Category Archives: General Thoughts

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.

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.






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.

Was Manuel Pellegrini Right To Sacrifice The FA Cup?

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Disrespecting the cup. The cup killers. Pell hell. You’re “kidding”. The day the FA Cup was mortally wounded. Not my words of course.
Shed a tear for modern football, as City have done it again and “killed” the beautiful game. You have to wonder what we’ve got lined up next. If we’re not booing the Champions League anthem, a ditty protected by the lord himself, we’re fielding weakened teams, ramping up wages (and ticket prices), only filling our stadium to 98% capacity and wasting the careers of youngsters and English footballers in general. Next up: bidding £200m for Neymar.

But of course we all know City didn’t “kill” this competition, a competition in which they’ve reached the final twice in five years. No, others have already done a good job of doing it before. That’s why the weekend press was full of discussion about how to revive this noble trophy, yet come Sunday it seemed everything was OK again until Manuel Pellegrini chose his young team. Strange that.

The truth is that those in power have crippled the FA Cup by constantly messing around with it and pandering to money and broadcasters as ever. From changing the kick off time (it should be 3pm on a Saturday – always), to allowing league programmes on the same day as the final, to moving it from the end of the season, to spreading quarter finals over four days, to having Friday night and Monday night games, to moving the draw time and having it in the middle of the One Show with a full array of gurning full kit wankers on hand to grin into the camera when their team was pulled out of the hat, to failing to help teams with a crowded fixture list who then inevitably will field weakened teams, unlike other FAs, who actually help their teams be successful,  to having semi-finals at Wembley to pay off the gold-plated ivory tower, thus completely demeaning the occasion of the final. By pressuring a team to pull out to play in a poxy tournament across the globe in order to impress FIFA, to letting the competition be run by TV companies meaning that Manchester United appear on TV 50 times on a row despite having not won the competition in that eleven year period. Now there’s talk of scrapping replays and midweek games. Clueless, utterly clueless, and a world away from my childhood, when sitting in front of the TV to watch the FA Cup final was a huge event, whoever was playing (it was never my team, after all). Now the world has changed, tribalism means I may not watch the final at all and TV coverage has saturated the market, but it’s no excuse for damaging the oldest cup competition of them all.

Not that the FA Cup is dead. It is not all about Arsenal or Manchester City. 736 teams competed this season, starting on 15th August, some wonderful stories and journeys emerge every time, and revenue from a “glamour” tie can keep clubs in business. It’s not just about the latter stages and viewing figures.

But what of Mr. Pellegrini? Well, not being able to simply play the game on the Saturday seems ridiculous, but would Pellegrini have played a stronger team a day earlier? I’m not sure. This seems to me like a classic case of misdirection from Pellegrini. He was probably sacrificing the FA Cup whenever the tie was played. Pellegrini could have had a full side available and still lost at Chelsea, and then had to have got past Everton and then two more games to win the cup. I’m not saying he did this, but by playing such a youthful, inexperienced side, he had his excuse to lose. We all know that the Champions League is the more important prize for our owners, and whilst it isn’t for me, it’s kinda tough because owners who have invested so heavily in our team have the right to prioritise, as without them we wouldn’t have such dilemmas anyway.
You may say we can’t win the Champions League, so what’s the point, but we must try, and we must progress in it, and if you think we never had a chance, I also presume you’d have been happy with Pellegrini throwing the group stages by playing kids? Right?

Alan Shearer and Graeme Le Saux can sit there on behalf of their paymasters bemoaning City’s team because it has ruined their big event, but their complete ignorance of circumstances offers nothing to the debate. Barcelona players might want to play every match, but then Barcelona don’t have seven players out injured, don’t have a separate cup final coming up, and also don’t play two games a week right through the winter, having the good sense like pretty much every other country to afford their players a winter break to recharge for the run-in.

Of course managers have been sending out weakened teams for years, especially those teams for whom not being relegated is the sole aim. Arsenal and Hull fielded weakened teams the day before City, and Liverpool have escaped any significant criticism for exiting the FA Cup after fielding weakened teams in two successive rounds, but that’s hardly a surprise as they are not City, and their manager is the wonderful Jürgen Klopp, not the dour Manuel Pellegrini.

Like it or not, clubs will always prioritise – they have to sometimes, with up to 60 games in a season, and saying that players should just play really doesn’t show a good understanding of how athletes perform and the importance of rest, recuperation and fitness, especially when looking to avoid injury and perform at their peak. With a five hour flight to a country in a totally different time zone, the three day gap for City’s squad is not the same as a team playing two games in the same period domestically, or even having to go to somewhere like Paris. As the outspoken fitness coach Raymond Verheijen made quite clear on Twitter – “as two rest days is PROVEN to be insufficient and Champions League is priority over FA Cup, how can one blame Pellegrini for not taking risk of unfit players?”
Indeed. He added that coaches will not prioritise competitions if governing bodies help their clubs. The Italian FA do this, but our FA have shown no inclination of helping clubs – I guess the feeling will be that with more wealth and better players, they just have to get on with it. But when other FAs help their teams, it puts English teams in Europe at a disadvantage, and prioritising then weakens domestic competitions too. After all, on average, teams have a 40% less chance of winning after only 2 rest days against an opponent with 3 or more rest days, and I’m sure Pellegrini is well aware of such statistics in a game now dominated by analysis.

Playing on the Saturday would have allowed both Chelsea and City three days’ rest after and before their respective Champions League games, but it was the police that scuppered this.  The total crowd at Chelsea and Fulham would be less than one game at Old Trafford, but policing two separate games separated by two tube stations is a rather different proposition to policing one game, or City and United on opposite sides of a city. Still, the day is long, it could have been done.

