Caballero signing benefits Hart, Man City
In the future, we might not often see Manchester City's money-splashing ways. Whether through self-sustainability (something the club are definitely working toward) or through UEFA restrictions, the Blues likely won't blow huge sums of cash in summers to come. Not without bringing that money in through sponsorship or player sales or other revenue streams, anyway.
While the club has already paid some fees this summer, it's been very much cards-close-to-the-chest and shrewd business. Bacary Sagna was a freebie. Fernando was reported at 12 million pounds. Bruno Zuculini cost something in the region of 1.5 million pounds. On that front, the fee paid on Tuesday for Willy Caballero appears a little against the grain -- 6 million pounds for a backup goalkeeper does seem a bit on the excessive side.
Surely, in a transfer window in which the Blues have a limit on what they can spend thanks to the financial fair play ruling, it would have made much more logical sense to offer last season's backup, Costel Pantilimon, an extra year on his deal. True, the now-departed goalkeeper wasn't a rival to starter Joe Hart, but Pantilimon did have one bonus: He was cheap. He also would have commanded no transfer fee this summer. Then the position could have been filled next summer, when the theory would be that there'd be no restrictions on City's purse again.
However, manager Manuel Pellegrini and his team have opted instead to allow the Romanian to leave, and to bring in a not-so-cheap replacement. This tells us a couple of things about both the manager and the club.
In December 2013, when Hart was reinstated to the first team following his spell on the bench for a number of calamitous errors, City fans were questioning whether he'd had a long enough "punishment." However, the performances of Pantilimon when he stood in were starting to wane, and the spell made it perfectly obvious to the manager that he was no competition for the Englishman between the sticks. Pantilimon wasn't awful, but he showed he wasn't a long-term option.
Pellegrini clearly wants to push Hart. Dropping him last autumn made sure that the goalkeeper rose to the challenge of getting back into the starting XI, and the decision severely cut the number of errors he was making. Come the spring, his saves were helping City win the league.
The move for Caballero is meant to push Hart to his limit. The ex-Malaga goalkeeper has been first choice for some time and isn't going to want to spend the season sitting on the bench. If Hart is dropped again in the future, he might not find his path back to the first team as easy as it was last year -- part of the Caballero investment is to benefit one of the players already at the club, that being Hart of course.
Think back to the Kevin Keegan era in 2001-03 when the former manager kept Nicky Weaver and Carlo Nash on their toes by swapping them willy-nilly.
Caballero is no spring chicken, but he's not old in goalkeeping terms, either. At 32, he's got plenty of good years ahead of him and is more than likely going to be at his peak for the time that he's at City (he signed a three-year deal). He has certainly been one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga over the last three years and, having worked with Pellegrini before, both parties know what they're getting. It's amazing he hasn't been selected for the Argentina side at the World Cup, frankly.
It's abundantly clear that the management team were concerned by City's lack of depth last season -- a comment that will be laughed at by outsiders due to the money the Blues have spent in previous seasons. Sadly, for City in years gone by, money spent didn't always equate to a quality-filled playing squad.
There were certain key figures for Pellegrini in 2013-14 (Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero) and when they weren't available, his side struggled. This summer, those responsible for bringing players in have gone some way to addressing that.
True, Hart was fit for the whole of the last campaign, but it could have been a completely different first year in England for the Chilean manager if the goalkeeper had suffered a long-term injury or had been suspended for key matches. That potential problem has been solved, since both the first-choice and backup goalkeepers are capable of being the starter.
The Englishman will benefit from this signing. A spell without any real competition for the shirt has seen him stagnate; all top athletes relish the rivalry, as it forces them to perform the very best they can. At the moment, the No. 1 shirt remains Hart's to lose -- just because Caballero and Pellegrini have worked together before doesn't automatically spell doom for the England shot-stopper.
However, the Argentine has Champions League experience, has racked up more than 100 top-flight appearances in Spain, and will be crucial if City are serious about bettering themselves from last season.
Winning four trophies is unlikely, but if anyone is going to do it, they'll be needing strength in depth. And that's exactly what the Blues are building in their squad.
David Mooney is a writer and a radio journalist based in Manchester. He is also news editor on 104.9 Imagine FM. Twitter: @DavidMooney