Early Doors

Too many Indians, not enough chiefs

Early Doors

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There was a touch of the Arsenal about Manchester City's 2-1 defeat at home to Everton.

Dominating possession but ultimately undone by a hard-working and, at times, classy side of 'lower' ability, City were unable to pass their way to a victory that would have taken them top.

There was also something of the City about it, the 'old' City, undeniably adventurous yet with a soft, self-destructive core that a Spain reserve playmaker is not enough to stiffen.

There is a misconception that the big-salary stars in the City line-up bring a natural sense of alpha-male leadership, that somehow big reputations equate big men.

But who are the 'big personalities' in that City side, the egos of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli aside? Here we have a mixture of the 'best of the worst' (the better players from middling clubs here and abroad, for whom City was a relative step up in all terms) and the 'worst of the best', players who - while undeniably gifted - were either not top of the pile at the bigger clubs or have personality issues that their former employers would not tolerate.

In the former category come the likes of Vincent Kompany, Aleksandr Kolarov, James Milner, Gareth Barry, Pablo Zabaleta and even David Silva; in the latter you have Mario Balotelli, the Toure brothers and Tevez himself (plus Emmanuel Adebayor, had he been involved).

The senior players in the gang - Gareth Barry and Kolo Toure - have form for going missing under pressure, Barry (who played well on Monday) for England against Germany at the World Cup, and Kolo when he crumbled under the A-Dog challenge of William 'we concede late goal, I will sit-uh' Gallas.

Indeed, for several of City's team, to 'dig in one's heels' means to kick off in order to facilitate a transfer, or some other hissy fit.

A club that challenges for trophies needs technically and physically gifted players, for sure. But it also needs a core of five or six dogs of war, a loyal backbone of strong men, ideally with some kind of affinity to the club, either as local supporters or a product of the youth team.

Not everyone should be like this mind, just a backbone. All the successful teams have this, teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid when they were winning things, Juventus in their pomp, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool on their day and even Arsenal, whose players may largely be foreign but who are clearly still Gooners.

This is needed on a cold, northern winter's night against a scrapping, organised team of grafters who can also play a bit, and on the more glamorous occasions when one has to fight back against one of the league or Europe's leading lights.

And it takes more than an aggressive, celebrity-led marketing strategy to foster this attitude among a nucleus of players. It takes a youth development programme to nurture young talent without spoiling it, and to retain it where possible instead of casting it aside for a marginally more gifted mercenary.

It takes a certain type of player, a different type of chief to that which dominates the City dressing room.

It also takes a manager who understands this mentality: a Fergie or Wenger or Guardiola who will be given the long-term brief to develop such talent or to beat it into the team in the style of Jose Mourinho or Brian Clough before him.

Roberto Mancini seems a hardy, determined fellow, and the Premier League is such a mess right now that he could still bring the title (or failing that the Europa League) to Eastlands.

But looking at that team-sheet, and gauging the intangibles, the mental attributes of its stars, you have to wonder if the league table - third but with teams around them boasting games in hand - really is a correct reflection of the players at Mancini's disposal: top four, yes, but not a genuine title challenger.


QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Carlos is a world class player whose contribution since he joined the club has been invaluable," said Mancini. "I am pleased that we are now able to focus on pure football matters and are able to look forward to Carlos continuing to play a significant role in the club's progress" - Mancini on Tevez. Shame he went missing against Everton, when they had the chance to go top.

FOREIGN VIEW: "This move is a good opportunity for him because we couldn't guarantee him a starting place. We wish him all the best at Muang Thong, he is welcome back any time" - Bradford boss Peter Taylor skirts around the fact that Pakistan defender Zesh Rehman quit for Thai side Muang Thong United after being stripped of the captaincy for criticising team selection on a radio show.

COMING UP: On the off chance that Celtic's rescheduled SPL clash at home to Kilmarnock is not called off, you can follow live text commentary and scoring from 7.45pm. Otherwise a quiet night, although there is live scoring of Copa del Rey matches, including Barcelona's reserves entertaining Athletic Bilbao.

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