Category Archives: Manchester City

Pellegrini: The End For The Once-Charming Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuel Pellegrini – The Man That Should Always Have Our Respect

If you support Manchester City football club and have spent any time on social media in the past year, you may have noticed rather a lot of dissent, squabbling and outright abuse – at fellow fans, at players, and of course at Manuel Pellegrini. In the old days, the only ways to show your dissatisfaction at the group of mercenaries that at that particular point in time were not fit to wear the shirt was to hold placards outside the players’ entrance, or more commonly spend 90 minutes shouting obscenities from the terraces whilst veins bulged out of your neck. It was therapeutic, I guess, especially as the Manchester Evening News wouldn’t print my letters.
Now of course it’s a very different world. The internet has given us all a voice, with mixed results. The Dalai Lama/Piers Morgan. Iain Macintosh/N & S Custis. Typical City/Republik of Mancunia.
Players are in a way more distant from the fans than ever, but also more open to abuse, via a Twitter account, Facebook page or simply by eating a meal at one of Manchester’s three restaurants. It takes a special type of moron to tell a football player that will never read your message what you think of them on social media sites, but we all cope with disappointment in different ways. For some too, everything is either black or white – there is no grey matter in between. Criticise Yaya Toure and you are a borderline racist, compliment Pellegrini’s substitutions and you are a managerial fraud’s No. 1 apologist.

One person who has copped it more than most in the past year has been that so-called “fraud” Manuel Pellegrini. The charming man who brought us two trophies in his debut season seems a world away. Or not. As it happens, he hasn’t changed one iota – only the results have, and thus his treatment by so-called supporters.

You may think that Manuel Pellegrini has done a good job at City, you may think he has grossly underperformed. You may think that with the squad at his disposal, he should have the league wrapped up by Christmas, even though it’s not technically possible. Whatever, you are entitled to your opinion, and there is no right answer. What cannot be doubted however is how much class the Chilean has shown during his two and a half years at the club. Abused by fans, abused by fellow managers, written off and considered a dead man walking for much of his tenure, the man has handled everything thrown at him with dignity, a man who has sacrificed a lot to manage in Europe. One barrage of criticism towards a Swedish referee saw his guard drop, but it was a rare lack of composure.

He gets it. He understands. He is remunerated nicely to do so, but that is not a valid argument when you compare him to his peers. Nevertheless, as recent interviews showed, he accepts how the world of football management works. Pellegrini could have created untold problems for City’s owners and damaged the club’s image and we couldn’t have blamed him for it. Many other managers would, many others would certainly go to town on the club after departing with all the rumours that have hung around Pellegrini like moths around a lightbulb for almost a year now. Manuel Pellegrini won’t go to town on anyone. He’ll leave with dignity and with thanks to those he served.

Of course, he was always a stop gap. He knew he was there to fulfil a three year contract, to project a kinder image, and the contract extension was little more than a golden handshake. He was keeping the seat warm until Pep Guardiola rolled into town, and that is still the intention. If Guardiola changes his mind, there’s awkward decisions to be made, but for now, that’s the plan, and Pellegrini accepts this. He’ll go somewhere else and replace someone else. After all, he replaced Mancini, and would no doubt have been approached before the Italian was dismissed – it would be amateur of a football club and business not to plan ahead, irrelevant of the mock outrage from elements of the press.
But I’ve read some drivel over recent weeks. No change there then. You might think you are now. Should we get Rodgers in until the end of the season? Can we get Vieira back? We should never have let De Jong go. It is a hard fact for some to accept, but barring a catastrophic turn of events, Manuel Pellegrini will remain Manchester City’s manager until the end of the season, and almost certainly no longer. Don’t like it? Tough. You’ll get over it, so try supporting the team in the meantime – you might actually feel better about the world if you do. The sad thing is that when City’s history is revisited at some point in the future, say 30 years from now, Manuel Pellegrini may be little more than a footnote for many. And for me he deserves better than that.

One thing most Pellegrini haters have in common is their continued idolisation of Roberto Mancini. I mean most of us feel the same way anyway, so no harm there, but there is a link between the two managers in perception that can cloud judgment and can lead to swathes of history being wiped out or conveniently ignored. After all, how many times have I heard now that Mancini was sacked because of results, or because he didn’t say good morning to the tea lady? (it’s a lot). Why can Mancini’s final season be written off as an anomaly, but not Pellegrini’s 2nd? You’re entitled to your favourites, because we all have them on and off the pitch (I for one love Jesus Navas), but it’s harsh to demean your club’s manager because he doesn’t fight with players, dress snappily or rant and rave on the touchline. Because he’s not box office. Maybe slagging off referees and players shouting on the pitch could help our cause right now, maybe it makes a difference, but that’s a separate issue. It’s always been that way, everywhere. Managers are treated differently not because of results but because of their demeanour and who they know. Manuel Pellegrini has few friends in the press, does not give out soundbites, keeps his counsel and maintains a poker face at all times. Harry Redknapp he is not. I expect some journalists to react accordingly, as he does not help them do their job. I’d expect better from fans though.

But does it matter if our manager is nice? Does the club need to be holistic throughout and tread on eggshells for fear of offending? Is it all about results, and nothing else matters? Well it matters to our owners of course, and it should matter to you. The football club you support is about far more than numbers on a scoreboard and a list of honours on Wikipedia. It is part of a community, it is also, sadly, a brand, an image projected across the world, a business. It is many things, which revolves around match-days, but consists of so much more. Yes, United fans won’t have cared about how nice Alex Ferguson was whilst he hoovered up trophy after trophy for over two decades, and I’m not saying they should, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect any manager of ours who acts in a dignified and respectful manner, as it is a separate issue to analysing results. It is, after all about affording respect to a fellow human being, rather than getting so angry about bringing on Fernando you burst an artery.

