Sir Alex Ferguson says Manchester City are now genuine title contenders, with the Eastlands club likely to spend large sums before the new season kicks of in mid-August. Roberto Mancini’s outfit finished a 34th season without a trophy and failed to make the Champions League but will be heavy investors this summer.
Last season began with City signing former United striker Carlos Tevez and Ferguson accusing the cross-town rivals of being small-minded for crowing about the acquisition in a now infamous Manchester poster.
City’s pretension to the throne took a beating, with Ferguson’s Manchester United victorious over City on three occasions last season; knocking the Eastlands club out of the Carling Cup on the way to winning the tournament and doing a Premier League double with late goals in each tie amid much acrimony.
But with United’s transfer budget restricted by the Glazer family’s £716.5 million debt the 18 point gap is likely to close next season as Mancini’s side makes an assault on the title.
“They will be a lot stronger this time,” Ferguson told the Daily Mail today.
“With the experience of last year behind them they’ll be better equipped to go for the title because they will spend big money again.
“Winning the title is going to be more difficult for anybody. This time it’s been ourselves and Chelsea and Arsenal for a period, but I think we can all hear the horses’ hooves galloping closer.”
Much will depend on City’s transfer activity, with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard probable summer targets, although neither deal will come easily. £11 million German international central defender Jérôme Boateng will get the ball rolling when he joins from Hamburger SV.
Money is no guarantee of success though. City’s £24 million spent on Joleon Lescott now looks more than a little embarrassing, while untold riches were unable to bring Brazilian Kaká to Eastlands 18 months ago.
Evidence of this is also present in Spain, where Real Madrid’s £260 million spent last summer bought precisely no trophies to the Bernabeau.
There is also no shortage of competition in the market. Barcelona will spend more than £80 million on Cesc Fabregas and David Villa in the coming weeks, while Real Madrid will surely be compelled to respond in kind.
Moreover, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has apparently sanctioned a £70 million bid for Torres as the domestic market heats up.
“In addition to City, I’m expecting Tottenham to be in the mix as well. I suppose the neutrals will welcome a situation where the competition is spread further as being good for the game,” added Ferguson.
Meanwhile the United manager is keeping his counsel when it comes to transfer activity, with many onlookers now believing that the Old Trafford coffers are empty.
But Ferguson, who claims United’s limited spending in the past year is due to ‘poor value’ in the market, insists that the club’s failure to land the Premier or Champions League this season will not spark a revolution at Old Trafford.
“Of course I’m disappointed we didn’t quite get there this season, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be making wholesale changes,” said the Scot.
“I believe we are well placed to make another challenge next season. We have brought in some young players over the past couple of seasons and they’re going to be a lot better this time. We also have tremendous experience in the side.
“I’d like to make a couple of signings, but the market is very narrow. There will be a few clubs trying to buy the same players and we all can’t get what we want.”
If that sounds disheartening for United supporters then the competition from the club’s noisy neighbours is only likely to intensify.
City is challenging United off the field too with the club’s owners, the Abu Dahbi Royal Family, spending heavily on redeveloping the area around Eastlands to include a fan zone, training ground and leisure facilities.
As the very definition of a vanity purchase, City’s spending is perhaps unsurprising. After decades in the shadow of United, the club must spend lavishly to catch up on and off the field.
United’s challenge in a city where Reds consistently beat Blues is to maintain the club’s superiority in an era of enforced austerity at Old Trafford.