Is Craig Bellamy the tip of Man City’s melting iceberg?

It is not the first time Wales striker Craig Bellamy has been at the centre of controversy, but for once it is not a situation entirely of his own making. As Manchester City look to balance their drive to recruit expensive new talent against the need to get their squad down to 25 senior players to comply with new Premier League rules, Bellamy is the most obvious candidate to find himself out in the cold this season. However, he may prove to be just the tip of an iceberg, the enormity of which will only become apparent when City try to make significant inroads into the market next summer.

Bellamy is no stranger to scandal, having once attacked former Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise with a golf club at a mid-season training camp, among other misdemeanours. Now he is threatening to retire, at the age of 31, if he is omitted from the squad of 25 senior players (i.e. aged 21 or over) which is the maximum number any Premier League club can register in accordance with new rules being introduced this season.

Craig Bellamy, no longer wanted at Man City?

City have been struggling to reduce the number of senior players they have on their books over the summer, hampered somewhat by the fact that several of their rivals are in a similar position of needing to offload. Early last week, analysts on BBC 5Live estimated they were still five or six players over the 25-man limit. It explains why they have been more than happy to send Nedum Onuoha out on loan, and why there is such uncertainty hanging over players like Bellamy and Stephen Ireland, who potentially face being unregistered and effectively unemployed for the duration of the season.

Bellamy has already been left out of the squad which will face Romanian side Timisoara in a Europa League qualifier next week. A loan deal with Celtic is currently being looked into, but either way it seems he has played his last game for City.

But Bellamy really is just the tip of the iceberg. Although players like he and Ireland are highly paid, they are nothing like as well remunerated as new recruits such as defender Jérôme Boateng and midfielders David Silva and Yaya Touré, the last of whom has been recruited on at least £200k pw. The reality is that everyone knows the club’s owners have bottomless pockets, which commands a significant premium in transfer negotiations. Add to that the extra incentive required to attract top-drawer players without the promise of Champions League football (at least this season), and the reality is that Touré, although an excellent player, would probably only have been paid half as much (at most)  by any other club – remember, this is a player who was only a semi-regular at Barcelona, making a modest 74 appearances in three years.

So, even assuming City qualify for the Champions League – heck, even if they win the Premier League – what are they going to do next summer? You can be sure that the club’s owners will not rest on their laurels, and will want to recruit even more world-class talent. But to do so means they will have to create a space in their 25-man squad to accommodate any new signing, which means City will either have to sell players or risk a Bellamy-like situation where they face the prospect of de-registering an extremely unhappy and potentially disruptive player.

What if Yaya Touré proves to be a busted flush, and is one of the players manager Roberto Mancini wants to get rid of? Yes, the player will prefer to move rather than wallow in some kind of non-playing purgatory, but no one is going to pick up an unwanted player who is already being paid £200k pw. Will the player accept a pay cut? Of course not, especially not having signed a five-year contract only a year previously. So will City end up part-funding loan deals for players they no longer want? Or will they end up stockpiling players like Winston Bogarde, who was content to keep picking up his £40k pw pay-cheque at Chelsea even though he never played? The more City continue to pay ludicrous sums to players, the worse this situation is likely to become.

And, of course, it’s not just the players the manager wants to get rid of who will create problems. Fringe squad players – the vast majority of them established internationals – will be desperate for regular first-team football more challenging than the odd Carling Cup game, especially the European stars ahead of Euro 2012. If they are not playing, they will agitate for a move, but most of them are being paid at the kind of level that only a few clubs in Europe can afford, which will make them difficult to sell too. We saw this happen on a smaller scale at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich after their first couple of years of success, as seldom-used players like Scott Parker were transferred to clubs such as West Ham, who could ill afford their salaries. In a post-recessionary, post-Portsmouth world with squad size restrictions, City will find it more difficult to offload the great unwanted.

Now I should say that I’m not a City hater. The Abu Dhabi United Group are entitled to spend their almost limitless money however they want; I have no problem with that (other than a mild tinge of jealousy). My concern is not so much over any ‘unfair’ advantage they have over everyone else in the market – football clubs have never been equal in terms of spending power, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting Man Utd should be made to trade on the same level as Blackpool – it is more about the distorting effect this is likely to have on the global transfer market over the next few years, and the danger of players like Bellamy being callously cast aside. A global game in which one club is able to hoard talent at will and toss them to the kerb regardless of the financial cost is not a healthy one.

I never thought I would feel sorry for Craig Bellamy, but I find that I am. I won’t be shedding any tears if City implode at any point in the near future, however. They are painting themselves into a corner entirely of their own making. For their fans’ sake, I hope whatever glory they achieve is worth the pain. There are some folks down at Portsmouth who are still assessing the long-term impact of crazy over-spending. City, with their moneybags owners, are above such petty concerns right now. That does not mean they always will be. Caveat emptor.


About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Is Craig Bellamy the tip of Man City’s melting iceberg?

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