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

By Howard Hockin

 

The centurions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salah a worthy winner for Player of the Year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Lee: Pep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And your worst?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Lee: No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very briefly – VAR – what future should it have?

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

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

Sam Lee: Bin it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Book – And He’s The Left Back, Remember. A Minute-by-Minute Look At 10 Classic City Matches

Before the modern day onslaught of the internet, mobile phones, live streams and global connectivity, there was just football and newspapers and Gerald Sinstadt’s curiously immobile moustache. In this book, the authors – Simon Curtis & Howard Hockin revisit some of Manchester City’s most memorable matches and, layer by dramatic layer, give old classics the minute-by-minute treatment, allowing the reader to share the nerve-tingling build up of tension that those who were there on the day felt themselves. This beautifully written and exhaustively researched book follows the dramatic developments in ten all-time classic Manchester City matches – and not necessarily ones that ended well for the Blues.

They are dealt with in And He’s The Left Back Remember in intimate detail and in chronological order, giving the following chapters: 1980-81 Tottenham 3 City 2 – FA Cup Final replay
1982-83 City 0 Luton Town 1 – Division One
1987-88 City 10 Huddersfield Town 1 – Division Two
1988-89 City 5 Manchester United 1 – Division One
1995-96 City 2 Liverpool 2 – Premier League
1998-99 City 2 Gillingham 2 – Division Two Play-Off Final
2003-04 Tottenham 3 City 4 – FA Cup 4th round replay
2010-11 Manchester United 1 City 6 – Premier League
2010-11 City 1 Manchester United 0 – FA Cup semi final
2011-12 City 3 Queens Park Rangers 2 – Premier League

The full range of human emotions, covered in ten enthralling contests that sum up the spirit and core of Manchester City Football Club.

You can buy the book in paperback or Kindle format here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hes-Left-Back-Remember-Manchester/dp/1519755619/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1450110842&sr=8-8&keywords=howard+hockin

Enjoy!

Howard Hockin

 

Sevilla 1 Manchester City 3: It Should Have Been 10 – City Qualify For Knock-Out Stage

A coming of age (part whatever), City’s most complete Champions League performance, a triumph in Seville, call it what you want, I didn’t see THAT coming, and City were simply magnificent.

All the talk was of rain, fans being attacked, and whether Pellegrini would be pragmatic like he was at Old Trafford.

A nice comic touch from City fans to hold up pieces of paper with BOO on them. I just hope for the club’s sake they were written in a UEFA-accredited font.

Meanwhile, United’s OFFICIAL supporters’ group were counting the number of City fans in the ground an hour before kick-off. No, really.

And the team sheet suggested Pellegrini was indeed pragmatic. He gave us what we wanted, namely Fernando in defensive midfield (how times change), with Fernandinho and Yaya as the other two “central” midfielders.

But with that news came the surprising omission of Kevin De Bruyne, relegated to the bench. Surprising, but perhaps with reflection, not really.

So why was he on the bench? Saturday’s game showed he was clearly showing the strain of two games a week, as I alluded to in the match report, so it made sense for that reason, though my first thought was to wonder why then he wasn’t rested for the Norwich game and played in Sevilla? But then…

Pellegrini probably wanted to keep it tight, and it made perfect sense to look to hit Sevilla on the break, and there’s no better way to do that than with pace. Sterling’s threat could have been nullified at home to Norwich against a team with men behind the ball.

Anyway, it worked, though far more dramatically than I or even Pellegrini could have dreamed about.

Yep, City started on fire. They tore at the home team, with Fernandinho shooting on goal within 30 seconds, and Bony looking lively, though it was Sterling along with the aforementioned Brazilian whot was truly sparkling, tearing into Sevilla’s defence time after time.

Thankfully the narrative of another non-award for a blatant penalty was not to become the story of the night, as City took a well-deserved lead soon after. There was no surprise in Fernandinho being the supplier, freeing Sterling in the inside left channel, and he slid it past the keeper on his weaker foot. I think that’s the 6th goal of the season for the player who can’t shoot and will spend his City career warming the bench. He is also City’s youngest ever scorer in the Champions League.
Which when you come to think about it, isn’t THAT impressive a stat. Still, well done him.

City did not ease off however. Sterling cut back for Bony, whose shot was parried by Rico, and Fernandinho leapt like the world’s fittest salmon to head home into the now unguarded net. The home support were stunned, as was I.

It could have been three. A Navas shot was superbly tipped onto the post by the keeper, and the home side were being swamped across the pitch.

The central midfield trio worked superbly. Fernando was the pivot, allowing Yaya to get forward without worrying about defending, not that he does lose much sleep over such matters, whilst Fernandinho could be the box-to-box player we all love.