Pellegrini could have avoided this situation though if he had bedded in the odd youth player over the past two and a half years. There have been plenty of opportunities – Capital One Cup matches, substitutions when comfortably winning matches, and more. But he hasn’t so now he throws them all in at once in something of a fit of pique and rather hangs them out to dry. Having said that, the players will hopefully have gained something from the Chelsea match, and won’t be scarred by losing heavily to such an accomplished side, but the result was inevitable, even at half-time perhaps, and we really didn’t learn much about our youth players. Chelsea could have scored ten, our young players were outclassed, but this tells us little, as they could become world beaters in the future, they never stood much of a chance over 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge, especially when the senior players alongside them underperformed yet again. But with greater integration previously, the young players would have been better prepared for this match and the strain they’d have taken off the senior team would have probably also meant fewer injuries.

The key to this entire debate though was the injury list. City could hardly afford to take any more injuries to key players and thus effectively throw away their chances in three cup competitions in a week. In some ways, whilst this has been painted as a move designed to protect City’s Champions League chances, the cup final on the horizon may have played an even bigger part in Pellegrini’s thought process, as it is City’s best chance of silverware, even if it is the smallest trophy of them all, and the Champions League is two-legged after all, so a defeat can be rectified. A Sunday tie gave Pellegrini his escape clause, a reason to protect the remaining fit players for Wednesday and beyond.

Whatever the reasons, sacrificing the FA Cup was a gamble, and we’ll only know in a week whether it was worth it or not. Lose the next two cup games, and Manuel Pellegrini will look rather foolish, as the date of his departure crawls towards us, his team limping from one game to another. Let’s hope that the sacrifice he made this weekend and the vitriol he received as a result was all worth it.

Enough Is Enough – Ticket Prices Need To Fall & Fall Now

Unless you’ve been asleep for a few days you will probably be aware by now that on Saturday, a section of the Liverpool fans walked out of their game versus Sunderland in the 77th minute as a form of protest at new ticket prices being brought in for their new stand next season, a significant rise on before. It is thought that up to 10,000 made for the exits, prompting a rather catastrophic team collapse. The two incidents may or may not be linked.
Like many football directors, Ian Ayre has since proceeded to handle the whole affair terribly. Poor excuses that fool no one, a seismic failure to understand the issues at hand, a cancelled Q & A session (worse than never having one in the first place), and the price increases have also had the side-effect of hitting many disabled supporters, many of whom cannot just relocate, for obvious reasons.

But what the Liverpool fans did is not the first of its kind, though any publicity it creates can only be a good thing. The only way that owners can be held to account is a collective effort from fans. Manchester City fans (and others) have been boycotting ticket prices for years – this is not a new phenomenon. City fans do it by simply not turning up anymore – by “jacking in” everything they used to love. No fanfare, no banners, they just drift away and find better ways to spend their hard-earned money. Enough is enough, and booing a Champions League anthem is not sufficient to guarantee attendance. Success is costly, and many just can’t take the strain. I stopped attending away games a good few years ago, as have friends who rarely missed a game home or away in the old days. Maybe we got older and have other responsibilities in life now, the excitement of going to matches as a child and teenager no longer there, the thrill of a packed terrace gone forever.
Maybe. Maybe modern ticket prices mean it’s an old man’s (or woman’s) game now anyway. Either way, some have had enough, some don’t feel it necessary to attend anymore. Modern football has killed their enthusiasm. Drifting away though provides no headlines, provides no articles, and everyone turns a blind eye. Or not.
Because what has been the response from swathes of rival fans?
To mock.
To count empty seats and deride those who had been priced out of the beautiful game. Even City’s “official betting partner” Paddy Power revel in City not selling out on their social media platforms. When City offered 2-for-1 Champions League tickets, the club was widely ridiculed for having to give tickets away to fill the stadium. We’d reached a point where Manchester United fans were mocking a rival club for not forcing fans to purchase tickets and for selling them for a third or a quarter of what they had to pay themselves (if they’d actually been in the Champions League at the time). We had, and continue to have Arsenal fans baying on Twitter at their rival’s attendances whilst being royally ripped off week in, week out and doing nothing about it. So wouldn’t it be nice if fans grouped together not to mock, but to deal with the issue at hand?

I’ve come to accept that modern football at the top level entails corporate areas at grounds, and will not lose sleep over a small section of the ground being exorbitantly priced, if there’s a demand for that, as long as there are affordable seats for those that want them elsewhere. It’s when there isn’t that the problems begin. The creeping corporate areas at the Etihad have pushed some out of their seats into new areas, which is hardly ideal, but at least there are affordable seats elsewhere. This season I relocated to the new 3rd tier of the south stand, where season tickets are available from as little as £299. Mine is £380, less than what it was four years ago. It’s a bargain. The club have made excellent progress on many ticketing issues, but still put their foot in it occasionally, seemingly out of touch with modern life and the modern working man/woman. Thus this week, ticket prices for the Dynamo Kiev tie were announced, around the £30-£40 price range. Ignoring the fact that tickets for the 1st leg are an astonishing £4.50 (things work differently there), the price is all wrong, even if it looks competitive compared to rivals’ prices. City are at Wembley in a few weeks – 30,000+ will be forking out up to £100 for tickets, plus travel, accommodation, the odd pint of mild and more. Then there’s the FA Cup match at Chelsea for some. Then there’s the possibility of further cup matches should we progress further in the two remaining competitions. By the time that’s all over it will soon be time to renew for next season. If your team is quite successful, it never seems to end, and the club don’t waste any time taking the money out either. For all of us, there’s food, there’s merchandise, there’s travel, all the extras. It’s incessant.
Dynamo Kiev will provide tough opposition, but they are not a glamour team, by any stretch of the imagination. The tie at the Etihad will not sell out. That is obvious to all City fans, so presumably is obvious to those who decide the prices at the club. So why was it priced this way?

