Monday, June 15, 2009

Why City must hold onto Elano

The immediate impact made by Elano Blumer on his arrival in Manchester at the start of City’s all-too-brief Sven Goran Eriksson era was striking. Hitting the ground running upon his move from the relative obscurity of Shakhtar Donetsk, the creative midfielder rattled in a number of spectacular free kicks and his contribution was key to the Light Blues’ meteoric start to the 07/08 season.

Since that early golden period, though, the former Santos star has slumped in form – openly bickering with his manager Mark Hughes and earning himself the unwanted label of a ‘luxury’ player; a most dreaded title given the unforgiving blood-and-thunder nature of the Premier League.

In the January transfer window talk began to circulate of an impending move to Serie A, with both Inter and Lazio among his supposed suitors. That talk has barely been assuaged by Elano’s apparent resurgence in a City shirt towards the end of last season. With a limitless war-chest, it’s widely accepted that Hughes may well be tempted to offload a player with whom he clearly does not see eye-to-eye, in order to clear space for any incoming superstars. The question must be posed, however, just who the manager with the deepest pockets in football might expect to replace his wayward star with?

Clearly, recruitment of top quality, Champions League-standard players is proving an onerous task – even for a club offering silly money to its prospective employees. Notwithstanding his mixed start to life in England, Elano is a footballer of such distinction.

Anyone fortunate enough to have cast an eye over Brazil’s enormously entertaining 4-3 Confederations Cup defeat of Egypt, on Monday afternoon, will have noted that two of the Sele├žao’s first half goals were prompted by the sweet right foot of their impressive no.7. Throughout the hour of playing time he was afforded by Brazil coach Dunga, Elano troubled the African champions with a series of tantalising free-kicks and crosses – resulting in headed goals for both Sevilla’s Luis Fabiano and the giant central defender Juan, of Roma. Dovetailing nicely with the exuberance of Dani Alves on the right flank, the 28-year-old’s display highlighted his compatibility with a flying full-back. Micah Richards (if he can re-find his game) or perhaps Glen Johnson, should he head north this summer, can only benefit from Elano’s experience and clever link-up play.

The esteem in which the versatile midfielder is held by Dunga is clear to regular observers of Brazil, and goals in high-profile friendlies against both Portugal and Italy last season only served to boost his profile further. While the Canarinha have leaked a little of their once-luminous aura and are no longer feared above all in the footballing world – imperious Spain now hold that honour – it is still a great symbol of worth to don that bright yellow jersey.

Not only does Elano’s intelligence allow Dani Alves (or the similarly able Maicon) to raid forward at will, his continued inclusion in Dunga’s starting XI is due, in part, to his telepathic understanding with his City teammate Robinho. The two are great friends off the field and, along with Juventus’ new playmaker Diego, provided the impetus behind the Santos superteam of the mid-noughties. Occasionally, throughout the course of last season, the pair’s longstanding kinship became evident – particularly in the safe-haven of Eastlands. To have an extravagant collection of star names (see Real Madrid 09/10) can take you so far, but to foster a genuine partnership such as those of Gerrard and Torres or Xavi/Iniesta can elevate an also-ran into genuine contenders for the top prizes.

If for no other reason, perhaps Sparky might consider retaining Elano in order to keep his biggest star (and ego) sweet. Milan once handed Digao – Kaka’s nondescript brother – a contract, with the transparent aim of keeping their top man happy. OK, so the lure of a starring role in ‘Galacticos! Part Deux’ has seen Kaka depart Milanello in any case, but Hughes would do well to heed this lesson. It’s possible that Robinho’s apparently wavering interest in the grand City ‘project’ can be revived by the prospect of a fruitful partnership with his footballing brother-in-arms. If Elano does leave, then Robbie’s future in Manchester will be in serious jeopardy.

For the man himself, the grass may not necessarily be greener in Serie A. Inter’s interest may be on the wane due to their potential purchase of Deco. Lazio endured an inconsistent 08/09 season and the biancocelesti would not be expected to qualify for Champions League football anytime soon. There is some speculation that Juventus would be prepared to swap David Trezeguet for Elano, but that prospect seems a little fanciful.

If he felt that he enjoyed the full support of the City management, Elano would surely be delighted to stay and play a part in the planned rise of the Citizens. Resisting the lure to splash out on a number of untried recruits, Sparky – the man with the golden chequebook – should look within to find a ready-made star.