Whatever, the things I’ve seen said about City’s manager because of performances have been beyond the pale. Criticise his tactics all you want, criticise his selections, criticise the purchases. But remember the man. A man that despite the resources at his disposal still has to deal with injured players, personal lives, talented opposition, silent crowds, politics, the media and did his job to the best of his ability throughout. His best might not be good enough for you, but that’s really not the point. We have one of the classiest managers of my time as a supporter at our club, and for all the frustration he causes me, that means something to me, and I will always acknowledge what he has done for the club. He is no fraud, and knows more than you and I can ever dream of about tactics, formations, player performances and how to deal with the world he inhabits. I hope he finishes on a high, but if he does not, I hope others will see, despite his imperfections, what he brought to this club.

Manchester City 6 Newcastle United 1: Aguero Master Class Returns City To The Top

Thirty minutes in, I felt like I did after an hour of Wednesday’s game. Pelllegrini just wasn’t up to it, this just wasn’t good enough, we had messed up the best opportunity for a successful season in decades.

By the end, I had witnessed something I may not see again, a 5 goal hero and 5 goals in 13 spellbinding second half minutes. I should know better to write off the team by now, but the gloom can descend easily when things don’t go according to plan.

So a chance to go top at least temporarily, with United playing the following day, and with another international break coming up, it was important to get back to winning ways and lay down a marker, and hopefully come back from the break with a few injuries cleared up  – or more likely, a whole new raft of them instead.

The surprise inclusion was Zabaleta, who I thought wouldn’t be risked until after the national sides had played, and it was harsh on Sagna, but that is football – a fit Zabaleta, unless out of form, will always be 1st choice – he’s earned that. However, I wonder if this was the right time, as he would naturally be rusty, and you hoped Pellegrini wasn’t taking the threat of Newcastle lightly.

As I expected, Mangala was reunited with Otamendi, a pairing first witnessed at Porto.

On a grey day, it was hoped that City would make a high-tempo start and blow Newcastle away. The early signs were quite promising, with a De Bruyne free kick causing a goal mouth scramble – but then it all went wrong.

City soon resorted to the Keystone Cops variety of defending, and Newcastle were finding gaps everywhere, and turning away from City players with embarrassing ease. The goal was of little surprise really, mirroring recent events at the ground, with Mangala making a stretched clearance before chasing the ball rather than sticking to the eventual goal scorer Mitrovic, who gave Hart no chance with a powerful header. After that there was a wrongly disallowed goal for offside, the crosser onside and a great block from Hart when Mitrovic should have grabed his second, though that was clearly offside, not that missed offsides matter when against City.

City were all over the place. Even with the two Ferns, there was precious little support for the defence, who were once more playing as strangers, and Zabaleta was rustier than I could have imagined.

So thank god the little man is back. Or two little men to be precise. I wondered after the Borussia match if scoring a vital, pressured penalty would help Aguero get his mojo back. It would.

And what a much-needed equalizer it was. If Newcastle could have reached half-time ahead, it may have been a slightly different story. Maybe. The goal was created by Silva, from his control out right to his delicious chip to the head of Fernandinho, who headed across goal for Aguero to head home. It looked offside at the time, but it was most certainly not. Level at half-time, which was something of a relief.

And off went Sterling. It was another frustrating appearance for the young man, who is not playing with freedom. Give him time, though there was disgruntled talk of a lack of work-rate online and in the public houses of Manchester (so I’m told), and he will not succeed without grafting. He clearly sees his contribution being made in the final third, but no wide player can prosper without putting in serious yardage. The frustrating thing is that Sterling is not utilising his significant asset – speed, and would he not be better served better on the opposite side so that he can run rather than cut inside all the time, and thus allow De Bruyne to be as destructive on the left as we were to witness in the second half?

Anyway, on came Navas, a move that was also tactical, as it allowed that De Bruyne switch and freed the left side as Navas keeps opposing defenders so occupied, whatever you may think of him. And for the second successive game, Navas helped change the game with his introduction from the bench. His role may have been found.

The rest is history – Aguero became only the third player to score five goals for Manchester City in a single game, and only the second in the top flight. The attitude from the start of the second half was completely different, and the visitors were blown away. The first came after Newcastle gave away the ball cheaply and Silva fed Aguero who scored with the help of a deflection – but if you don’t shoot….

That was just the beginning. Soon he had his hat-trick, and a perfect one at that, one with his head, one with his left foot and now one with his right, a beautiful chip over the keeper as De Bruyne supplied a gorgeous pass. Before we could catch our breath De Bruyne had hit a sumptuous fourth, chipping a volley over the keeper.  Shearer thought it was a fluke, and De Bruyne apparently admitted post-match that he mishit it, but if you can’t appreciate that goal, then you’re watching the wrong game, and if the footballing world can orgasm over Rooney’s shinned overhead kick against City year after year, then they should be capable of appreciating City’s fourth goal.

Anyway, no rest for the wicked. Aguero curled in a beautiful shot from the edge of the area, then nabbed his 5th of the match as De Bruyne supplied yet another wonderful cross which the Argentinean slammed home from close range. After that, City understandably eased off, as frustrating as that was. Five goals in thirteen minutes of play, six in twenty. Astounding stuff.

And then off came Aguero. Booo!!! How could Pellegrini deny him the chance of a double hat-trick?! Well as it turned out, amazingly, Aguero wasn’t even fit, getting treatment on his thigh at half-time, and the decision was thus sensible. You can’t risk our injury-prone star striker’s health for the sake of a seventh goal or a place in the record books – you have to do what is best for the team.

But to mention the goals, the approach play and attitude missed the point entirely about Aguero. The key thing about Kun is that he ends every tweet with “C’mon City!”.
Melts my heart that does.

On came Bony, a wonderful opportunity for him to get some goals, but City were coasting by now, and whilst he appeared to miss one easy chance, the replay showed the ball was slightly behind him, so it was only a half-chance, and he added to the collection of vines on the internet with one wonderful piece of skill on the left side of the penalty area.

