The two clubs baring Manchester in their name have both spent big this summer. But that is where the similarity ends. In the centre of Manchester, Pep Guardiola has spread his cash as he rebuilds and reimagines The Citizens style of play. Over in Trafford, their new man at the helm José Mourinho, also faces a reshaping job. But he has decided to take a big, singular gamble. There is a reason for these two differing approaches.
The irony of United being the club to break the world transfer record, when it was “City ruining football” with their accelerated growth period, won’t go unnoticed with football fans around the country. But the protracted Paul Pogba transfer is the peak of a continued period of United high-spending.
Moyes, Van Gaal, and now Mourinho, have all been supported by the Glazers in the transfer market.
The ethics of a £100m move have been widely discussed. Regardless of opinion, the truth is football’s finance has been heading this way for a long time. The new TV money should have found its way back to the pockets of fans but this was always going to be difficult when chairman saw it as a way to increase the ransoms on their top players.
Juventus have only done what Everton have been trying for the last two summers, and this despite the Goodson Park outfit benefitting from the increased TV revenue and a new, presumably richer, owner. The Italian club have a tighter budget, if they hadn’t broken the world record fee with United’s money, Real Madrid would have stepped in and come close.
What makes the move murkier for United, are the reports the Frenchman preferred a move to the Spanish giants. A few eyebrows must have been raised from Sir Alex Ferguson to Sir Bobby Charlton, when the realisation hit home that a player who left for a tribunal fee, looked to be returning, somewhat underwhelmed, for a world record fee.
The debate about whether he is worth the fee is null and void. The moment a club are willing to pay a price, that is the market value.
What the Pogba debacle does, is detract attention from United’s net summer spend. The positive press campaign focuses on four acquisitions, one of them Zlatan Ibrahimovic for absolutely nothing. A player of such quality on a free transfer is more than a bargain, the only doubts surround his ability to step up from the tamer French league to the tough English season at the age of 34.
The other half of Mourinho’s summer quartet are Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly. At a combined fee of £68m they are hardly cheap supplements to the lofty pursuit of Pogba.
This is where the Manchester divide became a chasm over the summer.
As it stands City, who admittedly are still seeking reinforcements, have spent £114m and recouped £10m. Both of those figures are set to rise, with the imbalance increasing on the expenditure side of the equation.
For the price of one Pogba, City have brought in six new faces and still have over £60m to go before equalling United’s outgoings. This is without acknowledging the offloading process City are going through which is trickling some cash back into the coffers.
The reason the alternative approaches are so glaring is because both clubs had the same problem: they need complete overhauls.
José Mourinho even commented lately that he needed twenty players to undo the damage inflicted from the Louis Van Gaal era, and that his approach differed so wildly, it would take many new faces to adjust the style.
So why place all his faith in one big summer signing?
Because he lacks a luxury only Pep Guardiola can boast in the modern world of football: time.
The Spaniard holds a major advantage over José and it isn’t a bigger cheque book or even a better youth system. It’s the lack of urgency for immediate results. The Etihad board didn’t allow the Pellegrini era end with a canter to then make a kneejerk reaction with their long-term managerial target.
Guardiola knows he can take his time developing new signings like Marlos Moreno without fearing the need for instant success. That’s not to say he can fail to achieve minimum targets. Champions League qualification is a must to the big clubs. But even failure to meet that wouldn’t necessarily cost Pep his job.
Mourinho is breathing the air of a different planet. He is a proven manager that suddenly has everything to prove. After the Chelsea sacking, he can’t afford a slow start, let alone a disappointing season. He didn’t have the support of the entire United board but he was seen as a necessary evil.
That conjoined dilemma of club and man brought them together. Now they face a future where development gives way to desperation in the transfer market.
Mourinho is in the casino, play for high stakes risks, and Pogba is one big throw of the dice.
His inner-city rival can smile and take cab journeys with fans instead. He has the time to send players like Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus on loan, not worry about Ilkay Gündogan’s lengthy injury, or bend to transfer fee demands he feels excessive. And all the time he works the current crop – whom many now seek redemption – into his mould.
Leicester proved last year that money doesn’t guarantee success, this season Manchester will see if patience pays dividends.
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