Manchester City 0 Stoke City 1: Some Thoughts

So much for the stroll in the park. Complacency abounded at the Etihad and the result was a defeat surely no one saw coming against a team who hadn’t previously scored at the Etihad and who didn’t record a single win away against any of the top 12 teams last season. Typical City.

Miserable weather, miserable match. The line-up saw a few changes, but none that can be attributed towards the defeat. Bacary Sagna made his league debut and Sergio Aguero was a welcome sight on the team-sheet.

There was no start once again for Fernandinho. You do wonder how he has fallen down the pecking order, but new signing Fernando seems the preferred option for Pellegrini right now, though injury may change that. Pushed out by Javi Garcia during last season’s title run-in, he has continued to occupy the bench this season, a strange fall from grace considering the wonderful performances he put in alongside Yaya Toure last season. You only hope that 7-1 defeat to Germany hasn’t dented his confidence further.

As for the game itself, it was such a frustrating afternoon. No one player was particularly better or worse than any other, as the whole team toiled against two banks of Stoke players who kept their discipline and shape throughout.

Stoke were perfectly entitled to line up as they did of course, as the result showed. Any team is allowed to line up however they see fit without barbs from the opposition and we can hardly expect teams to come to the Etihad playing open football – it would play right into our hands. City have to find a way round teams that pack the defence.

And good to see their fans not sell out their allocation – ticket prices are ridiculous and I won’t be paying that much to see a match. Their chants were predictably moronic at times (“your sister’s on Jeremy Kyle”??!) but at least they made some noise.

City toiled and toiled for no reward and what worried most was that this game was not a smash and grab job but one fully merited by the visitors. Even more annoying was it gave Mark Hughes the opportunity to look really smug. Stoke should have had a second goal shortly after the first, and apart from Begovic palming a couple of shots away and Toure hitting the bar on the stroke of half-time, City created little. Endless passes seemed half a yard off where they should be, whilst seemingly endless corners and crosses were planted onto the heads of Stoke defenders.

Perhaps Navas could have come on earlier. The game was crying out for width as there was no route down the middle. Sagna had an ok debut but didn’t offer the attacking threat Zabaleta usually does, which is a shame as when I have watched him he has a mean cross in him.

And then there’s the goal. Three players collectively share the blame here. Firstly, Kolarov got the wrong side of Diouf and was shaken off far too easily.  Then the back-peddling Fernandinho was beaten too easily, though on a yellow card he was probably reluctant to commit to the tackle. Finally the shot should have been saved By Hart who was nut-megged by a shot struck straight at him without considerable force as he flopped to the floor. Hart seemed to gamble where the shot would go, and gambled wrongly.

Rest assured, Manuel Pellegrini has not signed Willy Caballero to be a definite number 2 goal-keeper. Perhaps he is not convinced about Joe Hart?

I’ve seen a few people blame City’s captain for the goal. I’ll just leave that there for you to digest.

As for the penalty appeals, it probably was a penalty to Stoke in the first half and it probably was for City in the second. The decision to book Toure was ridiculous, another pathetic decision from Mason, the sort of referee who immediately blows for a free kick every time a player goes to ground, unless of course there’s a penalty to give to City.  Toure may have exaggerated his fall, but players do that 100 times a game without being booked.

As for Toure, I may be reading too much into a player who always has a languid style, but he still seems to be sulking or operating below full capacity. We need a return to last season’s all-action player, and quickly.

Fernando’s injury is a worry with Fernandinho off the boil and Arsenal, Bayern Munich and Chelsea on the horizon. Let’s hope it is nothing serious.

The real frustration lies with the lost opportunity to head into the next two difficult games with a bit of breathing space. Now the games become even more important and we could find ourselves well adrift of the top if we don’t improve. Now we have to dwell on the defeat as we enter into the most pointless ever international break.

Sometimes a day just needs forgetting so that you can move on. The heavens opened bang on full-time to soak us all, reminding me of leaving Wembley after the FA Cup final defeat to Wigan. By the time I got to the pub, Diego Costa, the player I was led to believe would be out injured for six weeks, so had taken him out of my Fantasy Football team, had scored at Everton after 35 seconds. One of those days. I’m hard-pushed to remember the feeling of trooping out the ground after a weekend home league defeat. Perhaps the last time was Norwich after the culling of Roberto Mancini.

If we sign Falcao, I will quite literally explode. It’s not going to happen is it? I really don’t want Negredo to leave, but if that’s the price to pay to get Falcao in and meet FFP requirements, then so be it. Possibly my favourite striker (apart from Sergio, obv).

We’re now only four points ahead of United. Be afraid.

The Champions League Fix

FIX! FIX!

Warm balls, cartels and the protection of the old elite – welcome to the Champions League and its showpiece cup draw.

Ok, not quite. There are no warmed balls, only balls that are devilishly difficult to unscrew, as Luis Figo found to his cost last year. What exists instead is a draw fixed in plain sight in that it contains set rules and regulations that take much of the chance out of the equation whilst naturally protecting the established elite. This is not sour grapes from a Manchester City fan but a basic fact and eventually City will benefit from it too at the expense of others. It won’t be fair then either.

This won’t be a surprise to you if you have ever watched a draw (presuming you have three days spare). You’ll have seen the raft of regulations, rules and caveats that make parts of the draw a done deal.

So what do I suggest changes then? Rather pathetically I don’t have the answers. I haven’t devised the perfect seeding system. I will be accused of bias however, like when I express my opposition to Financial Fair Play rules, in saying that the current system is not fair. I truly believe that a fair system sees the top seeds consist of the top sides right now. Not the most successful sides in the Champions League over the past five years, but the best teams right now. The champions of England, Spain, Italy and Germany should be there for starters. Always. As it stands, the only way City can break into the top tier would be for David Moyes to systematically manage each of the top seeds. This would be a quick fix, but unlikely to happen.

Poor little City, so hard done to. There won’t be much sympathy for City’s tough draw of course, and I wouldn’t expect it. The annoyance is a system that makes breaking the elite so difficult. Success in the Champions League will see you rise up the pots. Simple. Except that to rise through the pots you have to start from the bottom and thus get the toughest draws which naturally curtails your chance of success in the Champions League. It doesn’t matter how good your team is or how much money you have, life is harder with a tough cup draw. So if your only thoughts about City are related to sheikhs, oil and buying success, feel sorry for Borussia Dortmund instead. Do they not deserve better?

The counter-argument that a team such as Arsenal have regularly out-performed City in the Champions League itself and having participated for seventeen consecutive years they deserve their place at the top table is an argument that has some merit, but as mentioned the system allows this to happen by making them top seeds and thus increasing their chances of an easier draw than the likes of City, PSG, Borussia Dortmund or Monaco. It’s a vicious circle. Put Arsenal in Pot 3 for a few years and see if they keep reaching the latter stages. It’s my opinion that a team that regularly has to go through qualifiers and has just won its first trophy in nine years has not earned the right to be a top seed. You may disagree. Some would argue that how you have done in the tournament itself is important and not to be disregarded. But as I’ve said……

Whilst we’re at it, let’s please dispel the myth that you have to beat the best teams to win a competition anyway, so the draw doesn’t really matter. Hogwash. Do you think Millwall reached an FA Cup Final by knocking out a succession of big teams? Do you think City had as good a chance of getting to the 2011 FA Cup Final if they had drawn Chelsea then Manchester United then Arsenal rather than Notts County, Leicester and Reading? You may well have to beat some top sides to win this particular tournament, in fact you definitely will, but your chances of success are significantly hampered if you are playing top teams right from the start. Chelsea don’t have to worry about playing a top team until 2015. It’s ludicrous to argue anything other than the fact that this is of huge advantage to them, not only in the Champions League but also in their fight for the Premier League. What’s more, as a tough draw increases the chance of City finishing second and thus getting another top team in the last 16, as happened last season. Let’s not forget that last season the draw was kinder to City, but it still paired them with the European Champions. Manuel Pellegrini may have failed a crucial maths test, but the task to top the group was nevertheless a huge one.

