YOU don’t have to cast your mind back far to recall a time when top talents choosing to join Manchester City raised eyebrows and prompted mutterings about money. Even in the summer when they signed Sergio Aguero, one of the most recent of their high-profile acquisitions, people were surprised.
In a few months all that has changed. City now belong in the very top band of clubs that any player in the world would want to join, along with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. The newcomers might not be able to match the others for history, but I’d defy anyone to say they are not surprised at how good they look.
Winning the FA Cup in May helped, but the way they have begun this season, culminating in their humiliation of United at Old Trafford on Sunday, has really opened everyone’s eyes to how good they can be. What’s more, they have proven to themselves that they can not only win, but also play fantastic football and score more goals than anyone else.
So much credit has to go to the manager. Roberto Mancini has banished questions about negativity and – with the obvious exception of Carlos Tevez – got a bunch of potentially difficult players on huge salaries operating as a proper team. That takes a strong character, and all the while knowing he is only two results from a crisis. Mancini (below) has done remarkably well.
But it was another Italian who stole the limelight against United. Mancini reckons Mario Balotelli belongs in the world’s top five, and I would agree. He looks class, some of his touches, such as in the build-up to Aguero’s goal, are real quality, and he has all the ingredients to be the best.
Clearly he is a work in progress. Fireworks capers aside, he has come a long way from last year, although he will always have that element of unpredictability, like Wayne Rooney. For now at least, he seems to be enjoying himself, and I love watching him.
Sunday’s win saw them overtake United as favourites for the Premier League title and I’d agree. They are five points ahead and the only team capable of significantly strengthening in January, should they need or want to. It’s a frightening thought.