Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Manchester, so much to answer for?

Manchester, so much to answer for?
"There was total confusion. Not one of them had a clear idea of what was going on, not a clue." 

Kaka's damning words confirmed the egg is stuck fast to the face of the blue half of Manchester, following a shockingly public humiliation which made City the laughing stock of the soccer world and a source of overflowing schadenfreude from Old Trafford to Olduvai. But are City really to blame for missing such an apparently open goal so embarrassingly?

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's ineffable soccer daily, it was Bosco Leite, Kaka's father & Adriano Galliani, the Milan Chief Executive previously in favour of the sale, who pulled the plug.

The Blues did negotiate for a full seven hours in an effort to pull off the deal of the century, before nature demanded an interval.

Having agreed to meet again after breakfast in the morning, City Chief Executive Gary Cook was surprised to receive a late-night phone call ignoring his concerns and instead demanding he put his money on the table with a fat salary offer there and then.

Cook promised to email an offer in the morning, a pledge Leite and Milan chose to spurn. Italian PM and Milan president Silvio Berlusconi then materialized on television minutes later to announce Kaka would be staying at the San Siro. A dramatic transfer tale had run its course.

Manchester, so much to answer for?


Make no mistake, it was not Kaka's Christian faith which led him to walk away, nor was it the love of the red and black tifosi, whose public devotion to a millionaire sports star looked somewhat quaint if not deluded in 2009. Nor was his family's Italian homelife the clinching factor any more than the fact Milan are a top team and City aren't.

Before the whole move buckled, Kaka had spouted the usual platitudes about enjoying his current place of employment, but saying you are happy to stay is not the same as refusing to consider greener pastures.

Every player I have spoken to about transfer rumours repeats the cliché that they are happy where they are and love the wonderful fans, but in reality their ears are eagerly cocked in the hope of a better payday. Milan fans might fool themselves otherwise, but loyalty to the team badge is long gone. What more specious a sight can there have been than of Kaka grinning as he leant out of his window, Milan jersey in hand, as soon as the deal collapsed.

City are the definite losers in this. In labeling the Brazilian star's father as "unsophisticated, unprofessional and greedy," and in accusing the Kaka camp of "bottling it" after AC Milan had given the green light, Cook may well have been a pot calling the kettle black. If it truly was a Cook who spoilt the broth, then his mis-management has set owner Sheikh Mansour's world domination plan back at least a season.

Had Cook issued a politically-correct if unrevealing statement, regretting the collapse of the deal but expressing sympathy for Kaka's wish to stay put with his family, his club would still appear a respectable destination for the world's best.

Instead the Eastlands Chief Executive's angry reaction to the deal falling through hurt the name of the club just at the time it is seeking acceptance as a major player. The Kaka debacle coupled with Robinho's walk-out in the same week was appalling PR.

Yet however clanging City's faux pas with Kaka appeared, however jaw-droppingly their naivety at high table came across, their conduct must be judged alongside that of the player's father. It was Leite's impetuous approach which jarred with the English delegation and in trying to conclude an awesome deal slowly but surely, City surely deserve some credit and not just opprobrium.

Cook was no fool. He knew failure meant he would shuffle home without the big prize and an ocean of ridicule awaiting, but the alternative was to part hastily with £100m without having read the small print. Leite's role in his son's career was important to clarify, and the father's refusal to reveal the fine print of the whole Kaka machine must mean he had vested interests in not letting City market his boy.

Leite had come expecting a cash offer first and negotiations to follow, which would brush over his role. City on the other hand, had tried to wade through Kaka's impenetrable sponsorship commitments and image rights before talking transfer figures. Here was the impasse: City were frustrated at Leite's secrecy, and Leite that City would not tell him where their gold was stashed.

Before arriving in Italy, the Blues had allegedly offered 85 million Euros against a Milan valuation of 150 million, before they raised their bid to 110m. Leite and Milan, for their part, suspected City had changed their mind and would try to broker a smaller figure deal instead.

What transpires then is a cultural clash of business practices more than a nouveau riche dropping clangers on the big stage.

City have had their fingers burnt by this episode and have a job on their hands rebuilding their reputation if they want to snag the top-drawer players in the world.

The blame for the failure might not be theirs, but City's undiplomatic reaction paints them in many eyes as vulgar arrivistes, whose bank balance has gained them entry to the elite, but whose coarse upbringing has left them singularly lacking in the requisite airs and graces.

But they will get over this setback and find their feet as a big player in the market soon enough.

Craig Bellamy, who did join days later for an inflated fee, is more the type of player whom City should be aiming for. Ditto recent buys Wayne Bridge and Nigel De Jong, proven internationals without marquee millstones around their necks.

When such players help City challenge for Europe is the time the oil sheikhs should embark on a hunt for real galacticos. The club will have earned respect for its football and not just its bank balance.

It is still cheerful that a club starved of success should be trying to muscle into the closed shop of the Premier League's Big Four. City will learn from this first failed joust and the lucre is not about to vanish after one slap in the face.

The residual stench from this farrago has yet to disappear, yet queuing up to laugh at the Blues and pile all the blame onto their shoulders is to ignore the facts of how the deal of the decade disintegrated into a pile of caca.


© Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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