Money isn’t the be all and end all in football, as Claudio Ranieri and Leicester proved in 2016. It is possible to develop teams, bring through young players, pick up some bargains and still have success without being the biggest spenders. It is also possible to spend an absolute fortune and still fail to win anything.
While it would be disingenuous to claim that Manchester City are thriving this season purely because of their financial backing, it is also ludicrous to suggest that money hasn’t played a significant role in seeing them exert superiority over rivals Manchester United this season.
When Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho took over in the summer of 2016, City had the better squad by far.
City had failed to win the league in 2015-16, despite being favourites, after the announcement of Manuel Pellegrini’s replacement in January saw City’s season collapse. With 20 games played, they were just three points behind league leaders Arsenal and, with Arsene Wenger’s side annual meltdown impending, City looked destined to be crowned champions.
In contrast, Louis van Gaal was plodding along at United, dishing out awful football and trying to bring back the winning mentality that David Moyes had sucked out of the players.
Guardiola inherited a squad that included the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, among others.
When looking at the players that Jose Mourinho had to work with, David de Gea was the only one you could consider being world class, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw the only ones with real potential to improve and become top players.
Both clubs were going to spend obscene amounts of money to try to win the title but Guardiola clearly had a favourable starting point. The key players were already in place as City were in pole position to kick on and dominate.
Already having a better squad, City have outspent United in the past three consecutive seasons.
They have spent their money better than United, Guardiola has made Sterling look like the £49 million player he was bought to be, has brought up the playing level of so many others in the team, and the style of football that the Spaniard employs is far more enjoyable to watch than what Mourinho has served up. Yet Guardiola’s job, of turning the best squad of players in England to the best performing team in England, after spending more money than any other manager, isn’t anywhere near as difficult as the task Mourinho was given.
Following the 2-2 draw against Burnley, Mourinho was given plenty of stick from supporters and journalists for his post-match comments.
“We are in the second year of trying to rebuild a football team that is not one of the best teams in the world,” he said. “Manchester City buy full-backs for the price of strikers.”
A journalist reminded Mourinho that he has spent £260 million since being appointed, to which he replied: “it is not enough.” And he’s right. Over the past five years, City have outspent United in four of them. The money that Mourinho has spent is vast but it isn’t enough to match the spending of City, and therefore the quality of their team.
Regardless, this isn’t black and white. You can compare the performances of the two managers at their clubs before they moved to Manchester and they both boast great success, even though that has largely been in different ways. Guardiola has never achieved what Mourinho did with the likes of Porto and Inter Milan, just as Mourinho has never built a team that dominated like Guardiola’s Barcelona.
It is easier for the press to respond warmly to Guardiola at the moment because he’s the happier out of the pair. His rude and blunt post-match interviews from last season, when he won nothing and Mourinho lifted two trophies, are long forgotten. It was only a couple of months ago that Guardiola was blaming his team’s inability to beat Championship side Wolves over 120 minutes on the quality of the ball they played with. You can only imagine the furore if Mourinho made the same ludicrous claim.
Yet for all the strange, defensive and, at times, false, things that Mourinho says, he wasn’t a million miles away with his comments about City’s spending leading to success. But as the boy who cried wolf, deflecting attention from his teams’ poor results on so many occasions, he can’t expect to be taken too seriously anymore.