TH: How do you assess Manchester City’s start to the season so far?
SA: The results in the Premier League have been excellent but the performances have been a little concerning. We’ve started to look back to our best in the past couple of games which is promising, but early season we looked sluggish, lacked creativity and looked a little suspect at the back. That said, we’re in third position and are unbeaten so far, so that bodes well for us.
TH: Reports are suggesting that David Silva is might be out for the match. How big a blow for you is that?
SA: It’s a huge blow. For me, he is our most important player and if he plays well, the team plays well. For all the other stars, he is the one individual who gets us playing as a team, controlling possession, working hard and adding that creative flair.
TH: Adam Johnson left for Sunderland in the summer and James Milner has frequently been a sub this season. Do you think the size and quality of your squad if affecting the development of English players?
SA: Not at all. It doesn’t matter whether you’re English or foreign, if you’re not good enough, then you won’t play for us. Johnson had a major problem with his attitude and I don’t know one City fan who was upset to see him leave. In terms of other English players, Rodwell has just joined, Hart is England’s number one, Lescott was terrific last season, Milner is trusted by Mancini in the big games and Barry, although ridiculed by naive opposition fans, is absolutely integral to the way we play. That has been recognised by a succession of City and England managers.
TH: Brian Marwood recently stated that Mario Balotelli was a poor role model for the club’s young players. How fair is that view?
SA: In some aspects, it’s fair enough. He’s clearly volatile, loses his selfcontrol and times and his body language is appalling. On the other hand, I’d be surprised if there was a more successful 22-year-old than Balotelli. He’s won so many titles and achieved so much in his career so far and the most pleasing element is that there’s so much more to come. The opposite view to Marwood’s would be that if you’re a young kid who gets racially abused, comes from a non-existent family background, has been adopted and had to overcome so much trouble, then Balotelli is the perfect role model. As always with Mario, I’m torn!
TH: Talking of your young players, John Guidetti has just signed a new long-term contract with you. How a big of a prospect is he?
SA: He’s a decent prospect. Much has obviously been made of his scoring record for Feyenoord last season which was excellent, but we’ve seen how goals in the Dutch league doesn’t exactly guarantee success in England. He has all the attributes needed to be a top striker – a clinical finisher, good attitude, works hard, very strong, good in the air – but I’d like to see him go on loan to another Premier League side before judging him too early.
TH: Has the rivalry with Manchester United changed due to both clubs challenging for the title?
SA: It’s increased because we’re now title challengers. They probably always saw us as inferior neighbours but now we’re both competing for the title, the rivalry has stepped up several notches. I maintain that no game in the near future will ever have the same level of build-up and accompanying nerves as the derby last May.
TH: Who poses the biggest threat for Man City against West Ham?
SA: It’s a tough question because of Mancini’s rotation. We play you just a few days before Ajax in a crucial Champions League match so perhaps the likes of Aguero and Tevez might be rested. That would still leave Balotelli and Dzeko though!
TH: Talking of Tevez, he’s still viewed as a hero by most West Ham fans. How is his relationship with Man City fans now following his AWOL last season?
SA: There was a lot of repairing to do last season and winning the league, and the role he played in the final six games, went a long way towards doing that. This season, he seems to have knuckled down, trained harder and he looks fully committed. We all respect his quality on the pitch but I think it will take quite a while before fans forget his behaviour last year. I think there’s still a sense of suspicion there.
TH: What do you think of West Ham this season?
SA: You’ve done better than many expected so far. It’s become a bit of a cliché but Allardyce’s teams will always be hard to beat and you’ve proved that. There is some quality up front and I believe Carroll will suit your style of play perfectly. If you can build around him, with the likes of Nolan picking up knockdowns, it could be effective.
TH: Which West Ham players would you have in your squad?
SA: The honest opinion, which could come across as arrogant (but isn’t meant to!) is no-one. I don’t think you’ve got anyone who would consistently challenge for a place in our first-team. Carroll could be a useful sub for the final few minutes and Vaz Te does have that mercurial streak but I’m struggling after that.
TH: What’s your prediction for both clubs this season?
SA: We’ll win the league and you’ll finish tenth.