It was now that Sevilla had their only sustained pressure of the game, for about 15 minutes, and it brought a goal back, though not before Llorente had spooned the ball over the bar from just a few yards from what looked an offside position to me (no replay seen though). Otamendi, keen not to concede a penalty, let Coke past him too easily, who chipped to the far post for left-back Benoit Tremoulinas to head home easily.

Damn. Now City were on the back front after such an explosive start. A key moment was to follow, Hart saving superbly from a header, but City continued to threaten themselves, and the home side’s threat waned. Bony was leading the line well, and he got his reward when he swept in a Navas cross to restore the two-goal lead. By half-time, City had had 16 attempts on goal, and their lead was fully merited.

A response was expected from Sevilla in the second half, but the truth is that City repelled their threat well, limited chances whilst creating chance after chance at the other end, without reward. There were so many I can’t recall them all – Sterling jinked into the area but saw his effort blocked, Yaya curled one wide, Bony missed a great chance by shooting wide, the keeper superbly saved another of his chances, and there was more. Fernandinho also had a shot saved from a Sterling cut-back – both continued to prosper.

Sevilla never had time to settle. The City players were well up for it, and closed down the home players at every opportunity. They were reduced to endless deep crosses that City’s defensive pairing repelled well, and City’s offside trap worked a treat on numerous occasions. The clock ticked down, and in the end it was comfortable.

For me, there were two truly impressive things to come out of last night’s match. Firstly, the team shape was spot on, and it made Sevilla look like a terrible team, which they are not – so City must have made them look that way. Secondly, it really could have been seven or eight, and City sliced open the home side at will during certain parts of the game.

Let’s make it clear, Sevilla are a phenomenal force at home. Apart from their multiple Europa League titles and clear European credentials, they have built a fortress at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. Ok, maybe less this season, but it was enough of one to defeat Barcelona recently, and European home defeats were a distant memory – Sevilla had won their previous 10 home European ties.

Man of the Match? Too many to choose from. Sterling was electric, tearing apart the Sevilla defence time after time. Fernando was a rock sweeping up in front of the defence and Navas excelled once more against his old team – he has been excellent for many weeks now. Bony held the line well and peppered the Sevilla goal throughout, the defence were excellent in dealing with multiple threats, Yaya was allowed to be destructive up the field, Hart made a crucial save and distributed the ball well, but for me it has to be Fernandinho, who was everywhere, and ran the show. He continues to make strong claims for being our player of the season.

I was surprised to see Delph come on however. Loved the warm-down, however. With a possibly poisonous atmosphere awaiting him on Sunday, it would have been easy for Delph to have been kept under wraps until after the international break. Maybe he wants to play there, or at least be in the squad.

And so with a draw in Germany, City are through after four games, despite losing their first fixture, at home. A great achievement in a tough group (though not quite a “group of death”), the aim now is to win the group. Win in Juventus and that will do it, though winning our last home game could be enough on its own as well. Either way, with qualification in the bag, we can enjoy a couple of Champions League games for once. I never thought that day would come.

I’ve no idea what the best team is for Sunday though, especially if Silva is back.

Oh, and just to make it clear – I’ve always loved the Champions League. What a great, noble competition – shame on anyone who doesn’t. #cheer

 

Everton 0 Manchester City 2: City Dig Deep To Maintain Winning Run

Well that felt good, one of the few bogey teams left in the Premier League defeated in the end after the usual nervy 90 minutes at Goodison – I’d expect nothing less. A club record winning run, well since 1912 anyway, which is quite a long time ago by my reckoning, especially for a team with no history.

This was another stern test in a tricky start to the season – before the West Brom match, I’d have been happy with being within a point or so off the leaders after three matches, because of the tricky fixtures and the concerns about the defence and the incomplete pre-season. It has gone better than I could have imagined.

So no changes from the Chelsea game, exactly as it should have been, and as expected. Otamendi didn’t get his work permit in time for the match, but I doubt he would have started anyway, and may not next week either.

This is a game that always has me really nervous, almost as much as a derby (almost), as Everton always seem to know how to unnerve the City team, and once more they competed ferociously. For some reason the bad weather added to my nerves – always a big leveller and all that.

City though started superbly. Aguero had two shots saved well by Howard, very well in fact, and the movement was razor-sharp, and the visitors were causing havoc down the right side, exposing Everton’s young and inexperienced full-back Galloway, who wouldn’t last the half due to injury.

The problem was that City weren’t making the most of their domination. Sterling just couldn’t get on a cross from Silva after another great move, and the pessimist in me felt Everton would make City pay. Thankfully they didn’t, but they did grow into the half, and were helped by City conceding two free-kicks just outside the area. Fernandinho may well have got a touch on the ball before Lukaku skimmed the bar, but you can’t blame the referee for giving the foul. Barkley was proving to be very lively in midfield, bursting forward regularly, and City were on the back foot slightly for a while. Coleman shot wide and Hart’s gloves were stung by a Barkley shot. I was glad for the break.

