Tuesday 26 May 2009

King of the Kippax Final Column of Season 2008/09

Hello fellow blues and welcome to my first column for what seems like far too long and also my final one of the season. You will notice that I’ve changed the name, from Emz and the City to Footy Pundette to coincide with my blog site. Please accept my apologies for not contributing to King of the Kippax for a while, I have been well and truly bogged down with university work during my final year. But I have now finished, and it is fingers crossed for the results and for my graduation in July (touch wood).

I cannot get my head around the fact that it’s the end of the season already. It doesn’t seem two minutes since Mark Hughes’ first press conference at Carrington and now, nine months and a UEFA Cup quarter final later, proceedings are being wrapped up yet again in the Premier League. What’s the verdict on Hughes’ first season in charge? Who has got your vote for Player of the Season; who has impressed and who is heading for the exit during the impending summer? Let’s pick the bones over another fascinating season at Eastlands...


Nobody could have anticipated what happened on transfer deadline day back on the final day in August 2008. At the time, the future of City was looking decidedly uncertain following Thaksin Shinawatra’s legal disputes and dodgy dealings. It became obvious that the money that Shinawatra had promised was merely monopoly money and that the club was heading in the wrong direction with him at the helm. Cue August 31st 2008.

Does anybody else feel like the day was just a dream? I remember waking up, switching Sky Sports News on and being absolutely gob-smacked. I couldn’t take it in. Manchester City, the butt of most people’s jokes for so many years, the team always over-shadowed by our neighbours, became the richest club in the world. Not to mention Robinho...

My reaction was shock and worry. Would City now become a much-hated club, with rival fans despising our sudden wealth and power? Don’t get me wrong, I was more excited than I have ever been before Christmas day, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the takeover was a double-edged sword. The signing of Robinho seemed too good to be true; £32.5 million spent just like that was an incredible statement of intent from Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
The Brazilian made an immediate impact, scoring in the home game against Chelsea and waving his magic wand in various different City appearances, most notably the home games against Stoke and Arsenal. But then, off-the-pitch allegations seemed to affect his confidence and his slump in form didn’t go un-noticed. What we must remember is that season 2008/09 has been Robinho’s first season in the Premier League; who would have thought that he would be playing in a City shirt ever. The minority of fans who have heckled Robinho should be ashamed- he’s back on the score-sheet and there’s plenty more to come from the samba man.

There are no prizes for guessing which player has surprised the most people this season. It’s hard to believe that before this season’s Thomas Cook Trophy, against AC Milan, Stephen Ireland was busy shopping in the Trafford Centre thinking that he was being sold to Sunderland. Now he is a sure bet to be voted City’s Player of the Year after putting in consistent and passionate performances week in week out.

In an interview he admitted that he was determined to turn his life around and worked hard on his fitness and football through the summer of 2008, ready to be in immaculate condition for the new season. Didn’t it pay off; he has transformed into an incredible midfielder, capable of creating something out of nothing. His vision and passing ability is superb and he runs his socks off. He has the passion and the motivation to lead from the centre of the park and has flourished, scoring sublime goals...anybody remember the goal against Fulham at home? Or Hull away? His nickname Superman is more than deserved.

His fellow players are quick to compliment his talent. Vincent Kompany recently admitted that he thought that Stephen Ireland ‘was a country’ before he arrived at City, but now realises that the player, Ireland, is something special. Nedum Onuoha recognises the commitment that Ireland has to the game, stating that he wished every player would have the same drive on the pitch. I think it’s a credit to how good City’s academy and Jim Cassell are, and that it is imperative that City continue to bring quality footballers through the academy to play alongside the big-money buys that will be brought it over the summer.


Hands up, who actually expected to get as far as we did in Europe? Really?
After the ties against Midgetland I really didn’t hold my breath. But then came the home win against Twente, the superb match in Germany (where Stephen Ireland stole the show yet again) against Schalke and before City fans knew it we were through to the knock-out stages. Belief was growing and, after overcoming the hurdle of Aalborg, it was down to Hamburg. A poor performance in the first leg meant that it all came down to overcoming a two-goal deficit at home in what turned out to be the biggest game of the season (so far).

What an atmosphere it proved to be. After City kindly decided to reduce match-day tickets to just a fiver for the occasion, a sell-out crowd and a carnival atmosphere shocked Martin Jol’s Hamburg, but the 2-1 victory wasn’t enough. City bid their romance with the UEFA Cup farewell. But it proved to be a great Cup run and a taste of what may lie ahead- and the Hamburg game demonstrated the atmosphere that City’s fans are capable of producing within the City of Manchester Stadium.


The mega-money arriving at City this year didn’t just bring Robinho to the club, it brought a plethora of fresh faces and new talent. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Glauber Berti, Shay Given, Craig Bellamy, Nigel De Jong and Wayne Bridge have all signed up for Hughes’ revolution with mainly positive results. Wright-Phillips looks like he never left the club; if anything he has improved since his move to Chelsea and is at home on the right wing, scoring two goals on his ‘debut’ against Sunderland and settling in straight away back at Eastlands.

