Well, where to start? The elation of that hot Saturday afternoon at Wembley in late May seems but a distant memory. Hard to believe it was a little over two months ago. Since then City fans have been forced to endure takeover rumours that have failed to come to fruition, the resignation of the club’s most successful manager in its history, the sale of arguably our most talented player, and perhaps worst of all, the rolling out of an unpopular membership scheme which has priced out thousands of supporters for the upcoming season.
This is hardly an ideal backdrop for City’s return to the top flight of English football. Outside observers are no doubt perplexed at events, but it is surely not a stretch to say that these are the sort of shenanigans City fans have come to expect over the past two or three years. One could argue that the disastrous situation we now find ourselves in is a continuation of the complete mismanagement of the Club by the owners since the ‘rebrand’ was so carelessly launched in 2013. Abolition of concessions for disabled supporters, public antagonism towards fans and spats with local sports clubs duly followed.
Given all this it is astonishing that City are about to begin only their fifth ever season in the Premier League. Much of the credit for this has to go to Steve Bruce, who brought in footballing talent the likes of which we have never seen, while somehow managing to keep an amiable relationship with both supporters and owners when relations between the two were at their most sour. Well, now he’s gone, and it is difficult not to point the blame at the Allams for forcing him out of a job he genuinely loved.
It looks increasingly likely that Bruce’s former deputy Mike Phelan will take charge for next Saturday’s opening fixture with title holders Leicester City. At this stage Phelan seems the most obvious choice. He knows the players, has Premier League experience (albeit as a number two) and it is hard to see a top quality manager wanting to take on the role considering the current state of the club. As of Friday Chris Coleman is the favourite, but there are conflicting reports surrounding the Welshman’s intentions.
What of the playing squad? Excluding the acquisition of AFC Wimbledon goalkeeper Will Mannion – who has been brought in to play for the U21s – City have failed to add a single player to their ranks. In pre-season friendlies it is not an exaggeration to say that it has been a challenge to put out a starting XI of senior professionals. Add to this the long-term absences of Allan McGregor, Alex Bruce, Michael Dawson and Moses Odubajo, as well as the departures of Mo Diame and Sone Aluko, and you begin to get an idea of why pundits are almost universally predicting a 20th placed finish for the Tigers this season.
Although pre-season results have been encouraging, I’m inclined to agree with the opinion of the majority. Whilst City do possess genuine Premier League quality players, there is currently no strength in depth. It is almost unthinkable that if we should suffer two or three injuries in the opening weeks and fail to bring anyone in, the manager (whoever that might be) will be forced to call on youth players with little or no first-team experience to fill the void. Even David Meyler has admitted that it would be “some story” should City still be in the Premier League come June 2017. Only the most ardent optimist would be placing their bets on that outcome.