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Money can't buy me love

The captain, top scorer and talisman has handed in a transfer request. He either doesn't like the senior executives or the manager. Or both.

The flagship summer signing has an innate ability to fall out with everyone, from referees to the second-choice right-back, and seems to have a strange desire to play for his former club's fiercest enemies. His predecessor as the wildcard in attack appears willing to entertain the prospect of a move to any of Europe's elite clubs. The fourth-choice striker is unhappy, too. Last year's temperamental but sporadically brilliant winger has been sent out on loan. This year's equivalent was at one point talking of a similarly short stay at a club that is rewarding him richly for his admittedly considerable talent.

Welcome to Manchester City. Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz, Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson appear to be proving the old truism that money can't buy happiness. In a tight title race, it may yet be the determining factor in bringing trophies to Eastlands.

If so, Roberto Mancini would merit rather more credit than he has been afforded so far. An often prosaic style of play can be less intriguing than the argumentative or self-destructive characters his squad contains. Those on the margins present one sort of problem, those with a pivotal part in his plans another. The strange thing is the sheer number who seem willing to stage a jailbreak. Boot Camp Mancini may seem an unsympathetic environment but while the deeply mediocre Wayne Bridge is thought to be amongst the world's best-paid full-back - and possibly City's fourth-choice left-back - it can't be deemed too oppressive a regime.

While a footballer's wish to play is understandable, Santa Cruz, in particular, might care to remember that being fit is a prerequisite for selection. While Tevez's homesickness, given his two daughters live in Argentina, is a legitimate factor, too many either haven't realised that no one else will pay them as much as City or presume that Sheikh Mansour will subsidise their employment elsewhere.

Yet what City's predicament highlights is the difficulty of constructing a team hastily or, some might say, artificially. Chequebook management is the sort of game in which, in our idle moments, most of us would wish to indulge. It tends to work better in the imagination or on computer games than in reality, at least in England.

While expenditure has played a part in securing plenty of silverware, only two clubs in the post-war era can be accused of buying the title from scratch. In both cases, such charges are harsh: the prices Blackburn paid for much of their 1994-95 side now bear the look of bargains (£3.3 million for Alan Shearer, £750,000 for Graeme Le Saux, £700,000 for Colin Hendry and £500,000 for Tim Sherwood). In any case, when their sole foreigner was Henning Berg, it represented a different era, where cultural and linguistic problems were less of a factor.

Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were more cosmopolitan and more costly. But it was notable that, granted almost unlimited funds, the manager eschewed supposed superstars. Recruits such as Paulo Ferreira, Tiago, Jiri Jarosik and Mateja Kezman don't rank among the great buys - or, in some cases, even among the good ones - but meant more temperamental talents like Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba were less likely to disrupt a team that had a strong spirit. Mourinho dispensed with Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo and never wanted Andriy Shevchenko. Egos - his own apart - were not needed; solid citizens were.

The usual model is more organic. In working with players they have known from a young age, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson are merely continuing the traditions of Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, George Graham, Don Revie and Stan Cullis. The Arsenal manager schools them in a unique style; the United manager exposes them to a forceful personality at a time when characters are more malleable.

And each of English football's dynasties contained a group of players who spent the majority, if not the entirety, of their careers at one club, supported by others who spent at least five years there. It is something that is apparent not just at Old Trafford and Emirates Stadium but at clubs such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan to this day.

The knock-on effect for Manchester City is that high-quality, low-maintenance players who are already at elite clubs tend to be either unavailable or uninterested. There are reasons - avaricious agents, a tendency to fall out with colleagues or managers, or a natural wanderlust - others can be bought. But without a tradition of success, it is harder to prevent some straying from a true course and to placate those left on the sidelines.

Throw in the unique dynamics of City - a squad constructed by at least three managers, one executive chairman and a football administrator - and Mancini's paradoxical belief that mavericks are both needed and should be brought into line, and there is a recipe for conflict. There is an inevitability to the volatility.


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