Job done then. The first half was soon a distant memory. A masterclass from Aguero, scoring five goals with just nine touches, Silva back to his sublime best, De Bruyne an absolute joy to watch, a superstar ready-made. It just goes to show, as Mata flourishes at Old Trafford and with Chelsea re-buying Matic, that Mourinho isn’t always right, and sometimes seems to get rid of players just so he can play his particular brand of football rather than because they are not good enough. It’s great to see him struggling right now, as no man deserves to crash and burn as that narcissistic bore.

And so to the whinging. Where would this blog be without it? Successful maybe. Match of the Day had Alan Shearer carrying out his analysis, and just imagine for a moment if Wayne Rooney had scored those five goals yesterday? You’d expect, rightly, for Match of the Day to go to town on such an amazing performance. Well not for Sergio Aguero – better to analyse our defending in the first half, which was poor, but was not really the story of the day in the end. How difficult is it to have impartial analysis? Clearly very hard, when we have Alan Shearer saying “not offside” as there is a still on screen clearly showing two Newcastle players offside, and no one challenges this blatant lie. Aguero is revered rightly, but also I feel taken for granted somewhat, and there will always be bias towards the exploits of English players. But if Martial had scored those goals there’d be a free supplement in the Sun on Monday. Still, Neil Warnock was displaying clear man-love for Silva on Goals on Sunday, though he did also say Southampton’s front three was the best in the Premier League, which is stretching the truth a tad.

Match of the Day, for the record, didn’t even consider the early goal-mouth scramble as worthy of being included in the match highlights.

And bravo to Paul Wilson in the Guardian, symptomatic of the type of journalist that is not only failing to appreciate what is happening in front of him but has probably not paid for a match in decades, for commenting that City were jeered off at half-time, when we were jeering the whistle going when we were about to take a corner, something I haven’t seen in ages, but I’m definitely not paranoid. As Kevin Cummins commented, Wilson would probably report us boing the UEFA Champions League anthem as jeering the team onto the pitch.

Now it is time for Arsenal to deliver, not that I think they will. For us, another break, then a chance at home to Bournemouth to push on and get a run going. C’mon City!

COMPETITION TIME! WIN A SIGNED ALEKSANDAR KOLAROV SHIRT…

I have a wonderful competition for all Manchester City fans – thanks to CityStore, Manchester City’s official store, we have a signed Aleksandar Kolarov retro shirt to give away!

Visit the store today to see the full range of City merchandise (and get a free towel too!)

http://bit.ly/1Y2r3bY

To win this wonderful prize, simply answer the following easy question, and email your answer to howiehok@yahoo.co.uk

From which club did Manchester City sign Aleksandar Kolarov?

The shirt is a large size, and the competition closes on 20/09/15.

kolarovshirt2

And don’t forget to check out the full Retro range on the CityStore site here….. http://bit.ly/RetroTops

 

Good luck all!

 

 

You can purchase Howard’s Season Review books on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.

 

 

 

 

 

My Favourite Football Moment

When sitting down to write this article, I decided to write about a special moment in time, one of course experienced as a football fan. One moment that encapsulated being a football fan, and the emotion it can bring to the coldest of hearts.
There was a small problem though. As a Manchester City fan, there are two moments that stand out more than any others. One was followed by Paul Dickov sliding across the Wembley turf, a committed but limited player instantly elevated to club legend status by a set of fans desperate for new heroes. The second moment was followed by Sergio Aguero twirling his shirt above his head, the pinnacle of my football-supporting life, as it always will be – it cannot and will not be beaten.
To talk about one of these two moments seemed too obvious though, and they are moments that have been discussed by so many so often. But I can’t ignore the day Sergio Aguero won the league, I just can’t. So my other favourite moment, the one that perfectly sums up my thirty years plus as a football fan, as a Manchester City fan, regards a photo.

Yes, the moment Sergio Aguero won the league mattered more, in the scheme of things. It was the biggest mood swing in my football-supporting life, and it was the most important moment in my football-supporting life because it meant so much more than winning the league – that was just half the story. In addition to the shiny trophy with the gold baubles, it stopped my football club and I being mentally scarred for years to come. It killed off the typical city moniker, at least temporarily. It stopped THEM winning the league, and winning it by us tripping up just shy of the finishing line, Devon Loch style. It would have taken years to get over that, and the squad would carry around a mental weakness with them when the next title race came around. We just HAD to win that day.
The minutes after that goal are moments I could not even have dreamed about beforehand. I still feel queasy watching replays of the lead-up to Aguero’s goal, and that’s with the knowledge that the clip ends with a goal.

But I digress, because of course that’s not my moment, though my choice is from the same day. My moment is the photo below, taken just before we all set off for the final game of the 2011/12 season, at home to QPR.

angel

That photo brings back all the memories of an amazing day, a day I would do (almost) anything to experience over again.

By that moment in time, I’d felt in a near-permanent state of illness for weeks, the stress of my first title-race having disastrous effects on my stomach, head and general well-being. By the time the photo was taken, I was sporting a false smile. I had managed to get two pints down me all day and I just wanted it to be over. It was all too stressful, this “being successful lark” – I think I almost preferred it when the club and its fans had no ambitions above not being relegated.

Why is the photo so important? The photo matters because “going to the football” was never just about going to the football. The friendships and shared experiences have been as important as anything that has happened on the pitch, perhaps more so. For different people, a lifetime dedicated to following a team they love means different things. The people in the photo won’t matter to you, but they matter to me. Well most of them anyway! You’ll have your own photos that tell their own story.

Even from 20 yards away, the fear is etched on my face. There was so much at stake, but the photo is about more than that. It’s a rare sentimental moment for me, and one that anyone who doesn’t follow sport avidly would think preposterous, but within that photo are friends that are forged for life because of a football club, just eleven men kicking a ball around, friends that had been on a ridiculous journey over the previous four years. Before then we lived off hope, the hope that envelops every football fan when a new season comes around – the hope that this season, it was going to be different. This season, we’d finally see some success. That could mean promotion, not being relegated, or a semi-decent run in the cup – the bar was set at different levels, and usually quite low before we won the lottery, but the hope is always there, as without it, what’s the point?

You see, I used to watch episodes of Sky Sports’ Premier League Years and know it was one of City’s more successful periods if we actually featured in the programme. I knew it had been a good weekend if we weren’t last on Match of the Day. If I could stomach buying the Football Pink then the team had done alright. Like many fans around the country, I feasted on scraps, and you took what little victories you could, because that’s all there was. To cap it off, I supported Manchester City, supposedly the 2nd club of many a fan because we posed no threat and they probably felt sympathy for our tragi-comic attempts to be successful. False dawn after false dawn, and the subject of a thousand corny jokes.

And yet here I was, on a sunny day in Manchester. About to head off to see if our team could win the league. The top league. Manchester City, Premier League champions. All roads led to this. The pain of relegation in 1983 as David Pleat skipped across the Maine Road turf in his loafers to hug Brian Horton, one of my earliest memories, setting the scene nicely for what was to come. Standing on the Kippax, gradually getting tall enough to see all the action, which wasn’t always a good thing. Relegations, promotions, derby day thrashings, the 10-1 win after which my dad claims he caught the match ball kicked into the crowd. More relegations, more promotions, Lee Bradbury, Franny Lee the saviour, the goal-free Stuart Pearce years, a club on the precipice, Thai dictators, free curry in Albert Square and then the sheikhs and Robinho arrived in the nick of time and nothing was ever the same again. And three hours after that photo, I’d be bouncing off many of the people in that photo, that I had experienced lean times with, wondering if it was all a dream and thankful for the foresight of booking the next day off work.

And because of that 30-year journey, following the club synonymous with failure, whilst our nearest neighbours swept up every trophy going, because so many in that photo had paid their dues and done their time, that is why that photo, that moment in time, is the most important of all.
Well, apart from Aguero’s goal anyway.

Football Journalist Q & A: Mark Ogden, Simon Mullock, Nick Miller & Rob Pollard

As another season drew to a close, I asked a few of our finest football journalists about the past season in the Premier League, both regarding Manchester City and their competitors. This is what they had to say…

Your general views on the Premier League season? A duller affair than previous campaigns?

Mark Ogden (MO): I think Chelsea’s flying start probably killed the campaign in terms of being a dramatic spectacle. City obviously moved level with them by the New Year, but once they got there, they seemed to lose momentum. Chelsea just kept going and the title race was as good as over by March, which is never a good thing.
Let’s be honest, last season was so full of stories – City winning two trophies, Liverpool almost winning the league, United in meltdown under Moyes – that it was always going to be a tall order for this season to match it for excitement and drama.

Simon Mullock (SM): Jose Mourinho is great copy for journalists, but the way Chelsea stonewalled their way to the title will have the Premier League big wigs praying that the Sky and BT execs who signed off on the new £5 billion TV deal have lost the receipt.
Mourinho’s Chelsea are the most boring champions since…well erm, Mourinho’s Chelsea. He is right about one thing though: City, United, Arsenal and Liverpool must share the blame for failing to mount a serious challenge.
With the title race over early, the other top-four places decided, and two of the three relegation slots filled before the final game, it was a dull, dull season.

Nick Miller (NM): Yeah, pretty tedious. It was pretty clear from months out who was going to win it, and who was going to occupy at least two of the top four spots (although I thought Liverpool would pip United for a while there), there haven’t been that many great games, even the best player in the league isn’t that exciting. Brilliant, obviously, but not like Ronaldo or Henry.

Rob Pollard (RP): Yeah, it was somewhat underwhelming. The lack of a proper title race was obviously the big drawback, but I do feel there’s a lack of quality in the Premier League at the moment and it needs addressing. The performances of the English teams in Europe only underlined that, really.

 

Does it matter if Chelsea’s style wasn’t the most exciting at times? Is such a claim even true?

MO: I’m not sure it is that big an issue. Chelsea still had players like Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in their team and none of those can be described as lacking flair.
Maybe they just weren’t pushed enough by their rivals. Had they been forced to up their game to hold off City or Arsenal, then we may have seen more from them.

SM: It doesn’t matter if you’re a Chelsea fan. I’m of the opinion that football shouldn’t be a tickling contest, but do we really want the standard-bearers of the English game to play with such a snarl on their faces? Chelsea remind me of Don Revie’s Leeds side in their pomp. Feared, respected, but never loved. How can watching a team with players like Hazard, Fabregas and Oscar be such a joyless exercise?

NM: Not really. Mourinho’s not a boring manager but a very pragmatic one – he adapts to the situation. In any case, I’m one of those pricks who enjoys a really good defensive performance nearly as much as an attacking one.

RP: Chelsea are very pragmatic, which I think is something that shouldn’t be criticized too heavily. If they feel a point at home against one of their nearest rivals is enough, they go all out for that rather than risk losing the game. It irks Manuel Pellegrini, who’s much more of a purist, and I can kind of understand why, but the bottom line is it gets results. They finished eight points clear of City who dropped nine points to the three relegated sides. Perhaps if City had shown a touch more pragmatism, Chelsea wouldn’t have been allowed to run away with it in the way they did.
Having said that, the teams I’ve always most admired have been extremely attacking ones. Chelsea don’t, to my mind, come anywhere near the likes of the AC Milan side of the mid-2000s or the Barcelona side we all admire now.

 

Do you think Chelsea may dominate in seasons to come?

MO: No, because John Terry won’t go on forever and they will miss him in a big way when he retires.
Also, City are only a couple of players short of being a serious threat again. The same goes for Arsenal, if they find the players they need – but Arsene Wenger has had a blind spot about those type of players for the last decade.
As for United, they could go either way, depending on who they sign. I still think they have an awful lot of work to do before they can win the league again.

