Is it time to worry yet? As Financial Fair Play rules cast a dark cloud over the many Premier League benefactors, the Manchester City 2012-13 chequebook has gathered dust and Robin van Persie is still yet to be paraded around the Etihad Stadium by a grinning Roberto Mancini.
It is peculiar to note that after 30 days, the oil-rich Premier League champions are yet to make a single signing this summer. In fact, the squad of last year has barely changed and we’re just three weeks away from the start of their title defence.
Though many expect Van Persie to join following his much-publicised decision not to renew his Arsenal contract, Mancini may find he has the world-class forward he desires sitting in his dressing room already.
Carlos Tevez netted his first goal of City’s pre-season on Monday against Malaysia XI in a performance that would have given his Italian manager, who he has shared such a turbulent relationship with, food for thought ahead of the new campaign.
Last year’s rather seesawing fracas ignited an absurd stand-off between manager and player that led to the club banishing Tevez – without much protest from the striker himself – to Argentina for over four months, with Mancini telling anyone that would listen that the Argentine would never play for the club again.
As it turned out, Tevez apologised “sincerely and unreservedly” for his actions, remarked that he’d been treated “like a dog” and returned in time for City’s run-in. With hindsight you might suggest the club’s maiden Premier League title win could have been sealed in a less nail-biting fashion had Tevez been available all season, such was the brief flicker of form he displayed.
The brilliant hat-trick against Norwich was a stark reminder of the talent the volatile striker possesses and the almost telepathic link he shared with Sergio Aguero that day offered more than a subtle hint as to what the pair could offer Mancini.
Of course, there can be little denial that Van Persie would add considerable firepower to City’s attack – especially if he were to replace Edin Dzeko, who often flattered to deceive, even in scoring 19 goals in 40 games – but signing the Dutchman should not be seen as the Holy Grail this summer.
In the three years Tevez has been at City, Van Persie has scored 69 goals in 101 games. The Argentine falls slightly below that figure with 56 in 98, though suffered a significant dry spell last year, netting just four times.
And, though he is undoubtedly the more complex figure, Tevez is younger, more resistant to injuries – though Van Persie seems to have shed that injury-prone reputation – and can claim a potent understanding with his compatriot Aguero. Though the age gap is almost insignificant, the other two factors certainly count in Tevez’s favour.
City have found a style to claim their own in the Mancini era. It may seem churlish to describe it as a grown-up version of the approach so synonymous of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, but their watertight defence ensured they were never out of a game, while at the other end the genius of David Silva, incisiveness of Samir Nasri and movement and finishing of Aguero made them the most devastating attacking unit in the Premier League.
Clearly Van Persie is a player capable of tailoring his game to suit Mancini’s tactical demands, but in Tevez he already has a striker adept enough to contribute goals and assists within his framework.
Tevez’s mental state, however, will forever be under scrutiny. His time in Manchester, on both sides of the divide, has resulted in fractious relationships with team-mates and staff and there is the lingering concern that he is a man that has fallen out of love with football – quite possibly down to the nomadic career he has experienced under his agent Kia Joorabchian.
Yet, recent signs have been positive. Indeed, an improvement in his attitude has been noted by his club and international colleague Pablo Zabaleta, who said: “Carlos has been fantastic in training. He’s been prepared to work hard for the team and with his attitude and effort, that’s good for us.”
Mancini, meanwhile, left the door open for Tevez on Monday, admitting: “I don’t think I can change Carlos. I just want respect, for me and for the club.”
So far, he appears to have that respect. Tevez has been a prominent part of the pre-season schedule, starting all five of their matches, four of them alongside Aguero, suggesting he has convinced Mancini he is worth counting on once again. On their performance against Malaysia XI, Mancini added: “I’m even more confident today. Sergio played very well and his partnership with Carlos has continued from last season.”
If he recaptured the goalscoring knack he had in his first two years at the Etihad, alongside Aguero – who notched an almost unprecedented 23 league goals in his debut season in England – City will have no need to feel deflated should they miss out on the marquee capture of Van Persie.
A fully focused Carlos Tevez has the attributes to be just as devastating as Van Persie could be for City. Tevez has proved his pedigree under Mancini, whereas the Dutchman would still represent a gamble – however minor that might be.
To end on a vastly overused cliche – Tevez really could be like a new signing.