6 May 2010

Spurs win limits options for City's summer transfer spree

Manchester City 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Peter Crouch's late header at Eastlands last night was worth a lot more than three points to Spurs. It was even worth more than the undoubted jubilation it brought to one half of North London at achieving their first ever Champions League spot - technically, entry into the final qualifying round as opposed to the Champions League proper - something which has become routine to their neighbours and rivals Arsenal. (It is only the second time that Spurs will have played in Europe's top club competition, and the first time in 49 years.)

It was a result which will have brought great joy to many neutrals, as well as fans of Liverpool and Aston Villa, the manager's office at Old Trafford, and even a small corner of West Berkshire, where this particular Arsenal fan - one, I suspect, of a very small number of Gooners - actually considers Spurs to be the lesser of two evils.

It may well prove to be only a temporary forestalling of twelve months, but defeat for Manchester City will make the job of turning the club into a dominant European force in this summer's transfer market considerably more difficult, despite the backing of Sheikh Mansour, owner of the deepest pockets in world football. A top four finish - and the carrot of Champions League football that goes with it - would have opened the door for the potential signing of many of the game's very best players. Now, however, instead of the grand stage of Champions League ties against BarcelonaReal MadridInter Milan or Bayern Munich, City can only offer the less attractive prospect of Europa League Thursdays against the likes of Palermo, Real Mallorca or Borussia Dortmund.

True, City can always offer more lucrative financial incentives than anyone else - and therefore attract those of a more mercenary disposition (of which there are many in the sport). But for many of the small band who can truly count themselves among the world's elite - players like Fernando Torres, David Villa, Franck Ribery and Steven Gerrard - cash alone will not be enough to persuade them to exchange their current colours for sky blue.

The reality is that defeat last night has put a serious dent in City's summer transfer plans. Not only does that hurt their prospects of success next season, but it also gives some of their closest rivals vital leeway to regroup and rebuild. Liverpool are cash-strapped and will be potentially Rafa Benitez-less. Villa remain short of squad depth. Man Utd have not yet adequately replaced Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. And Chelsea need to add youth to an ageing squad packed with over-30s.

Indeed, Chelsea serve as a salutary warning to City. As Roman Abramovich has discovered, endless spending does not necessarily guarantee future success. For all the hundreds of millions of clubs the Russian billionaire poured into the London club, they have still never been able to secure the one prize he covets above all else: the Champions League trophy.

So for one more season, at least, money can't buy you everything. Tomorrow will have to wait another year. And possibly longer. It's hard not to raise a smile at that prospect, which is why - for probably the one and only time in my life - I'm not fuming at Spurs' success. Don't tell anyone, though.