- Kevin Keegan
Mancini struggling to decide best XIKevin Keegan September 1, 2012
It's that time of year again when the on-pitch action appears to take a backseat to off-pitch gossip as the summer transfer window slams shut. In a perfect world, managers would conduct all of their business early on, but the reality is that market forces dictate your transfer policy and a host of 11th hour deals have become one of the game's inevitabilities.
There are all sorts of games being played between clubs and players; clubs and agents. You saw with the Luka Modric to Real Madrid and Emmanuel Adebayor to Tottenham deals: everyone knew they would go through weeks before, but there are always complications.
Most of the games are about wages, sometimes it's about signing-on fees, or loyalty payments, or who's paying the agents' fees. Then there's sell-on fees too - when I bought Andy Cole for Newcastle, 50% of what we paid Bristol City for him had to go to his first club Arsenal and that made it difficult to negotiate the £1.5 million deal.
Agreeing a fee with a club is only the first part, then it's time to speak to the player and discuss his demands. He might want extortionate wages, a longer contract, or a relocation and accommodation package for his family - particularly if he's coming from abroad. Transfers can be a really frustrating and surprisingly complex process.
This Saturday, we've got two clubs that were expected to be active in the transfer market battle it out on ESPN as QPR visit Eastlands to face the Premier League champions, and the club they are trying to emulate with a raft of expensive signings, Manchester City.
Despite welcoming many new faces this summer, QPR had a terrible start to the season, losing 5-0 at home to Swansea. It's going to take time for those new players to gel but it is a real statement of intent to bring in names like Julio Cesar from Inter Milan and Esteban Granero from Real Madrid as well, especially considering that two years ago they were buying players from the likes of Plymouth Argyle and Crystal Palace.
QPR boss Mark Hughes had a similar situation when he was at Manchester City, being given a massive transfer kitty to rebuild. He struggled to manage all of the big names at City - though he arguably wasn't given enough time - but here it looks like the owners have got the faith in him. QPR have got the money, and money talks in football.
I still believe the very, very best will always choose to play where they can win things, but if the money is right and other good players begin to flock to a club, they become an attractive proposition. The guys at QPR are very ambitious and will certainly not be expecting to fight for relegation on the last day of this season. I think the next thing for will be to try to get a new ground and it's certainly a great time to be a QPR supporter at the moment.
There is still plenty of excitement around Eastlands, too, with Manchester City having begun their Premier League title defence with a win against Southampton and a draw with Liverpool. Unlike QPR, City have been unusually quiet in the summer transfer window - with Jack Rodwell their only signing before the start of the season, but they were busy on the last day, with Javi Garcia the pick of the arrivals.
Fans may have been a bit frustrated when looking at the way Manchester United have bought big names like Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie but it's a tricky dilemma for a championship-winning manager: new signings help freshen up training and give the existing players new impetus to impress but you also obviously want to demonstrate your faith in the lads who helped you lift the title. It's important to remember that City have spent an awful lot of money in recent seasons - their transfer policy over the past couple of years has been a shortcut to achieve what it takes other clubs six or seven years to do successfully - buying quality player after quality player.
If Mancini had gone and spent another £100 million it would have made everyone else sit up, but you can't play all of them. We saw with Tevez that the biggest challenge at a club like Manchester City is keeping world-class players happy when they're not playing. I would be telling my squad that the reason I've not bought loads of players is because I believe in their abilities to win the league again and maybe that's the view he's taken.
The Sinclair move is a particularly interesting one and it's not without precedent. He will be looking to avoid the same fate that befell the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips at Chelsea and more recently Adam Johnson at City: talented young English players marginalised and their development stalled. You can't criticise Scott for choosing to leave Swansea - whatever job you do, if someone approached you and offered you the chance to go to a bigger company, work in a bigger office and get paid more - you wouldn't turn it down.You have to feel for Swansea though, look at what happens after one good season: the manager leaves, the best players leave - they're plundered for their best assets.
Players like Johnson and Wright-Phillips can argue that they weren't given a chance, a run in the side, but their managers may say that they didn't make themselves indispensable when they did play. I've always believed that it's up to the players to prove their worth; the role that Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell play at Manchester City is down to them. Even if they are not regular starters - and they would be in esteemed company with the likes of Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli often consigned to the bench - the onus is on them to show what they can do if an opportunity is afforded. The only guaranteed starters at City are Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure.
The concept of squad rotation is a bit of an alien one to players of my era, when we were signed we were expected to play 90 minutes in every match of the season. You either got dropped - although that only ever happened to me with England - or you played all the time. The squad of 22 now is packed with quality, whereas back then there were six or seven lads, mainly young players, who knew they wouldn't play unless there was a major injury crisis.
I don't think Mancini even knows what his best team is yet this season, and we've seen him tinker with the formation in the first couple of games, experimenting with a 3-5-2. As a manager, trying stuff out in pre-season and early season is normal - I remember playing three at the back when I was with Newcastle 20 years ago, and different set-ups work against different teams. Mancini is having to find alternative ways to play now because they're the champions and there's a lot of expectation, everyone wants to make it difficult for you. To become champions is very tough but to retain the title is even tougher because everyone is gunning for you.
City have conceded four goals in two games so far, six in three if you count the Community Shield, which isn't really good enough for them; I'm sure QPR will be buoyed by that. Mark will be giving some players their debuts on Saturday and that could work in his favour as opposition managers hate facing the unknown - you like to know who you're playing against, know the dangers and the weaknesses already.
However, it's difficult to see anything beyond a Manchester City win. They've been pretty much unbeatable at Eastlands and, as they proved so famously there against QPR on the final day of last season, they can battle their way back into games even when behind in the last minute. You have to give credit to Mancini for that.
Kevin Keegan is ESPN's Lead Football Analyst