Liverpool are up against a side with aspiration and financial clout on their side.
Manchester City players committed to extending their dominance in Premier League after extending contracts
What started as a trickle became a torrent. Aleksandar Kolarov signed a new contract in June, then Samir Nasri in July. Then there came three in three days: Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero committing their futures to Manchester City. Finally, Edin Dzeko followed suit last Wednesday.
Those six contract renewals cover a total of 28 years. They affect both the spine and the sides of the team, scorers and stoppers alike. In the middle of the transfer window, they represented the antithesis of some of the frenzied activity taking place elsewhere.
Manuel Pellegrini has brought in five senior players but, if Fernandinho displaces Fernando, the City side that lines up against Liverpool tonight should consist entirely of footballers who were at the Etihad Stadium last season.
It makes them a rarity, especially in these days when a club’s prospects seem to be assessed purely by what they have done in the transfer market.
Revolution is in the air at their rivals. It tended to be the one constant in their uneven past, too.
City have not always been models of stability and solidity. The swift pace of change following Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s 2008 takeover meant newcomers were needed and the existing personnel had to improve or exit. Even before then, players – and often managers – could come and go at alarming speed. It seemed part of the club’s identity.
Meanwhile, the Anfield ethos revolved around quiet evolution. They promoted from within. Success seemed seamless. Many of the personnel spent the majority of their careers at Liverpool. Others were integrated around them.
Now summers promise upheaval on Anfield. Mario Balotelli will become the ninth addition this year. There were eight last year and seven by the time the 2011 window slammed shut.
The volume is explained by some of the missteps along the way. Liverpool prospered almost in spite of their transfer activity last year.
Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Tiago Ilori, all bought then, have been loaned to Spanish clubs this season. Indeed, City have been disposing of some of 2012’s less wise purchases, selling Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia.
They represented the products of a last-minute dash. Those who have succeeded and stayed are products of better planning.
Should Kompany see out his new deal, he will have completed 11 years at the Etihad Stadium, and there is no reason to think he will not.
It is often said that, in the modern era, contracts are not worth the paper they are printed on if players want to leave.
The key, therefore, is to find ones who do not want to go. Dzeko, who called Manchester “my second home”, seemed to be eyeing the exit at the end of Roberto Mancini’s reign. So did Nasri and Kolarov. Each cuts a happier figure now, which is a sign of Manuel Pellegrini’s prowess as a man-manager.
“It is very important for the club to retain the best players,” the Chilean said at a news conference last week. “I think it is also important for the club that they want to stay here. This is a club that has a lot of ambition for the future. They understand that.”
Indeed, City’s combination of aspiration and financial power puts them in a strong position. “I can’t see any better place at the moment than here,” Dzeko told City’s website.
Arguably, there are three: world football’s super-clubs now are Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Yet, perhaps only Kompany of the men City have re-signed would be guaranteed a place in their other teams.
Instead, Pellegrini has a side comprised of players who might not quite merit a billing as galacticos but who are stars in their own right. The manager has brought unity and time has produced understanding. Consider City’s exquisite first goal of the season, scored by Silva at Newcastle and involving Dzeko and Yaya Toure. All have been at the club since January 2011 and all are contracted until 2017.
Liverpool find themselves facing past, present and future tonight.
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