SM: No. City and United will spend heavily this summer and Arsenal must come good at some stage. It’s stating the obvious that Chelsea were the most consistent team, but they dropped plenty of unexpected points themselves. They got away with it because City fell off a cliff and Arsenal started the season in a sleep walk. A period of Mourinho domination would take English football into the Dark Ages.

NM: It’ll certainly be closer next season. Probably. Hopefully.

RP: No. They are very well equipped for success. Their academy is producing some seriously impressive players and they have a very clear, well thought-out transfer strategy, but City, too, have everything in place and they will like to think they can compete with them over the coming years.

 

Your team of the year? (4-4-2?)

MO: Courtois; Ivanovic, Demichelis, Terry, Azpilicueta; Sanchez, Matic, Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Costa.

SM: De Gea; Clyne, Smalling, Terry, Azpilicueta; Hazard, Matic, Silva, Sanchez; Aguero, Kane.

 

As for Manchester City, what do you think were the main reasons for such a disappointing campaign?

MO: I don’t think the World Cup helped, but you could argue that Chelsea overcame similar issues. Still, City had more players involved in the latter stages than Chelsea and I think it had a knock-on effect.
There has also been an element of City failing to truly strengthen last summer. They went for potential or experience, with nothing in between in terms of players in their peak.
Kompany’s form has been poor, Yaya has also been up and down, while Pellegrini’s tactics have become predictable.
There just seemed a general lack of motivation, which should be a worry.

SM: Last summer’s recruitment policy should by itself be a sackable offence – and I don’t blame Pellegrini for that. Yes, City were unfairly hampered by their FFP punishment, but Mangala, Fernando, Caballero, Sagna and Bony didn’t improve the squad, even slightly. I can only assume Mangala and Bony were bought with the future in mind, but the fact that City still managed to pay well over the odds at a time when they needed to be extra vigilant with the pennies doesn’t fill me with confidence.
City’s failure in the transfer market was then compounded by players like Kompany, Zabaleta and Toure looking like they have been asked to go to the well too many times.
But the big disappointment for me was that the likes of Dzeko, Nasri and Navas lacked the cojones to step up to the plate.
There also seemed a lack of motivation in some games (Stoke, Burnley x 2), Hull, Newcastle in the League Cup and Boro in the FA Cup) – and that is down to the manager.

NM: I think the players have got away with a lot of criticism – Yaya’s obviously got some, but people like Zabaleta, Nasri, Clichy, the strikers who aren’t Aguero, and obviously Kompany and Mangala have all been poor, or at least nowhere near as they could/should be. Pellegrini obviously takes some blame, but I’d say it’s as simple as lots of players having bad years at the same time.

RP: Loads. Their results against the lesser sides certainly harmed them, as did the lack of pace going forward, something that needs addressing this summer if they want to compete for trophies again. This group of players have been great for City but that’s twice now they’ve tried to defend their title and done so disastrously, which is a concern.

 

You may not want to commit – but do you think Pellegrini should go this summer?

MO: I actually think he should stay and it would do City great credit if he did. You can’t sack managers for finishing second.
Maybe he should be given a new contract to make him believe that he will be given the time to rebuild and take the team forward. The current situation of one year remaining on his contract will just lead to uncertainty.
I don’t think he is the world’s greatest tactician, but in two seasons, he has won two trophies and twice progressed to the CL knock-out stages.
Who knows? Had they been handed the route to the final that Juventus have had, City could have gone to the semis or even further.
It’s just the luck of the draw. But for Barcelona, United could have had two more European Cups on the honours list and, in a sense, City have only been denied greater progress in the competition because they have hit the same roadblock on two occasions.

SM: It would be a mistake if Pellegrini keeps the job by default. If City don’t think he will be the right man for the job this time next year then they should part company now. Not just for the good of the club, but out of respect to Pellegrini.
Serious clubs don’t tread water in the hope that they will land the golden boy at some point in the future. If Pellegrini is the man, then hand him a contract extension or risk a season of paralysing uncertainty.

NM: Depends if there’s anyone better out there. I’d replace him if Klopp fancied it, or if you could get someone like Simeone or Conte, but if not there’s no real point in changing for the sake of it. Oh, actually, Ancelotti – he’d be good. Yeah, ignore all that – get Carlo in.

RP: Not unless there’s a viable, long-term option who provides City with an upgrade, and I’m not sure there is one this summer, certainly not one the club wants. They’re desperate for Pep Guardiola, it’s that simple.

Do you think he will go? Is Pep Guardiola a pipe dream?

MO: I think Pellegrini stays this summer and no, Guardiola isn’t a pipe dream.
He has strong connections to City in Txiki and Soriano, but what I do think is a pipe dream is the perception that he will take the job just because his mates are in charge.
He will need a lot more than that to persuade him that City, rather than the likes of Arsenal, PSG or AC Milan are the club for him.

SM: I think Pellegrini will stay, but for all the wrong reasons. City clearly believe that Guardiola will eventually arrive as manager – and two Spanish executives have staked their reputation on it. My worry is that if or when Guardiola arrives it will be because he’s doing his two old mates a favour by slumming it in Manchester. The biggest mistake City could make is employing someone who thinks you’re beneath them, a bit like Robinho did.

NM: This summer, yes. Next, maybe not.

RP: You would have to assume the club have been given strong indications that he’s at least interested, otherwise the apparent strategy of putting all their eggs in one basket would be absolutely foolish.
He would provide City with many of the great things Pellegrini has brought, such as a continuation of the team’s attacking style, but he would bring a bit of excitement, too. Pellegrini has been seen, quite rightly, as somewhat dull and uninspiring in press conferences and so on, and perhaps City need a bit more than that to raise the profile of the club worldwide.

 

Is the age of the team as big a problem as some make out?

