Try and contain your frustration with the following remark, Chelsea fans. Chelsea Football Club has a certain amount of sympathy for the situation that Manchester City Football Club finds itself in.
No, this is not the precursor to a sneering 500 words about how Chelsea didn’t have quite the same problems persuading, say, Hernan Crespo to come to Stamford Bridge. After all, Kaka is in quite a different league to Crespo, despite the latter’s place at the top table of accumulated transfer fees. Then again, Kaka is in a different league to just about everyone.
It is now clear that Garry Cook and his team were in negotiations with Milan for some time. Take your pick of the various reports quoting the actual figure involved. My newspaper says £108 million. Yours probably says something quite different. I’ve seen £91m, £243m, and several figures in between. Let’s try and nail it down by calling it “quite a lot”.
Of course, Kaka could never lose this one. Go to Manchester, play for two years and buy Barbados with the proceeds, or stay, get to kiss the badge for years and (on the occasion of his retirement) never have to buy a drink for himself in Milan. Ever. Like I said: no-lose.
The obvious difference between City’s situation and that of Chelsea? The starting point, of course. A team containing Lampard, Gudjohnsen, Zola, Terry and Desailly is a slightly easier sell to a prospective superstar than a team whose most consistent performer in recent years has been either Richard Dunne or Stephen Ireland. All of this is clear. And yet a combination of premature ejaculation at Chelsea board level and a slightly thicker wedge of notes in City’s top pocket led to the arrival of Robinho. Not, quite, at the very top table of European football, but certainly standing ominously behind one of the chairs and eyeing it up for comfort.
The question for City has to be: could this renaissance be over before it’s really begun?
Allow me to throw you a brief analogy. You’re in a grubby nightclub. You’ve been eyeing up the least grimy-looking lass in there for the past hour or two. You’ve finally sunk enough WKD and Aftershock to summon up the mental strength to go over and try your best lines. And then you have a glass of Malibu and pineapple unceremoniously dumped all over your new Stone Island shirt. All the other grimy lasses look on.
What do you suppose your chances will be with any of them? What, do you think, does the unmistakeable scent of eau de rejection add to your mojo? I don’t really need to spell it out for you, do I?
Not that Mr Cook has exactly endeared himself to the market by his subsequent and in no way bitter comments.
“We had entered into a confidentiality agreement weeks ago but, in my personal opinion, they [Milan] bottled it. We had gone through a three or four-stage process in which Milan made it quite clear Kaka was for sale and we made it clear we intended to bring him to Manchester City. As we got to the next stage there were questions they could not answer and I think the political and public pressure made them change their conditions.”
Personally, I struggle a little with the idea that there was some vast conspiracy to deny City the player that should rightfully have been theirs. Public pressure? Obviously. Kaka is Milan’s outstanding player: a reasonably youthful man of sublime talent playing at a club where – excuse me, City fans – history demands a certain dignity. Don’t jump all over me for that – I’m well aware of the shortcomings my own club faces when it comes to talking about history (although, having said that, there’ll always be a Scouser or 10 queuing up to say it again).
The point is that 6 times European Cup winners aren’t supposed to sell their talismans. You might as well have tried to prise Messi and Krkic from Barca, or Casillas from Madrid, or even Rooney and the shiny Madeiran from over the road. They may need the money, but do they need it THAT badly? Obviously not.
Throughout all of this, Mark Hughes remains a bit-part figure: submitting his modest and perfectly sensible targets to his Dubai employers and watching as “Bellamy” and “De Jong” are shunted to the bottom of the list, and “Kaka” (and, possibly, the genetically-engineered clone of a 24-year-old Gerd Mueller) are pushed in above them. How do you discipline your players when they, like everyone else, know damn well that you’re even more expendable than they are? What do you say to Robinho when he flounces out of your winter training camp when you’re all too aware that the owners bust a gut to get him, but could replace you in a week?
I have immense sympathy for a man who, although he’ll always be a United player to me, did a fantastic job for Chelsea in his time at the Bridge and who I rate very highly as a manager and a motivator. If he is feeling a little disillusioned as the days of the transfer window drag on to their mucky conclusion, may I recommend a chat with one of the few managers in the world who might be able to sympathise? As far as I can remember, his English is terrible, but he’s a bloody nice bloke.
Give Claudio Ranieri a call. When it comes to being dignified in the face of owner power, he wrote the book.