Monday, November 9, 2015

The Second City

Upon winning the FA Cup in 2011, Manchester City fans serenaded Patrick Vieira for his incredible accomplishment: "Patrick Vieira, he's won it five times!" His glittering club and international career as a player is indeed impressive, and he played with a tenacity and grace that is rarely combined in a footballer. Now the former France midfielder has been appointed manager of New York City FC, despite having won zero games as a manager of a professional team. City Football Group, having parted ways with Jason Kreis, felt that the former manager of the Elite Development Squad at Manchester City was the best choice for the role, and most of the fans agree with them:

And yet, I can't help but feel disappointed by the change, as once again City Football Group are putting the needs of Manchester first, and leaving the greatest city in the world in second.

It's easy to see the logic from City Football Group here. Vieira is a high-profile name capable of controlling big stars like Lampard, Villa, and Pirlo. City's hierarchy rate Vieira very highly and clearly see him as a long-term successor to Pellegrini (or Guardiola), and moving him into management at a sister club gives him a chance to take the next step in his development. There's also no question that Kreis underwhelmed as NYCFC manager. Making the playoffs always seemed to be an exceedingly high target, particularly since Lampard and Pirlo didn't join until midway through. However, a porous defense, attack highly dependent on star power to bail out a poor system based on meaningless possession, and misuse (or non-use) of players like Poku and Shay Facey was probably enough to convince CFG that Kreis wasn't the right choice in the long-term. A change needed to be made, and CFG had someone ready and willing to step in who would be able to help the City philosophy take hold in New York. Perfect fit.

However, it's difficult to see such compelling reasons from the NYCFC side of things. There are certainly more experienced options out there for the role. Vieira did have a fantastic playing career, but that by no means guarantees success as a manager (as this recent Gab Marcotti post documents). He managed the EDS side, but that should in theory have a different fundamental goal (player development) than a professional team (winning matches). He has no experience with MLS, either as a manager or a player. The appointment is bound to be short-term, given his and CFG's evident long-term plan to groom him for the Manchester City job. There's no doubt he is an intelligent observer of the game and is a promising coach, but NYCFC are obviously expected to achieve success on a short timetable and an inexperience manager is unlikely to hit the ground running without any hiccups.

This is not to say that Vieira won't succeed at NYCFC. He certainly could, and a full year with Lampard, Pirlo, and Villa could lift NYCFC into the playoffs next year. But it's yet another example, as with the Lampard fiasco and several other incidents, that the decisions being made at NYCFC are made with Manchester City primarily in mind, and this could do long-term damage to the emerging fanbase of NYCFC. New York City FC and Manchester City FC are often described as "sister clubs", but to me it looks more and more like there's a mothership in Manchester, and everything else revolves around it.

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