Friday, August 6, 2010

Continental Shift

City are in Europe again this season, a time of latent embarrassment for all of us. I think of humiliating experiences struggling past Lokeren and falling to the mighty Groclin Discobolia, never mind earlier, murkier goings-on under the comforting shadow of Big Mal's fedora ("we'll frighten the life out of Europe", he bellowed. More like they'll die laughing...). So this is not virgin territory for City, but it feels damn close to it when we embark on a campaign that sees many in continental Europe considering the Blues as genuine pacemakers. Not often was the cloth cut thus, let us be honest.
street lamps unnecessary

FC Politehnica Timisoara, as the city's earlier representatives were called, actually have no link to the current inhabitants of the city's stadium. The team City will play came out of the ashes of a MKDons-type franchise house move from Bucharest and was shifted west at the behest of their owner to take up the league status removed from their predecessors, a team I can still remember Trevor Brooking's West Ham beating on their way to defeat by Anderlecht in the 1976 Cup Winners Cup Final. As in any civilised modern society, however, teams of besuited lawyers are still going at it hammer and tongues to decide who gets what from this unwholesome tangle. The Viola that City meet, therefore, will have only thin links back to the epic Politehnica side that gained national popularity and international kudos in the 70s and 80s.

With Mancini still manfully struggling to spend enough money to persuade Abu Dhabi that he's serious, City hit the pointy end of the season without knowing what the final squad make-up will be. Lop-sided with unwanted high earners, Mancini will have a tough job getting the balance right, meaning that several players will go cheaply, others will be drawn away on loan deals that City will have to part-fund and one or two may even be left in limbo by the new 25-man ruling.

Timisoara Stadium: room for everyone

With the fog that still surrounds the forward line (Adebayor, Crocky Santa Cruz and Bellamy all supposedly on the verge of exiting, Dzeko, Milner and Balotelli arrival rumours persisting, Tevez still not having played a single minute (nor Silva for that matter) and supposedly searching for motivation (hot tip: look in your wallet), and Robinho juggling with what must be the serious mental anguish of swapping the samba rhythms, caipiroskas and tanga-girls of Brazil for wet evenings watching Corrie with Lucas Leiva and the de Silva twins), it is alarming how little time there is to bed any new faces in. Some are yet to play pre-season, others have watched as supposed deadweights like Jô get gametime that a first choice player would be gagging for. Yes, pre-season allows everyone to start marching towards being match fit, it gives the coach a chance to put others in the shop window, but the most important aspect has to be to get the embryonic team shape formed. That has clearly not been the case this summer for City, as they have schlopped across the States getting beaten hither and thither.

Whilst it appears City may get away with this harum scarum approach to the Big Kick-off in Europe, they could soon be found out by a tricky early set of Premier league fixtures. What Timisoara appears to offer is a reasonably soft introduction to Europa League combat. New coach Vladimir Petrovic has sworn himself to attacking football, but does not appear to have the staff to wholly pull this off. Reading between the lines - see the excellent insight below from Scouting Romania -  City will come up against a side staffed by agricultural defenders, veterans and youngsters who may already think they've made it. It might begin to feel a bit like playing Hull City in a grassy meadow.

Whilst Romania represents a lengthy trip, City will be unlucky to find anything but moderately skilled, prepared and organised opposition when they touch down in the west of the country. Timisoara may have been the first ever European city to have electric street lamps (one or two of them may have found their way into the old scoreboard at Maine Road, thanks to the deft business skills of Peter Swales), but the football light shining on this picturesque city - and indeed the whole of the footballing environment of Romania - these days is strictly low wattage.

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