Then there was the disallowed goal of course. It doesn’t merit concerted discussion, but no doubt Sky Sports News will have it on a loop for a week, and Sky even tried to freeze the deflected pass to show Lukaku onside during the match itself. Anyway, a tough call for the linesman, but he got it right, and over the season there will be a thousand wrong calls and many thousand tight calls for teams, so it doesn’t need forensic examination, the pass was a fluke anyway, the decision the correct one.

So goalless at the break, and a chance for City to regroup. Thankfully City came out strong again in the second half, and continued to pass and to press. Silva hit the bar, then Sterling beautifully laid the ball to Kolarov, who appeared offside but was played on by Jagielka, and deceived Howard to score from the narrowest of angles. A quick check with the linesman, and the knee-slide celebrations could begin.

It’s easy to blame Howard for the goal, but I’m not sure he is totally to blame. Yes there is the old adage (and a worthless one in my opinion) that you shouldn’t be beaten at your near post, and there was no angle for Kolarov to shoot if Howard had defended his line, but you can understand why he was expecting a cross, and thus adjusted his body accordingly.

With a goal in the bag, City then weathered their toughest period, Hart flapped at a cross that almost led to an equalizer, then Barry headed goal-wards and Kompany cleared off the line, though I don’t think it was going in, but instead heading for the post.

A second goal was needed to calm the nerves, and what a goal it was to seal the victory. Yaya Toure was looking up field when he nonchalantly flicked the ball over the Everton defence, and Nasri waited for the right moment to beautifully loft the ball over Howard into the net.

Before then victory should have been sealed anyway, which brings us on to Jesus Navas, the source of many a heated debate, week after week. I still love him however much he may infuriate me. And infuriate he certainly did when a defensive mix up saw him clear on the right – Aguero was free on the middle, though to be fair from the replays, he never took up the perfect position for a simple pass, but Navas dithered and dithered some more, before shooting at Howard’s face. Just imagine how good Navas would be if he had that clinical side to him, and the footballing brain to deliver the right pass in dangerous positions more often. Ifs and maybes. He was the set free down the right again, and Howard saved once more. Thankfully it didn’t matter in the end.
Navas 1st half-stats: 100% tackles won, 95% pass accuracy, 3 take-ons, 3 crosses, 2 chances created (thank you Squawka as ever).

And so much for my bemoaning of the substitutions. I worried that bringing off Aguero and Sterling and replacing them with Bony and Nasri would stop the Everton defence from being pinned back due to City’s pace, and Nasri seemed to be carrying a few pounds too, or maybe the camera angle was unflattering. Anyway, Coleman did get forward once with dangerous effect, but Nasri was to make the difference in the end.

Man of the Match? It’s always when you’re struggling to choose an individual because of the many contenders. Kompany was immense, and shows more signs of being back to his old self. Kolarov too was once more very lively down the flank and of course chipped in with a crucial goal. Mangala was great, apart from giving away a dangerous free kick after a needless foul and a stupid back heel that almost let Everton in at 1-0, but showed again he has what it takes to succeed. Together, Kompany and Mangal won all their aerial duels, keeping Lukaku in check, made 11 clearances and 8 interceptions.
As for Toure, he chipped in with the greatest assist of the season so far, but once more there can only be one winner – step forward David Silva. He was again sublime, and showed also his tougher side, getting stuck in and regularly winning back possession and fighting off physical challenges.

Sterling is still growing into his role at City, as was to be expected as he is after all 20 years old, but the difference he has had on the team without even kicking a ball is all too clear. Part of the improvement so far this season may well be attributed to City’s players being hungrier this time around, tending as we do to alternate our good seasons, but Sterling clearly brings a new dimension to our attack, and it seems clear to me that we will at some points whallop a few teams during the course of the season. His pace stretches teams immensely, especially with Navas on the opposite side, and the stats show that play is going down our left side significantly more than it did last season. He wasn’t perfect against Everton, but chipped in with an assist and also set up Silva to hit the woodwork. He was a constant threat. What’s more, he is freeing up Silva and Toure too to be more destructive, and opposition teams are faced with multiple attacking threats that often leave them powerless. He also has built up a great understanding with Kolarov already, and offers greater protection for the full back than the likes of Silva or Nasri ever would.

So job done, and top of the league. There are winnable games to come, but we should never take them for granted, history tells us that. The team look hungry though, full of desire, adding a year to the manager’s contract seems to have helped, and everyone seems keen to put last season behind them, and we can’t ask for more than that. Should De Bruyne be added to the roster, it’s a very strong line up indeed. Onwards and upwards…

And one final thought – for wearing a baseball cap on backwards in the post-match interview, I think it’s time Nasri moved on…

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.

