Former England superstar and Chelsea legend Frank Lampard was never a likely option for Melbourne City, Brian Marwood, the football administration officer for the club’s Abu Dhabi-controlled owner, City Football Group, has revealed.
And while Marwood stopped short of agreeing that the David Villa signing – where the Spanish World Cup winner played only four games for City – was a “disaster”, he admitted that both the Melbourne club and the CFG had learnt plenty of lessons from an experiment that left a sour taste in the mouths of many City fans, especially those who had swelled the club’s membership in the expectation that Villa would play 10 games for the Melbourne team.
Results in the first half of the season, when City struggled badly for form, were unacceptable, Marwood said. But coach John van ‘t Schip’s job was not dependent on making the finals.
“We will assess it in the summer. We will take a view. We are happy with JVS and the group. We have a lot of faith in the staff. And when you are on the inside you know what they have to work with in terms of the dynamics of certain aspects,” said Marwood, an English League winner with Arsenal in his playing days.
Nevertheless the Manchester-based executive believes that Melbourne City’s first year under CFG’s control has been, with some exceptions, more successful than not as the UAE-based owners seek to bed the Melbourne franchise into a group in which EPL champion Manchester City is the jewel in the crown and New York City is the bold new frontier.
“In some areas, yes (it’s gone the way CFG hoped), in other areas, probably no,” Marwood said. Referring to the club’s newly opened training centre at Latrobe University, he said: “The yes bit is if you look at where we are sitting today, it’s much different to the Epping experience that I walked into.” Back then, City used to train at a suburban ground, often using wheelies bins full of ice as cooling baths.
“Some of the big highlights for me have been the emergence of the young players. Ben Garuccio, Jacob Melling and Connor Chapman are three players who have found their feet this year. They look extremely promising for the future of the club.
“I was really pleased by the fact that the youth team won their league. That was a great achievement. We have got some interesting emerging talent. The plans we have, the academy, the first team, we have an interesting summer coming up. We have a number of players who are out of contract.
“In a salary-capped league it was frustrating for me that people seemed to miss the point when they saw the City group taking over Melbourne City. They just expected us to throw a lot of money at the team. You can’t do that … it’s not the world we live in.
“It wasn’t like Man City six years ago, where we could take a team that was a potential relegation Premier League team to one that was going to compete for the championship.
“I think there’s been more pluses than minuses. The minuses have certainly been the amount of injuries we have had this year. A lot of them have been impact injuries rather than soft-tissue injuries.”
While City will still consider sending big-name players who are probably in their twilight years to Melbourne, it seems more likely that they will send younger players from the under-21 squad over for training or to play a season if they fit into the team dynamic. Currently a youngster from Manchester City’s under 21s, James Horsfield, is training with van ‘t Schip’s team to gain experience and develop his football.
“The Villa experience taught us a lot of things. Was it the right thing, the wrong thing … in certain times you have to test it and see whether it works or not.
“Frank [Lampard] had struck an agreement last summer to go to New York. The team were not going to start playing until March (when the MLS kicks off). He needed to keep himself fit in that period between August and March.
“We talked about the potential of Melbourne and the situation with Manuel (Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini) came up, and Manuel felt that Frank could add something to the City squad. It never got past the concept idea of talking within the group. When Manuel felt he could contribute and Frank realised that was the case, everybody felt that it was probably the best [for him to stay in Manchester],” said Marwood.
He readily admits that the Melbourne club did not make the most of the opportunities that it was presented with at the start of the season.
“Certainly the results in the first half of the season were poor, not acceptable,” Marwood said. “We didn’t capture the momentum earlier in the season when membership went to 10,000. We had nearly 16,000 to David’s first game. But because the results weren’t there … people used to say at first that it was always same old City in Manchester and I heard it here too, that Melbourne City will take you to the point, then disappoint you. But hopefully symbols like the new training ground will show that we are here for the long term.”
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