And so under the present system, the cycle continues ad infinitum. Let’s not forget that Manchester City, league champions in two of the past three seasons only just scraped into Pot 2 due to the failing of others. City are quite new to success and don’t have the Champions League pedigree of others so I can see a valid argument that they have to earn the right to be a top seed – but at least make it a level playing field. Remove seeding for a year – it will be a riot.

No system can prevent the feeling of déjà vu though. The thing is that random draws will still result in repeat pairings. That’s how randomness works. When residents of a village tore down a telephone mast blaming it for a cluster of cancer sufferers in the local area, they failed to appreciate the nature of randomness. They failed to appreciate that cancer does not spread itself out evenly across the population. When Apple first made the ipod, their random shuffle feature attracted many complaints from users because its random nature meant the same songs kept popping up on playlists. Thus, modern random shuffles on mp3 players are not random but designed not to repeat songs. And thus with a cup draw in any sport, however random you make it, whatever criteria you set, randomness dictates there is a fair chance two teams will keep bumping into each other. A random draw could still see City paired up with Bayern Munich repeatedly or Arsenal paired up with Borussia Dortmund. Even under the present system City didn’t have to meet Bayern Munich in the draw, in fact the odds were against it, until other teams has been pulled out and the ridiculous imposed regulations about TV and playing on Tuesdays or Wednesdays left no other choice.

The greatest consequence of the current system is that the draw has become boring. I’m not really trying to argue that the likes of Manchester City are not being treated fairly as much as arguing that the whole system is just so, so predictable. This draw should be exciting. It should throw up more exciting match-ups than it currently does, create more new rivalries. It should be doing this from the start. It’s time to spice it up. To do this, Platini needs the permission of the same clubs that the current system protects. And there ends any hope of change.

Of course there is another way. The Champions League could be a competition for, wait for it, champions. I know, I know, now I’m really being silly.

The Shocking Truth Behind The Champions League Draw (2013)

Originally published August 2013

In an EXCLUSIVE, I reveal how the Champions League draw, held over 7 days in Monaco was nothing more than a farce, a pre-ordained process that allowed nothing to chance in its eventual outcome. The headlines may have been made by BALLGATE, which left Billy McNeill in tears, Michael Owen with a dislocated shoulder and ended with Luis Figo brawling with Michel Platini in a hotel lobby at 4am (due to the new Adidas Excelsior balls, which the manufacturers claim are more aerodynamic than any previous cup draw balls), but it was in the draw itself where the real scandal lay.

The draw has a number of caveats and rules that shapes who plays who. There are two coloured halves of the draw, and rules on teams from the same country, plus 74 other directives not known to the general public – until now.

Arsenal came out of the Pot Bowls first, and were drawn into Group F. So far so good. Then Chelsea came out of the pot and were placed into Pot C. The rest of the top seeds were drawn, and everything was fine. The draw for the second seeds began. Marseille were drawn into Group F, but this caused a problem, as their third kit clashes with Arsenal’s European 2nd away kit, so they had to be moved to pot D. AC Milan were drawn into Group H, then CSKA Moscow were drawn into Group D, but Marseille were already there, so they had to be moved into pot F. PSG went into Pot C, and the other second seeds were drawn without any problems, apart from when a drop of gel fell into Luis Figo’s eye and, temporarily blinded, he went down clutching his knee. The 10-minute delay was filled with a montage of previous draw highlights, including the infamous 1997 draw which descended into farce when one of the delegates did not have a pen and paper to write the draw down on.

The draw for the third set of seeds though was a scandal. Manchester City and Manchester United were both drawn in the blue half of the draw, which isn’t allowed as two teams from the same city cannot play at home on the same night. So United were moved to Group B due to their superior coefficient. Unfortunately this meant City had to move from Group C as they can’t be in a pot that is only 1 letter away from a team from the same city as this would compromise TV deals. So City were moved to Group D.  Next out of the pot were Basel. They were immediately excluded from Pots A,B,D & E as past Champions League winners cannot be drawn in the group stage against a team that sounds like a herb. This left only Pots C ,G and H, as they couldn’t go into G either due to possible clashes with Viktoria Plzen, and UEFA rules stress that any team named after a girl must not be paired either with a herb, a Portuguese team (the Portuguese secretly lobbied for this rule prior to the 2006/7 draw, having previously gone out of Europe to the little known Romanian club Lily Plovdiv), or a team that won the European Cup in the 1960’s. As Basel had to be in the blue half of the draw due to a TV deal with a Czech TV station specifying they would play on a separate night as Viktoria Plzen (the station pandering to the huge Swiss population in the Prague ghettos), Basel were drawn into Group H, but had to be moved to C anyway because AC Milan were already in H and Basel can’t be drawn against a team from Milan in a group stage due to sub clause c(ii), section 14 in the UEFA Champions League draw guideline document.

Then it emerged that Arsenal couldn’t play in Group F as this would mean playing a home game that clashed with the National Cheese Festival at Olympia, whilst PSG requested no games on Tuesdays as they didn’t want supporters to miss out on a re-run on Canal+ of the 3rd season of Luther (with subtitles). Then someone pointed out that Chelsea couldn’t be drawn in the same half of the draw as Arsenal so were placed in Pot A, but this left to a fixture clash with United, so this was fixed by Borussia Dortmund swapping Groups with Bayern Munich, Shakhtar Donetsk outbid every club for the right to be drawn in Pot E, and CSKA Moscow had to have their home games moved to pre-December due to weather concerns. This meant Manchester City would be playing at home to CSKA on the same night as both Sarah Millican and Sean Lock were in town, so the kick-off had to be put back to midday, which thankfully suited the Asian markets. City agreed to play that game in their new third kit in return for a promise not to draw Barcelona at any point in the competition.

As Real Madrid’s pitch was to be used for a Nickelback concert on 26th November they had to be away that night, meaning a further swap of fixtures. This swap though would leave Manchester United & City once more playing on the same night, so for no reason Real Sociedad were moved to Group F to avoid fixture clashes. This left Chelsea in limbo so they were moved to Group G, City were temporarily placed in two groups, bringing a $15,000 fine from UEFA, before switching back to Group C. Austria Vienna played their joker card to be moved from Group H, and were moved to G, leaving Celtic in the Group of Death (H), causing Neil Lennon to go on a 2-hour rampage around Parkhead (leading to the despatch of a police helicopter). Anderlecht were placed into Pot C so that their fixtures did not clash with Yom Kippur. Ajax requested special dispensation for Match Day 3 as their players fasted every 4th Tuesday, and Zenit St Petersburg delegates stormed out of the conference hall complaining about the standard of borsch.

With one final demand from the Manchester United delegation, who requested no home matches on Matchdays 2 & 4, as “the trams will probably break down those days”, the draw was finally completed shortly after midnight. But the shocking details of that draw show that it is little more than an exercise in maintaining the status quo and assuring that the “big boys” get exactly what they want. For the cheeky upstarts like Manchester City, there was the desire to put them in their place once more. Only a sold-out Sean Lock tour and a kit clash with Borussia Dortmund’s home kit and City’s 1999 play-off final kit prevented them from being in an even harder group.

Manchester City 3 Liverpool 1: Some Thoughts

A satisfying victory in the end over City’s MAIN rivals helped continue the good start to the season for the champions, who have been given a tricky set of fixtures to begin their title defence.

With part of the South stand roof missing, predictably the weather duly obliged and the match resembled a pre-Xmas game as a cool wind helped dull conditions further. Thankfully I was directly below where the roof ended so only the left side of my body got wet. As you’d expect, City ran out of ponchos, not that I had any intention of wearing one. I had made suitable preparations and brought something called a coat, which included something called a hood.

roof

The line up contained few surprises, with Aguero not yet considered fully fit and Fernandinho (perhaps) understandably marginalised so that Fernando could provide a screen for the defence. Clichy got the nod over Kolarov, presumably for his defensive qualities and it was great to see Zabaleta on the right side.

I expected a barrel-load of BANTER (TOP BANTER, which is the best type of BANTER, and is best experienced on the BANTER BUS) to head Liverpool’s way considering the circumstances, but the atmosphere was actually a bit muted. This is not entirely the fault of the fans though. With a whole Bank Holiday weekend to play the match on, being plonked on Monday night killed the atmosphere and was deeply disappointing. I wish just once we could tell Sky where to go. This will never happen of course.

Again, as against Newcastle, the level of performance is not that important, only the result. Like other teams, there is work to be done, fitness to gain and other players to come in and make their mark. With Chelsea and Arsenal on the horizon, gaining three points was especially important for City, who do not want to be playing catch-up all season again.

In a match preview I did for the Redmen TV, I mentioned that Liverpool could challenge for the title if they could toughen up the defence this season. Early indications suggest they haven’t. City exploited this and hence won the game. In the end though, City simply showed their class. That is, after all, why we’re champions. Where a Liverpool defender made a mistake, a City defender made a crucial block. In front of goal, Jovetic and Aguero were more clinical and these are the differences between champions and contenders. If City keep being this clinical then we stand a good chance of retaining the title.

There was no miscarriage of justice for Liverpool to fall back on this time, so instead there was the need to point out that they were the better side before the first goal. This wasn’t completely true in a cagey first half when few chances were created by either side. Liverpool passed it well and closed City down for a while, but you don’t get any points for that. If trophies are being handed out for “played pretty football for the first half”, then this really could be Liverpool’s year. In truth, Liverpool have consistently posed us more problems than any other team so the result was all the sweeter – the team won’t get much sterner tests than this in the league this season, so it bodes well at this early stage.

Liverpool threatened more in the second half when City were on top perversely, as City seemed to switch off for small periods, Kompany at one point screaming at his team-mates to wake up after a near-miss for Liverpool. In the end their consolation goal was the result of more sloppy defending and a lack of concentration was one of the few minor concerns on a profitable night.

And to be fair, I was once more impressed with Liverpool. I think they have continued where they left off last season and should make the Top Four this season, which is not good news for our neighbours. Sterling is certainly going to be some player.

Strange how a City injury can prove beneficial, but Edin Dzeko’s knock, which thankfully does not appear to be serious, led to the introduction of Aguero, who scored within 23 seconds. It felt like less, and this must surely rank as one of the quickest ever goals by a City substitute. As for Dzeko, he toiled but it wasn’t his best night.

Jovetic however, once more showed his class. I continue to pray he can maintain his fitness this season, and I hope to see much more of his rippled torso (as it means he has scored, obviously. What did you think I meant?). He is quite simply top-class and versatile and alongside Aguero could be even better.

Elsewhere, and Fernando continues to show what a potential bargain he may be. He completed 97% (61/63) of his passes.

If you fancy some other reading (judas!) then may I suggest Michael Cox’s latest offering on David Silva. Cox was impressed once more with Silva last night and how he runs between the lines. Even when he’s not dominating games Silva is often still making the team tick. Cox mentioned that Steven Gerrard couldn’t cope with the movement of Silva and I do wonder how much of a success one of the greatest midfielders of the Premier League era will cope in his more withdrawn role when up against such movement. For all the criticism that Liverpool’s defence receives, perhaps the man in front of them is part of the problem.

Balotelli unsurprisingly hogs much of the back-page headlines in the tabloids today, rather than the match between last season’s top two. That says it all really.

As does this, typifying the massive U-turns suddenly being navigated by the swathe of Liverpool-supporting pundits/ex-players:
Mark Lawrenson, 10/12/12:
IT’S GOT TO BE ALL OVER FOR BALOTELLI AFTER THIS DISGRACEFUL SHOW
..this is a player that thinks the whole world revolves around him. That’s the problem.
..I cannot think of a single more destructive influence in the Premier League.
Balotelli is not worth the aggravation. He is not worth the time they spend on him. He certainly doesn’t do anything for dressing room harmony.
Just get rid of him.

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool Echo, this week (selected snippets).
Brendan Rodgers may have raised many eyebrows with his capture of the Italian, but ultimately it makes more sense the longer you look at it.
Liverpool were running out of options. Where else could they have looked?
Comparatively speaking, £16million for a player who, at 24, has already played for three major clubs and has scored for Italy in a European Championship and a World Cup is a bargain. Balotelli’s CV is tremendous. And as a striker he has everything you would want. He is a beast who on his day is almost unplayable. A genuine handful.
It has to be said that many of the stories attributed to Balotelli during his time at Manchester City weren’t true.
I’m not that concerned that Sturridge could find his nose put out of joint. Sturridge was able to play alongside Luis Suarez, so why not Balotelli? Even then, the arrival of a new striker would surely inspire the England man, who in any case has such a good goalscoring record he would be one of the first names on the teamsheet regardless when fit.
As long as the dynamic in the dressing room isn’t affected, I can’t see Balotelli being a major problem. And the impression I get from speaking to others is that he is a very likeable bloke, particularly with his team-mates.

BEEP.BEEP.

Still, all that’s preferable to the Mirror’s headline today – ALL YOU NEED IS JOV. The paper also seemed to think the win had sent City top.

Di Maria is a great player. For £60m I’d expect the second coming of Christ. Buying success again, the United way – it’s in their DNA, don’t you know?

THEY EARNED IT THOUGH!!!!!!

Pre-Match Q & A: Liverpool Fan Jack Harte from The Redmen TV

Prior to Monday night’s game between Manchester City and Liverpool , I got some thoughts from Jack Harte, contributor for the excellent Liverpool blog/website/TV station The Redmen TV. This is what he had to say….


Sorry to start with a delicate subject, but have you recovered from last season yet? Did you genuinely believe the title was in the bag?

I think I’d started  to believe, at least privately, quite early on during our impressive run through spring.  That feeling as we were 2-0 up against you at Anfield in April was euphoric but the next twenty minutes would prove deflating as you fought back.  The swing of Philippe Coutinho’s right boot, towards a ball broken free in the box, instilled firm belief in everybody though – the title was ours to lose with four games remaining.  The Norwich match, the following weekend, came with no shortage of stress but we got the 3 points.  Then, of course, the defeat to Chelsea and the draw away to Palace.  Brendan Rodgers gets a bit of stick for trying to win a game against Chelsea that we didn’t, strictly speaking, need to win – we were doing fine right up until Steven Gerrard’s slip, however, and Jose Mourinho made Chelsea typically tight from there on in and caught us again on the break late on.  I don’t really think blame can be attributed to any individual.  We were doing all we could do against Palace before possibly thinking of your goal difference advantage and leaving ourselves open – our well-known defensive frailties were clear to see that night.  Devastating.  We came back from behind to win on the final day against Newcastle, in a lacklustre performance, but Big Sam couldn’t do us a favour in Manchester and that was that.
Manuel Pellegrini managed you well last season and Edin Dzeko, in particular, was fantastic during the run-in.

I feel as though the off-season, then the World Cup, then pre-season and all the transfer intrigue has passed really quickly and we’re straight back into the season – in some ways it’s as though I’ve not had time to reflect too much on how it all played out in April/May and perhaps that’s for the best!  That run through February, March, and April provided some of the best football I’ve seen us play, and certainly the best run of results I’ve seen, and the increasing belief than ran through the whole fanbase created such a buzz.  I attended Nicky Allt’s ‘YNWA – The History of Liverpool Football Club’ in late March, learning of Arsenal holding you for to draw whilst queuing – the atmosphere in the Royal Court that night was fantastic and you could sense the growing belief in our title challenge.

Importantly, I believe we’ve got a bigger and better squad, and that our leading players and manager are another season wiser and more mature.  I want that feeling that I had back in spring back again this season – we’re starting from a stronger position this season, I  believe, so there’s already a bedrock of belief there.


Luis Suarez. As much as he will be a loss to the team now that he has gone, did you ever feel his actions tarnished the image of your club? Did you feel the club handled the various controversies in the right manner? Or was he harshly done by?

I’m sure there could be a thousand different answers here!  The thing that I’ve always believed obvious but overlooked is that Luis Suarez’s biggest enemy was himself – any actions that landed him or the Club in trouble were foolish, never malicious.  The incidents with Branislav Ivanovic and, for Uruguay, with Giorgio Chiellini (about which a blog can be found here) came out of momentary idiocy rather than calculated malice but the unusual nature, the repeat offence, and the profile of the player exacerbated the situation.  I was actually surprised that the recent appeal wasn’t looked upon a little more favourably.  I believe Suarez needed supporting back in 2011, but that we went about it in the wrong way.  I actually think that we could have been more supportive in 2013 – that ban was unprecedented and out of step with similar offences.  We then handled the Real Madrid/Arsenal thing very well last summer and to get the season we did out of Suarez, after his clear desire to leave, suggests that the scenario and the player were managed fantastically well.

I thoroughly enjoyed having Luis Suarez as a Red for three and a half seasons – we had a genuine claim to having the world’s best player in our team last season.  It may prove that the timing is right to part company, however – we’ve a young squad seemingly ready to flourish and I’m optimistic without Suarez, just as I would have been with him.


Will his loss damage your title aspirations this season, or do you think other players can take up the slack? Where do you see the team finishing this season?

Losing Suarez would inflict damage upon any team and any squad – what he gave us isn’t something we can buy-in to replace.  That said, there seems a sense that the timing was right for all and I’m optimistic about our ability to challenge again this season and into the future.  Jordan Henderson, Coutinho, and Raheem Sterling are already key players and all can be expected to give more to us this season.  Dejan Lovren, even after just a friendly and a debut against his former club, looks likely to emerge as a defensive leader and our new full-backs will hopefully improve our options compared to last season.  In Emre Can, Adam Lallana, and Lazar Markovic, we’ve strengthened both in terms of quality and quantity – the idea is that all will be challenging for high numbers of appearances this season but we’re fortunate that the team is strong enough to ease the pressure that often immediately burdens expensive new acquisitions.

For me, we ended last season with a team stronger than that of 2008-09 (previously the strongest of ours that I can recall) and I’m pretty confident in saying this is the strongest squad of ours that I’ve seen in my years.  I believe we’ll be competing with Chelsea and yourselves again by early April – and I think that last season (as just one example!) demonstrates that it’s folly to speculate beyond that point of the campaign!


Linked to that: Any areas of the team that need strengthening before the transfer window slams shut?

Presuming that the transfer of Mario Balotelli goes through as expected, I think we’re a very happy fanbase.  Lucas has taken a lot of flak for struggling to regain his 2009-2012 form and many also feel we need a challenger for Simon Mignolet, rather than just a back up.  I can support the argument for another senior goalkeeper coming in but I’m very happy otherwise – I’d be keeping Lucas but, if we were to move him on, I’d hope that we’d move to bring in a replacement as I don’t see anybody beyond Lucas and Steven Gerrard in the squad who can play in that deep position alone.


And expectations in the Champions League? Good to be back?

Fantastic to be back – can’t wait for it to get going (though it’ll play havoc with Redmen TV scheduling and organising Match Previews!).  It feels like it’s been a lifetime since we were eliminated from the 2009-10 Group Stage but, given the way the club was run by the previous owners, it’s remarkable that we’re back so soon really.  I’m hoping we get drawn against the two best possible sides from the first two pots and (caution setting in) the very ‘worst’ from the fourth pot.  It’ll be a big test of Brendan Rodgers and our players – I’m confident they’ll give more than a good account of themselves and that we’ll be enjoying European football in February.


With Sterling carrying on where he left off last season, are there many other youth players we should be looking out for?

Looking at the composition of the squad, it’s difficult to identify anybody outside obvious picks who’s likely to get much of a chance this season – even with European football and, hopefully, longer runs in the domestic cups.  Of those already established, we all expect more significant progression and impact from Henderson, Coutinho, and Sterling, and we’ll be looking for good showings from our new Spanish full-backs, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno.  Jordon Ibe and Suso aside, our most promising youngsters have gone out on loan (Andre Wisdom, Joao Teixeira, and Tiago Ilori), whilst Divock Origi has stayed on at Lille for another season.  Emre Can is extremely highly-regarded back in Germany and looks to have all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League – I reckon he could establish himself a lot quicker than many expect.


Has Brendan Rodgers surpassed your expectations?

That’s hard to answer truthfully.  Time under the previous ownership regime, and the appointment of Hodgson, was just miserable and I don’t really think that Kenny Dalglish would have stayed beyond three or four seasons at the most, so there was a ‘year zero’ feel in 2012.  Rodgers, in the most part, was enthusiastically welcomed and afforded a lot of slack – I guess I, like many, was optimistic and hopeful without necessary letting that become too much of a weighty belief/expectation.  We played some good stuff at the back end of 2012/13 and I think we were all pleased with our expectations to be fighting it out with Arsenal and Spurs for 4th last season, and yet we went on to challenge for the title.  In hindsight, you’d think that last season would be the one where we expected to challenge for a top four slot and this season would be the one where we’d have established a firm belief in ourselves as favourites to break into the Champions League qualification positions – so, if you’ll excuse the paradox, I think we had already surpassed expectations that didn’t exist and we’ve continued to accelerate beyond that point!


United’s recent troubles must have hit you hard?! (smiley face)

Ferguson’s last title looks very impressive in hindsight, doesn’t it (albeit your title defence was meagre at best!)?  Observing David Moyes’ tenure held obvious amusement but it is and was clear that the rot was long established in that squad.  Reality appears to have hit hard this summer with supporters’ expectations from the market proving largely unattainable – though we wait and see what happens in the coming days, of course.  There’s an awful lot of work to be done on the United squad and the pundits’ nearly unanimous agreement that they’d immediately return to the top four would seem to be based more on hope than belief.


Your thoughts on Mario Balotelli possibly signing for Liverpool?

It’s clear that we’ve needed another forward to come in – we’ve plenty who could potentially play the support role (similar to Arjen Robben at the World Cup) in a pairing, in the absence of either Daniel Sturridge or Rickie Lambert, but all are untried after late/disrupted pre-seasons.  There was a bit of desperation creeping in last week – after the Moreno deal had been wrapped up the feeling was that we’d completed what we’d originally planned for our summer business but not moved on to the second phase…replacing our departing forward!  To suddenly see supporters weighing up the comparative merits of Balotelli and Radamel Falcao on Wednesday night felt bizarre and since then everything points to the Italian being confirmed in the coming days.

