City adds Fernando, still tinkering
Towards the end of last season, Manuel Pellegrini must have been counting down the days until he sat down with the chief exec Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain to discuss where he wanted to strengthen the squad for next season. Top of his list would have been a right-back, given how overworked Pablo Zabaleta was throughout 2013-14, while central midfield would also have featured near the top.
The first signing of the summer came in the shape of French international Bacary Sagna, who should provide more competition for Zabaleta than Micah Richards could manage after a series of injuries. That was job one ticked off the list fairly swiftly.
On Thursday, the Blues confirmed their second acquisition of the close-season: Fernando had joined from FC Porto for a fee in the region of 12 million pounds -- nothing like the near 37 million pounds demanded for him and defender Eliaquim Mangala last January. City's chances of signing the latter seemed slim thereafter, following his decision to sign a new contract with the Portuguese club.
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The midfielder seems to be something of a more mobile Nigel de Jong, offering little in the way of goals but plenty in the way of tough tackles and break-up play. My fellow ESPN FC columnist Simon Curtis tweeted a unique reaction he had to a red card, minutes before he won the title with Porto, in which Fernando appears to be quite jovial about the incident. That said, he was just about to win the league against his team's rivals.
Perhaps one of the biggest impacts the transfer has on City's squad is the depth the move adds to the centre of midfield. It's no secret that the Blues were below par when one of Yaya Toure or Fernandinho were absent from the starting lineup last season, and it's too much to expect them both to be fit and available for the whole of the coming campaign -- especially with the African Cup of Nations in January.
Even the Yaya Toure situation might end up causing a headache for Pellegrini. I don't wish to use it as an excuse, but clearly he's grieving after the death of his younger brother Ibrahim, and it's unfair to assess what's happened between Toure and the club before the full details are known. Whether it's genuinely about birthday cake, compassionate leave or a transfer away, it needs to be sorted out in private and it needs to be done so that the Ivorian has time to get his head straight after what's happened in his personal life.
Either way, whether Toure is with the Blues or not next season, the introduction of Fernando to the squad should provide some strength in depth -- which had been lacking in 2013-14. The only problem may come with pronouncing names correctly should the two Brazilians be paired in the centre: "Fernandinho to Fernando and back to Fernandinho" doesn't really roll off the tongue.
Looking ahead, the Blues need to bring in a few more players to bolster the squad after a good start to the summer transfer window. A backup goalkeeper is still required, while more centre-back cover could prove useful (especially since the departure of Joleon Lescott). And if City's transfer policy of last summer is to be taken as an example, those signings should come sooner rather than later.
Fernando (and any subsequent new signings) will soon be playing in front of more fans than he originally expected, too -- following the announcement of City's stadium expansion. An extra 6,000 seats will be in place at the South Stand end for the beginning of the 2015-16 season, while planning permission has been granted for the same to be done at the North Stand end.
It's a move that's been planned for some time -- with rumours of an expansion always on the back burner at least since the takeover of the club in September 2008. Back then, the attendances probably didn't merit it; with pretty uninspiring football for the latter half of Sven-Goran Eriksson's season combined with the Stuart Pearce bore-fest in 2006-07 scaring many off.
Now, however, City are regularly selling out games, and extra capacity is certainly welcome ... whether that will stop the early leavers, though, is another matter.
As the club battles to remain inside the financial fair play regulations -- and, this season, their rather harsh punishment for breaching the rules -- 6,000 more bums on seats at the Etihad will be a welcome boost to the coffers.