And I’d even have some tiny little inkling of why owners do this if I really thought it gave them an advantage in the “market” or on the pitch, but it really doesn’t. Liverpool’s price increases would cover little more than one more failed footballer bought from Utrecht and loaned out to Rotherham after failing to impress. It would cover the cost of Eliaquim Mangala’s big toe (right or left foot, take your pick). It’s irrelevant, a tiny, worthless pebble placed in the revenue stream, as ticket revenue becomes less and less important to clubs as TV deals break through the stratosphere. The earnings from Hong Kong’s Premier League TV rights alone is enough to cover huge prices reductions across the board at City. From Hong Kong alone. Why do owners continue to create PR disaster after PR disaster for such little gain? After all, I can’t fall out of love with football, I can’t go and support another club – I am committed to this until the day I die. Following a sports team is not like any other financial transaction, so the argument that if you don’t like it then stop going just doesn’t wash. It’s not acceptable for fans to be priced out of a sport awash with money.

And this new TV deal on the horizon is huge, beyond rational explanation, making a £10 ticket rise the equivalent of charging a man who has just bought 8 diamond rings 5p for a carrier bag. And with each TV deal, the working man forlornly hopes that the extra revenue will be passed onto the fan, and every time, with a few exceptions, it goes instead to those who already have more money than they can spend. Ticket prices have risen by about 1000% since the start of the Premier League in 1992, a tad ahead of normal inflation rates. This new deal may approach £6bn, but the truth is with foreign TV deals, highlights packages and all the other add-ons, it’s really nearer to £9bn. You often hear talk of modern footballers being disconnected from the fans, but you can hardly blame them for living in a bubble. We’re targeting the wrong people really – it’s the ones that run the game, right up to Scudamore, Taylor and their peers that are disconnected, and have created the situation we find ourselves in today.

City and others have made steps on ticket prices. United and Arsenal will freeze their prices next season – United have for a good few years now, though Arsenal still managed to infuriate fans by lumping a surcharge on their Barcelona tickets. Staggering. The fact is that whilst freezes are a start, there is little excuse anymore for clubs not only to freeze prices, but to drastically reduce prices across the board. Will any club have the cojones to break from the pack and do this?

And the thing is, City’s decision makers know all this, they know the economics of tickets sales as much as any of us. They reduced prices for FA Cup games and it sold out even when we were playing lower league teams. The atmosphere was better, the team responded, we got to Wembley twice (four times in truth). The place was rocking against Everton in the Capital One Cup, and we won again. A full house means increased takings at the bars and food stalls, so the income is probably just as much even when prices are reduced. It’s simple logic, it’s common sense, and we can all see it.

And there are two separate issues with ticket prices – home fans and away fans. For too long, away fans have been treated as the unwanted neighbours at matches, placed in the worst parts of the ground, with the worst facilities and some of the most exorbitant ticket prices. The truth is that away fans are the lifeblood of the modern game, as without them it barely seems worth bothering anymore. Atmospheres at modern stadia are bad enough in this country (in many, but not all grounds) without hitting the travelling fan and thus removing even more atmosphere. The call for price caps on away tickets is needed and a small step in the right direction, and it was soul-sapping to see my team and many of the other “big teams” are against the proposals for a £30 price cap. How utterly depressing. They just don’t get it do they? Income from away fans is such a tiny percentage of a club’s revenue (well under 1% for most teams), then it’s hard to fathom why a team would oppose such a move apart from spite. At least the teams in favour are looking to set up their own reciprocal scheme anyway.
I went to the odd early “Twenty’s Plenty” meeting, which wanted an even lower cap on away ticket prices, as the name suggests. There were lots of good ideas, but it felt futile to me, due to the powerful machines we as fans are up against, including market forces and supply and demand. Their cause and passion was admirable though, MPs have been involved, and the campaign will not stop until goals have been reached.

So how do we protest against modern ticket prices? Not attending does work. It’s why Manchester City have had very competitive prices in cup games, but it has not spilled over sufficiently into league games, where most seats are pre-bought in the summer. That’s the long game though, and it depends on owners caring whether seats are filled or realising that a full house brings in different revenue streams and fans for life. Visible protests like the one at Anfield are powerful. Already there is talk of Liverpool’s owners revisiting their plans, there are talks of further protests and journalists are writing about the issue en masse. Even Alan Shearer is discussing it on Match of the Day. There appears to be momentum, so it needs to be maintained, and we all need to join in if we feel strongly on the topic.

The game has changed – we all need accept that. No more terracing, no paying on the gate, no wooden stands, crumbling stadia, everything sanitised and safe, at the top level at least. No Football Pink, social clubs, goal updates on Piccadilly 1152, no relying on newspapers to know what happened. Now it is a sport of big business, of branding, of money, money, money. More and more money, piled upon more and more money, and the bubble is always seemingly about to burst, but it never does. But the irony is that the money that has swamped the game could just be the thing that saves it. If club owners could utilise their full brain power for just one moment, they would realise that they don’t need ticket sales anymore. They don’t need to squeeze every penny out of the match-going fan. The game is global, the appeal too, the revenue comes from all corners of the earth, from Albanian TV to Indian merch buyers to noodle partners in Peru. A rise in ticket prices makes little difference to a club’s chance of success, it is an extra corner in a match or one re-taken penalty in a season. It is less than that, because if the game was given back to the working classes, if the game became affordable to all, whoever you supported, the owners would benefit as much as the fans would. So if we can all see this, then why can’t they?
We need to keep telling them until it sinks in. Fans are the lifeblood of any sport, and one day we will have had enough – and all the TV deals in all of the world can’t make up for that. Only when fans are no longer taken for granted, their unconditional support no longer guaranteed, will progress be made. Thankfully it seems a groundswell has begun, and changes could be afoot. English football needs this to happen.

