KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- It’s back to school tomorrow: the FA Community Shield which kicks off the bright new English club term after the fraught World Cup summer holiday. Wembley reopens its doors, in financial fair play terms, to the naughty boys of Manchester City against the teachers pets of Arsenal.
City, oddly for Premier League champions, have become almost a forgotten club though this is probably just the way manager Manuel Pellegrini likes it as he prepares for a busy, high-profile season ahead.
Neighbours Manchester United have dominated the summer headlines with the arrival of Louis Van Gaal and all that may mean. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal’s transfer splurges have also earned them far more attention.
Hence it was in the shadows that Pellegrini took his players to the United States to prepare for a campaign in which he pursues consolidation rather than the grand ambitions expressed on his arrival a year ago.
Then it was a case of trying to win everything in sight with the Premier League as priority. Now Pellegrini’s aim is to retain domestic command while progressing further, perhaps at least the semi-finals, in the Champions League.
Pellegrini has learned plenty over the past 12 months about the need to harvest resources carefully amid the logistical, competitive and physical pressures of English football. In addition he must confront the complication of Champions League squad restrictions imposed by UEFA after City’s failure to meet the demands of financial fair play.
This means City can name a squad of ‘only’ 21 players in Europe of whom five qualify as home grown.
So far Pellegrini has signed Brazilian midfielder Fernando (£12m from Porto), France rightback Bacary Sagna (free from Arsenal) and Argentinian goalkeeper Willy Caballero (£6m from Malaga). He also wants to buy a ‘ready-made’ foreign centre back which could mean the sale of defensive midfielder Javi Garcia who would be surplus to requirements.
Initially Spain centre-forward Alvaro Negredo appeared the likely departure but a metatarsal fracture which will sideline him for several months has ruled out that option. Edin Dzeko is certainly staying; talks over a contract extension are advanced.
Pellegrini has consigned his own first European league title success to history. He said: “What happened last year is in the past. For our team now it is important to think of the future – and the future is to continue winning titles. We have new targets, we will try to make important achievements in the Champions League and to once again win the Premier League.
“Every year in the Premier League you have five or six teams who are very strong. Maybe this year Chelsea at the moment, and Arsenal and Manchester United are bringing new players in.
“But I think that we will continue to be a very strong squad. We have also been bringing in three or four important players to improve our squad. And we will see during the year which is the better team.”
Clues towards next May’s end-of-term report may be thin on the ground at Wembley tomorrow but they will be there, all the same, and as intriguing as ever.