MO: Yes, because too many key players are in the same age group. If you want a warning sign of the future if the situation is not addressed, just think of the problems United have had with Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all going at the same time. That was terrible planning on United’s part and City cannot allow the same to happen. They need new blood alongside the old heads.

SM: I don’t think age was necessarily the problem this season, but the team has now definitely gone stale. Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero were carrying the club three years ago. Another year on, though, and there does need to be an injection of youth, either from the Academy or through the transfer market. Top teams should really evolve, but City have got to the point where their poor recruitment strategy since 2012 means they now need perhaps five top-class signings all at once.

NM: I think we’ll see next season. The age isn’t necessarily a huge problem in itself – Kompany’s only just 29, etc – but if they’re all declining then obviously it’s a big problem. We’ll just have to see if this season has been a blip.

RP: Kompany got this right in his interview with Mullock earlier in the season when he said if City were winning, it’d be down to experience, but because they were losing, it was down to tired legs and an aging squad. Juventus have a similar aged squad and they’ve done well this season.
Having said that, it’s unsustainable. Youth and pace are needed this summer.

 

Where do you think the team needs strengthening this summer? Will City still be restricted, despite rumours of FFP changes?

MO: City will spend big this summer, but only within their means. The FFP relaxation is a bit of a red herring because Michel Platini is doing it because of concerns of the power of English clubs when the next TV deal kicks in next year. So if it is being devised to clip the English clubs’ wings, I don’t see it being too beneficial. But City want to run a sustainable model anyway, so they shouldn’t be worried. As for reinforcements, they need a decent left-back and two young, powerful midfielders.

SM: A Right-back, a centre-back, a central midfielder, an attacking wide midfielder and at least one striker. City swallowed the FFP pill last year and I’m told that the brakes will be off this summer. For Platini to look to relax the financial regulations now also shows what a con the whole sorry affair has been and I’d love City and PSG to take UEFA on in court to try to recover the fines they paid.

NM: I’ll ignore the FFP stuff because I still can’t quite get my head around it, but I reckon you need some pace in attack (up front or wide), someone to replace Yaya, another centre-half & maybe another holding mid, unless you’re going to persist with Fernando.

RP: As far as I am aware, the restrictions will be lifted and City fans can be confident of a big spend. The midfield needs reconstructing. I like Verratti at PSG and, as everyone knows, Pogba is a world star in the making. A striker will have to arrive if both Dzeko and Jovetic go, too. A left-back wouldn’t hurt either.

 

What has been your personal favourite moment of the season, both in your job and as a football fan?

MO: I think being in the Allianz Arena to watch Bayern hammer Porto 6-1 was the highlight, both as a fan and as a reporter. They were brilliant for half an hour and played football which was just beyond anything we have seen in the Premier League this season.

SM: I know it’s puerile, but Phil Jones doing his impression of the human centipede was a classic moment. If you want something a bit more serious then it has to be watching Messi, Suarez and Neymar take a wrecking ball to Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp.

NM: Both the same, as it goes: Ben Osborn scoring the winner for Forest in the 92nd minute at Derby (https://youtu.be/iw3lF-Z4VSo?t=55m48s), about which I wrote a piece that made both my parents cry (http://www.inthetopone.com/2015/1/18/7689541/catching-the-dragon-derby-1-2-forest) – in a good way. Enjoyed all that.

RP: Personally, it was City’s win in Rome, which was a long-overdue, patient European display. City were much better than Roma and they showed it for the majority of the match. Watching Silva and Aguero play is also an absolute joy.
Professionally, interviewing Patrick Vieira, Colin Bell and Brian Marwood the day we were shown around City’s new academy was great fun.

 

As a football journalist, what are the most tedious and exciting parts of your job?

MO: Sorry Manuel, but those Friday press conference are the most tedious part of the job, simply because he shows no sign of wanting to engage in any conversation about anything. I think underneath the surface, there is an interesting football manager, but he never shows it and I don’t know why that is.
The best parts are turning up at big games, when there is an edge to the atmosphere and something at stake.

SM: 1: Waiting around for hours to ask players for an interview, only to be told to fuck off. 2: If getting paid to watch football doesn’t give you a buzz then you should indeed fuck off.

NM: There aren’t too many tedious or massively exciting parts to my job – it’s all a fairly steady level of ‘good’.

RP: Most tedious is having to read the comment section and my Twitter mentions. There’s only so many times you can be called a cunt before it gets incredibly boring. The most exciting is having an opportunity to cover the game and have a say. Simple as that, really.

 

And finally: how to fill a summer without football?!

MO: My last game will be June 14 and the first of next season will be July 17, so it’s a pretty brief summer!

SM: I’m delighted to say that my sports editor’s plan in this Ashes summer is to get me to cover some cricket.

NM: Cricket, baseball, books, going outside, talking to friends about things other than football, and endless transfer rumours. And then there’s all the football – Copa America, women’s World Cup etc. You’ll not get bored.

RP: I’ll be going on holiday to Chicago and watching tennis! The football will be back before we know it.

 

Bonus question if you support Notts Forest: (78% probability): Do you regret the Stuart Pearce reign?

NM: I really shouldn’t answer on principle because you called us ‘Notts’, but I’m a kind man willing to overlook these things. I didn’t want him as manager, but it was worth it for two moments: when he came out before his first game – I’ve never heard a noise like that at the City Ground – and the Derby win I mentioned before. I wish it had all been better, but those two made it worthwhile.

By way of an apology to Nick, be sure to check out his excellent piece about Pearce’s exit.
http://www.inthetopone.com/2015/2/2/7960863/so-farewell-then-stuart-pearce

 

Manchester City 2 Southampton 0: The End of A Season & The End of An Era

And so it ends. Another season draws to a close, you all shuffle away to face another summer of decorating and garden centres, and a veil is drawn over a disappointing campaign.

For some reason though, this end of season felt sadder than most. Not winning anything plays a part naturally, but we should still be used to that, despite recent successes.

