And also the figure Roberto Mancini has spent assembling his strikeforce at Manchester City.
Although this might not be the exact to the penny, indeed no one knows quite how much Carlos Tevez actually cost the club (blame third party agents), it shows just how much of Sheikh Mansour’s money has gone into delivering an attack capable of winning the title. And that’s without counting the ones that have failed at the Etihad Stadium, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz and Jo. However, even if City were still in with a chance of winning the title, questions would still remain over their forwards. Sergio Aguero aside, it’s not been a particularly good year for the rest.
Edin Dzeko, despite flashes of brilliances, continues to be woefully inconsistent, and rather like his club of late, ineffective in the big games. The Bosnian disappointed all onlookers after his switch from Wolfsburg last January, especially considering his excellent record in the Bundesliga. The kinder members of the football community put it down to struggling to settle in England. Still, it looked as if Dzeko had cracked it at the start of this season. Goals in the Community Shield and the opening game against Swansea were followed with that four goal salvo at White Hart Lane that included the ‘perfect’ hat-trick. He subsequently won August’s player of the month. However, as the season has worn on, Dzeko has found himself increasingly marginalized. 16 starts and 14 substitute appearances in the Premier League suggests Mancini himself can’t decide whether Dzeko is good enough for City’s starting XI and his lack of important goals has made the Bosnian a failure since his move to England. Some might suggest that a return of 13 for the season represents good business given Dzeko plays predominantly as the second striker, but considering the start he had and the number of chances he regularly blazes over the crossbar, many fans wearing the blue shirt wouldn’t be disappointed to see him shifted on this summer.
It would be interesting to take Sergio Aguero out of the City equation. The Argentine has bagged 24 goals in all competitions, including 17 in the Premier League that leaves him third behind the Premier League’s other two supreme marksmen, Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney. At times this year, it feels like Aguero, along with playmaker David Silva, has carried the Blues, with the rest of the team relying on the pair to produce pieces of individual brilliance to unlock defences. More often than not, they have come up with the goods, but this appears to have taken its toll on both players. Aguero, and Silva especially, have looked jaded in recent weeks, overused and overplayed, victims to the lack of support from the cast around them. Mancini realises his replacements lack the star quality of his prize duo and the Italian has therefore been reluctant to leave either Silva or Aguero out of the side. He has paid the ultimate price. It’s no coincidence that City’s recent run of shocking results has come at a time when neither Aguero nor Silva can find their early season form. Still, there’s no doubting Aguero has been a hit since his switch to Manchester, £35 million looks a snip for a forward with such prodigal skill (take note Liverpool) and the real issue here is whether City can resist the advances of Real Madrid in the summer.
As for Carlos Tevez, well enough has been written and said about him already. Whether he can actually be included in this list anyway is debatable, indeed he has started just one Premier League game this season, whilst making seven appearances off the bench. Tevez has seen more green on the golf courses of Argentina than England’s football pitches this year. The fact Mancini has turned back to the Argentinean shows his desperation regarding City’s strikers. There’s no doubting Tevez’s obvious ability, indeed he carried the side last year, offering a goal scoring threat and workmanlike attitude that so endeared him to City’s fans in the first place. But his attitude and unprofessionalism has let the club down and he should be moved on in the summer without any hesitation. If anyone will take him…
So that leaves us with one more. A man who seemed to be making himself universally popular in Englandwith his maverick antics. The Balotellisms have dominated the headlines this year, mainly for the right reasons. They have distracted attention away from his performances on the field though, which is why some people find it surprising that the Italian has found the net 17 times in 36 games for the club this year. Given how used we are to hearing Mancini talk about how disappointing his egotistical star has been, that is a decent return for someone who has struggled to break into the starting line-up. It’s all gone pear-shaped for Mario again recently though and the red card against Arsenal seems to be the final straw for his manager. You only have to look at his teammates’ reactions to his stupid, potentially leg-breaking challenge on Alex Song to recognise how frustrated they are becoming with Balotelli. Joe Hart was visibly angry later after his sending off, while to a man, they ignored him as they walked off the pitch at half-time with Balotelli lying on the ground ‘injured.’
Mancini has staked his reputation on being able to handle the volatile Italian, but he is currently failing. He was refreshingly honest in the post-match interview, suggesting his enigma is not far away from wasting his incredible talent. He also told reporters that Balotelli would ‘probably’ never play for the club again. Mario is incredibly exasperating. This season finally seemed like the year he’d grown up, mixing class with some of his ridiculous stories, especially after his display at Old Trafford. Football needs characters like Mario, but the last couple of weeks show how much of a liability he is. To win the Premier League, a side needs unity as well as quality, and unfortunately while Balotelli possesses plenty of the later, he also distinctly damages the former. Whether he will leave the Etihad remains to be seen, but wherever he plays next season, Mario needs to grow up. And fast.
This ‘awesome foursome’ leaves Mancini with a huge problem next year. It’s possible three of the four could move on, maybe even all four if anyone would take Edin Dzeko. Tevez has to be sold for the sake of dressing room harmony however good he is, while it appears Mancini has already made up his mind on Balotelli. No one wants to see Aguero leave, but he may find the charms of returning to Madrid, albeit with Real, too alluring. Don’t be surprised therefore to see a bunch of new faces leading the line at the Etihad next season. Let’s hope Mancini makes wiser choices this time around.