I’m excited for his arrival – had you asked me on Wednesday, I’d have been leaning towards Falcao but the deal is increasingly making sense to me and I can’t wait for Balotelli to arrive now!  Despite his obvious talent, I expect he’s still got a fair bit of developing to do as a player and there’s much more in terms of goals and dependability that can be brought out of him – I’m hoping that we’re the club where it finally all falls into place.  People will obviously talk about Balotelli’s personality being a concern and possibly a disruptive influence but I’m not worried about that – I think we’ll provide a good environment for him.  Comments by Jonathan Northcroft suggesting that he’s always been popular with teammates and isn’t considered disruptive, and Andrea Pirlo, talking about how he’s matured at Milan, offer further encouragement.  Can’t wait for him to pull on the shirt next weekend!


Are you confident about Liverpool’s future, on and off the pitch?

Yes – very much so.  We’ve got a fantastic young manager who sets his teams out to play attractive and effective football, our captain has decided to focus his footballing efforts solely on the Club, and we’ve got one of the game’s best youngsters in our ranks.  We’ve assembled a highly talented squad brimming with further potential and there’s a belief that this summer will banish any lingering questions that remain about the ‘transfer committee’s’ market prowess.  Perhaps most significantly, work has now commenced behind/on our Main Stand – we’re staying, long-term, at a refurbished and extended Anfield…that makes sense in both heads and hearts.


Finally, your score predictions for Monday’s game.

2-1 away victory.  Sturridge to give us a lead, Kompany to pull one back, and Gerrard to give us the win from the spot!

 

Thanks to Jack for those answers.  The Redmen TV builf-up show for the match can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6Jzve-tirY

Jack can be found on Twitter at @hartejack and you can find the Redmen gang at @TheRedmenTV

 

Mario Balotelli’s Back In English Football? Meh….

Oh no, anything but this. The prodigal son is back, playing for a major rival, ready to wreak havoc. He’ll be their hero, their cause celebre, there will be thrills and spills, crazy goals, excitement galore and us City fans will look on and pine for bygone days, for the memories and wish he was still with us. Right?

Erm, no. I’ll be honest, I think Mario Balotelli moving to Liverpool is the best news possible for Manchester City football fans. I’m guessing most of you disagree. Before unfollowing me on Twitter, bear with me for a little while.

It is undoubtedly true that Mario Balotelli holds a special place in the hearts of many City fans. Not me (fond as I am of the man), but for many others, certainly. Balotelli was a maverick, a character. Crazy stories followed him wherever he went and he was different from the norm, he was and is one of the few footballers that gauges a passionate response when you mention his name. He is certainly box-office material in a sport that needs little publicity. He was a part of a glorious part of our history, for which he deserves our thanks.

All well and good. But whilst football needs characters, personally I’d just prefer if they weren’t at my club, thank you very much. I now prefer to see a squad of professionals winning multiple trophies. Yes, the game would be boring if it was full of Gareth Barrys (this is not a dig at Barry, I should add), but you don’t need “characters” at your club to find eternal happiness. I have had endless joy over the past couple of years watching beautiful football from players I adore that make news for what they do on the pitch, not off it – that is after all what they are paid handsomely to do. David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany are not boring. They provide entertainment in a way that benefits the club they represent. Balotelli’s time at City is largely recalled by what he did off the pitch, or if on the pitch, what he did after a whistle had blown. This is not much of an endorsement for his return, not that he was entirely to blame.

Secretly we do want controversy in football. We love to see a fight, a bad boy, shocking revelations, bust-ups, bad tackles, corruption and sleaze. We love to see them elsewhere. I have had enough of all of those things in my 30+ years of supporting City. Players like Balotelli make the game more interesting, they stir up emotions and occasionally bring a smile to our face, but you don’t get extra points for that. It’s a very cold view of course, that takes sentiment out of the game we love, but I imagine that’s how managers have to assess players when deciding who to buy.
Besides, how much fun did Balotelli bring to the game? There was the “why always me?” T-shirt at Old Trafford (respect for that) and the excellent winding up of Rio Ferdinand an co. after United were defeated at Wembley (I doff my imaginary cap for that), but apart from shouldering a shot into the Norwich net and the uber-coolness of his penalties, I’m struggling. Most the stories bandied about were made up, apart from the endless parking tickets and the darts flying through the air towards youth players. A legend has been built up around a man, a mystique, that largely relies on falsehoods.

As Balotelli reaches the prime years of his career, his value depreciates or stalls with each move. Why would this be, I wonder? If reported figures are true, Milan will recoup pretty much what they paid City for him, but this hardly speaks well of his career in that time that he has not increased in value. What’s more, don’t expect Milan fans to be rioting in the streets protesting at his exit.

Of course there is the argument that this time it will be different. This time he will display his new-found maturity, Brendan Rodgers will take him under his wing, he will stay out of trouble and all will be well. Liverpool have a great psychiatrist as well, he’ll keep Balotelli grounded. The thing is, this is precisely what all his previous managers thought –Mancini, Prandelli, Mourinho et al. Mancini after all was like a father to him, and he ended up scrapping on the training ground.

This piece is not intended as a character assassination, especially considering the obstacles that Balotelli has had placed in his way from an early age. It is entirely understandable if he is not perfect, as none of us are. I am merely trying to assess the pros and cons of signing this particular player.
There is after all another side to all this. There can be little doubt that Balotelli can be one of the greatest strikers in the world. In glimpses we see it every season. In recent seasons Milan fans have seen it more. He started on fire for Milan, but blew hot and cold last season. A good scoring record for Milan tells you what he is capable of, and makes their agreement to sell him on as somewhat questionable.   What’s more, we all know about the ridiculous circus that followed him during his time in England. Various false stories abounded and whilst he often let himself down on the pitch, he was also the recipient of some extremely harsh referring decisions. When Graham Poll is appearing on Talksport decrying his hairstyle, it gives you a good insight into how match officials enter the field with agendas and preconceived ideas. Maybe Balotelli deserves it then. Hey, he doesn’t smile enough for my liking, throw the book at him.
Compare this with some of the preferential treatment England’s golden generation got on the pitch, be it a Scholes mis-timed tackle, a Gerrard lunge or a Rooney elbow.

Journalist Miguel Delaney has called it a possible “moneyball” transfer, in that he is signed relatively cheaply with the intention that his value will increase in the future. But how sure can Liverpool be of this happening? Considering some of the fees paid out for other players who have underwhelmed, perhaps it is not the biggest gamble ever seen. There is also the argument that the stats for Balotelli at City are somewhat misleading as he was not utilised to his full extent – centrally, as a lead striker, the place he is clearly at his most effective. What’s more, at Liverpool, his penalty-taking prowess will get a work-out at least three times a match.
You can see why teams take the risk – a striker with amazing talent for a few million pounds more than Shane Long, it could be a bargain buy (and I like Shane Long). Whatever happens in Balotelli’s career, big clubs will be prepared to take a risk on him at that sort of price. He could be a success, I could be eating humble pie, and I might spend two weeks wiping any evidence of this blog from the internet.

But for all the ridiculous press coverage he received. Balotelli partially brought it on himself. He seemed to get bored easy and his concentration and professionalism waned as a result.  His assist for THAT goal was the only assist for City in his whole time at the club, a damning statistic (still, not a bad time to get it). If you are looking for why Balotelli would be a bad signing, you’re not looking at ability, as he has that in spades. Ability is nothing without application and that’s the key to whether he will be a success at Anfield. I watched him enough to remember swathes of games that passed Balotelli by, periods of play where he got increasingly exasperated and a red card seemed inevitable, not that he has actually been sent off THAT much. He will however be a target from the minute he steps on the pitch because of the reputation he has. After Luis Suarez, you’d think Liverpool would want a replacement who was a tad less controversial  and less likely to hog the headlines.

Either way, this is of little concern to City. Whatever Balotelli does, City had to sell, as the City experiment had failed. It was the right move for both parties, and we should all have moved on by now. A club who has Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure , Dzeko and the rest in its squad does not need to pine for Mario Balotelli. And if he scores against City, then so what? We’ll come up against plenty of ex-players in the coming years and some will do well against us. If they hadn’t played against us then the player in their place might have done even better, so there’s little need for recriminations. It will hurt a bit, but there’s a bigger picture to view.

If Balotelli does succeed, I accept that there will be a tinge of regret. Hey, there may even be one the first time I see him in a Liverpool shirt. I’ll get over it. To be brutal, he’s not a City legend, so there’s no reason for me not to. And whilst I have said that I don’t hold anything against the guy, likeable as he seems to be, I hope he fails miserably as I hope that of any player in a rival’s team. Or at least I hope he doesn’t succeed at City’s expense. At United’s expense? Yeah, that would be fine.

So what I am basically saying is that I am a boring old fart who likes dependable players who never get into trouble. Sorry. I spent endless hours defending Balotelli (my Manchester City 2011/12 season review was little more than a Balotelli blog with the odd league title and derby win thrown in) and I wish him all the best, but I don’t pine for him, or De Jong or Barry, or…
We have the best squad right now that I have ever seen, many of them on fresh new deals that will see them commit for most of their career, and that will do me. Concentrate on them, they’ve earned it.

For Liverpool, they’ll consider it a risk worth taking, as long as they have the squad depth not to be in a position of relying on Balotelli. He pays his way commercially, he is capable of brilliance and if he fails he will still probably recoup most of his fee.

Back in East Manchester, things have changed. City’s new holistic approach suits me down to the ground. A less combustible manager and a squad devoid of the likes of Carlos Tevez,  Mario Balotelli or a shouty Roberto Mancini may be a boring world, but it’s a world that breeds success. I’ll take that any day of the week thanks.
Now if the rumour about Georgios Samaras going to West Brom is true, then that’s an entirely different matter….

Newcastle United 0 Manchester City 2: Some Thoughts

Ah, it’s good to be back, right? Well yes and no. As I sat twitching with nerves at 3:50pm yesterday (“it’s only the first game Howard, get a grip, doesn’t really matter”) I recalled that by May 2014, with a title in the bag, I was ready for a break. Ready to enjoy the World Cup without the stress usually associated with watching a match. Ready to do other things like, erm…well anyway, I was ready for a break.

But by the time the full-time whistle went at St. James Park, I also realised that I had missed the feeling of a City win, the happiness, the camaraderie with those around you and the relief as your team secures a hard-fought three points away from home. I’d missed the feeling, the wave of happiness that rushes over you, a wave not felt by me since I heard that Burtons were bringing back Fish & Chips crisps. I mean, I’d heard the rumours, but…

The important thing was the three points, especially with City’s tricky start to the season, as City secured their 11th successive win over Newcastle. The performances do not matter at this point. The performances tell us nothing about how a team will do in the rest of the season. City had two central defenders with no match practice, a left-back at right back, and their star striker on the bench, and he was joined by a stellar cast. Mangala was no where near ready to feature.

The only thing to note is that with the excellent performance of Fernando, perhaps it’s best not to judge new signings after 30 minutes of a pre-season. friendly, as it makes you look like a bit of a ****. As was mentioned on Match of the Day, Fernando loves to defend, and he was full of energy and lived up to his octopus nickname, wrapping his long legs around the ball on many occasions. He will probably feature more away from home as a screen for the back four.

As a whole, the players performed well. There was rustiness, there was sloppiness, but there were also sporadic spells of exquisite passing and interplay, none more so than for the first goal, which began when Yaya Toure played what the Match Of The Day  commentator called a “lazy pass forward”. City didn’t create much but did a job, and will improve with time.

Dzeko had a great game, leading the line well, setting up the opening goal with an exquisite back-heel and generally working hard. He should have opened the scoring after just a few minutes after a great lobbed pass from Jovetic. Nothing compares though to seeing Sergio back on the pitch, as typified by the speed at which he sprang back to his feet to score the second goal.

It was great to see David Silva on the score sheet. Loathe as I am to criticise my favourite ever player, the man I would renounce friends, family and even my HTC One phone for, but if he has one weakness it is shooting as he seems to lose confidence with the goal in sight, happier to set others up instead. If he can chip in this season with a few goals (and get into double figures) then the team will be an irresistible force going forward (if it isn’t already).

Inevitably there were cries that Newcastle were unlucky not to get something from the game, but the fact is that a team with no shots on target cannot be deemed unlucky to lose. They had a few good sights at goal but they messed up the opportunities so they got what they deserved – nothing.

On the plus side for the home team, Pardew didn’t head-butt anyone, push any officials or insult the opposition manager, so in that respect the day was a success.

As for the referee, he generally had a good game, but the game also highlighted something that could make me fall out of love with the game. In a game with no flashpoints and that was never dirty, City received five yellow cards (they made eleven fouls). Kompany was booked for not jumping out of the way of a player who simply ran into him. A Newcastle player was similarly booked when a player collided with him, but the Newcastle player made no attempt to tackle/foul the City player. The modern game is a joke when handing out yellow cards and plenty of games will turn on stupid cautions like this. It’s turning matches into lotteries.

Paranoia! Liverpool on Match of the Day first! Bias! Prejudice!
Dear Points of View…

Across the city, the summer-long love-in for all-things United came crashing down to the ground in spectacular fashion (such a shame that there isn’t a banner for the fans to fight over this time).
The team Van Gaal put out against Swansea is a pale imitation of the side City put out, and no amount of inspired substitutions, maverick formations (you’d think Van Gaal invented 3-5-2 reading some of the papers), exposing his genitals to players or shouting at journalists will change that. United will spend big on someone in the next fortnight, though probably not on the players they really want, but they need reinforcing in so many areas that it will not be enough. They will be back though, they are a cash cow, so enjoy it whilst it lasts. Funny though that United fans have slowly realised that spending money is the route to success after all – it’s only taken two decades for it to dawn on them, bless.
What’s more, Van Gal’s arrogance/confidence, like Mancini’s confrontational style, only works when things are going well. If things aren’t going well, and if he doesn’t get the players he wants, then it could be divisive. It’s an important fortnight ahead for them.

And so onto Liverpool – get making those tin-foil Premier League trophies. If I was on Room 101, the first thing I’d put in there (after yellow cars, low-hanging pants on youths and Piers Morgan, so the fourth thing really) is Monday Night Football. A blank weekend for City just as the season gets going – it’s not fair.

Top of the league!!

2014/15 – Predictions For The Season

In what Sky Sports are already calling the most exciting season in Premier League history, the 2014/15 promises to be a fascinating nine months as multiple teams challenge for the title, new stars grace the biggest league in the world ever ™, whilst a host of new managers promise to ensure that there’s never a dull moment. With that in mind, here’s my predictions for the upcoming season, from the title race to the relegation battle, the scraps, the arguments, the controversy and the most blatant book-whoring you’re ever likely to see.

As the season approached, Tony Pulis was sensationally sacked by Crystal Palace after he was caught ram-raiding the club shop. A police raid later found over 400 branded bobble-hats and numerous baseball caps in his attic. Two policemen were trapped under a mountain of merchandise for three hours after unwittingly opening a door under the stairs.

A new season brought new hope for all, hope that most had cruelly crushed within a fortnight. Paul Scholes came out of re-re-retirement. “It’s like a new signing for us,” said Louis Van Gaal.

Manchester United target Cesc Fabregas signed for Chelsea. The Telegraph reported that United never submitted a bid as Louis Van Gaal and his coaching staff were not convinced about his ball control.

Arsene Wenger questioned whether Manchester City were bypassing Financial Fair Play rules and sticking two fingers up to Michel Platini after signing Frank Lampard on loan for 6 months.
“This is not right I think, it is something the ruling bodies need to look at, for the good and integrity of the game.”

Brendan Rodgers praises the continued development of Raheem Sterling.
“I have watched Raheem develop from a young kid with only one child to a wonderful man, full of vigour and spunk and the way he runs on the pitch has to be admired, with those lithe limbs and that cheeky smile. I love him. He completes me.”

Rodgers was calm about the hole left by the exit of Luis Suarez: “We are comfortable with the replacements we have brought in here to Anfield. Luis must know that he will never walk alone, but we must move on, as a single entity, as a desire and movement that is above the norm and as a force that belies the traditional viewpoint of football, an essence, a belief, a state of mind. The guy was a nutter anyway.”

Roy-Keane-001

Roy Keane vowed not to shave until Aston Villa next won a match. The beard eventually became a health hazard before Keane suddenly quit his role and disappeared from public life. Eventually he was found foraging for mushrooms whilst living wild in the New Forest.

Arsene Wenger questioned whether Manchester City were bypassing Financial Fair Play rules and sticking two fingers up to Michel Platini after handing a new contract to Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri.
“This is not right I think, it is something the ruling bodies need to look at, for the good and integrity of the game.”

Manchester United target Eliaquim Mangala signed for rivals Manchester City. The Telegraph reported that United never submitted a bid as Louis Van Gaal and his coaching staff were not convinced about his concentration levels.

Sam Allardyce wandered into a press conference sporting only a leopard-skin thong whilst sucking on a turkish pipe, before telling the startled press pack how he had “out-tacticed” Swansea after a 2-1 victory at Upton Park.
Later in the season, Karren Brady saved Allardyce’s life after she administered the Heimlich manoeuvre on him after a piece of gum became lodged in Allardyce’s throat after a Kevin Nolan chicken goal celebration went horribly wrong, breaking Mark Noble’s nose. Allardyce and Nolan left the club soon after.

Across the country, Louis Van Gaal, “The Iron Tulip” (TIT), had his own surprise for journalists as he whacked Olly Holt about the face with his testicles after Holt questioned his 3-5-2 formation against Hull City. Holt was whacked with such force that his alice band was dislodged and fell to the floor. Holt was later seen crying in the first aid room. Sam Wallace later commented that Van Gaal’s testicles were like “huge mangoes that had been left in the sun for too long”. United’s press department declined to comment.

After a throw-in went against his team, Alan Pardew went on a seven-hour rampage around the streets of Newcastle. Having head-butted the 4th official, Pardew destroyed the dugout armed only with a water bottle, before sprinting down the tunnel, out of the ground and into the city centre where he was seen brandishing a sharpened letter-opener with his tie firmly around his forehead. A McDonalds, two Greggs and a B & M Bargains all suffered major damage before Pardew was sedated with a blowpipe.
Pardew later told Sky Sports: “I regret what I did, I’m a passionate man. I’ve had a word with the chairman and we’ve agreed I’ll stay in the dugout in future. I apologise to Louis Van Gaal for comparing him to Butthead.”

The National Football Museum at Urbis proudly announced the second sale of Howard Hockin’s acclaimed 2013/14 Manchester City Season Review book, a mere six months after release. Hockin was said to be “delighted” and “a bit overcome with emotion”.

Manchester United target Arturo Vidal signed a new deal with Juventus. The Telegraph reported that United never submitted a bid as Louis Van Gaal and his coaching staff were not convinced about his upper body strength.

Arsene Wenger questioned whether Manchester City were bypassing Financial Fair Play rules and sticking two fingers up to Michel Platini after opening a new burger stand in City Square.
“This is not right I think, it is something the ruling bodies need to look at, for the good and integrity of the game.”

Manchester United signed a sponsorship deal with Durex, who became the club’s exclusive pregnancy-avoiding partners in South Asia, Oceania and Peru.

After Newcastle lost to Sunderland a Newcastle fan was arrested at Knowsley Safari Park for punching an ostrich.

Harry Redknapp gave an exclusive interview in the QPR car-park, where he complained that the squad was down to the bare bones after only adding 17 players in the summer transfer window.
“We’re up against it, that’s just the way it is you know?” said Harry. “We’ll try and get some more players in, but I leave that sort of thing to the chairman.”
Redknapp’s assistant Glenn Hoddle attracted more criticism after suggesting in a post-match press conference that Richard Dunne’s poor performance may have been due to him being a pimp in a previous life.

QPR though secured a famous victory at Anfield, and Redknapp dedicated the win to his dog that used to be alive, Rosie. “She was more than just a dog,” he said tearfully to a compassionate Martin Tyler.

Joey Barton stubbed an e-cigarette into the eye of a QPR youth player at the club’s Christmas do after the youth player questioned Barton’s views on Friedrich Nietzsche’s essays on life-affirmation and objectivity of truth.

Arsene Wenger took a bold and brave plunge into the market and purchased a new coat, which very much resembled his old one.
He said: “I have never been afraid to spend when necessary. The old coat had developed a small tear in the hood.”

Manchester United target Matt Hummels signed a new deal with Borussia Dortmund. The Telegraph reported that United never submitted a bid as Louis Van Gaal and his coaching staff were not convinced about his pace.

Mark Ogden fainted in a Manchester City press conference after Manuel Pellegrini said something interesting. Alan Irvine was sacked as West Brom manager but no one noticed.

Arsene Wenger questioned whether Manchester City were bypassing Financial Fair Play rules and sticking two fingers up to Michel Platini after painting one of the concourses in the south stand.
“This is not right I think, it is something the ruling bodies need to look at, for the good and integrity of the game.”

Manchester United target Falcao signed on loan for Real Madrid. The Telegraph reported that United never submitted a bid as Louis Van Gaal and his coaching staff were not convinced about his shooting. In January 2015, Ed Woodward jetted off on some urgent transfer business and was never seen again.

Wesley Sneijder was linked with a move to Manchester United. Wayne Rooney handed in his third transfer request before signing a lucrative new contract. Rooney was promised the next manager’s job and unlimited hair.

Ollie Holt was apoplectic after Leicester City change the name of their stadium to the Walkers Extra Ridged Grilled Steak Range Lineker Memorial Stadium.

Chelsea eventually triumphed in a close title race, though Liverpool won the moral victors title for the 2nd season in a row, despite finishing 5th. Brendan Rodgers handed out three envelopes to players after the season ended, but accidentally put his own name on one of the cards. He was forced to quit and later took over Swansea again.

As the season faded into distant memory, Yaya Toure celebrated his 32nd birthday. City hired Wembley Stadium for the occasion, baked a cake that fed 5000, and the Red Arrows flew over the ground spelling out a birthday message. The British government announced a national holiday, a gold-plated Ferrari was presented to the player and each squad member read out a poem they had written expressing their reverence for the Ivorian. Toure’s agent later complained that the cake was undercooked, the Ferrari had no sat-nav and that Toure was considering his future.

Jose Mourinho acted like a cock for nine months.

A Charity Book For Sale: The Bumper Bundle of Manchester City Stories: 2008-14

In 2008, in a land not very far away, an ailing football club down on its luck won the lottery and changed the lives of those around them forever. This book is the story of Manchester City from 2008-14 through the humorous articles I wrote during that time.

It looks at the vitriol the club attracted after they were taken over six years ago as Thaksin Shinawatra fled to the east. It also looks at the wider game, from the role of social media in the modern game to City’s illustrious neighbours down the road, who finally gave City fans something to laugh about over recent years. But most of all, it’s just light-hearted observations on City and football as a whole. And by purchasing this book, you can be assured that all profits will be shared between two wonderful charities:

The Neuro Foundation, which helps people suffering from neurofibromatosis, which is the name for a number of genetic conditions that cause tumours to grow along your nerves, and secondly for Macmillan Cancer Support, who you will probably know more about. </strong>
Contains:
The Bumper Bundle of City Slurs
Football In The Bible
MUTV Listings
How To Be An ITK’er
World Cup 2014 Review
Football’s Worst Clichés
The Louis Van Gaal quiz
And much, much more

Though Amazon randomly change my book prices for no apparent reason, the book has been priced cheaply, but every copy sold should contribute £1.50 towards the two charities.

The book contains five articles not previously published.

The Kindle Version can be found here.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bumper-Bundle-Manchester-City-Stories-ebook/dp/B00MHJQ1XW/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1407478977&amp;sr=8-5&amp;keywords=howard+hockin

The paperback version can be found here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bumper-Bundle-Manchester-City-Stories/dp/1500744085/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1410790297&sr=8-2&keywords=howard+hockin

Thank you…

Thoughts For The Week Part 1 – The Community Shield, Nasri, Mangala & More

So a new season is almost upon us. Thank the lord, for we can all forget the swathe of pointless pre-season friendlies, and I of course include the Community Shield in that list. Sympathies for those that travelled down for the game and felt that the players didn’t give their all, but City fans should be used to football ruining a good day out by now, even if we have been spoiled in recent years. The result was quite predictable, as it was fairly clear that weighed down with the multitude of chips on his shoulder, the game meant more to one of the managers. The worrying aspect of the game is that we will reach the start of the season, and a tricky away game, with a multitude of players not match-fit. You do have to wonder how this situation has been allowed to develop? I accept that the world cup players need a rest, they have earned it, and it is imperative that all players return completely fresh, especially with the many muscle injuries suffered last season, but whilst I can accept the three Argentineans only just returning to training, I don’t understand why the likes of Vincent Kompany and David Silva could not have featured more in the pre-season programme, as their World Cup ended earlier. I’m probably being unduly harsh, but whilst I am certainly not one of those who decry the modern wages of footballers, as it is simply market forces in a global game that makes huge profits, I do feel that one sacrifice that top players have to make is a short holiday every other year. It’s not the biggest of sacrifices, but Pellegrini and his coaching staff see the players every day and we must trust him on this. My concern is that we will spend much of the season playing catch-up again, especially as the early fixtures have not been that kind. As for Arsenal’s voyeur manager, he is beginning to breed fans in his own image, and that’s without considering Piers Morgan. We all know that certain Arsenal fans cannot comprehend any of their players leaving their club to better themselves, so have to invent new reasons usually linked to money. Considering how much Arsenal rip off their fans on match-day, you wouldn’t think money would be an issue. Now Samir Nasri is clearly a precious soul at times, as shown by his fall-out with  Deschamps, but pretty much all he has said us spot on. He is a footballer making career decisions who has no ties to Arsenal (or City for that matter) should he decide to move on. What is even more laughable was a selection of Gunners deriding Nasri and Sagna because their club lost a glorified friendly. I am sure they cried themselves to sleep on Sunday night. nasriparadewave We’re not any better as fans, mind. A minority of Chelsea fans now see one of their greatest ever midfielders a traitor for joining City on loan for six months to keep his fitness, whilst a small number of City fans have already expressed discontent with the performances of Fernando. Do we ever learn? The insinuation from Wenger and others that Lampard has joined City as some Financial Fair Play ruse is utterly laughable, as he was available on a free transfer all summer. Lampard is possibly my favourite Premier League midfielder, but is obviously in the twilight of his career now. He shouldn’t figure too much, but can still offer much on and off the field and it will be a pleasure to see him in a City kit, however briefly. City have a rich tradition of signing players past their best, though previously it was borne out of desperation. Let’s hope Lampard’s stay is more successful than the likes of Maicon, Weah, Fowler et al. At the Community Shield City once more demonstrated that they are considerably weaker without their spine of Kompany, Aguero and Silva, in addition to Toure who doesn’t over-exert himself for such games. I have seen Caballero getting some criticism for Sunday’s performance, though the third goal took a big deflection. Whatever, he has been superb in La Liga for many seasons and will be healthy competition for Hart. I doubt very much he has come to City to sit on the bench. As for Boyata, I am loathe to criticise any City player, and we all know about quotas for home-grown players, but I am mystified as to why he keeps appearing on the pitch. What are we all missing? And finally, it has actually happened. The transfer saga of the summer has ended and Mangala has signed for City. This has dragged on for so long that it looked like Wesley Sneijder would sign for United first, but with 3rd party ownership issues it was never going to be simple. As is often the way with City transfers, rival fans like to add the odd ten million pounds or so onto the transfer fee, and this has proved a great opportunity to do that, with many presuming that City paid over £40m for Mangala using the figure that Porto received for their share of the player. However, this is rather flawed reasoning as City could and probably did negotiate a different figure with the 3rd party owners, and the general consensus is that he cost £32 million. This is still a lot of money for a player that is not considered the finished article, but he will have been extensively scouted, so fingers crossed – we certainly needed to buy a central defender, so that could be the end of the transfer business for the summer, unless Nastastic leaves. ————————————————————– The last finally was a lie – I need to mention a book, unfortunately. The last thing you probably want to read is me pushing another book (understatement of the century), but it is for a good cause. In 2008, in a land not very far away, an ailing football club down on its luck won the lottery and changed the lives of those around them forever. This book is the story of Manchester City from 2008-14 through the humorous articles I wrote during that time. It looks at the vitriol the club attracted after they were taken over six years ago as Thaksin Shinawatra fled to the east. It also looks at the wider game, from the role of social media in the modern game to City’s illustrious neighbours down the road, who finally gave City fans something to laugh about over recent years. But most of all, it’s just light-hearted observations on City and football as a whole. By purchasing this book, you can be assured that all profits will be shared between two wonderful charities: The Neuro Foundation, which helps people suffering from neurofibromatosis, which is the name for a number of genetic conditions that cause tumours to grow along your nerves, and secondly for Macmillan Cancer Support, who you will probably know more about. £1.50 from each sale will go towards the charities. Contains: The Bumper Bundle of City Slurs Football In The Bible MUTV Listings How To Be An ITK’er World Cup 2014 Review The Louis Van Gaal quiz And much, much more (The book contains five articles not previously published.) You can find the book here, available on Kindle: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bumper-Bundle-M … ard+hockin And in paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bumper-Bundle-M … ty+stories Thank you! A share on FB/twitter is always appreciated, I hope you can help towards two great causes and I promise not to mention any books for at least a year……maybe.