How I Love & Hate Modern Football

Do you enjoy football? Is the passion still there? Is it not what it used to be?
Well, it’s possible to love AND hate modern football, because you’ve probably always loved and hated football, you just didn’t always give it much thought. Football has never been perfect, your club has never been perfect, the players have never performed perfectly, the sport has never been run perfectly, and things have never gone exactly how you had hoped. But we still love it all the same, right?

Nostalgia’s a wonderful thing, though it ain’t what it was. The Parkside, floodlights at night games, the terraces of Moss Side, chips in a cone, a pound to mind your car, mister. The Kippax, outside toilets, mis-shaped stands, Helen’s bell, Gene Kelly, white dog poo, jumpers for goalposts. Back alleys, season ticket books, restricted views, relegation, promotion, relegation, relegation, promotion, promotion. Back in the big time. Trevor Morley’s moustache. Tight shorts. Inflatable bananas and hooliganism, ID cards, crumbling grounds and tragedy.

I’d happily argue football was certainly no better an experience in the old days. In fact, we’re spoilt rotten nowadays, and that seems to be what actually annoys some. A game for the working classes is fading away. But football was a right mess in the 80s. Half-empty and crumbling stadia, hooliganism, tragedy, and as much poor football as ever. Away games were fraught with danger, but if you were young that was part of the thrill. Or even if you were older, perhaps. Then football became sanitised and we gained a lot and lost a little too. Many teams moved to shiny new stadia after Hillsborough, because it was a better alternative than re-designing existing grounds and ripping up terraces, and things were never the same.

And with all this came the problem of ticket prices. Many of the old faithful have fallen by the wayside as prices increased steadily over the past decade and more. Inflation for Premier League football tickets since its inception hovers around the 1000% mark.  Lord Justice Taylor really thought his report would lead to an era of cheap seats – he couldn’t have been more wrong. With the Premier League, money became king and clubs ripped off fans for every penny they could. City’s owners have helped out more than many in certain areas, but prices are still generally far too high, across the board, and across all leagues.
Taylor famously wrote in his report: “Clubs may well wish to charge somewhat more for seats than for standing but it should be possible to plan a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand.” Supporter groups saw immediately that all-seater stadia would not be used to benefit fans, and so it proved. In 1989-90, the cheapest season ticket at Anfield was just £60 and £96 at Manchester United. And as corporate seats start creeping further outwards around grounds, the “common man” is slowly squeezed out.

For many, modern football means a lack of atmosphere at grounds. It is a problem, but let’s not pretend that every match was a bubbling cauldron of passion twenty years ago. There were games played in near-silence then as they are now.
However, I truly believe that the accessibility of football has reduced the atmosphere in football grounds. Not only do you not have to go to the ground to see your team anymore, but there is so much football available, everywhere, at all time of the day, all week, there is so much to read about, so much social media discourse, that the match is less of an event now. In the old days, there was just the match, the Football Pink and the odd article in the Evening News. You could take a day off work and scroll through Ceefax or re-mortgage your house and phone Clubcall, but the week revolved around matches.

And with football seen more as entertainment, we are obliged to spectate sat down. No alcohol at your seats please. No sharp-ended items either, or bags, or cameras, or anything that could disrupt the Premier League’s product. Live football would become 50% more enjoyable overnight if a section of the crowd were allowed to stand, and if the away support, crucial to a match atmosphere, were not treated as the poor relations.
There’s probably a scientific study somewhere that shows people sing more when stood up, but either way, it does make a difference for me. The thing with terraces too is that with no allotted space, you had to get in early to get your spot, and that built an atmosphere more than in the modern stadia where many of us go to our seats at kick off (or later). Nowadays, many can’t even be bothered watching the whole match anyway. Beat the queues to the bar, beat the traffic too – time has never been more precious.

And dare I even suggest that life was harder for more “in the old days” and football was a release? I certainly would suggest the result didn’t quite mean as much to the average fan as it does now – I doubt there were fans apoplectic with rage after a home draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers or at the lazy ambling style of Paddy Fagan. Nor Woolwich Arsenal fans hijacking polls on their players or pushing their chest forward whilst talking about net spend. Once the internet gave us all a voice, many of us gradually became a lot angrier.

Now you’ve got us all discussing financial results, injury records, team spends, we’ve got the sodding banter brigade, Lad Bible, YNFA, Paddy Power twitter accounts, we’ve got the seat counters, we’ve got the history boys, we’ve got the Robbie Savages and we’ve got the bloody Michael Owens. We know how much ground every player covers, we know their pass completion rates, and we know about every other part of the game, should we wish to. We’ve got ex-referees as celebrities and in commentary roles, we’ve got analysis until our brains bleed, and somewhere in the middle of all that, we’ve got some football matches too after which we slow incidents down to a tenth of their speed and view them from 15 different angles to ascertain how much “contact” there was. I tell you what, I’ve seen them given, and if he’s felt contact, he’s got a right to go down Trevor.

And there’s the little things. You can’t turn up at the gate and pay, you can’t make an impulse decision to go to a football match. You have to jump through hoops and pay money just for the opportunity of attending.
But anyway, age catches up with us all. Personally, the fact is that I’m middle aged and don’t act like I used to, have other priorities and football isn’t the same as it was even though it is just as important, albeit in a different way. I wish it wasn’t sometimes, but it is. David Silva’s indifferent form can really put a downer on my week.

