TIME FOR KEGGY TO DELIVER
Matias Vuoso, a young Argentine striker whom only the most die-hard of Manchester City supporters would have recognised, slipped out of English football this summer in a fittingly anonymous end to an anonymous career. Yet, in microcosm, Vuoso's bizarre spell at City speaks for the erratic transfer policy employed by Kevin Keegan in three eventful years at the club and the precarious financial position in which City enter the new campaign. Vuoso was signed for £3.5million two summers ago - largely, it appeared, on the strength of being a close friend and former team-mate of Diego Forlán at Independiente - never stepped foot on the field in a first-team match and moved on unnoticed to Mexican club Santos Laguna, where he spent last season on loan, for the proverbial 'undisclosed fee'. Vuoso represents one of three strikers - Robbie Fowler and Jon Macken the others - on whom Keegan has spent £14.5m and seen limited return.
In an era when free agency has changed for ever the transfer market and allowed a manager such as Sam Allardyce to transform Bolton into a top-eight Premiership club and League Cup finalists while operating at a transfer profit of £9m, Keegan has spent £54m on transfers in three years and raised City's wage bill from £24m in 2002-03 to £35m last season, while bringing in £7m in sales.
'There was a real danger that if they had gone down, we would have had a Leeds in the making,' says Paul Hince, chief sports writer of the Manchester Evening News and a former City player. 'You can only judge on what he has delivered, but when Keegan has had money to spend, his record has been poor. McManaman, Seaman, Fowler, Sinclair - those were four big "hits" and they were a disaster. Vuoso we never even saw. There have been players brought in for a lot of money who have just been forgotten. People like [chairman] John Wardle and [his business partner] David Makin may be wealthy, but they are not bottomless wells.'
'When I was appointed managing director 18 months ago, I handed the chairman a business model for the club and he and the manager have been very supportive,' says Alistair Mackintosh. 'Their backing has been exceptional. Many clubs now recognise that a new reality is around the corner. The problems suffered by Leeds, Bradford, Leicester and Ipswich have ensured that new outlook. “
But Keegan, who has said that he will not work beyond the end of his five-year contract in 2006, is operating for the here and now. Of the eight players Keegan bought last summer, seven were over 30, David Seaman was nearly 40 and weeks from physical breakdown and Frenchman Antoine Sibierski was the 'youngster' of the influx at almost 29.