A Tale of Two Owners; Season of Struggle Ahead for City?

Manchester City’s tumultuous week concluded with a 4-2 defeat away to Aston Villa in their Premier League curtain-raiser. City conceded three goals in quick succession midway through the second half, then piled on the pressure the final 10 minutes to earn one consolation goal and a more respectable scoreline. Fans will be encouraged by the endeavour shown by City players until the final whistle.

Indeed, City played some decent stuff on Sunday. Still, the result coupled with the Blues’ shocking UEFA Cup first leg defeat to FC Midtjylland of Denmark on Thursday raises the question of whether a season of struggle might be ahead for City under Mark Hughes. The squad has not been notably improved in the transfer window to date, pending the arrival and possible impact of Jo, now playing in the Olympics. For the most part, Hughes has the same squad Sven Goran Eriksson left behind, minus a few fringe players and plus youngster Ched Evans. Talented striker Valeri Bojinov would have counted as equivalent to another new player, but the snake-bitten Bulgarian is out to another long-term injury.

All this is not to panic, only to observe that City’s current squad must improve its form to something approximating what it accomplished in the first half of last season if it is to come anywhere near challenging of Europe. Conversely, continuing to give away poor goals and failing to take chances could produce the dreaded downward spiral of confidence. Events off the pitch as well as injuries have conspired to deprive Mark Hughes of the normal honeymoon and enthusiasm boost associated with a management change. All this means City’s upcoming game against West Ham has something of the feel of a must win, even so early in season, in order to get the ship headed in the right direction.

How is all this relevant to Thaksin? In two ways. First, continued bad results will certainly contribute to the growing discontent with the current regime among City supporters. Second, and more treacherously, a really bad run of results that put City into the relegation scrap would not only be demoralizing to fans but also potentially financially ruinous, especially in light of reports this week that the club has secured a large loan against future television payments. City cannot afford to go down, and a financial crisis at City would make the club less, not more, attractive to potential buyers.

Meanwhile, enjoying the match Sunday in the Villa Park director’s box was Aston Villa chairman Randy Lerner, who has quickly become a model of the competent foreign owner. Lerner has neither made exorbitant promises nor caused off-field controversy in his tenure owner the club; he has simply made some prudent investments, found an excellent manager (Martin O’Neill) and stuck with him; and even shown a bit of backbone in fending off Liverpool’s bids for Gareth Barry. Villa seem to be a club slowly but steadily moving in the right direction.

As for City? With an owner on the lam, an increasingly mortgaged future, and still-simmering uncertainty behind the scenes, the only thing left for City fans to hang on to is the possibility of improved performances on the pitch. If that doesn’t happen, the basement may be the limit.

Note to readers: we’ll be going on another semi-hiatus over the next few weeks, barring major new developments. Look for some further commentary in mid-September, when Thaksin’s land corruption charges are expected to be settled in Thailand.

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