At City, when loyalty could be purchased via Platinum schemes, then the goalposts moved. Elsewhere, when Sky and other broadcasters considered it acceptable to move games at short notice and make fans travel 300 miles on a Monday evening, they shifted further. When we’re playing a 39th game in Dubai, we may as well knock them down altogether.

So are we disconnected from our sporting heroes now? Is this game no longer “ours”?
Are the players and fans disconnected? Well it would be nice if the players acknowledged the eight fans left in the stadium at the end of a game for their staggering dedication to the cause. But seriously, they should. Jurgen Klopp was mocked for leading the players hand in hand to acknowledge the fans recently after a home draw. As usual many fans completely missed the point, as it was not a celebration but an acknowledgement. Holding hands probably isn’t necessary, we’re British, but the acknowledgement is – and players shouldn’t have to be prompted. It doesn’t change my life or view of things, it’s not a deal-breaker, but it does matter, it does mean something.

However, let’s not pretend that there used to be some magical connection between players and fans, players that would get the bus to the ground and have a pint of mild in the social club afterwards. I’ve never had a proper connection with players, they’ve always been a distant entity, who exist in a different world to me. I want them to play well, I expect little more. Those I’ve met seem nice enough, and that’s good enough for me. Others get a bigger club connection no doubt, it changes from club to club, and in the lower leagues, but at the top table there always been a divide between players and fans, at least in my lifetime if not before. Now you have to buy something to meet a player.

What about between club and fans? Well that’s not the case with City, and anyone who suggests that it is worse than it used to be has a very selective memory. The club has never had more discourse with fans even though the Points of Blue liaison has gone, and there was even a fans forum just last week. I’m not sure who went or how you get an invite, but there was one. There was no discourse with Peter Swales or Franny Lee, we had no say, unless we protested outside the ground and waved a few placards and the like. The club was often run shambolically and without any thought to the fans. We had scapegoats in those days, and more of them. More managers too. The club do listen to fans nowadays, though we still wait for real ale at the bar, but revenue is king and it rather gets in the way sometimes.

But there’s no answer to what’s wrong, if anything, really. For those City fans that do feel disconnected from the modern game, there are differing reasons. Ticket prices. A perception of not mattering to the club. Atmosphere. Tourists. Players that don’t care. Modern football. Sky. The entrance music. The time it takes to get a pint. Bespoke pies. City Square. Too many club emails. The half-time entertainment. The tannoy. Wilfried Bony. Pellegrini’s substitutions. The lack of youth players in the 1st team. Corporate seats. Moving seats. Rubbish seats. No Garry Cook. Invisible owners. Loyalty points. Kick off times. UEFA. FIFA. Platini. Financial Fair Play. Smoking restrictions. The weather.

If it’s atmosphere, you could always do something about it. Stay to the end, make some noise, and support the team. You may get more back. If you are silent at matches, you’re part of the problem. I know I am. The club aren’t responsible for you cheering on the team, the people in the ground are. It’s up to you or else have a man with a loudhailer at the front geeing us all up with renditions of the invisible man.
Football has changed, and it will continue to do so. It may not be to our liking all the time, but it’s still football, and it still has the power to provide me with thrills, spills and move my beating heart like little else. It shapes my mood, it makes me swear, abuse, cheer, gasp, laugh, argue, scream and sing.
Same as it ever was.




Howard’s new book, written with the wonderful Simon Curtis, is available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon now.

And He’s The Left Back, Remember! – A Minute By Minute Look At 10 Classic Manchester city Matches


Football In 2015: A Review

Goodbye 2015. Twelve months of war, conflict and disagreement – and that was just Louis Van Gaal’s press conferences. It was a crazy year, and football did not buck the trend. A year that started with James Milner starring up front for Manchester City, ended with Chris Smalling finishing games up front for Manchester United. Strange times and the year of the underdog, unless you happened to be playing Barcelona.

It was a year that saw most of City’s squad either injured, coming back from injury, or just about to be injured.  City’s plush new academy was transformed into an Anchors Away hybrid with padding on all surfaces, but all to no avail. Sergio Aguero injured himself yawning, Fabian Delph dislocated his shoulder signing his contract, Vincent Kompany suffered his 17th calf injury of the year reaching for a tin of beans and pork sausages at the back of a cupboard and Wilfried Bony caught malaria despite not leaving Alderley Edge. City had everything in place for success, except fit players. D’oh!
Still, at the least the younger age groups are doing very well indeed – and so well that United took their ball home in a strop at one point and considered not playing City at youth level anymore as we were too aggressive in taking on youth players. Not quite so easy is it when you don’t have everything your own way?

And partly because of the sick bay that was the training ground, and partly for other reasons, it was a disappointing, underwhelming year for the Citizens. It started as it went on – a pitiful defeat at home to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup after a commercial jaunt to the Middle East that did no one any good except our bean counters. Take that Platini! The glorious 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the previous round seemed a distant memory. In Europe, the balls were warmed to the temperature of lava, and that could only mean one thing – Barcelona, and City weren’t good enough to overcome that obstacle, especially with the customary red card in the first leg.

It was little better in the league. In what was soon to be known as the third worst title defence ever, City went on a terrible run from January to April, with the odd spark, that saw them go from level with Chelsea at the New Year to out of the title defence by spring. A late surge saw 2nd place secured, a consolation of sorts. That man who we once thought of as charming was a goner – we all agreed on that. Then he signed a new contract. Still, at least we were confident of James Milner staying. Then he left.