Since he signed from Espanyol, Zabaleta has proved to be a revelation. The 24 year-old Argentinian is both versatile and reliable, providing crunch tackles either in the heart of defence or midfield, but linking up well in attack. He more than deserved his impressive goal against Wigan and has shown how committed he is to being successful in England by learning our language three hours a day.

Similarly, Kompany’s arrival provided an immediate impact, with the defensive midfielder putting in reliable displays. He conducts himself in a truly professional manner and goes about his business in an efficient way. He has been earmarked as a future City captain- and rightly so.

De Jong looks promising, Bellamy was scoring for fun before his knee injury ruled him out for the season and Given has been solid in goal. Of course, we haven’t seen anything yet of the elusive Berti, apart from within the confines of city centre night clubs. For me, the jury is still out on Bridge. I think Javier Garrido is under-rated and didn’t deserve the criticism he received from fans. But the vast majority of the signings Hughes has made have ticked all the right boxes- and have seen the team improve in key positions.

But who has disappointed? The first name on the list would have to be Micah Richards. Whether he has been distracted off the pitch or not is irrelevant; he has bulked up and lost a bit of the pace that made him such a good prospect for the future. He hasn’t been anywhere near as sharp as he once was and has a lot of work to do to get back on top of his game. My advice? Stay away from the DJ spots and concentrate on training.

This one may not go down well with the City faithful, but I feel let down by Richard Dunne. The former Player of the Year has endured red cards and own goals galore in what has been a shocking season for the Irishman. The last-ditch fancy tackles that fans applaud him for are normally due to him having to make up for his mistakes- Dunne has conceded 45 corners alone this year, the most by any Premier League player by far. If the rumours are right, Sunderland want him for £5 million- I’d snap their hand off.

Daniel Sturridge. There is no doubting his potential and we have seen flashes of brilliance from the youngster, but he has got too big for his boots. Garry Cook has admitted that it’s ridiculous that the club allowed Sturridge to get to a stage where he is in the final year of his contract and in a position to hold the club to ransom. At the moment, it looks like he could be departing in the summer. I am not doubting his ability; I would love him to stay at City, but at what price? The buzz word around Sturridge is potential, until that is demonstrated should we be expected to meet his ludicrous demands (yes we can afford it, but that’s not the point is it).

Other disappointments...Vassell (faded into obscurity), Jo (scoring at Everton, doesn’t get on with Hughes, could that be reconciled?), Hart (replaced by Given but still earmarked as one to watch), Caicedo (inconsistent, but does strangely remind me of a 2009 Shaun Goater). Injury victims have been Valeri Bojinov, Martin Petrov, Benjani and Michael Johnson (hmmmm). Elano has been inconsistent but is looking more and more like the player that endeared us during his arrival in 2008. More of the same please Blumer, I would be sad to see him go in the summer. For me, he must stay.


Possibly the most talked-about figure at the football club, Hughes has been under the glare of the media spot-light from day one. With the money came added pressure- it’s safe to say that Hughes has split the fans’ opinion. On one side of it, fans want to give the Welshman time. He has brought in many good signings to the club and many think that stability and time is needed for him to bring success to Eastlands.

The other opinion is that Hughes isn’t capable of taking City to the next level. With rumours circulating of his military-style training sessions, coupled with the apparent refusal to speak and connect with his players on a man-management and motivational level and shouts of dressing room unrest, Hughes has been the target of abuse. But which side are you on? Do you know?

I am completely undecided. I am aware that City need consistency and stability to prepare for the potential special times that lie ahead. I’m just unsure whether Hughes is the right man to take us there. I don’t know if he is capable, but I guess we will find that out. I also don’t know whether I trust him with so much potential- and that’s nothing to do with him being a former player for the neighbours. But he has lead City to the UEFA Cup quarter finals and we are still in the hunt for a place in Europe- only time will tell whether he is up to the job or not.


On the whole, the season will be proved successful if City manage to clinch 7th spot. Although we did have a relatively successful time in Europe, we got knocked out of the F.A. Cup to Nottingham Forest at home (3-0, that was appalling) and the Carling Cup to Brighton. That is shocking. But if you look at the players that were involved in those games...City have a completely different look to the side now, with the alleged trouble-makers (the likes of Tal Ben Haim, Michael Ball, Jo and Darius Vassell) being faded out and replaced with quality. Garry Cook is stressing that the club is building foundations for the future and the fans must be patient but excited at what lies ahead.

The summer will be just as exciting, with the rumours circulating already involving Samuel E’to, Raul, Franc Ribery, David Villa, John Terry...these are exciting times to be a City fan and to be involved at the club. But it will take time; success doesn’t come overnight, it has to be invested in wisely. Watch this space.

THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO...the summer transfer rumour mill starting to rumble once again...new faces at the club...pre-season games (the South Africa tournament has been confirmed)...Michael Johnson bouncing back from injury...clearing some dead wood...my graduation...

Keep the blue faith and enjoy your summer holidays!

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