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The first brick in the wall


Filed: Sunday, 28th May 2017
By: Paul Walker


With apologise to Pink Floyd, our new signing Pablo Zabaleta is not another brick in the wall, he is the first of a significant rebuilding process.

Iíve heard all the stuff about his age, the wages, the condition of his legs from our fansÖall nonsense. He is a player from a different level, and frankly there is not a player on our books who we can say that about.

He may be 32, but I donít know a Manchester City fan---and I know a lot--who think his legs have gone. He may not be what he was at his peak when City won the title in 2012, but he played 32 first team games for City last season, 17 from the start, which is a darned sight more than a few of our lads managed last term!

He could have stayed at the Etihad, but he knew it would be as back-up, and he needed to play. He has suffered because City are a such a different level to us. Pep Guardiola has hugely demanding high standards, he dumped Englandís goalkeeper because he felt that Joe Hart could not play football.

And Guardiola now wants something very different from his full backs. They must be high-speed attackers as well as defenders, they have to cover the whole flank at constant pace. And play at the very highest level. Zabaleta could not offer that any more.

It doesnít mean he cannot play a major part in our defence, a true warrior of a man idolised by the City faithful. Of course he can. Sam Byram, if he is not loaned out, will learn a lot from the Argentinean.

And I sense Slav wants to play Zabaleta behind Michail Antonio down the right flank, giving our new Hammer of the Year license to surge away on those powerful, dangerous runs without fear of being exposed out of position that happened so often when he was playing right back.

As for his wages, reckoned to be approaching £100,000 a week, but we are told with a sensible basic so as not to upset the squad wage scale. Donít forget that he is a free transfer and we have just dumped Jonathan Calleri, Gokhan Tore and Alvaro Arbeloa.

All three contributed precious little to our cause last term and will not be missed. Their wages probably added up to around £120,000 a week. Cant really argue with that as an exercise in budget control.

I feel that Zabaletaís arrival is the beginning of a new approach to our transfers. Slav made a telling remark recently when he suggested we wasted too much time last summer going for targets we could not really expect to acquire.

Younger players in their mid 20s and already playing Champions League or European football regularly, will not drop down a level. We learned that to our cost, and Bilic reckons we missed a lot of our second and third choices because of that approach.

What we have now is a player of vast experience at a level none of our players have really experienced. And his arrival could be the one deal that persuades a few others to take the risk on the Irons, a risk nobody wanted to take last summer.

You have to sell the plan, you have to convince better quality players that European football is possible. Last summer our owners rattled on about reaching the Champions League just because we finished seventh the season before and we had a shiny new 60,000 seater stadium.

We still wonít be at 60,000 next season, anyway. But big stadiums donít automatically produce European football. Sunderland, Newcastle, Aston Villa, you get my point.
It has to be a much calmer, considered approach than last summer. Yes, mistakes were made but we did try our best to acquire players from a higher level.

And you know what? I sense a different approach this time around. Last season we kept being told that David Sullivan, Slav and Tony Henry all had lists of players they fancied and all transfers had to be written off by all three.

I sense Slav did not really like that. Few managers would. This summer we have heard little from Sullivan, in fact for much of last season. And Henry has been on the club website explaining how the scouting process works.

But Slav rebelled a bit against the previous system. He didnít want Scott Hogan in January despite plenty of pressure. He wanted to save the money for the summer. He didnít want players that did not appreciable improve his squad just for the sake of it.

And we hear that all the pressure about replacing his backroom staff has gone away. It looks like the board are giving Bilic his head, allowing him to make the judgements. I may be wrong, but it certainly looks that way.

Thereís another way of looking at that. He could be being set up to fail, letís face it if we start next season in the same vein as last and are no better off by Christmas, he will be gone. And the board will be able to say that they backed his decisions and it hasnít worked.

Sullivan has to be involved. Heís the owner. He should do the negotiations and the deals. But Bilic seems unimpressed with some of the players he has been offered.

Lets face it. Slav should take control. Itís his team, his dressing room, his training ground. If it all goes pear-shaped, then the board have every right to sack him. Thatís their role, but letís see how this summer goes with Slav at the sharp end.

There are clearly going to be more new faces. Zabaleta , it seems, may be able to persuade Kelechi Iheanacho to follow him from the Etihad. Just the sort of bright, young striker we need.

We hear also that Marseille will try to get Andre Ayew, and I hope if that happens we screw every last Euro out of them, after their disgraceful tapping up of Dimitri Payet. As long as we do not end up by selling Manuel Lanzini, anything but that.

Slav wants Ďgame changersí not squad players. He wants power, pace and athleticism. We so badly lacked all of that last term.

So letís welcome Zabaleta with open arms, and wait to see the next bricks in the wall needed to make up for what has been a wasted, troubled season.

It ended with a solid victory at Burnley, and 11th spot, with a team missing eight senior players, nine if you included Payet. And I still do, sorry, such has been the damage caused too our season by his departure.

I had promised the editor a clever, meaningful piece (he was heard to mutter, Ďthat would be a changeí) about our season. Not something I felt like writing after this weekís dreadful terrorist attack.

As you may have worked out over the months, I live just outside Manchester and worked in the city for 30 years. A lifelong Londoner I will always be, with my wife feeling that I have an obsessive interest in the old East End and my fatherís legacy.

She may be right, and when you have been away from home for as long as I have, that intensity heightens. But I have grown to love Manchester, my home now for over 35 years.

Last Sunday me and the lad went to Burnley, using Manchester Victoria to get there, where Burnley CC were their usual outstanding hosts!

It was a beautiful, sunny day, Victoria has been rebuilt with its Victorian architecture carefully restored and blended into the impressive new complex that links the metro to the main line stations and then on into the Manchester Arena concourses. We had a beer there and discussed how nice it all looked, having only just been opened.

Less than 24 hours later it was a very different place. There were hundreds of West Ham fans who used that station last weekend, and we all enjoyed ourselves and the trip up to Lancashireís old cotton towns. It was hard to take it what happened so soon after.

So I am sure the editor and you lot out there will forgive my lack of enthusiasm for meaningless, football chatter this week.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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