The title was Chelsea’s, won at a canter, and another triumph for the special one. A new contract was duly signed, and years of glory beckoned. And then it all went Pete Tong. Jose Mourinho descended into his traditional bout of paranoia, bitterness and dissent, but the players did not join him for the ride. Their form deteriorated, the players looked like washed-up ex-pros on a legends tour, all expenses paid and the club doctor Eva Carneiro committed the cardinal sin of entering the field of play to treat a player feigning injury. The dressing room was never the same again. When Mourinho inevitably departed with Chelsea close to the relegation zone, the fans blamed the players not the manager, strange considering that when a whole team loses form, there tends to be a single reason for that, whatever they get paid each week. Good luck Hiddink, you’ll need it, the Dutchman taking on the 2nd hardest job in football, only easier than succeeding Harry Redknapp, a man who used a suddenly inflamed knee to jump ship and let his latest team QPR flounder toward the Championship and financial ruin. Good work as ever Harry!

City fans should be primarily concerned with their own team of course, but what was happening down the road just over the city borders allowed plenty of chuckles and reassurance for the future. To recap – previously, Louis Van Gaal arrived at Manchester United to reverence, red carpets and the freedom of the press pack. He had them wrapped round his finger, drooling article after drooling article welcoming a new dawn after the debacle of David Moyes, a rabbit caught in the headlights. So much better than the dour man down the road who had no sound bites but had actually won something in recent years. Van Gaal was box office, by which we mean he has a screw loose, the proverbial one pepperoni short of a pizza. And some ham. And there’s a lack of cheese. And no tomato sauce at all.
Slowly but surely, the truth dawned, the non-existent philosophy fizzled away and the global fanbase worried about United’s unique DNA and soul. The reverence faded too, the purchases piled up, the expenditure surpassed anything seemed before, but the results did not follow. In fact Van Gaal managed to do something no previous manager had done before at United – he made them one of the most boring teams in the land. The press turned, as they always do, but respect to Van Gaal, who throughout ensured his club tie was impeccable even as the hair descended to Donald Trump levels. And here was the thing with Van Gaal – he was upset at the criticism because men with his ego and sense of importance do not see failure. By the end of the year he was being dragged out of press conferences by security men whilst shouting VAN GAAL ARMY, VAN GAAL ARMY!  Such sadness in his eyes.
We all pray that he stays at Old Trafford for a long time, as of course Manchester United stand against the immediacy of modern life.

Ah, the press. 2015 was the year when we learnt five things from every match. A dour 0-0? Here’s five things I learnt – number 1 – defences were on top. A 6-6 thriller – here’s five things I learnt. One day I’ll tell you all about the five things I learnt about the Paris terrorist attacks and the death of Lemmy from Motorhead. This is modern journalism. Newspapers are on the decline in print form, and battles rage for viewers online, which means clickbait. The usual appalling transfer rumours persisted, none better than United’s summer attempts to sign every player in the world (even I was offered a two-year deal), the highlight being their pitiful attempts to sign Neymar and Muller, if these attempts even existed. In the end, the sycophants in the press had to do with the two most exciting young players in the world, one of whom now sits mostly on the bench. Martial looks alright though.

For once, City were proactive and aggressive in the summer transfer market, moving for the players they wanted, rather than secondary targets, and increasing the home grown rota at the same time. The transfer that hogged the headlines though was that of a certain Raheem Sterling. Yes, Fabian Delph’s embarrassing U-turn did deflect some of the attention, but it couldn’t really compete with the hissy-fits and desperate whining of the Liverpool old boys network, still, after all this time, incapable of comprehending that a player may want to leave their club to better themselves (see also Arsenal fans). Hence, $t£rling was subject to the most incessant bullying campaign and hatchet job of any young footballer in many a year. One by one, the Liverpool “legends” queued up patiently to have their say. Not only was history rewritten , Sterling now portrayed as little more than a speed merchant, for whom Liverpool got the best end of the deal, but also it was repeated as nauseum by the likes of John Aldridge, John Barnes, Michael Owen, Phil Thompson that it was better for his career to develop at the club he was at, rather than sit on the bench at City. Jack Rodwell! Scott Sinclair!
Still, I’m always keen to take advice off ten-club keen dogger Stan Collymore and nine-club Micky Quinn. Alan Brazil sobered up for just long enough to call Raheem a numpty, before having a little nap.

Never mind, we all got to have a good laugh as Brendan Rodger’s team failed to show the requisite character, and he fell on his sword, before Jurgen Klopp rode into town, and Liverpool were predictably courted as title candidates within weeks. Some people never learn.

It was a stupid year too. City booed the Champions League anthem, and there was ridiculous talk of punishment by UEFA, seemingly too ridiculous even for UEFA, but would you put it past them? Soon the whole world learned of the booking, and everyone was having a go. Mission accomplished. Racism was dealt with the usual way – paltry fines and closed stadia. That will teach those nasty racists a lesson, for sure.

Of course football’s governing bodies had better things to worry about in 2015. Finally the net closed in on the crooks and despots of FIFA and even UEFA, though you do get the feeling that Sepp Blatter will still be a part of the sport’s governing body, even after death (should he ever die).  Almost as gratifying was the fall from grace of Michel Platini, who was hard done to if you ask me – which of us haven’t overlooked a payment of $1.5m for a year or ten? I know I have (no rush, Still, it’s hard to suppress a smirk to see the downfall of the man who brought in Financial Fair Play on the behest of the status quo. Karma’s a bitch sometimes.

And so the 2015/16 Premier League season has reached the half-way point, and it has been the craziest of all. It may be poor management by the elite’s managers, the arrival of even more money into the league or just a hundred factors coming into play, but it has been a season of shock results and the so-called “smaller” teams matching the big guns almost stride for stride. Watford excel, Bournemouth are beginning to flourish despite crippling injuries, but of course THE story of 2015 was Leicester City. Many of us thought they were doomed when they appointed the tinkerman Claudio Ranieri, but they have gone from strength to strength and remain right in the title race. With the rise of Leicester City came the rise of Jamie Vardy, astonishing considering that only 7 years ago he was working in a beetroot factory. Naturally four months of good form has seen him linked with a £30m move. This won’t happen.
Elsewhere, Gary Neville gave up his punditry career to manage Valencia to a succession of non-victories. Big Sam turned down Real Madrid in favour of relegating Sunderland, Spurs and Arsenal are well poised for a title challenge in the coming months, Aston Villa less so, as they slide miserably into the league below. They probably should have kept Fabian Delph, the snake.

City continued to plod. Injuries reached new levels of absurdity, and the club had become Arsenal Mark II. Aguero tweeted that he had a small bump on his heel but was fine, then was out for a month. Vincent Kompany comes back from injury and walked back off the pitch after nine minutes. Players get malaria, calf injuries, a hundred muscle injuries and other conditions I’ve never even heard of.  Results have surely ensured that Manchester will have two new managers by the start of next season – performances have simply not matched expenditure and expectations, the nadir for me a draw against David Cameron’s favourite side West Ham Villa.

Still, City got a new badge – it was the talk of the town. Out went the three stars, which represented Thomas Cook trophy wins (beat that Liverpool),  and in came something round, three rivers, which in real life soon became one whole river known as North England and a red rose,  which represents City’s proud horticultural history. Anyway, I don’t care, though is it just me that sees the badge as gold and white? Or it blue and black? It keeps changing!

But there were still highlights for such a talented City team in 2015. First, the boring financial bit – the club made a profit! This was hard for most simpletons to comprehend, that City are now bringing in huge sums in revenue, so when we bought players in the summer, it was still seen by many who can’t comprehend such complexities as the death-knell for Financial Fair Play rules. Yawn.
We built a new tier on the third stand, just so rival fans could count the empty seats easier. How considerate of Sheikh Mansour. There was also the wonderful win in Seville, topping our Champions League group for the first time, those five goals in fifteen minutes versus Newcastle, the wonderful skills of Chelsea reject Kevin De Bruyne, every Sterling goal sticking it to the haters (haters gonna hate), the win over Chelsea, our longest ever winning streak, the continued development of Joe Hart, a cup semi-final on the way and a misfiring side was still the highest scorers at home this year. The less said about the defence the better.

It was a year of sadness too.  In 2015 we said goodbye to loved ones, from Manchester United’s DNA, Cecil the lion, Richard III, Brendan Rodger’s teeth, Harry’s car park interviews and Louis Van Gaal’s philosophy. #rip #ynwa

And so to the future. Will it be a 2016 with Pep Guardiola? Well that has been the main topic of discussion as 2015 drew to a close, the enigmatic football obsessive announcing that he will leave Bayern Munich in the summer. All the smart money is that he will go to lickle old City. How times change. Should he come to the Premier League, along with the likes of Simeone and with Mourinho (United?) and Klopp already here, it could make for the most fascinating of seasons. Raise a cup of Bovril to the future, and happy new year to you all.




Buy Howard’s new book “And He’s The Left Back, Remember”, a look back at 10 classic Manchester City matches, here.


The Incessant Bullying of Young Men For Furthering Their Career

If you’re a Manchester City fan who peruses the internet on a regular basis, then it has been a busy couple of weeks. All the paranoia, frustration and anger has resurfaced as fans of rival teams and even media outlets pay scant regards to logic or facts to make the sort of accusations we should be used to by now, but never will be. Never have the names Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair been typed on a keyboard as much as the past 14 days, for reasons you’ll know all about.
Naturally the paranoia accusation will be made when alleging bias in media coverage, and whilst I generally do think everyone’s out to get me, we can as fans go over the top sometimes to the most banal of comments in an article or a simple honest opinion.

But that’s not my concern right now. What got me furiously hitting the keys is the other side of the equation, namely the effect all this has on the players themselves.

Now many of us will have a preconceived perception of players as pampered individuals that live in a bubble and operate in a world very separate to ours. There are probably players who can’t operate a toaster – Kolo Toure can’t even fathom out what his dog is for. You cannot group a whole profession in this way of course, but there will be individual players for whom this is largely true, in the same way that there will be many who have remained grounded throughout. For every James Milner, a player I imagine drives a functional car or perhaps a Prius, there will be an 18-year-old driving around in a yellow supercar. It’s probably parked on double yellow lines in a city centre near you right now.
Either way, they are all human beings. Fabian Delph’s partner is pregnant, Raheem Sterling, as you may be aware, is also a parent – these are young family men with children. Even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t change the point much. And the point is that what has happened in recent weeks has been nothing short of incessant bullying of two individuals for making a career choice, like we have all done many times ourselves. They have been mercilessly hounded, insulted and subjected to vile abuse for wishing to further their careers. And have no doubt, their career choices were entirely logical for anyone looking at them without bias or prejudice.

Now I expect this from the great unwashed that resides on social media sites. Sites such as Twitter can be wonderful places, full of breaking news, interesting opinions and endless humour. It is also a breeding ground for life’s detritus, a willing host to racism, xenophobia, crass insults, sexism, knee jerk reactions, resentment and much more. And if you don’t agree with me, then go **** your ****.

But what cannot be tolerated is when the bullying comes from those who should know better – those who write on the game and those that once played it at a high level themselves.