No, it feels like an end of an era – a feeling similar (though nowhere on the scale of) to walking out of Maine Road for the final time. City v Southampton once more, and time to say goodbyes not to a ground (though it was goodbye to my seat), but to a few of those that have been integral to changing the direction of our club.

But first, to the match, briefly. It had an end-of-season feel to it, City players not pushing themselves to the limit, Southampton probing, dangerous, and full of energy. City still should have been out of sight by half-time despite Hart saving a wayward defence once more, with Aguero spurning a trio of chances. There was in the end just one goal, and what a wonderful sight to see Frank Lampard doing what he does best, and sealing his final appearance with a goal – you could see how much it mean to him, as did the day as a whole.

In the second half, Southampton seemed to dominate the attacking intent as City went through the motions, but couldn’t break through, City’s defence playing the offside trap to perfection on numerous occasions. Then near the end, Aguero finally got on the score-sheet, with the easiest of headers.

Credit to an excellent Southampton side, especially Mane. Credit also to the away fans for numbers and volume.

City did things right on the day. Lampard was fittingly named captain, and substitutions were staged and staggered so we could say a probable goodbye to three varied but important players.

But as most shuffled into the heart of a Beswick summer evening, some remained to witness the rather awkward lap of appreciation, always an ordeal in a trophy-less season.

So it’s goodbye to Frank Lampard, a gent and a giant of the Premier League era. 609 games, 172 goals, over 100 assists too, and not an ounce of fat on him, contrary to reports. His time at City turned into a diplomatic incident, but his influence was far greater than I could have imagined. After a purple patch in the autumn, including a vital equalizer against his old club Chelsea, his time on the pitch waned, but he returned late in the season to see off his career in England in a nice way, part of an end-of-season winning run for City. Much of his career seems to revolve around arguing over who was better between him and Gerrard, but there is simply no need to rank them – both were giants of the last decade and more. Neither got the perfect send-off to their Premier League career, but Gerrard’s couldn’t have been much worse, from the moment he slipped and let in Demba Ba, the narrative of destiny presenting Liverpool with the league smashed into pieces by lickle old Citeh, then the narrative of a birthday FA Cup win also gone, down to a final day spanking in the Potteries. At least both players scored as they bowed out, the Stoke defence parting like the Red Sea to allow Gerrard a final swansong.

And a nice send- off too after the match for Frank on the pitch. Gracious, charming, and a big loss to the game. No guard of honours, no high-fives, Red Arrow displays, flag-waving or newspaper pull-outs, just a touching goodbye to a decent man.

And it is probably goodbye also to Yaya Toure, a goodbye that hurts more as far as City are concerned. I shall write more when the inevitable happens, but for now, there is little more to be said than thank you to the man who changed the course of the club’s history more than any other. He was always there when needed, none more so for me when scoring at Newcastle to bring that first title so much closer, and he will leave a huge hole in the team. It’s been a rocky ride at times, and it’s a shame his final season has been more downs than ups, but he has been a colossus for the club, possibly our greatest ever signing, possibly our greatest ever player or at least midfielder, and even though I think the time is right for all concerned for him to move on, he will be missed so, so much. Thanks for everything Yaya.

And then there’s James Milner, who is probably off too, though he doesn’t seem to be sure of what he is doing, if truth be known. Clearly a keen supporter of masochism, the word is that he is Liverpool-bound, to be part of Brendan Rodgers attempts to destroy the club. I appreciate that he wants playing time, and whilst he got plenty this season, a summer overhaul will probably limit future appearances. He probably also wants to play in centre midfield, but I can’t see any manager promising him a specific and constant place in a team, as it sets a dangerous precedent, especially if that player loses form. I am baffled at his possible exit, but hold him no ill will (as I’m not a Liverpool fan) and he is free to do as he pleases, and make a career choice that suits him. All the best, you will leave a big hole too in the squad, if not the first team, and it’s not too late to change your mind.

So who else will go? The rather pathetic glum faces of Dzeko and Jovetic as they traipsed round the Etihad pitch tells its own story, and surely Jovetic is now off, and I hope Dzeko goes too, not that I do not appreciate his massive influence in recent years. They seem like a distant memory now though, after a poor season.

Nasri too will probably go, and if adds funds to a major summer overhaul, I wouldn’t be against that. As tidy a player as he was, I never felt Nasri really performed in the big games or on the European stage, with the odd exception of course.

So, a Golden Glove award to Joe Hart for a fourth time, the Golden Boot to Aguero, no fanfare, little praise, but who cares? Even when we win the double, our manager can’t win an award, so nothing changes. A disappointing season for sure, but we finished clear in 2nd in the end, oversaw a 13 point swing on United post-Derby, and are the most successful side of the past 4 seasons – it’s not bad really, whilst United can finish fourth and the world believes the lie that they have met “all their targets” for the season. Next season will be tight, with surely at least three teams fighting for the title (at least), and the summer is going to see some big spending.  I can’t wait.

Enjoy the summer!

Roma 0 Manchester City 2|Match Thoughts From Stadio Olimpico | City Come of Age In The Eternal City

Oh yes! Rome has fallen and against the odds, City’s patched up side have progressed to the knock-out stage of the Champions League for the second successive season, in the second season of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign. Pure coincidence to his doubters, I imagine. City’s first win on Italian soil was well-timed.

All the talk apart from whether City’s fans would be stabbed in the arse by Roma’s thuggish minority was what team would be picked – or what team would be fit to play. In the end, Kompany did not make it, Toure was suspended after all, Silva merely made it to the bench, as did Jovetic. It was not an inspiring team for such a big match, but still a very good team.

For me, the key was what Dzeko would turn up – in the end that wasn’t key at all, so there you go.

The other talk was about the fiendishly complicated permutations regarding qualification. It wasn’t that complicated at all really, though UEFA’s way of grading a table is not for me – goal difference should be king in my opinion. Anyway, Bayern Munich were never going to roll over against CSKA Moscow, though the away team fashioned plenty of chances. So I was confident that the situation was clear – City needed a score draw or better. And that’s how it panned out.

