Expectation high at City
From the moment he arrived at Manchester City last month, Sven-Goran Eriksson has carefully steered clear of making predictions on how his new side will perform next season. And for good reason.
There is a good deal of optimism sweeping around Eastlands and
the Swede knows he must limit the growing expectations among the
blue half of Manchester. New owner Thaksin Shinawatra is realistic.
"I would like to see City in the top six," he said.
"It will not happen overnight. Especially this season, it's a bit too late for us to do much but I think this year will be better than last year. Within three seasons you will see a big change at City," he added.
So far Thaksin has been good to his word on transfer funds, making plenty of cash available for a raft of new signings as Eriksson begins re-building what had become a stale squad last season. Eriksson has not held back, with £8.8 million going on Reggina forward Roland Bianchi and another £4.7 million on Atletico Madrid winger Martin Petrov, Brazilian Geovanni and Swiss youngster Gelson Fernandes.
The speed and efficiency of Eriksson's business is already making him look like a much better appointment than former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, who was initially Thaksin's first choice for the job before choosing Juventus. The 59-year-old is unlikely to have another job in football after this one and, regardless of his public defiance, will be keen to rebuild his reputation, which suffered during his reign as England manager.
What Eriksson's new men all have in common is a lack of Premiership experience which should mean they will take time to settle. While Eriksson insists he is doing the right thing by bringing down the average age of his first-team, it can also be argued that he is bringing in inexperienced players.
That is not to say his signings are without pedigree. Bianchi hit 18 goals in Serie A with Reggina last season, a division notorious for tight defences. The pulling power of the Premiership is without question but, while players have flocked to England from all over the world, Italian success stories - other than the irrepressible Gianfranco Zola - are few and far between, particularly expensive strikers.
Petrov boasts more than 60 international appearances for Bulgaria, Geovanni once cost Barcelona £11 million and Eriksson has described Fernandes as the best player in Switzerland. There will be plenty more to follow before the end of August, but this transitional season will not be judged solely on City's final position.
In these upbeat times, it is easy to forget how low City sunk last season. They may have finished 14th but managed just ten goals in their 19 home league matches and ended four points above the drop zone.
Eriksson currently finds himself in a similar position to Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa a year ago and he will be afforded plenty of patience. Although Villa had a good start to last season only to tail off badly, O'Neill's first campaign in charge is viewed as a success and Eriksson's debut in the Premiership is likely to follow a similar pattern. Fans will be satisfied if shoots of recovery are regularly evident and the Swede's ability to charm the press pack will also buy him plenty of time as would a favourable result against United in City's third league match of the season.
The fact that it took so much of the summer for Thaksin and Eriksson to arrive will not be forgotten and City can not fail to give their fans more joy at home than they had last season. Expect a top-half finish and a new feel-good factor at Eastlands as a sound basis for a challenge for Europe in Eriksson's second season.