First off let’s state that criticism is fine, freedom of speech is what puts the G in Great Britain (apparently) and I’m not suggesting that opinions should be stifled. We also can’t dictate what individual journalists write if a group say the same thing, then decry the independently written articles as group bullying. What’s more, both Sterling and Delph deserve some level of criticism for how their moves came about. Sterling was probably better off not giving an interview to the BBC during his battle with the club over a new contract, though you can understand how the PR constantly emanating from the club trying to paint him in a bad light had left him feeling there was little option but to put his side of the story across. Otherwise, he’s done little wrong, having explained that he was ill in the week leading up to his transfer to City, and unless you have evidence that he wasn’t, that is that. With all the abuse coming his way, it’s little wonder he got the shits.
As for Delph, stating his intention to stay at Aston Villa was a big mistake, as he clearly hadn’t thought it through. Little surprise therefore that Villa fans are a bit peeved at his 2nd U-turn, but again, he has made a career decision in the end, and neither player handed in a transfer request, went on strike or left the country to play golf for six months. No one died, no one got hurt, it was just a few words that backfired on the player that uttered them within a week.

But at what point does criticism cross a line? You see, when pundits, ex-players and media types stick the knife in, the knife remains in. A steady flow of criticism shapes popular moods, especially those who are not capable of thinking and reasoning for themselves. The treatment of Raheem Sterling is a case in point.
Now we all know that there are certain people at a certain football club that struggle to accept that just maybe their club, a club with a long and illustrious history, is not currently top of the pecking order. They struggle to comprehend that winning lots of trophies in the days of the ZX Spectrum, Jim’ll Fix It & miners strikes does not count for much in the modern money-soaked game. A lack of comprehension that in fact every club has a rich history, founded as they were in the days of Queen Victoria, in an age when no one had even heard of boot rooms, the Kop or Mersey ferries. Ok, there’s been ferries across the Mersey for over 800 years, but you get my point. Even Manche$ter Citeh, the team with no history, happened to win the FA Cup in 1904 against Bolton Wanderers, without the assistance of any oil money at all, at the Crystal Palace, the Daily Mirror reporting that there were several very spirited battles of words on the grassy slopes, though no blows were thrown, and both sets of fans returned north friendly but “not a little fuddled”.
With all that in mind, there can be little surprise at how certain Liverpool “legends” reacted to the whole Sterling saga. Queues soon formed outside Mirror and Talksport HQs as they delivered their withering criticism. Can you blame the media for this? We all know that clickbait is a premium revenue source in modern journalism (apropos of nothing, RT this article for a chance to win a City 15/16 home kit), and many seem to listen to Talksport simply to get angry. Interviewing aggrieved Liverpool legends is easy hit after easy hit.
Anyway, they all had to have their say. A player that had been trumpeted as a future world star by these same people only months before, had now been downgraded to an OK player with potential but many flaws in his game. Jamie Carragher actually felt sick in his stomach that a 20-year-old could “take on” the Liverpool family in this way – i.e. want to leave. Much better to wait until you’re 24 like Gerrard did eh Jamie?  Steve McMahon said he had moved disgracefully and disrespected the core values of Liverpool, whatever they are, which presumably Lovren did to Southampton the year before when forcing  a move. Naturally, he thinks Liverpool are better off without him.
Phil Thompson, OBVIOUSLY, thought Liverpool had come out of the deal smelling of roses, whilst Sterling had let himself down. Naturally, he also wondered whether City had spent £44m on a player to the bench him. Yeah, of course they have Phil.
“I just hope City, after seeing what has happened, make certain he follows their rules and discipline because I fear for Manchester City in the years ahead,” he said.
“I’m hoping City get the best out of him. But they have got massive talent in the squad so will he play every week?”

Liverpool legend Steve Nicol wondered if Sterling would become the next Shaun Wright Phillips, having earlier opined that he could be the next Ronaldo if nurtured at Liverpool. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard suggested Sterling “man up”, Liverpool legend John Aldridge waded in with some laughable drivel, Liverpool legend Ray Houghton had his say via Talksport as always, and Ken Dodd was so distraught he bombed on Celebrity Mastermind (15 points, oh dear). Liverpool legend Graeme  Souness was next to warn Sterling against moving away from Anfield, whilst Liverpool legend John Barnes claimed Sterling was not ready for City yet, thus confirming that City have a better team than Liverpool right now.
“We’ve seen it with Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell at Manchester City. Where are they now?”  he added. You not heard of Google, John?
Naturally too Jordon Ibe is better than Sterling anyway, a point Liverpool legend Dietmar Hamann was quick to make. Liverpool legend Michael Owen also had his say, but I fell asleep. Oh that’s it, just weeks after saying Sterling was better than Mesut Ozil, he proclaimed, naturally, that Sterling was replaceable. Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler said he was making a big mistake moving, and well I could do this for hours really, until I was quoting Rob Jones and John Scales. I didn’t even have time to quote Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson, more’s the pity. And because of all this, this constant tidal wave of bullshit, Sterling will never walk alone, as he needs two security guards by his side at all times, especially when you add in the top banter of the likes of Paddy Power twitter accounts, calling our signings snakes, as did Talksport, who were more than happy to poll the most hated Premier League player.  No prizes for guessing who won that. And every time an ex-Liverpool player called Sterling a disgrace, they made his life that little bit more difficult.

So is this all a part of being a footballer? Is any criticism valid, and it’s just a case of taking it on the chin, and letting “your football do the talking”? Until recently I hadn’t had much sympathy for the footballer’s lot, but seeing the treatment of my club’s two recent signings, one in particular, has made me wonder. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, as the few readers of my season reviews will know, but we are dealing with human beings, who, amazingly, have feelings. Only recently has the psychological welfare of footballers been given any coverage at all, due to the all-too-common examples of depression that doesn’t avoid those with money in the bank. Perhaps it’s worth considering that the next time you wish death on a footballer for the crime of changing his employment, or if you used to play for Liverpool, perhaps get off your high horse and consider your actions before you open your mouth next time. Chance would be a fine thing.