Roma started with great intent, as I expected. They pushed forward and fashioned a couple of chances (though one looked offside to me), and Hart had to be alert. With time though City settled and made some chances of their own – the half panned out as a tight affair, with no team especially dominant, but Hart saved excellently from the reborn Gervinho, a man unrecognisable from the lump that rarely graced the Arsenal shirt. Milner was thwarted at the other end as he put in his usual shift all over the pitch.

So goalless at half-time, which favoured Roma. Bayern were doing their job against CSKA, so it seemed a score draw was what City needed. They had to score.

Like so many big games in recent years, City were patient, and like many of those games, it took a moment of genius to change everything. Yaya Toure was absent on this occasion, so up stepped Samir Nasri, a giant in recent weeks, to despatch a stunning strike off the post to put City in control on the hour.

My live commentary: “Pass Nasri, pass, right, right, pass it, oh for fu……oh great goal!!!”

After that City wobbled briefly. For all of Hart’s brilliance, he missed a cross whilst Demichelis cleared off the line straight after. However, Manola’s header off the post was actually deflected off Hart’s outstretched hand, another vital intervention.

It was merely a couple of minutes of panic, but having survived it, City coasted through, and it was up to Nasri to supply Zabaleta for his block/shot to seat qualification. He kissed his badge and I wished I was having his baby. Yeah, there’s logistical problems with that, but let’s not split hairs.

This was a team performance above all, where every player did his bit. It was, at last, a textbook European away performance. Resilient in defence, picking off the opposition and leaving with three points. A turning point perhaps, though only time will tell. A coming of age perhaps, which sounds clichéd, but the team were professional and together in a vital European match and in a fiery atmosphere. From the moment Sergio Aguero turned the group on its head, the belief has been there at home and abroad. It needs to remain now, whoever we draw on Monday. Mission accomplished, now let’s see how far we can go.

A one-man team? Hardly. Even our full-backs are scoring now.

Dzeko did not impress Graeme Souness in the studio (remember when he was a great pundit? Now he just sniggers at “pulled off” jokes with Jamie Carragher). To be fair, he worked his socks off without reward (Dzeko, not Souness), and was probably operating at below full-fitness. He wasn’t key on the night, but thankfully he didn’t need to be. In the coming weeks, that might well change.

Nasri shone, as did Hart, Demichelis, Milner and Fernadinho. Everyone else was not far off – I could easily swap some of those names to be honest. No weak links, and a dedicated team performance. And what a time for Nasri’s first goal of the season. Clichy once more continued his resurgence. Demichelis was calm and collected, Mangala effective bar being beaten to the Manola header that struck the post. Navas was dangerous again at times and helped protect Zabaleta after he was overrun in the early stages. They both grew into the game and negated the threat of Roma down that flank.

And how good to see David Silva back on the pitch. Welcome back.

Good substitutions from Pellegrini too, who deserves extra credit for setting up the team well and firing them up at half-time. He is a manager who has shown he can adapt in the past, so let’s hope for less stubbornness with formations in the future.

Dare we suggest City are better in Europe without the “liability” Yaya Toure? Gary Neville has suggested so (and he’s never wrong of course), and certainly last night the two Ferns allowed a more rigid barrier against opposition attacks, but we all know what he brings to the table, and will no doubt be back in the team when not suspended.

I don’t think City have a realistic chance of winning this season’s competition (though stranger things have happened), but it was important to qualify for so many reasons: to shut up the snipers for now, to keep the big players happy, to take the pressure off the manager. And, dare I say it, extra revenue. Yuk.

Jamie Jackson: I like to feature a regular paranoia section on this blog, often tongue in cheek, but borne from some of the sub-standard, juvenile coverage that City (and every other team) gets in this country sometimes. Last night though, Jamie Jackson raised (or lowered, depending on your view) the bar for football journalism, with, and I do not say this lightly, THE WORST MATCH REPORT OF ALL TIME. Now the report may be a clear example of click-baiting, but despite that I still implore you to check it out, if you haven’t already. If you have already read it, read it again. It is a masterpiece in fuckwittery, a master class in misreading the mood, a tour de force in misreporting what actually happened in the match, a piece that puts every click-baiter in their place once and for all and requests that they bow down before their master. Lowlights? Where to start?! It’s like asking me to choose my favourite magical European night at Anfield – THERE’S JUST SO MANY. Anyway, I’ll try:
“..until Pablo Zabaleta scored their second goal, City’s had been a disjointed display against Serie A’s second-placed side, one who made City look like a band of naive millionaire footballers led by a manager, Manuel Pellegrini, whose tactical nous at this level is questionable.”

“The main charge is that the front and back can be disparate parts, as if attack and defence have been grafted together awkwardly via a midfield who impress going forward but are shaky when asked to protect.”

“This contest was studded with the sight of Rudi García’s team running at the visitors. Gervinho, Maicon and José Holebas all made hay while the Stadio Olimpico lights shone. They knifed through Pellegrini’s side with ease.”

You get the idea… amazingly Jackson is not a United fan, but his hatred for City is clear – there is no paranoia in me stating it now, it’s blindingly obvious. How he gets away with it I do not know – even fellow journalists had a go at him, one colleague stating “what was he thinking?” when reading it, according to my returning-from-Rome friend today. This was an article that Jackson seems to have written with defeat in mind, then hastily re-wrote under duress.

(Jamie, it’s probably time you unfollowed me on Twitter…it’s not worked out really..)

Anyway, onto the three-hour draw. Eight nations are represented in Monday’s draw, and UEFA representatives are already simmering those balls over a low heat as we speak. #fix #uefaisbent #cameronmustgo.

It was a banter-free zone for United fans on Facebook, their week resting on this. Ah well, you can look forward to the Dog & Duck v The Red Lion on Sunday.