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Bargain signings strengthen City hopes

City enter their fourth season at Eastlands with manager Stuart Pearce fighting to rescue a reputation that fell by the wayside towards the end of the 2005/6 season.

When Steve McClaren was eventually unveiled as England's latest victim, Pearce's name was nowhere near dispatches. Before the turn of the year many had backed the former national captain to succeed Sven, with Pearce eventually admitting he would take the job.

But any chance of the former 'Psycho' doing a Jurgen Klinsmann surely faded with his team's fortunes in the Premiership and after defeat in the FA Cup quarter-finals to West Ham. Pearce's side eventually finished 15th - a worse position than Kevin Keegan had left the club in March 2005.

Pearce's mix of youth and experience had just not been deep enough. An injury to Andy Cole robbed City of their most potent attacking threat. As well as his 9 goals in 20 starts, the former United man's ability to hold up the ball and distribute to team-mates were sorely missed after injury ended his season in February.

With him seemingly went hopes of a place in Europe; the stated aim before every City season in the top flight since European football began.

With 2006/7 being no exception it seems if the words of new captain Richard Dunne are to be believed. On his appointment in succession to the unsettled Sylvain Distin, the Irishman, whose road to Damascus seems complete just a few years after being sent home from training for being inebriated, said: 'Hopefully I will be captain of a successful team. Maybe we can start picking up and qualifying for Europe. That would be a good start.'

Dunne used the platitudes many a City man has used down the years. And it would be something of a surprise were the Laser Blue to be running out in the UEFA Cup come 2007.

The cash problems caused in part by the financial profligacy of the Keegan era has meant Pearce continues to have to build a side from the bargain bins along with some of the players coming through from a thriving youth set-up. Pearce perhaps blew his transfer budget on Greek striker Giorgios Samaras in January, a move which still failed to fill the Cole hole.

The summer has further added to the strike force with the free signing of former Italian international Bernardo Corradi from Valencia. The bustling 30-year-old's career had stalled in Spain after joining Claudio Ranieri in the former Chelsea boss' ill-fated return to the Mestalla. As recently as Euro 2004 was Corradi in the reckoning for the Azzurri though recent events will have made him a forgotten man in his home country.

And he faces a fight to be first-choice at City too. Cole's veteran status is unlikely to count against him while his partnership with Darius Vassell paid dividends early in the season. Vassell's ability to play out wide may yet see him play on the flanks, with the unlamented Kiki Musampa having been released in the summer.

Additional men to be thrown into the attacking mix are Antoine Sibierski, perhaps surprisingly still at the club, and Trevor Sinclair, for whom the same is also true, though few clubs would touch a player with such a questionable injury record. And his status as an avowed Blue means the man himself will be making little effort to quit the club.

Pearce has put good use to the free transfer market over the summer, though one of his free signings was not exactly gratis. Dietmar Hamann, barely a season ago, was changing the face of the 2005 European Cup Final as a half-time substitute. Then he became involved in one of the summer's strangest transfer sagas, eventually ending up at City having already agreed to join Bolton before the World Cup.

A combination of £300,000 and Sam Allardyce's previously good relationship with Pearce means he will take his place in midfield alongside Joey Barton, who himself ended a long-running saga by putting pen to paper on a new City contract, having become embroiled in a bitter dispute during the last transfer window. How well disposed the Eastlands' faithful will be to the scouse tyro is a matter yet to be decided.

The pair, likely to edge out the injury-prone and failing legs of Claudio Reyna and the youthful Stephen Ireland, and now joined by another free signing in French Serie A veteran Ousmane Dabo, will form a decent shield for a defence whose 2005/6 stats bear out a fairly strong backline.

And, as well as Dunne's consistency, here Pearce can call on some jewels from the club's youth system. Stephen Jordan began to impress at left-back in the absence of Ben Thatcher and Nedum Onuha kept former England international Danny Mills out of the other full-back position until injury struck. Though the undoubted star find was Micah Richards.

That Richards was mentioned as a potential replacement for Sol Campbell at Highbury shows the impact the youngster made after breaking into the team in a post-New Year injury crisis. His winning goal in the FA Cup against Aston Villa brought him to national attention but by then City fans had become acquainted with his powerful defensive displays.

His signing of a new deal made Pearce's promising summer in the transfer market all the better. City are hoping that if he does move on in the future then they can expect a figure of the size that Shaun Wright-Phillips commanded in his ill-fated move to Chelsea. Hopes of landing the erstwhile winger on a loan deal have ebbed away and he will definitely not be rejoining his brother Bradley, who has dropped down a division to Southampton.

Both Pearce and Dunne have an optimism about the squad that is shared by the club's ever-optimistic fans. Being unbeaten against United, who have a bad record at their blue cousins' new stadium, may have helped to steady the waverers amid a woeful end of season. Europe may seem hard to achieve but mid-season respectability and a couple of good runs look possible.

It seems highly unlikely that chairman John Wardle would want to emulate the revolving door policy of 80s wig-wearing overlord Peter J Swales but Pearce must hope that his team get off to a start decent enough to wash away the ills of last season's late period listlessness.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin