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Centurions – Manchester City 2017/18 Season Review – out NOW in paperback & Kindle Versions

By Howard Hockin

 

The centurions.

A hundred points and over a hundred goals for the greatest Premier League team of them all.

This was the season that Pep Guardiola’s philosophies came to fruition, as he cracked the Premier League, and his team broke records on an almost weekly basis. It was the season where that his vision was acknowledged on the pitch and off it, and it left all the competition trailing in their wake.

So take a look back at a historic season as chronicled week by week, with thoughts on every match, spoof articles, a look at the wider game, journalist Q & As, player ratings, season highlights and much more besides. It was a season with some downs but many more ups for Manchester City fans everywhere.

It’s a season you’ll want to re-live over and over again.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Centurions-Manchester-City-Season-Review/dp/1717562086/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528907210&sr=8-1&keywords=Howard+hockin

Manchester City, The Premier League & More…. An End Of Season Journalist Q & A

With the title seemingly sewn up by the start of the year, has this been one of the drabbest Premier League seasons to cover as a journalist/football fan?

James Ducker: Drab? Manchester City may have sauntered to the title and turned what is supposed to be the most competitive league in Europe into a version of the Scottish top flight but the quality of their football has been arresting and, for this observer whose job it is to cover Manchester, a privilege to report on at times. It’s hard to beat a nip and tuck title race or a frenetic relegation battle that goes to the final day, but while there have been better and more entertaining campaigns than this, it certainly hasn’t been drab. Some of the games between the top six have been the best I can remember – Liverpool 4 City 3, City 2 Manchester United 3, City 4 Spurs 1, Arsenal 1 United 3, Arsenal 3 Liverpool 3, Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2, Chelsea 1 Spurs 3 and so on. Plenty of thrillers in there.

Oliver Kay: It feels as if proper title races have gone out of fashion. There have been so many one-horse races over recent seasons. We won’t remember too many classic tussles this season, but we will remember the quality of City’s football, which has been superb.

Mark Ogden:  I’m not sure I’d describe it as drab. Some of the football played by City, Spurs and Liverpool has been exceptional, a real raising of standards, but it has been predictable in the Premier League due to City’s dominance.

Simon Mullock: Not for me. I think a lot of people – especially some of my fellow football hacks – have had their eyes opened by the way Guardiola has imposed his philosophy on the Premier League when the common perception was that he couldn’t do it his way. I’m hoping it will prove to be a watershed moment for English football and that other top-flight managers will come up with something a bit more sophisticated than sitting 11 players behind the ball in the hope they’ll get lucky

Did you think at the start of the season that this would be one of the most competitive seasons yet?

James Ducker: I can barely remember what I did last week, let alone what I thought at the start of the season but I’m sure I expected the title race to be more competitive than it ultimately proved. Arsenal’s demise doesn’t surprise me in the slightest but I expected Chelsea to make a better job of their title defence, even if problems were brewing there last summer, and I thought Spurs would make a better fist of things after their strong showing in the second half of last season. United? Second is a marked improvement on last season’s sixth but their football has been hard to warm to and there have been some wretched defeats. The bottom half of the table has been very competitive – only five points separate 10th and 17th.

Oliver Kay: We’ve seen and heard a lot of revisionism since the start of the season. I tipped City to win the league – I even placed a disappointingly small bet on them breaking the Premier League goalscoring record – but I don’t think I or anyone else was expecting them to win it by 20-odd points. For a team to be so far ahead of the rest, you would imagine everyone else must have been terribly disappointing (as indeed has been the case in a few of the recent one-horse races), yet Liverpool and Tottenham fans are delighted with their progress. Many United fans (not all) will tell you this season has been a season of great progress. Chelsea looked strong until the New Year. Yet City have won it by a country mile with a record number of goals. That’s seriously impressive, no matter how desperate people might be try to “normalise” it.

Sam Lee: I thought United would be closer but Guardiola gelled the City team together better than I expected. Didn’t expect too much from anybody else.

Mark Ogden: I thought City and United would dominate, so I was half-right! But as disappointing as United have been, they’re still second, which again highlights the lack of quality in the league. This is not a good United team by any means, but they’re still runners-up.
As for next season, I can’t see beyond City, United and Liverpool. Spurs look to have missed their moment, Arsenal are in a mess and Chelsea’s recent signings suggest that Abramovich is losing interest.

Simon Mullock: I quietly thought that City would win the title with plenty to spare – but I’ve still been amazed at how dominant they’ve been. If you looked at the relative individual merits of the City, United, Chelsea, Tottenham squads last summer there didn’t seem to be a lot in it. But the improvement Guardiola has coached from his players, both individually and collectively, has been amazing.

Now it has finished – is the quality of this league very good, or is there a huge chasm between a few teams and the rest?

James Ducker: I think a lot of teams in the bottom half of the  table are probably pretty interchangeable with many sides in the top half of the Championship. The three promoted clubs, Huddersfield, Brighton and Newcastle have all stayed up and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Wolves and Cardiff stayed up next season. The gulf between the top six and the rest seems wider than ever, even accounting for Arsenal’s worst season for a very long time. It’s almost like a mini league within a league and I suspect that chasm will become increasingly pronounced over the coming years and perhaps, in time, lead to a breakaway.

Oliver Kay: There’s a huge gap. And it’s a big problem throughout Europe. It’s the way the game has gone over the two past decades – Champions League income, the big “brand” clubs getting bigger and more powerful, the petrodollar clubs emerging – and it leaves an unassailable gap between the super-rich clubs and the rest. I know we had that crazy season in 2015/16, when Leicester came from nowhere to win it, but that was the exception. A “big six” club can perform miserably, going through the motions, and still finish above the best of the rest, which in this case is a Burnley team competing at its very limits. Smaller clubs might have two or three years of punching above their weight, but ultimately their best players move to clubs higher up the food chain, reality sinks in and they drop down again. It’s not healthy – and what really isn’t healthy is that those bigger, richer clubs are demanding a greater share of the TV money in future.
City are one of the main movers behind that. You’ll have detected my admiration for the football they’re playing, but I can’t stand City’s the-rich-must-get-richer attitude. It’s the kind of big-club arrogance the club and indeed their fans always hated when they were on the other side of the debate.

Sam Lee: There’s a huge chasm, yeah. Anything below the top six is generally poor, and even then Arsenal are on some kind of island of their own – better than the teams below them but nowhere near the five above. I think the relegation battle goes to show the lack of coaching in the top flight. The teams in the bottom three (as it stands today)  have got better quality players than Newcastle, Huddersfield and Brighton, but those teams have done enough, in the cases of Newcastle and Brighton a lot of that is down to their coaching. In reality, however, while avoiding relegation is obviously an achievement, a lot of the bottom half have been shocking, and while they will stay up, they are merely less bad than the bottom three, who are truly terrible. So yeah, a lack of quality and a lack of quality coaching.

Mark Ogden: I think the league is weaker than it has been for a while and that has been highlighted by City’s huge winning margin. That is not to take anything away from City, who have been off the scale at times, because you can only beat what is in front of you.
It’s not City’s fault if teams like Newcastle and Chelsea (Chelsea!!) decide to play for a draw before a ball has even been kicked.

Simon Mullock: I think the top five teams are as strong as they have ever been in the Premier League. A little bit of a myth has developed that in every season there was always three or four teams good enough to win the title, when in reality it was usually a shoot-out between two clubs or just one team running away with it. The fact that United can beat every team in the division at least once – and still be miles off the top points-wise illustrates how high the bar has been raised. Liverpool are in the Champions League Final, Tottenham battered Real Madrid and were the better team for two-and-a-half hours of their two games against Juventus, while Chelsea can still beat anyone on their day.
Unfortunately, the standard of teams outside the top five has really dropped off. Arsenal are even more Arsenal than they’ve ever been and Burnley have broken into the top seven playing an extremely functional style. That’s not a criticism, because I think Sean Dyche is doing a brilliant job with the resources at his disposal. But Everton in eighth says a lot about the in-depth quality of the Premier League.

Your thoughts on Pep – spent a lot, run away with league. How do you quantify his level of success this season?

James Ducker: Spending a lot of money certainly helps but it’s no guarantee of success. United have spent more than £615 million since Sir Alex Ferguson retired five years ago and still look a long way off being a title or Champions League winning side. Even City, for several years before Guardiola arrived, were flailing in the transfer market. Under Guardiola, they’ve bought well in the main and clearly identified the areas of the side that needed surgery but it’s the uplift he’s brought in players he inherited that has stood out for me. It’s not just player with clear scope for improvement, though, like Nicolas Otamendi or Raheem Sterling. It’s the improvement in players who were already top drawer – David Silva being the most obvious example. He’s 32 now and has just had the best season of his career. What Guardiola has done this season in the Premier League is extraordinary.

Oliver Kay: Absolutely superb. Yes he has spent a lot, but they haven’t just run away with the league, as other teams have done in recent years. It has been a masterclass. They have played his way – the way so many were people so desperate to tell him wasn’t possible in the Premier League – and they have dominated from start to finish. I know there are a lot of Pep-deniers out there who like to think he has done nothing more than wave a few big cheques around, but that’s ludicrous. Look at the way they play. His philosophy and vision shines through everything they do. That’s coaching, not chequebook management.

Sam Lee: Plenty of people were saying his style could never work over here and even his biggest admirers probably didn’t think he could get it to work so impressively, so quickly, so let’s not put it down to money or the quality of his players. As we’ve seen countless times, money does not guarantee success, and the kind of performances that City have put in so regularly are testament to Guardiola’s coaching ability.

Mark Ogden: He also spent a lot of money the year before and came fourth, so it’s not all about money. He signed good players and made them better – that’s not a bad formula, is it?
Sometimes, people can over-complicate their analysis and attempt to identify some hidden X-factor, but ultimately, it’s a simple game and Pep has transformed City by making his players better.
Players don’t get better if you confuse them or bombard them with tactical changes – just look how United performed under Louis van Gaal!

Simon Mullock: Guardiola has spent a fortune and there’s no getting around the fact that if he hadn’t been given the money then City wouldn’t be champions. But it’s a bit lazy to suggest that winning the title by almost 20 points is all about the dough when you compare Guardiola’s spending to what Mourinho has wasted.
And the reality is that almost every single City player has improved. Think of the current values of Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Gabriel Jesus and Ederson and compare them with how much United would get back for Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof.

Does Pep have an issue with the Champions League? Does he overthink things sometimes?

James Ducker: I was pretty critical of the performance over two legs of the quarter final defeat to Liverpool and the concern for Guardiola is how, for the past five seasons now, his teams (first Bayern Munich, now City) have conceded flurries of goals in 15, 20 minutes bursts and ended up losing a significant number of games pretty heavily. I admire and love his determination to play on the front foot but he’s not been to the Champions League final since last winning it with Barcelona in 2011 so maybe there are small adjustments he needs to make. I suspect City will go close in the competition next season, though.

Oliver Kay: One thing I couldn’t understand was that when City went out, some suggested it was because he wasn’t flexible enough – no Plan B etc. If anything, I thought the problem was that he veered away from Plan A, because he was fearful of Liverpool’s forward line. I felt before the first leg at Anfield that Jurgen Klopp must have been delighted when he saw the City team – Gundogan out wide, Laporte at left-back, no Sterling. I felt he did overthink that. It was the one time all season he showed fear, which perhaps planted a seed of uncertainty in his players’ minds.
As for whether he has an issue with the Champions League, no I don’t think he does. He hasn’t won it since 2011, but it’s a knockout tournament and the best team doesn’t always win. Are Zidane and Ancelotti better coaches/managers than Guardiola? You would struggle to persuade me so.

Sam Lee: I’m not sure he has any more of an issue with the Champions League as any other manager (apart from Zidane, incredibly). He overthinks things at times, yeah, but the argument regarding him in the Champions League has always been skewed – he’s won two but even going back three or four years that was seemingly not going to be enough. Those standards were never applied to Ferguson, for example, who is widely (and fairly) regarded as the best ever. If you look at his record since leaving Barcelona he had two blow-outs (one where he abandoned his usual tactics, one where he went more radical than ever (overthinking), and one which was very unlucky, the kind you get in cups. At City he was in his overhaul season, which I think is fair enough, and this year he overthought it at Anfield.

Mark Ogden: I wouldn’t say that he over-thinks, I just believe that you come up against great coaches and great players at the business end of the Champions League and the ties can go either way.
It’s fine margins. City would have gone on to knock Liverpool out if that goal had stood before half-time at the Etihad, but it didn’t and Liverpool recovered.
Maybe Pep needs to be a bit more cautious in the latter stages. You can’t be cavalier against teams that can hurt you, and are prepared to take you on in a way that the majority of the Premier League clubs are too frightened to do.
His Bayern teams also suffered heavy defeats in the semi-finals under Pep, so maybe his flaw is that he doesn’t think enough about the defensive side of the game when faced with top opponents.

Simon Mullock: It’s easy to suggest that the Champions League has become Pep’s Achilles heel. But in a way a lot of that is down to the ease with which he won the European title at Barcelona. But the biggest games are decided by the smallest margins and I really do think Guardiola was spooked when he was drawn against Klopp’s Liverpool. His mantra has always been that he sticks by his belief no matter what. But after successive defeats at Anfield in the Premier League, he tried to change too much for that first leg because I think he thought Klopp had his number. For once, City didn’t look organised and by the they settled, they were 3-0 down and it was game over. Even so, he was still only a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions away from turning it around.

Salah a worthy winner for Player of the Year?

James Ducker: Yes, he’s had a wonderful season, but I think Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva would have been worthy winners, too. I voted for De Bruyne in the FWA awards on the basis that he has been the driving force in a team that has steamrollered the opposition and set a new Premier League points record. But Salah is a far, far, far, far, far more worthy winner than David Ginola when he won the award in the year United won the treble.

Oliver Kay: Yes – just as De Bruyne would have been. I felt all season I was going to go for De Bruyne for the Football Writers’ Association’s award, but Salah’s performances in the final month or so swung it for me, particularly in the Champions League. I don’t know why so many City fans have been so outraged by this. It’s an individual award. It’s subjective. The vote was a tight one. De Bruyne has been exceptionally good. So has Salah. They can’t both win.

Sam Lee: Just about. But De Bruyne would’ve been too.

Mark Ogden: Absolutely. Kevin De Bruyne would also have been a worthy winner, too.
I voted for Salah because he stepped up a gear when it really mattered and became unstoppable with his goals.
De Bruyne flat-lined a bit after the end of January and it coincided with City’s mini-slump and it is about what the player does from August to May, so Salah deserved it in the end.
He is a potential Ballon d’Or winner this year and, to be honest, it needed something that special to beat De Bruyne.

Simon Mullock: It’s hard to argue against anyone who scores 40-plus goals in a season but I’m still going to put the case for why I voted for Kevin De Bruyne. I’ve seen strikers have hugely prolific seasons before – Shearer, Cole, Ronaldo – but what I have never witnessed is a midfielder dominate an entire season with the majesty of De Bruyne.

And who should win the award for Manager of the Year?

James Ducker: Guardiola. Sean Dyche has done a superb job with Burnley, Chris Hughton and Rafael Benitez the same at Brighton and Newcastle respectively and David Wagner has worked wonders keeping Huddersfield in the top flight but Guardiola’s achievement, both in terms of the number of points and goals, and the way City have been plundered has been quite brilliant.

Oliver Kay: I wrote a column about how, despite the brilliant performances by Dyche at Burnley and Wagner at Huddersfield, Guardiola should be manager of the year. The responses were unsurprising: “Look how much he’s spent,” “Could he do what Dyche has done?” And yes he has spent fortunes and, yes, I would have certain doubts about whether he could take a more limited squad to seventh in the table, when his way of working is so much about elite performance. But let’s flip the question. Could Dyche or Wagner or indeed Pochettino or Mourinho or whoever else do what Guardiola has done – even with that transfer budget? I doubt it. If anyone looks at City’s performance this season and cannot see the impact of the coaching, individually and collectively, well, they must be wearing blinkers.

Sam Lee: Pep

Mark Ogden: Sean Dyche – on the basis that he massively over-performed with a Burnley team that works with the lowest budget in the Premier League.
Pep has met expectations at City – you could be harsh and say that he has maybe under-delivered because of the Champions League exit – and I think you have to put Dyche’s achievement into context.
To get Burnley into the Europa League is astonishing.

Simon Mullock: City (and Liverpool) fans should not be too disparaging about what managers like Dyche, Benitez, Wagner and Hughton have achieved this season. But after taking a wrecking ball to so many Premier League myths, it has to be Guardiola, hasn’t it?

As a journalist, what has been your best personal experience of the season?

James Ducker: I enjoyed interviewing Benjamin Mendy in September, the derby at the Etihad was crazy and chaotic in the way you want football to be and City’s 7-2 win with Stoke sticks with me, not least because it’s remarkable Fernandinho could stick one in from 30 yards and the goal still not make the top three in the game. Liverpool’s 5-2 over Roma was some game to be at.

Oliver Kay: If there was a stand-out occasion, then I’m tempted to say Liverpool v Roma in the Champions League. A stand-out performance? That would be any one of about a dozen from City. But one thing I really regret is that I didn’t go to Accrington Stanley for the match when they secured promotion from League Two. I was close to going, but I couldn’t make it. It sounded amazing. I love nights like that.

Mark Ogden: Being in Milan for Italy v Sweden on the night that Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup was a good one – not that I wanted Italy to miss out.
It was just one of those weird nights when you felt that you were witnessing a real moment.
The silence of the San Siro in the final 20 minutes, and the way the crowd left in silence and just drifted away, was the opposite of what I expected.

Simon Mullock: Liverpool’s blitzing of City and Roma at Anfield in the Champions League were both mightily impressive.

And your worst?

James Ducker: The ever increasing number of hoops you have to jump through as a journalist. Oh for the days when reporters could pitch up at a training ground and talk to any player they want.

Oliver Kay: Nobody wants to hear a football writer moaning, do they? I don’t think we would get much sympathy.

Mark Ogden: Denmark v Rep Ireland in Copenhagen. 0-0, freezing cold, nothing happened and no Ubers or taxis after the game, so had to walk three miles back to the hotel at midnight.
First World problems and all that, but that was a particular low point…

Simon Mullock: Press officers and the growth of club media. Not all press officers, by any means, but many of them see it as their duty to put up as many barriers as possible in the belief that fans are happy to be spoon fed sanitised, monotonous, cringe-worthy crap from in-house media platforms.

The World Cup – how excited are you? And who will be the contenders?

James Ducker: Excited probably isn’t the word but I’m definitely intrigued. I’ll be based in the south of Russia – Sochi, Rostov. I think any one of Germany, Spain, Brazil or Belgium will win it. If Messi is at his absolute best, Argentina will have a chance. If he’s not, I think it would be a tall order for them to lift the trophy.

Oliver Kay: Am I allowed to say that I’m not quite as excited as I have been in the past? I think that’s for two reasons. One is that it’s part of growing older (though 2010 and 2014 both had a certain exotic appeal in South Africa and Brazil respectively). The other is that club football is so all-consuming now. Is international football the pinnacle of the game? I like to think so, but deep down it’s hard to convince yourself of that. As for the contenders, I’ll say France, Spain and Germany. If I had to pick one, I’ll default to Germany, like I usually do.

Sam Lee: I’m a bit apprehensive about it – 2010 was awful, 2014 started off well but was pretty hard going by the end. I think most teams will be too defensive, and VAR will probably ruin it. I’m looking forward to going and covering it as an event, but I’m not sure about the overall quality/enjoyment of the tournament.

Mark Ogden: I wouldn’t say I’m excited by the World Cup. You lose that child-like enthusiasm, sadly, and there is a real lack of mystery these days because virtually every team or player is known or familiar.
I just hope that surprises emerge and a new generation of players and coaches take over.
Contenders? The usual suspects – Germany, Brazil, France, Spain.

Simon Mullock: I’ll be based in Kazan, Saransk and Samara. So I’ll let you gauge my level of excitement just in case the Russian Embassy reads this and decides to revoke my visa. It’ll be the usual suspects: Germany, Spain, Brazil, France, Argentina. I’m going for Brazil to win it now they have realised that sometimes in football you have to defend.

Do England stand any chance of progressing to the latter stages of the tournament?

James Ducker: I never expect much from England because history suggests it’s daft to. I’m pretty certain (I think) they will get out of their group but, after that, who knows. The biggest concern for me is they don’t really have much in central midfield and aren’t particularly strong at centre half either.

Oliver Kay: They do – largely because the draw is favourable. They have some good players, talented players, but I don’t feel they’ve developed into anything resembling a cohesive team yet. If they had had a tough draw, as they did in 2014, I would be all doom and gloom. But the draw gives them a strong chance of getting the group and a decent chance of making the quarter-finals.

Sam Lee: No

Mark Ogden: They should get out of the group, but a second round game against the likes of Colombia, Senegal or Poland could be tricky.
The draw has them meeting either Brazil or Germany in the quarter-finals and I just can’t see how they could beat either of those.

Simon Mullock: We should get through the group – and if that happens then the optimist in me would expect us to get past one of either Poland, Senegal, Colombia or Japan in the last 16. Beyond that? Nah.

Next season – should Liverpool now be seen as Manchester City’s main contenders for the title? And what can Mourinho do to catch up? (essentially, how do you see future seasons panning out at the top?)

James Ducker: I’ve not seen much of Naby Keita but he’s supposed to be pretty good so maybe he will improve Liverpool. They still need more in defence. If they get that in the summer and gain more strength in depth then perhaps they will mount a more sustained challenge. I don’t really know where to start with United and what to expect from them next season. City will still be the team to beat.

Oliver Kay: I would expect the main challenge to come from United. I haven’t exactly been blown away by Mourinho’s work so far at Old Trafford, and Liverpool and Tottenham show much more encouraging signs in a lot of ways, but United have improved. They will have a big budget again this summer and if he has got a clearer vision of what he wants to do with the team, then they should make a more serious challenge. The encouraging thing for United and the rest is that it will be hard for City to produce this kind of unrelenting quality next season.

Sam Lee: Yeah I think Liverpool will be closer, but they still need to do a lot to match City’s level – as long as City don’t drop back. If City improve then nobody has any chance. United need some full-backs and probably another midfielder but Mourinho needs to get more out of them as a unit and it’s the same case as Liverpool really – they need some more players but they also need to cut out the disappointing performances, and I’m not sure either Klopp or Mourinho can do that. It all depends on whether City get better or worse.

Mark Ogden: I think we need to see what happens this summer first. Will Real Madrid make a £200m bid for Salah? Will City’s players be knackered after the World Cup – their squad will be hit hard because they have Brazilians, Spaniards, Germans etc?
United will also spend, but will they lose somebody like De Gea or Pogba?
But as it stands, it’s between City, United and Liverpool for me.

Simon Mullock: I think the challenge to City will come from Anfield and Old Trafford, because Chelsea and Arsenal need a reboot, and it looks like Mauricio Pochettino is realising that Tottenham are probably as good as they are ever going to be.
As we’ve seen, Liverpool on their day are a team capable of beating City over 90 minutes. I am excited by their capture of Naby Keita, and Klopp will have a big budget after selling Coutinho and reaching the Champions League Final. But unless they make three or four really top signings I still think they are a couple of years away from having a squad that can do it over 38 games.
Mourinho will do what Mourinho does: spend money on players at their peak in the belief that if you have 11 world-class footballers and a manager who is a proven winner then you can’t go wrong.
But what I am also confident about is that City are still nowhere near the level that Guardiola will take them to. And that’s a frightening prospect

Very briefly – VAR – what future should it have?

James Ducker: I agree it needs more testing. If they can get to a point where it’s as effective as the goal decision system then it will be a force for good.

Oliver Kay: I can’t quite make my mind up about it. I had an instinctive dislike of the idea, on the purist basis that football should be the same from the Champions League to Sunday League, but by the time the trials started, I thought I was probably just about ready for it. But … it’s not great, is it? All that faffing about and still nobody is happy with the decisions. It should become quicker and slicker as the refs and the VARs get used to it, but, unless there’s a big improvement, I could live without it.

Sam Lee: Bin it.

Mark Ogden: A big one. Let’s not forget, this season has been a trial run designed to test it and identify flaws. It was also going to be beset by teething problems.
Fans need to be more aware of what is going on in stadiums and the decisions have to be resolved much quicker – maybe have a 30 second time limit.
But it’s here to stay, so get used to it.

Simon Mullock: I didn’t want it introduced because I’ve always thought that football is like life – and sometimes you just get the shitty end of the stick. Once it came in I assumed that it would be rolled out right across the game, but UEFA and the Premier League aren’t convinced so maybe not. It will be interesting to see how VAR operates during the World Cup and whether showing the replays on big screens in the stadiums will help to reduce the problems we’ve seen so far.

Finally, Safe Standing – will we ever see it in the Premier League? Is this simply a government blocking issue?

James Ducker: I think we’ll see it one day and I hope we do but it could be many years yet.

Oliver Kay: I’m in favour of It, but I’ve never been convinced that clubs (with a few exceptions) or the football authorities are quite as enthusiastic about it as they suggest. It would be quite a U-turn after years of actively chasing the corporate market, pricing long-standing fans out of the game. I would love to see it happen, but I’m yet to be convinced that it’s something that the clubs (again, with a few exceptions) are prepared to push hard for.

Sam Lee: I hope we do but it’s obvious there is a lot of opposition. I don’t hold out much hope for the government discussion in June to be honest, so if it does come in I don’t think it will be any time soon.

Mark Ogden: Yes, it will happen. It makes no sense that you can have in Scotland, but not in England. If it’s safe at Celtic, why is it dangerous at the Etihad?
Somebody in football once told me that no government would sanction it because it would be like raising the speed limit and then being blamed for more accidents at 80 mph. They just don’t want to engage on it, but they will sooner or later.

Simon Mullock: The suggestion that the majority of Premier League fans aren’t interested made me think that whoever conducted that particular poll had massaged the result by targeting supporters who wouldn’t want to stand even if they had the option. In a way, I think the utter stupidity of expecting fans to swallow that kind of crap will actually help the safe standing campaign.

 

Thanks to all the journalists that took their time out to answer questions..

Manchester City 2017/18 Season Ticket Prices: My Outrage At The Meagre Rises

Tuesday morning, 10am. The moment of truth. That feeling in my stomach I get when an email arrives telling me if my loan application has been accepted. I know the answer before I click on the mouse button.
And once more I opened an email, a different type of email, knowing what to expect, and I was not surprised.

The rumours, for once, were true, kind of. Manchester City had released season ticket prices for the 207/18 season, and prices had risen by an average of 2.5% it seemed, though 5% was the initial rumour. A few freezes, a few rises more than 2.5%. Prices decided by a random number generator it seems.

I don’t need to read a single line of the club blurb to know the justification that the club will present to fans for the rise – competitive prices, especially compared to rival clubs, monthly payments, cheap seats available, help the club compete blah blah blah.

My ticket is well-priced, the rise manageable, just £10 spread out over a year, but for me that misses the point. And whilst 2.5% on £380 is peanuts, it’s obviously more the greater the cost of the season ticket. It will be £40+ for some.

For the outlay on the team, the last three years have been rather underwhelming. Hey, that’s football, I for one don’t demand success, but coming off 36 months that has largely flattered to deceive, the club could have made a gesture. The country is on its arse, many long-standing fans have already been priced out of attending, times are hard for so many, and a club owned by billionaires that has raised revenue to one of the largest in Europe away from match-day revenue and will only raise it further in the coming years could have helped the fans and made a gesture. With Pep Guardiola reportedly complaining about the atmosphere and demanding Txiki sort the problems, then whoever makes such decisions goes and raises prices, a move that will dull the “match day experience” even more.
So with expanding corporate areas, tunnel clubs and tyre sponsors, no rise was needed. Piss off the fans and drive them away, and the atmosphere gets even worse. Reduce prices and they get the full house they desire every match, they make more money on the day, the atmosphere improves, some deserters may return and the home form might even get better.

Let’s cut to the chase. What the f**k were they thinking when they decided to do this? All those club surveys all the feedback gratefully received, the supposed monitoring of online forums. To hell with it all, eh? It’s a PR disaster from the club, the equivalent of putting Bobby Charlton in charge of the ticket office.

The key point for me is this: the money gained from each rise is irrelevant – meaningless. A loss of support from the fans for such meagre gains. With each passing year at City, with each rise in commercial revenue and with each TV deal, ticket sales comprise a smaller wedge of City’s total revenue – I have heard that it currently accounts for 15%.
All of City’s match day revenue could have been covered for a year just by the rise in the last TV deal – not all the revenue from the TV deal, just the increase compared to the previous one. With that in mind, consider how much difference a 2.5% rise makes to City’s ability to compete. It’s a televised game (or part of one), it’s helping pay one of our 70 loaned out players’ wages for a few months, it’s putting revenue up by a fraction of one percent. Worth it, City?
Paying for Messi? It would barely cover the private jet over here, let alone his digs at the Lowry as he acclimatises to horizontal rain and four seasons in a day.
Let’s not forget that the difference between finishing 3rd and 4th in the Premier League is £2m for starters, more than double what these rises will bring in. Fall to fifth and City could have taken a chunk off ticket prices and it would lose them no more than the drop in league positions. And still that stupid Platinum scheme persists, allowing loyalty to be bought, and still prices for single purchases are the most exorbitant of all.

Football fans like to make gestures, most of them empty threats. Never getting Sky again because it’s all United fans on the panels. Nor BT, biased arses. Not buying a Sharp product, never having a red car.
As I said, mostly futile nonsense. But for those that were already disillusioned with modern football, even a small price rise could be the final straw, the tipping point that makes a minority of fans decide not to renew, to commit their weekends to B & Q, garden centres and Football Focus. Others will drop out of cup schemes instead, so any money gained will be lost elsewhere, attendances for the smaller games will dwindle and the empty seat counters’ heads will explode with glee.

We must stop the idea that fans are there to be fleeced – that if a price is affordable, it is acceptable. Of course my season ticket, at £390, to watch the best set of players I have witnessed, is good value. Of course a £10 price increase, spread over 10 months is affordable, whatever my wage. But I’m sorry, that’s not good enough. Fans have spent 30 years being fleeced by their clubs, who knew they had a monopoly and a near-captive audience. Ticket prices have increased by almost 1000% since the 1980’s and we all accepted it. Thankfully in recent years, once we ignore the pitiful bedroom-dwelling banter boys counting empty seats, many have said enough is enough, and have given up or fought back.

So yeah, this small rise means nothing in the scheme of things. It’s the price of one takeaway, a padded cinema seat (only the best for me), or a medium coke in the foyer. But I’m not going to shrug my shoulders this time and move on.

The rise makes no commercial sense. You wonder how City’s decision makers sat down and came to this decision. The need to get that revenue creeping up, come what may? Cos this will make a huge difference! Small increases are a classic tactic to creep the prices up, but I’m not sure City have read the situation very well on this occasion. Not everyone has had a rise either – it seems from early indications, as I type furiously without the full facts to hand, that the £299 seats have remained at the same price. Nice move by City says the cynic in me (that’s basically all of me), as they can still claim to have some of the cheapest seats in the Premier League. Expect this price to continue to figure prominently on all promotional material.

And that’s what frustrates me when it boils down to it. This was a missed opportunity. Other teams are announcing price freezes – they understand the economic situation, they see where the game is heading if they keep making football more and more expensive to attend. Even the kings of leeches over at Old Trafford have frozen season ticket prices for many years now. So did City look at the situation and come to the same conclusion? No, they managed to somehow antagonise fans with little gain for themselves – rises too small to make any noticeable difference to the business model, but rises nevertheless that will piss off sections of our fan base.

I’m aware this comes across as whiny, ungracious snowflake behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, I love what our owners have done for this club – it’s changed everything, my experiences have been transformed, probably forever. The club have done many wonderful things, and priced many tickets well, especially in cup competitions – and the prices for the 3rd tier of the south stand could not be disagreed with – they were spot on.  Monthly payments was a life-saver for me, an excellent change from the powers that be, and new age price bands for next season seem to have helped a few too. Credit where credit is due.

In the early days after the takeover, I felt the owners’ wealth gave them a wonderful opportunity to do some different, unique, for City fans, to lower prices to ridiculous levels – Financial Fair Play probably stopped any notion of that dead in its tracks anyway, but now, with record revenue and further riches guaranteed, a small gesture would not only have been welcomed, placating the fan base, but would not have damaged the team on the pitch. Levante are giving regular attenders free season tickets next season, but it seems City can’t even freeze their prices.
I just don’t get it. It seems you can’t even personalise your card anymore either, so sourcing that picture of the 1981 team photo was a complete waste of time too. Still, frees room for a new sponsor on the back of the cards.

That was a long whine for a £1 monthly rise on something I commit so much of my spare time too. If you’re happy with prices I would not wish to persuade you otherwise, I neither expect nor demand universal outrage over a 2.5% price rise that precedes another £150m summer spending spree. But it is so frustrating to me. This club could be different, it could be better than the rest. And it could be that with little or no sacrifice. It chose not to for the price of a scoreboard.

Still, can’t wait for the first game in August.

My Xmas Present To Pep Guardiola: A Guide To Stan Collymore

It’s been another tumultuous week in the short life of Manchester City football club, not least when Pep Guardiola became embroiled in the latest of a number of manager/pundit/ex-player spats. What this has shown, apart from the fact that the media likes to stir up spats – no surprise there – is that ex-player pundits seem to have remarkably thin skins, getting irate even at non-existent sleights.
If you can’t take it, don’t hand it out. Players have freedom of speech the last I heard.

At City, a short clip, little longer than a vine, was misinterpreted as Pep having a dig at Mr Collymore, and the rest of the narrative took care of itself.

I thought it might be useful therefore, as Pep no doubt follows my work keenly, to give him a quick rundown on who Stan Collymore is, and the huge cultural impact he has and continues to have, to life in the UK for us all.

Of course as mentioned there was no put down from Pep in the press conference really – he seemed simply confused by the question put to him – damn those Spaniards and their lack of pronouns. After all, I’m pretty sure he is not a devout disciple of Stan’s Mirror opinion pieces, unlike the rest of us. He will though have immersed himself in British culture since arriving on our shores, so will no doubt have come across Stan Collymore on his travels.
You can insert your own punchline.

Stan considers himself a journalist, and an esteemed one at that, he’s won awards and stuff so it’s rather surprising, by which I mean not remotely surprising in any shape or form, that he didn’t do some fact checking before his entirely predictable hit back. Never mind, I’m sure Pep’s not losing any sleep. I’d suggest Pep googles Stan Collymore himself, to get a better insight to the man, the legend, but on second thoughts, that’s probably not a good idea.

So instead, here’s a brief overview for Pep. Take it all in so that you don’t embarrass yourself again in the future.

The name Stanley is derived from the old English word for stone clearing – this clearing could be anywhere, be it next to a modern multi-story car park or a lay by where one can crack open the picnic box and enjoy a nice scotch egg or ham sandwich with the crusts taken off and sausage roll as the rain lashes down on another miserable British bank holiday, as an adjacent car mysteriously bumps up and down as a woman screams “Oh Terry, that’s the spot!” at considerable volume.

Anyway, I digress. Stanley Victor Collymore is a retired footballer who now considers himself one of the greatest media commentators on this crazy place called earth – though before I get all sarcastic, as I am wont to do, and just have been, Stan has suffered hugely from depression and his work to bring the issue to the forefront of discussions about the game and life in general should be greatly applauded. He has also raised considerable funds to help those affected, and we must remember that his demons shape who he is and how he behaves (as it does in us all).

Enough serious talk for now.

You see, Stan was a forward Pep, who was so good that in 11 years he spread the love around 9 different clubs, before hanging up his boots due to the lure of Talksport.  His prolific scoring saw him capped for England, and he gained only 15 caps fewer than Carlton Palmer.  Collymore was good though, on his day, single-handedly keeping Southend up, taking Nottingham Forest to promotion, and catching the eye of a certain Alex Ferguson. Ferguson was prepared to kidnap Collymore from an airport to clinch his signing, but in the end plumped for a certain Andrew Cole instead.

But Stan was doing well. In fact, he was so popular with team mates at Forest, they would sometimes ironically refuse to celebrate goals with him because they loved him so much.

In the end he signed for Liverpool, and played really well in one great game in particular – you should check it out Pep, it’s such a good game it’s even used in adverts and promotional literature. That’s how good it was, and Stan was the goodest of them all that day, as Liverpool defeated Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle 4-3.

For Keegan, what followed was a breakdown that reached its nadir when he agreed to manage Manchester city. For Victor, the spoils.

Stan really tried hard to make himself part of the Liverpool family, by refusing to play for the reserve team and criticising the club and its methods in a club magazine. He even wore a white suit to a cup final. Fowler called him his greatest strike partner, and his most reliable tenant.

Strangely though these efforts went unrewarded, despite that game against Newcastle, and in 1997 he moved on to Aston Villa. He struggled there and moved on to Leicester, where his highlight was letting off a fire extinguisher in a hotel corridor. Top banter, before banter even existed.

He passed through Bradford, picking up an FA charge on his way, before, at the age of 30, signing for Real Oviedo, and showed his commitment to the club by suddenly retiring 5 weeks later. The fact was, Stan’s temperament was just not right for the career in which he had embarked.

But never mind, as the football was just a sideshow really. A warm up act before the main event.

Yes, it’s probably fair to say it was as the star of Basic Instinct 2 that Stan Collymore will be best remembered.
Critics at the time called it THE stand out performance by an ex-footballer from Staffordshire in a motion picture, many comparing it favourably with Vinny Jones’ multi award-nominated voice over as Freddie the dog in Madagascar 3: Europe’s most wanted.
Mark Kermode commented that Stan dominated the screen, more so even than Marlon Brando in the Godfather. Basic instinct 2 gets a generous average rating on imdb.com of 4.2/10, though this time around you get to see even more of Sharon Stone’s naughty bits. Apparently.

The offers from Hollywood naturally flooded in after the film, but Stan’s heart lay in media work, and he did not want to deprive the British public of his opinion and expertise. Hollywood’s loss was talk radio’s gain.

And so began a long career in radio and TV that continues to this day. Naturally his hard-hitting opinions in print found their home at the mirror, the paper that hosted all the best columnists – Robbie Savage, Mark Lawrenson, Brian Reade, Derek McGovern and more.

Stan has often courted controversy, because he says it as it is, and we all love people who do that. Certain incidents are not suitable for a family site, but it seems dogging has beaten the stringent checks. Anyway, what Stan does in his spare time is up to him, though on this occasion the BBC disagreed and sacked him.
Just remember though that if you do fall out with Stan and he offers to meet up to sort things out, as occasionally happens, do take a miner’s helmet, an A-Z, and plenty of money for one of those exorbitant service station sandwiches.

And if you really must experience the carnal delights of Anson’s Bank car park in Cannock at which Staffordshire’s swingers routinely congregate, apparently you turn right at the German War Memorial and’ if you reach a café, you’ve gone too far.’

I digress again.

There are certain things that are ingrained in British life in 2016. Drizzle, the English countryside, Nigel Farage eating a Ferrero Rocher, and being blocked by Stan Collymore on twitter.

Stan is part of the fabric of modern football.  If you’re wondering who thinks modern defenders are rubbish, then it’ll probably be Stan. If you’re wondering who is handing out managerial advice to Guardiola, Koeman, Klopp and more- that’ll be Stan. Think Gareth Bale should be less nice to become a better footballer? Stan agrees with you. Think Jose Mourinho could learn a thing or two from Neil Warnock? So does Stan!
Check out his articles, his bold views are all there. Or don’t, and do something useful with your time instead – it’s up to you.

Yes, he has his finger on the pulse, and in a sport that moves so quickly, when news breaks every minute, there’s no time for those fiddly, annoying time-consuming practices such as fact-checking or full sentences. Get with the times all of you.

So there you have it Pep Guardiola. Next time you are asked an awkward question about Stan in a press conference, you will be fully prepared to answer. I’ve even posted you his autobiography, some Rotten Tomatoes reviews of Basic Instinct 2 and a Match Attax card from 2011. I’ll start on a Robbie Savage guide right now – it should be ready by early March.

From Russia, With Love: My Emails To Internet Scammers (and other stories)

I have recently released a new book – From Russia, With Love – My emails to internet scammers (and other stories), in which I took on various identities to converse with scammers from around the world. Below is a small extract, with my first love, Tatiana.

 

From: Tatiana
To: Howard

Hello my dear friend Howard !!!

Again the smile on my face and joy in my heart.
All this, thanks to your answer. Did you like my photos?
on them not visible my height, it may be interesting to you, my height is 172 centimeters, weight 54 kilograms.

I value communication with you. I live in a studio apartment with my daughter. I divorced with my ex-husband, I divorced when my daughter was 1 year old. He was cruel to me, cheated on me and he did not appreciate me like woman. I have not seen him for 6 years. He does not help us with daughter and did not interest in our lives. I’m disappointed in him as a man. From family I have only mother Nadejda, Svetlana grandmother. My father died 9 years ago. He had an accident in a car. I loved him very much.

He was a real man. It is a pity that he is not with us … probably you wondering why I’m not looking for a man in my city? my city very small and all the good men are already taken :)

I dearly with you chat!  I’m very tired of being alone.

Time goes by for me. My daughter is growing. She often asks me why her friends have a father, and she no??? I want her to live in a complete family. I want her to have, like all children have a mom and dad. I myself cannot substitute for her father.

Tell me a little about your life … Tell me about your family, work and how you like to spend your free time? I look forward to your quick response!!!

Sincerely Tatiana!!!

———————————–

To: Tatiana
From: Harold
Subject: Super Mario

Oh my darling Tatiana,

I too have a smile on my heart and joy in my face. Every time you reply the clouds part, though that may be due to a brisk south-easterly breeze.

I LOVE your photos, and my friends do too! Please feel free to send some more. You are very beautiful, which makes me wonder why you would want an old, washed-up ex children’s TV presenter like me? I guess love can bridge the divide.

You seem to have such a tough life Tatiana. It makes me weep – but I can certainly empathise (understand and share the feelings of another) – only this week I stubbed a toe on the edge of a coffee table, and lost my house keys. Turns out they were lodged behind the fish tank, bizarrely.
The world can be crazy sometimes Tatiana, with many a winding turn.

What about me, I hear you ask? Well I am a bit smaller than you, but I wear special shoes, so don’t worry about that. I weigh 65 kg, and I like bird watching, TOWIE and a certain noble sport (the sport in question being badminton, of course).

I had a torrid affair for three years with a librarian – we used to make love in the military history section – but she left me Tatiana for a chartered surveyor in Harrogate. They have lovely gardens there, so I am told.

Now I am all alone, just me and the fish. And the swingers club. The looks I get when I throw the keys for a Morris Minor into the bowl.
I used to be on TV a bit, but the work has dried up – I opened a supermarket in Radcliffe last year, and that was the last media work I think I will ever do. I had to cut a ribbon and talk about the swimming baths. They gave me £50 and some vouchers for Batchelors Cup A Soup. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse (try their Cream of Asparagus – to die for!). Now I do a bit of taxi work, nights mostly, near the airport.

I have no family. My mother disappeared whilst holidaying in Bermuda, and my dad is in prison for murdering an otter. Animal cruelty is not tolerated in the UK Tatiana – my dad made the front page of the Prestwich Gazette.

But I must apologise immediately. In a previous correspondence you requested my phone number. Well I am afraid my landline is out of order at the moment, and BT say it may be for a while. So should you need to contact me please phone 969 4927. This is the number for Luigi’s Pizzeria. Luigi is sadly no longer with us (he moved to London two years ago), but the manager Mario will take any calls and pass on a message to me. He only speaks Italian though, so hope this won’t be a problem? Eccellente!

I will not abuse you Tatiana. I am loving and kind and thanks to Fairy Liquid, have gentle hands. I hope we can be together soon, just you and me, and at a push, your daughter. We can party like it’s 1999.

Eternal love

Harold (that’s H.A.R.O.L.D.)

otter

———————————————-

From: Tatiana
To: Howard

Howard

You have no idea how I am glad to your answer. I’m in very good mood. I’m glad that you understand me and your intentions to me are serious. Now I know that I have a good friend. Even though we are far from each other.

Today is a very hard day at work … As I said, I I work in a local hospital … I have a lot of work. Since I’m one sometimes I need to earn. I get a call from nearby villages, to do massage for adults and small children.

Sometimes people whose children I do massage do not give me money. They give me meat, milk, potatoes. All what they are rich. I cannot refuse them. Many children have problems with backbone.  Without my professional treatment, children are poorly developed. Many do not have the money, and asked me for help.

My mother brought me up so that it is necessary to help people! I like my job! I have many times been invited to work at the clinic in Moscow. Luring big salary. But the money in life is not the main thing. I hope that you have the same opinion.

And I’ve never lived in a big city. I think the big cities spoil people! I want to learn how about your life?

Now I have to go to work. In a minute the patient will come. I have to finish the letter. It makes me feel sad. When I am writing you a letter as if you were next to me.

And now I must go and I say goodbye to you till tomorrow Howard.

Tatiana.

—————————————————————-

To: Tatiana
From: Harold
Subject: Die Hard

Tatty,

I have been in a good mood for over a week now. The hours fly by. The days merge into one. My heart skips a beat when I hear the familiar ping of an incoming email. Imagine my disappointment when it is not from you, but simply a promise to make me “bigger”, whatever that means.

I’m happy being 5ft 2” Tatiana.

My intentions could not be more serious Tatiana. They are as serious as a situation where a NYPD cop goes on a Christmas vacation to visit his wife Holly in Los Angeles, where she works for the Nakatomi Corporation. While they are at the Nakatomi headquarters for a Christmas party, a group of bank robbers take control of the building and hold everyone hostage, with the exception of the NYPD cop, while they plan to perform a lucrative heist. Unable to escape and with no immediate police response, the NYPD cop is forced to take matters into his own hands.
That’s how serious my intentions are.

Gosh Tatiana, your life is so sad. You should come and work in a UK hospital, though I fear conditions would be worse here. Can you do 18 hour shifts Tatiana? Can you remain awake for three days at a time?

You need to tell your people that massages cost money. Not root vegetables or stuff from udders, nice as they are. I’m sorry to hear of the many spineless children, who do not develop. We have similar here in UK – children have no respect. Many wear their trousers too low, so you see their grundies. It’s not nice Tatiana. They play music loud on public transport, spit a lot, and never give up their seat for me when I have gout. I blame the parents, and the Tories.

FYI, my favourite vegetable is the sweet potato. So versatile.

Money is not everything, I agree. More important to me is companionship, salt and pepper spare ribs and a full cable subscription (including Sky Atlantic – Game of Thrones IS BACK!!!).

I live in a big city, Tatiana. Here began the industrial revolution, the 1st computer was made, the atom was split and Jamie Pollock scored the greatest own goal of all time. We have a rich history. I couldn’t live in the country as all the takeaways would be miles away.

A few things about me? Well you know my height and weight. You know I live in Manchester, the greatest city in all the world. You know I used to work on TV a bit, entertaining children. You know of my love for fish, and ribs. In my spare time I watch football – do you like football Tatiana? One day I will take you to see my team – don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of room.

I hope your patient came. I don’t blame him. I must go now too – it is snowing outside (madness) and I must build a snowman with the owner of the garage next door. He’s brought along a carrot and some pebbles.

Reply soon my love.

HAROLD

You can buy my new book here: From Russia, With Love.

 

Stoke City 1 Manchester City 4: A Good 1st Week For Pep As City Soar

And relax. The end of Pep Guardiola’s debut week, and it went rather swimmingly in the end. Just think back to the moment when Defoe slipped the ball under Caballero’s body last week and now be thankful the week took a different path in the end.

Guardiola once more nailed the sartorial battle, dressed appropriately for changing weather conditions whilst retaining an aura of class and sophistication.
Shumper and suit jacket. Classic but understated. Good to see.

Predicting his side is harder to nail down however. There weren’t too many shocks, but Otamendi returned so Kolarov shifted left, as did Sterling to allow Navas into the side, relegating Nolito to the bench. Presumably Guardiola saw use for pace and also the excellent work ethic of the blue-eyed Spaniard.

This would be a true test of Pep’s philosophy and playing style, at a ground it’s never easy to win at. Thankfully, it was a test that was eventually passed with flying colours, but a few nerves were frayed along the way.Last season’s horror show can be put to bed now.

Stoke have never prospered through great possession of the ball, so it was no surprise to see City dominate the ball. On a windy day though it was not always easy to pass it around, and Caballero will understandably be criticised for his errant use of the ball, especially when he is assumed to be in the side for such skills. Well it is clear to all he is not an upgrade on Hart, and presumably is in the side solely because he has responded to Pep’s regime better, but the blustery conditions should be taken into account on this occasion. He has been fine with the bread-and-butter of goalkeeping too, namely stopping shots, but then Hart is pretty good at that anyway,
Still Caballero did his job, most notably saving from Bardsley before Joe Allen crashed to the ground.

City looked bright and full of intent, but a good Stoke side were dangerous on the break. In the end the game revolved around a celebrity referee and penalty decisions.
First, Shawcross was rightly penalised for tugging at Otamendi’s shirt, though if Dean had been stood on the other side of the players, he might have seen a lesser tug from Kolarov too. Clearly new directives have come in and the players have been informed of this, but old habits will die hard for many a defender. As with Sterling later however, I do not see why such incidents are worthy of an automatic yellow card.

Pressure on Aguero, but he took on the responsibility and slammed the ball home. And soon it was two as he brilliantly headed in a cross from De Bruyne.

Breathing space for City, but Stoke clearly should have had a penalty of their own as Kolarov bundled into Joe Allen – a break for City, but Mike Dean no doubt saw it at half-time and was intent on evening things up after the interval.

Which he duly did when penalising Sterling for tagging Shawcross, but without any shirt pulling. Never a penalty for me, and if it is then there would literally be one awarded at every corner. Even Shawcross and Mark Hughes weren’t convinced, which speaks volumes.

That put City on the back foot once more, and the game became rather scrappy. No one team dominated as the clock ticked on. Thankfully there was no nervy last few minutes as super sub Iheanacho came on and stayed calm to pass across goal to super sub (number 2) Nolito. Then he dummied superbly and a moment of class from Sterling laid a second goal on a plate for Nolito. Game over. Eleven goals in a week, two conceded, job done. What’s more, City’s 45 touches in the Stoke penalty area were the most by any PL team so far this season.

Mike Dean however must be mentioned, a really poor performance for me encapsulated perfectly by the penalty decisions. Add to that a yellow card for De Bruyne for accidentally stepping on a Stoke player’s foot, and Diouf escaping censure for raking his foot down Silva’s leg in front of Dean. His best moment though was penalising Zabaleta for being barged off the ball. Not his best day, whatever one of those is, and a point of order for Phil Neville too – he’s called David Silva – not Da Silva. Not difficult really.

Best player? Well another two goals for Aguero puts him near the top of the pile, but special mention must be made to two young Englishmen – Sterling was excellent again, full of confidence and always willing to attack the Stoke defence, even in a new position. It’s good to have him back. The highest compliment I can pay to John Stones is that you forget he signed for us under a fortnight ago – he has slipped seamlessly into the side. Pure class from him so far.

Silva too does what he does best, and for me only De Bruyne is slightly struggling to acclimatise to new player positions and instructions. Still, another assist for him. The substitutes didn’t do too badly either!

I think we all agree that shirt pulling and the like should be eradicated from the game, or punished at least, so it’s good to see it being clamped down on. However, it is difficult for a referee to monitor every player in a crowded penalty area, so future decisions will be somewhat down to chance, down to where he is looking at as the ball comes in. As for the rest of the premier league programme that day, I don’t think any more penalties were awarded. Let’s hope for some consistency, but don’t hold your breath.

And time for the true pedant in me to emerge. Many have said the score-line was flattering but no score-line is flattering unless the officials have shaped the game, and as mentioned Mike Dean’s centre stage performance didn’t really affect who won, as his decisions favoured neither team, so the score was perfectly fair – we scored four times, they scored once. That’s how the game works.

And with a new season, the optimist in me (4%) had hoped for a fresh start for the boo boy brigade, but alas no – never underestimate the ability of a bone-headed football fan to have you shaking your head in disbelief. Just imagine a grown adult leaving their house, going to a football match and booing an opposition player because he cost quite a lot of money and upset some ex-Liverpool players. And don’t give me the Euros as an excuse, unless you think the incessant booing last season was performed by psychics. Astonishing. Thankfully it appears to be water off a duck’s back for young Raheem, but after Sunderland fans questioned our loyalty last week with THAT chant, my faith in the human race is nearing an end.

A new season also brings with it the return of Match of the Day and a return of razor-sharp analysis (hashtag sarcasm). I don’t need to say much more about Mr Neville as we’ve all had a good laugh already, suffice to say that criticising a player for not having enough assists when he has had five assists in a week (it should have been six, through no fault of his own) is a bit rum. We know about last season’s struggles, but surely analysis should focus on his good form, not the past. Anyway, as we all discovered, Phil seemed to expect Sterling to assist AND score every goal, and his criticism of his assist at the end was phenomenally stupid. It just baffles me that Phil & Gary couldn’t make it work in Valencia, it really does.

Anyway, a good week ends, and Pep can change the team for Wednesday’s dead rubber. Get past West Ham next week and City can approach the derby after the international break in fine fettle. Here’s hoping.

Manchester City 2015/16 – Player & Manager Ratings

After a strange and rather underwhelming nine months, it’s time to reflect on what we all saw. Not everyone comes out if it that well, which won’t surprise you in the slightest. A season that saw City scrape into the top four, win a cup, and progress in the Champions League, but ultimately felt flat and disappointing.

 

Joe Hart – 8.5
Goalkeeping is an area that I am a bit obsessive about, and thus overly critical about at times too. I’ve never been totally convinced by Hart, whilst acknowledging he is superb, but it’s probably time to put those doubts away now.
Hart has made mistakes this season, as he is a goalkeeper, and they all do (see De Gea at West Ham – cheers David!). He has still excelled, raises himself to another level in Europe, and is a professional on and off the pitch – just about the only player who is honest and says it as it is, as a fan would see it. Why he is so disliked by other fans has always puzzled me, as he does little to annoy.
Anyway, his distribution remains his main problem, a bigger problem when Pep is on his way. Often though it’s a case of other players giving him options, and it is something he can work on.
This season has been tough for City’s defence, and tough on Hart as he has been regularly left exposed. He’s done excellently, and could ultimately become one of our longest-serving/most capped players. In the end, only Fernando’s head prevented Joe Hart sharing the Golden Gloves award.
Having said all that, there are plenty of rumours that Pep is not convinced by Hart either, but until Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is spotted at the Lowry, I will take that with a pinch of salt.

 

Willy Caballero – 7
The goalkeeper we all love to hate, I am one of a very select band that has always rated the guy, even if my eyes were telling me something very different. In the end, City signed off Pellegrini’s career with a trophy because of this guy. Caballero has looked as flaky as a ’99 when deputising for Hart in the league, but it’s a hard position to make an occasional appearance in. He was however given a free run in the Capital One Cup, his inclusion in the final causing great consternation. In the end he was the star of the show, as City won on penalties. Don’t know if he will stay now, but he’s played his part this season.

 

Richard Wright – 11
The end of an era, as perhaps City’s greatest ever player departs. Wright did not put a foot wrong in almost four years at the club – the only mystery is why he was repeatedly overlooked at international level.

 

Vincent Kompany – 5
A low mark because he could dislocate his shoulder answering the phone. The most frustrating season possible for our captain, and his absence was keenly felt. The team was transformed when he was on the pitch, but he was on the pitch rarely, and the abiding image of the season was Kompany trudging off the pitch desolate as he handed on the captain’s armband.
What does the future hold? God only knows. It’s terrible news for Kompany to be out of the Euros, but it might just save his City career. He needs a rest – a long one, and just maybe he can come back stronger than ever.
Or he’ll pull a calf muscle three minutes into the season.

 

Eliaquim Mangala – 6.5
Should a player be judged on his transfer fee? Either way, Mangala impresses, then frustrates. Mangala could become a mix of Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer, but the fee was always ludicrous, for a player with potential, and a defender at that. If that’s what he, or any defender in that scenario cost, we should have walked away (hope we get Laporte though!).
Anyway, Mangala has continued the trend that started the day he joined. Good one week, all at sea the next. In his defence he has not been part of a settled defence and often has to cover if, for example, he’s playing next to a Serbian left-back, but he is nowhere consistent enough, and Pep might not warm to his distribution either. He has all the attributes physically, but seems to turn off at vital moments. He’s not young enough to be given much more time to develop – but we trust in Pep.

 

Nicolas Otamendi – 6.5
See Eliaquim Mangala. One week good, one week bad. And then there’s the slide tackles of course.
Otamendi was always something of a strange transfer for me though, with the feeling he was bought because we could rather because we had established a need to strengthen that position.
Now Otamendi makes plenty of successful slide tackles that break up opposition attacks. However, when he misses one, he leaves a huge hole behind him, or concedes a dangerous free kick. Eventually he’ll get a red card too for two mis-timed tackles. I love slide tackles, but as we all know they have no place in the modern game where any form of contact results in players falling to the floor clutching their knee in fake agony.
So like Mangala he has had excellent games and really shaky games. Pep Guardiola will have to make a decision on whether to get rid of one of Otamendi or Mangala – with Kompany’s fitness never guaranteed, he surely can’t get rid of both. I see hope for both of them, but then they have a bad game. Stay on your feet Nicolas, and the sky is the limit.
Martin DeMichelis – 4
It’s a shame, but time has caught up with Martin – maybe spending all that time sat in bookies numbed his legs, but he was little short of a liability when on the pitch. Thanks for the memories, and all the best…..

 

Bacary Sagna – 8
A stand out season for the experienced Frenchman, and it was needed with Zabaleta’s many problems. A patchy first season made many wonder if his best days were behind him, but this season showed that was not the case – amazing what regular football can do for a player.
Consistent performances and a greater ability than most to avoid injury – his presence was one of the positives for the season, to the point that many wanted him to slot in at centre back in the spring to ease our defensive woes. He’s 33 though, so who knows what the future holds.

 

Pablo Zabaleta – 5
A sobering season for Pablo and us. Dogged by injury, when he did regain fitness we all wondered if his legs had gone for good. Surgery and a summer of recuperation will follow, and like with our captain, it may work in our favour if he can come back fresh. Or he may have gone to Roma – I hope not.

 

Gael Clichy – 7.5
A solid season for Gael, and as with Sagna, it was needed when the alternatives were considered. The feeling persists for me that we do not have a left-back to the standard we require going forward, and Clichy does little to challenge my convictions. A good, solid defender, but offers less than Kolarov going forward. He’s done fine for us, and proved something of a bargain, but I still feel this is an area we need to strengthen in during the summer, rather than waiting to see how good Angelino turns out.

 

Aleksander Kolarov – 5
A generous score because he scored a great goal against Bournemouth and as I type, the sun is out. Kolarov is simply not good enough. His ambling, can’t-be-arsed performance against Southampton proved he can’t even cover his inadequacies with work-rate. His positioning in defence is terrible, but he is better in attack, sometimes, and on his day can put in lethal crosses, lethal shots, and lethal free kicks. Those days are getting rarer though, and he simply isn’t up to scratch. I’ve expected him to leave every summer and yet here he is still is, but I’d be amazed if he survives into the Pep era. Still, great videos for City TV.

 

Fernando – 7
The ultimate “meh” player, as our defensive midfielders always tend to be, Fernando actually did quite well when selected and became quite important too when even Manuel Pellegrini realised that a midfield pairing of Fernandinho and Toure wasn’t really a ticket to success. With Fernando in the team, there was at last a modicum of protection for the defence and a better shape to the team, even if his functions were basic. Not sure he offers enough for a Pep team, but he came with a glowing reputation, and players can grow into this league, so who knows?
Well to be honest, Guardiola will probably prefer a pivote that can spray the ball to both wings too.

 

Fernandinho – 8.5
Player of the season? Due to De Bruyne’s spell out with injury, Fernandinho gets the nod for me. The pleasant, smiling Brazilian does not fire shots into the top corner from 30 yards, bullet headers in from corners or make numerous goal-line clearances, but he is the engine in the midfield that has kept everything ticking over. Week in, week out, he has been the most consistent player in the team, and often had to do the work of two men. Even when shifted out wide occasionally he adjusted nicely, and added a cup final goal to his CV too. It’s just a shame he’s 31 already, but you couldn’t tell, and there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
50 appearances, 6 goals, 5 assists, an 87.1% successful pass rate and plenty of “professional” fouls to keep things in check without receiving a single red card. Amazingly he is only listed as receiving 3 Man of the Match Awards, which shows how his sort of contribution often passes under the radar. He’s been crucial to keeping the team’s head above water though during his 3782 minutes on the pitch.
His best game for me? I’d go for PSG away.

 

Delph – 5
A bit of a disastrous 9 months, if truth be told. A bungled transfer saga, injury after injury, and no real chance to shine or get going. Showed signs of real promise, but was pretty poor when recently returning to the side. Hard to know what the future holds, but he is a dynamic player who can offer something, if Guardiola thinks he has the skillset to contribute. Also English, which helps.

 

David Silva – 7
A generous 7, but with extenuating circumstances. Let’s be honest, Silva has been a shadow of his former self at times this season, but is still often a class above us mere mortals. The reason is clear – he is playing with pain in his ankle, and the worry is that this is not an injury but now a persistent condition. Another player who could do with a nice, long rest, but as this year is an even one, he may not get it. Still chipped in with 11 assists and at 30 years of age still has plenty to offer – I mean, he’s David Silva FFS.

 

Jesus Navas – 7
Nothing to say that hasn’t been said before. A wonderful asset for a manager to have, hence why he has seen more pitch time under Pellegrini than any other player (not picking up 14 separate muscle injuries also helps).  Really covers the pitch, covers the right back too, great control, helps team shape, team player. Shame about the crossing and shooting really. A player of his type should be getting a minimum of 10 goals and at least that many assists each season. Such a shame that a lack of composure prevents him from being a huge player.

Yaya Toure – 6.5

Ah, Yaya. A season where we remember the comments of his agent more than his deeds on the pitch, Toure showed his age at last, and possibly City’s moist influential ever player may have played his last game for the team. Eight goals, seven assists – even a fading Yaya can be a thing of beauty, and we only criticise because he was once a force of nature, a giant of the game. He can still contribute, but this season showed more than ever that he can not cope in a midfield two against energetic, pressing opposition players.
If he stays, he’ll have to accept a reduced role, which doesn’t sound like his thing at all. Ah well, we’ll always have the memories – and what memories they were.

 

Samir Nasri – 5
Another season of frustration, wrecked by serious injury which meant that a quicker than expected recovery saw him watch the Champions League latter stages as a fit bystander. Even before injury, it was once more a challenge to categorise where he fits in the team, and just how good he may or may not be. Supremely talented with superb ball retention, he could have a role under Guardiola, and is saying all the right things, but time will tell. In the end, he got just 500 minutes on the pitch in 15/16, with 2 goals and 2 assists. Still, that goal at Everton will live long in my memory.

 

Kevin De Bruyne – 8.5
Ah, lovely, lovely Kevin. De Bruyne wasted no time justifying his large transfer fee, and settled in as a debutant and when returning from injury. He is simply a champagne footballer, capable of wonderful things – passing, crossing, scoring, he does it all. He is not perfect (yet) – as a player that is always looking for vital passes, he will waste possession, and he had a sparse run for a while away from home prior to his injury, but in a team that has struggled to sparkle, he has provided the shine. If he had stayed fit, he would have been my player of the season, and maybe he should be anyway, but here’s to more of the same next season and beyond. After all, 17 goals and 16 assists is not bad for a debut season, eh?

 

Raheem Sterling – 6.5
You ready? Take the phone off the hook and sit back – this could take a while.
I don’t know what Sterling did in a previous life, but I have rarely seen a player get as much stick as he does, and not just from opposition fans.
Sterling arrived with the whole world showering with abuse, and with a huge price tag. City started the season on fire, and he flourished in the team. When it all went wrong for City and form plummeted, he followed suit. By the end of the season, he looked like a player shorn of all confidence. And yet his form mirrored City’s in a way. In the Champions League he was one of our best players, sparkling in Seville and at home to Borussia. In the league, he faded, and then an injury curtailed him further. Maybe if his own fans had supported him, a young player with huge expectations on his shoulder, he’d have done better – we’ll never know.
Still, 11 goals and 4 assists over the season is no disaster- but the hope is he now develops and works on his weaknesses – shooting being one obvious area. He is just the sort of player you’d hope Pep takes under his wing.

 

Sergio Aguero – 8
Another season where you winced and drew breath every time Sergio Aguero hit the floor. Another player prone to injuries due to his playing style, he still almost won the Premier League golden boot, did what he does best, but still underwhelmed in many games, though he was hardly alone in that respect. Hopefully next season he will play in a team that suits him better, rather than seeing him occasionally isolated and forced to come deep to find the ball. He wants to stay anyway, and that’s the important thing – it’s just a shame there’s a special Copa America this summer.

 

Kelechi Iheanacho – 8
A point off for his display on the final day, when he appeared drunk (smiley face). A wonderful talent that has been nurtured with little fanfare. Iheanacho is far from the finished product, but his potential is clear for all to see, his goals return for the season superb, his strike rate (Swansea apart) phenomenal. I just wish he’d smile occasionally and stop thanking his imaginary friend in the sky.

 

Wilfried Bony – 4
The sun is still out, so a generous marking. Hang on there’s a cloud approaching, best type quick.
What can you say? When he signed, I thought it was a deal that made sense – a physical, powerful shooter who offered something different to anything we had.
Well, it’s fair to say it’s been a complete disaster, and there’s more chance of Leicester winning the Premier League than Bony turning this round. He was away on international duty when he signed, then got malaria, then picked up a few more injuries, but pretty much every minute on the pitch has been painful to watch. I vaguely remember one goal that was heading towards the corner flag from 5 yards out until it rebounded in off a defender. Not suited it seems to our style of play, confidence shot, I know he can do so much more, but it’s probably best for all that we take a hefty loss and let him shine somewhere else, perhaps back at Swansea.

 

Manuel Pellegrini – 6.5
How do you mark a manager whose team lurched from triumph to disaster, but couldn’t handle the bread and butter of league football?

Well – League Cup – 9/10. League – 5/10 (cos we scraped top four). FA Cup – 7/10. Champions League – 8/10. That averages at 7.25, but the league is rather important.

Maybe we could retain him just for the cups, but then I remember last season’s domestic fayre.

So off goes the “charming man”, with a speech of thanks to a near-empty stadium and palpable relief from most of us fans. In the end he didn’t quite prove good enough, couldn’t maintain our flowing football from 2013/14, couldn’t juggle multiple competitions, nor develop many players or commit to blooding youth. Whilst this season saw a trophy, it felt the most disappointing of all.
Let’s be honest, we’re upgrading now, but I wish him all the best in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Pellegrini: The End For The Once-Charming Man

And so it is over. Another manager departs, and for once it’s been fairly civilised and planned.
The ending was apt though, City crawling over the line after 90 minutes of wasteful finishing that kept us sweating until the end. It was a match that summed up the season perfectly. Little sparkles, but mostly just frustration and swear words.

Under duress from Yaya Toure, one of City’s most successful managers handed his expensive suit jacket to a happy fan, and he was gone. And the sad thing is, the relief was palpable. Job done, on the day, a Champions League qualifier secured, a new dawn and perhaps a clean sweep on the way.

Two points from the final three games was enough in the end, the traditional late surge even absent this time as City finished with their lowest points total in seven years. They weren’t alone in under-achieving, at least, and their top four place was deserved, because that’s where they finished, and that’s how league tables work. Yet again, god bless City’s sporadic attacking intent – United fans must really hate goal difference. For the third successive season, City were the highest scorers in the Premier League, but it’s a statistic that merely thinly papers over a series of cracks.

And for Pellegrini, with hindsight, a season too far. He was the bridge between the fiery Mancini and the obsessive Guardiola, the dream ticket since the beginning, and Pep will bring back a much-needed passion on the touchline. There’s no right way to manage, but it feels that a more expressive manager is what the club and the fans need after a turgid nine months in the league.

I’ve spent two years flip-flopping over Pellegrini, always looking to defend a man who has always acted with class and dignity, but it was hard to support him as this season developed. After five games, it seemed we were walking to the league. Sky Sports even asked (rather stupidly) if City could go the whole season unbeaten. City were scoring for fun, winning, and looked fresh and up for the challenges ahead. It took just a couple of key injuries to derail all that. And whilst Pellegrini clearly worked on tactics, worked with individuals, and dealt with those that stepped out of line, it just didn’t feel like it to us outsiders. Players must take blame too, but players are often a reflection of their manager, and this team certainly was by the end. When things went wrong I wanted to see arguments, I wanted to see fire, not just bowed heads and a sigh.

Pellegrini was emotional at the end, an emotion we’ve rarely seen. It was a rare show of anything from a man with a poker face. His stonewalling of journalists was understandable when a minority were intent of twisting whatever he said, but he never really connected with the fans. For me that wasn’t really a problem, I want a manager to win games, but when the team is not winning games, it is an aspect of a manager that becomes more and more apparent. Maybe this is why many City fans never really warmed to him, with many pining, still, for Mancini.
But then fans see things in black and white. For many, Pellegrini has either been a success or a failure. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. His first season was an undoubted success, coming in to the club in difficult circumstances and providing a calm, holistic front to the club whilst the team scored more goals than ever before. The second season? A failure for sure, but still 2nd in the league. The third was a mixture of abject failure in the league and success in the cups. Unfortunately, the league is kinda important.

Pellegrini always gave me the impression of a manager who felt his team was good enough to do its thing – class would tell. Often it was enough, but a rut formed eventually when there was no back up plan, no intensity to firing up the troops.
The injuries were crippling, but this cannot just be put down to bad luck. Some were- injuries to Aguero and Silva amongst others were down to bad tackles, but many, many more were muscle injuries that makes you question training techniques. What was left behind was still good enough to do better too, despite all the disruptions. What didn’t help either was Pellegrini’s reluctance to trust youth – the one time he blooded them, they were thrown to the wolves. A number of youth players could have filled in and done little worse than some of the underwhelming performances put in by certain players this season, and more importantly, would have helped take the strain off a team fighting on four fronts, and probably eased the injury list. But development did not seem to be high on the Chilean’s list – after all, how many players have really improved during his tenure? For this reason, I wouldn’t write off half the squad just yet.

In addition, we were always led to believe that the Champions League was the main goal, but Pellegrini damaged the team’s pursuit of major trophies by taking the League Cup too seriously. The two cup wins gave me two of the most enjoyable days out in recent years, and some great occasions – and of course two trophies. BUT – surely it is not a trophy to risk many first team players in when there are so many other games to contest. Only when the semi-final comes along should that view alter.

It’s sad (to a few of us) that Pellegrini will be rather forgotten when City’s history is updated in a few decades’ time. He will be defined by the final season, and of overseeing a team with a soft underbelly. A team that had defensive vulnerabilities, that sometimes hung defenders out to dry, an expensive team that was capable of handing out and receiving the odd thrashing, and a team that lacked fight – a team that rarely came from behind to win games.

The announcement of Pep Guardiola, which came from Pellegrini himself, did not wreck City’s season. The team’s form had been poor beforehand, in the league at least, and the greatest cup exploits came after the news was announced. What did for City this season was an appalling record against other top teams in the league – City were so often impotent in such games, so often outfought. With Kompany spending more time in hospitals than on football pitches there was a distinct lack of leadership, with little encouragement coming from the side-lines.

But whilst the manager is the figurehead for the performance of a team, Pellegrini cannot take all the blame. I do not know how much input he had in transfer activity – I would wager it is a group effort, but whatever, City have wasted a lot of money on underperforming players. Others in the club have questions to answer too on why this club seems to have treaded water in the last two years. Many will claim the team has regressed, especially when you look in the striker department, but simply by hiring Pep Guardiola, I’d say that’s no longer the case.

Have no doubt, City are upgrading their manager now – it is a coup to get Pep Guardiola on board. The last few months have shown that he has not taken the easy option, and has plenty of work to do. But here is a man that lost fewer league games in three years at Bayern Munich than City did this season alone. He will bring a new intensity to the team, and it can’t come soon enough.

So goodbye to the charming man, a man who wasn’t quite to the standard we desired. He acted with decorum throughout, knowing like we did that he was keeping the seat warm for the hottest ticket in town. He knew the score, and he got it. He gave us some of the best football we’ve ever witnessed, but ultimately came up short. He goes with my thanks, and I hope he finds great success in the future.
For City, a new era, with a new manager, and the end for many of our club’s most important ever players. A sad summer perhaps, but an exciting future.

Manchester City & Media Bias: The Prosecution Rests

Did you enjoy El Cashico? The vulgar dsplay of wealth and power that has corrupted football? Take much from the game Michael Cox thought was one of the most boring games of the season?
I know I did. England’s sole representative in the Champions League, proceeding further than they had ever done, despite being underdogs in the tie, in front of their highest European crowd at their ground. I imagine a nation rallied round as we saved the all-important coefficient too. All positive, eh?
Well, maybe not.  Because, with a heavy heart I return to my favourite topic, the one that has taken up three years of my life – and taken three off it too.
The media.
Ah well, what would I talk about without Fleet Street’s finest?

I always suspected that City fans were paranoid about negative media coverage. This week I realised we were right all along. A line was crossed, and a moment of clarity arrived, crystal clear for all City fans. Enough is enough.

Now, if you go on social media, especially Twitter, you’ll probably know where all this is leading. You see, let’s make a few things clear from the start. Manchester City’s team cost a lot of money. It should do quite well. It hasn’t done very well in the league this season, nor last, and there have been many poor performances in that time. And thus, when the team performs badly, it deserves criticism, both players and manager. When the club makes a bad decision or spends badly, both City fans and others are allowed to comment on what they think is a poor decision. All fine so far, as is supporters of other teams not supporting us in Europe – I’d expect nothing less – I certainly wouldn’t support them, I hate them all, and my considerable love for my country has no link to supporting football teams in a club competition.
Football is tribal , and I’m fine with that. I will never admit that Anthony Martial is a good player or will ever be, even if he wins the Ballon D’or, I will never accept United have ever deserved to win a game, except through gritted teeth, and that’s the way it is. So fans banter is to be ignored, especially the tedious seat thing.

But, but – from journalists, maybe I was naive, but I kinda expected better. And again, to make things clear, on Tuesday night from many journalists I got better, with great praise from the likes of Phil Mcnulty, Martin Lipton and John Cross, journalists who I’ve had many opportunities to criticise in the past. But sadly not all their colleagues maintained such standards.

For 20 years now I’ve watched other English teams compete and occasionally triumph in Europe. I even watched most of United’s games, which is rather weird and sad I admit – maybe I was just hoping they’d fail, as that always makes for decent viewing. Anyway, I lose count of the many turgid away performances from United down the years where they nevertheless got the job done – either a narrow victory or a respectable draw.
Job done, by the team and their highly successful manager, often against far from stellar opposition. There were no easy games in Europe after all, and even someone as successful as Alex Ferguson realised that sometimes the performance wasn’t the be all and end all and it was the end result that matters – City’s insomnia -curing draw at home to Dynamo Kiev was evidence of this for City.

Anyway, I have not taken exhaustive notes on the subject, but my recollection of press coverage of such games was generally positive, just as it should be. Progress was cheered, teams were supported by the media. Correctly so, I expect the nation’s press to act in such a matter, it is natural and normal, as long as bias doesn’t cloud judgment or coverage.

Now It’s easy to be paranoid, and City fans have been accused of it many times. To view every criticism as an attack on the club – social media can have that effect on you. Not all journalists are all out to get you, not all have bias, they just have honest opinions, even if you think some of them stink, just like some of the fans opinions stink. Look at the disagreements over ticket prices – we’re all entitled to our view.

The coverage just after we were taken over in 2008 was, by a minority, disgusting, bordering on xenophobic in parts, but it died down after a many journalists got briefed and told a few home truths. In recent times it has been easy to wonder if I am just being paranoid again if I feel that there is a bias against the club – certainly some journalists would suggest so, and I feel some sympathy for many of them as they must get massive amounts of bile thrown their way on social media on a daily basis.

But ask yourself this, hand on heart – do we get the same coverage as other big teams? And it’s not paranoia anymore, because it’s as clear as the spring waters of Buxton – we don’t.
Atmospheres are generally terrible at English games, especially compared to abroad, we’re just a more reserved, sedate bunch, and like a little whinge and a chat instead during  a match, and a few pints and an overpriced pie too. I’ve heard Liverpool’s assistant manager fart during one of their legendary European nights it’s been so quiet, but tell me when you have seen any journalist do what Matt Hughes of the Times did on Tuesday and criticise not only another English team’s atmosphere but also criticise a club’s support for empty seats when the match has sold out – you can’t, because it’s never happened, in the same way that the empty seats at recent games at Arsenal and United simply don’t exist as far as the media are concerned, not that it should be an issue of course, the obsession to have a full stadium one of the weirdest of all.
Now tell me when you last watched a European game involving two foreign sides and heard the co-commentator compare the atmosphere with the lack of one at an English side’s game the previous night? Until Steve Mcmanaman did it on Wednesday night (“It’s chalk and cheese, it’s chalk and cheese!” he spat on the commentator), and the previous night of course when commentating on City – you won’t have done.
McManaman has his excuse of course, as one of the Liverpool media cabal, is still bitter not only at us winning the league 2 years ago but also at Raheem Sterling leaving. And tell me, when do you last recall a pundit sitting in the studio criticising the fans of the team that has just secured a famous victory by lying about them not singing? You haven’t of course, until Rio Ferdinand did on Tuesday night at the Etihad, but then of course he’s bitter for his own obvious reasons and the TV studios are filled with ex-united players, and they can’t be impartial, Gary Neville so overwhelmed with the effort involved that he emigrated in the end to avoid the stress of it all.

So why do you think fellow fans and journalists that we think you’ve got it in for us? If United had done what City had on Tuesday night, there would not be one mention of a few empty seats, not one mention of what the atmosphere was like, not one rewriting of history, downgrading the opposition from world beaters two weeks ago to now being considered an average team. And every journalist in the land would have said PSG were average because United pressed and made them look average.

Not if it’s City though. Some will never accept us at the top table, which is unfortunate, because we could be there for quite a while, subject to winning a few more league games this season. Instead, this week we have half the internet with sticky pants because the next young player off United’s famous conveyor belt scored a nice goal – that trumps a Champions League semi-final place any day of the week.

It doesn’t help when the few City supporters in the media seem to hate us so much, David Conn purring as he released his latest oil-soaked Arab owners piece last week. David of course is now a fully-fledged FCUM supporter, taking in punk rock supporter-owned football, though he mysteriously seemed to be away when the recent news of FCUM in-fighting broke out, the reporting falling to his colleague Daniel Taylor instead. No doubt he was in the Amazonian rainforest or somewhere similar, where WIFI coverage is patchy, at best.

But is it just City where prejudice and bias exists? I’m sure fans of other clubs go through similar things – just not the things we do. United fans are taunted about not being from Manchester, the Emirates is called a library, and Chelsea are a bit racist – there’s taunts for all, but I doubt they are so ingrained and factually incorrect as ours – they would argue otherwise.
And there’s a reason they are not. You see, United fans, and others in smaller numbers, have carried out one of the great PR jobs of modern times to convince the world that the 9th best supported club in Europe has no supporters. Hell, they could probably convince you satan exists they’ve done such a good marketing job.

When other clubs have more fans, and control the media, this is what happens. It will take 20 years of success before we have city legends in studios, have Talksport calling them up for a biased slant on a story, and until we can dominate social media and convince the world all United fans used to support Leicester City before Wayne Rooney’s glorious managerial reign from 2025-30. Teams that have had success leading up to and during the early years of the mass internet age have taken over and consolidated their auras and images of superiority, organic growth and of course history, that have transferred around the globe. Still, we’ll have to go some way to match the miserable mugs of Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes desperately searching for negatives when there aren’t any. The head of BT football may be a City fan, but it doesn’t change the fact that the pundit line up is appalling and skewed, and I’d argue it will force viewers to desert the station in droves, but they never had the viewers in the first place, as UEFA are finding out to their cost. Jake Humphrey admitted as much when he pointed towards Scholes the other night, that he wasn’t expecting impartial analysis from him. What a sorry state of affairs.

Raheem Sterling would be the perfect case study to prove bias. A young English player who wanted to move to further his career was so demonised that he is booed by every set of fans he plays in front of, most of whom probably don’t know why they are even booing in the 1st place. Now, it’s not paranoid to say that if he had moved to United none of this would have happened, though the club rivalry may have prevented it happening of course. This is because of the myth that going to united is somehow a step up for everyone, even with Butthead in charge and Ed Woodward striking the deals, when we all know the future should be blue should we not mess it all up, which is always a possibility.

We shouldn’t care one jot of course. Much of it is truly hilarious. From fans it is water off a duck’s back. It’s just a shame that the clickbait brigade has now taken over the internet and that a minority of journalism has sunk so low to clichés and falsehoods.
It is perhaps a bit needy to require lots of praise for our team after it has done well, the result itself should be enough, but, and it’s a Kim Karshadian sized but, we have been starved of success for so long we crave it like oxygen at high altitude. So be nice journalists, we’ll appreciate it. Though not you Custis, you’re a lost cause.

 

Manuel Pellegrini: The Once-Charming Man Who Tarnished His Legacy

There’s no hiding place on the internet. We can all feel stupid laughing at David James  who predicted City finishing outside the Top 4 this season, and I stayed up most of the night deleting all the articles I wrote saying nice things about Manuel Pellegrini. Charming my arse.

There were a lot of ridiculously angry people at the Etihad yesterday, venting their spleen and getting most upset over some men kicking a football around, badly. We invest a lot of time, effort, money and emotion in the team we support, but with hindsight, tweeting abuse to the wife of Martin Demichelis probably won’t help matters in the long term,  and perhaps suggests you’re something of a cretin to boot.

But apart from the fact that finishing outside the top four would be both embarrassing and a huge blow to the plans of Pep Guardiola, would seriously hamper eight years of preparation that led up to this point, apart from that, it is simply baffling that we find ourselves at this point. And the saddest thing of all is that Manuel Pellegrini has successfully dismantled his legacy at the club, and, along with others, seriously damaged the near-future too.

I can accept City not winning the league – it happens, and it will happen many times. Sometimes teams don’t perform to their potential, sometimes managers make mistakes, injuries hamper progress, decisions go against you, whatever. We won a cup, got a day out at Wembley, have progressed further in the Champions League than before, and a top four finish would have meant an ok season, but with the bonus of Pep coming in and hopefully weaving his magic. A low level of competence would have seen City reach these goals with so many teams misfiring in the chasing pack. Mancini had his bad season too, and is still revered – that’s why this season was vital to the way Pellegrini would be judged, and after such a scintillating start why what has followed has both baffled and disappointed so many. And a top four finish would mean a season without Champions League football for United, Chelsea and Liverpool, we could have been in pole position for years to come, unless you believe 20 years of Leicester City dominance is forthcoming.

But I guess this is the City way. Somehow, going into the international break, City sit in the top four. Somehow. They have a dodgy penalty call at Stamford Bridge to thank for that, and the strangest season in Premier League history to thank too. Any other season, and we’d probably be out of the race already. The international break gives the manager the chance to welcome back De Bruyne and Nasri, though don’t be surprised if Aguero and others manage to pick up knocks whilst jetting round the world.

You’ve probably seen many of the statistics on this season, and they are truly horrific. City have picked up 36 points in the last 25 games. That’s the form of a lower mid-table team, and that’s the form of six whole months. Southampton are the only semi-decent team beaten in the whole season. We failed to score against United, and took a few pastings too. Decisions have gone against us sometimes, injuries have been harsh, but there is no excuse for statistics like this, not with the squad that Pellegrini has at his disposal. The Pep announcement can thus not be blamed for the poor form as it was rubbish anyway, though it has somehow managed to get worse, which is quite the achievement. City may not have beaten many decent teams all season, but since the news that our managers were changing in the summer, we haven’t even beaten one of the top sixteen in the league. We’re running out of teams to beat, and the only exception was an Aston Villa team that literally didn’t want to be on the pitch, and they still held out until the 2nd half. You wonder not only where the next win is coming from, but how on earth we will hang onto 4th place. The bookies still make us favourites, for reasons that escape me. Either way, managers and players move on all the time, so the news of change should not really affect the players, who should have the professionalism and desire to want to win trophies right now, this season.

And yet in the same way that Louis Van Gaal pulls out a result when he seems doomed, so City have performed well enough away from the league to confuse matters somewhat. The Champions League progress and group win, the League Cup in the bag, two teams dispatched with ease in the FA Cup (two teams we couldn’t score against in the league), before waving the white flag at Chelsea. A strange season when poor form is so focused on one competition, and sadly the competition that matters most to most of us.

And with hindsight the demise has been brewing for eighteen months. The situation has been masked somewhat by the bizarre club record running win in the league right in the middle, straddling two seasons that both secured 2nd place last season then had the press declaring us champions in waiting this. But a couple of injuries and it all went to pot. Losing a spine of a team will disrupt any squad, whatever the budget, but the problems go far deeper than that, far further than one man alone. The players themselves must take flak as the buck stops with them, whilst the transfer policies that were praised at season-start look far flakier now, and you wonder just how wisely we have spent after all. On defenders alone, it has clearly been haphazard and downright disastrous.

It’s easy to be swayed by a bad run though. Chelsea showed that changing managers can reinvigorate, and only two months ago Pep Guardiola was widely called a coward for taking the easy option at City. Now there’s widespread talk of a huge squad overhaul being necessary. The truth, as always. lies somewhere in between.

And so bad is the situation, so lethargic is the play, that many want sacked a man who is leaving in two months anyway, which speaks volumes about the rapid decline that has hit this team. The supporters of Pellegrini are dwindling away to family friends and asylum members. Get Brian Kidd in. Get Vieira back, somehow. What’s Alan Curbishley up to these days?

And the saddest thing for me is that Pellegrini, who had his critics from the start, will leave with few supporters. His stubbornness, strange tactics, failure to prepare for the opposition and reluctance to take pressure off the squad by trusting in youth has left a jaded squad stumbling towards the summer. No players have improved, many have regressed. For all the negativity and gloom around the club right now, it has rarely been in better shape and we as fans have gone through much, much worse, but I cannot remember a time I have wanted a season to end so much. That’s partly due to Pep, but also due to the awful form that has spread an apathy and anger around the stands. Add ridiculous pricing policies from our owners and the result will be plenty of empty seats in the remaining games for the banter boys to laugh at.

The title is gone, it was gone weeks ago. Somehow this squad must regroup and fight for that Champions League place, or else the progress of the club will be damaged greatly. There are certain players that cannot be trusted right now, and it’s time the manager realised that and played to his squad’s strengths. Maybe, just maybe, with a bit of luck in front of goal and the return of crucial players, this season can be saved. I can’t say I’m hopeful.
Still, there’s no hiding on the internet. So imagine how embarrassed I’ll be about this blog when City go on to win the league.