A Q & A with Icelandic goalkeeper and Manchester City fan Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson

Gunnleifur Gunnleifsson  is an Icelandic goalkeeper who currently plays for Breiðablik, having spent most of his career with their rivals HK. Aged 39, he is still a key part of Iceland’s national team, having gained 26 caps. It is looking increasingly likely that he and his national team-mates will qualify for next summer’s European Championship finals. Gunnleifur is also a huge Manchester City fan, so I thought it a good idea to ask him a few questions about his life as a goalkeeper and of course about City.

Tell me a little about your early career. Did you always want to be a footballer, and were you always a goalkeeper?

From the moment I saw Rinat Dassaev, the goalkeeper of the Soviet Union in the 1982 World Cup, I knew I wanted to be a keeper. I started to train as a keeper 2 years before though, but at that moment I knew that to be a goalkeeper was all I wanted to do.

BT Sport, Football, pic: 1989, Rinat Dasaev, U,S,S,R, goalkeeper

 

Representing your country must be an amazing feeling. Do you remember getting your first call up, and your first appearance?

I think that being called up to representing your country in any sport is the biggest honour you can achieve in the world of sport. I got my call up in 2000, and played the last minutes against Malta, which ended 5-0 for us.

What is it like playing football in Iceland?

Well the pre-season is about 6 months long. We train from November to April and then the league starts in May and ends in October. Football is the biggest sport here in Iceland so everyone is looking forward to the summer here when the football starts for real.

Tell me a little about your current club Breiðablik? Was your move there controversial?

Breiðablik has the biggest youth system in the country. We have about 1600 kids who train with us – for example most of other clubs have about 300-400 kids.
About 3-4 kids go to play abroad every year from Breiðablik. Gylfi Sigurðsson my teammate in the national team and who plays for Swansea now, was with Breiðablik from 2003-2005 and then went to Reading.  As for myself, I was brought up at the other team in Kópavogur called HK who are in the first division now, and when I signed from FH then the champions of Iceland to Breiðablik in 2012, there was a bit of anger from HK . It’s water under the bridge now.

You’ve only played briefly abroad. Did you ever wish to play more in Europe or elsewhere?

I played for half a season in the Switzerland Super League in 2009 with FC. Vaduz and had a good time, but all through my career I have had lots of opportunities to play in Europe (i was even linked to United in 1998), but I have never had it in me to play professionally abroad. if i am honest I think I didn’t want to live away from Iceland.

Iceland seems to be punching well above its weight in international football, and regularly produces great players. Is there a specific reason for this, for a country with such a small population?

We had a breakthrough in the years after 2000 when we started to build football houses. That meant that kids now had an indoor pitch to train in the winter time. Since then football has exploded in popularity and we have lots of kids who are very promising coming up. The coaches here are also very well educated and that of course helps a lot. The coaches are very combined in teaching the kids that they can win against anybody and that sticks with you.

How does an Icelandic goalkeeper end up supporting Manchester City?!

I have always been a football fanatic. For example, I can even today name all the goalkeepers in every team in the 1982 World Cup, so I have always been addicted to football. When I was about 6 years old we could only see one game a weekend from England, and it was a week-old game. I have to mention that English football is hugely popular in Iceland and always has been. When I was 6 or 7 people supported Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds, United, the usual suspects. And I too was becoming a United supporter – then I saw City play against Tottenham in the FA Cup Final, and I fell in love with the sky blue colour of the shirts. And through the next years I took everything I could from City. I even remember the years from 87-89 when players like Mark Seagraves, Nigel Gleghorn and Wayne Biggins played – I loved everything about Man City, and bought everything that I could that had the sky blue colour on it. My plan is to get all the shirts from 1981 to present – 1, 2 or 3 kits in every season. I am missing a few, and I have been looking for the 89 and 90 shirt but I haven’t found them.

Your son has an impressive collection of City shirts! Is he a huge fan?

I have collected City shirts from when I was a teenager and I have about 40 or something like that. My wife who is a United fan and I have 2 daughters 14 and 9 years old, and 2 sons who are 7 and 5. My sons are huge City fans and even can name which players has got what number, and we collect the shirts together now. We have for example an original Joe Hart shirt that Aron Gunnarsson of Cardiff got for us, and a Samir Nasri one that Gylfi Sigurðsson got. We also have a shirt number 12 from the 83 season – I don’t know who played in it.

shirts

You came over to Manchester earlier in the year to catch a match? Was it as enjoyable as you thought it would be?

Everything about the trip was fantastic except for the result. James Milner saved a point against Hull City. I took my older son with me for his first trip, and it is a privilege to get to do this with your son. We got very well treated in the Platinum box and the experience was fantastic.

As for City, it’s been a disappointing season. Where do you think it went wrong?

I don’t think it is a disappointment. You only have to look back 10 years or so and in that time we would have given our right arm for the place we ended in. We have to be realistic in that this will take time. No team wins always every time we will only get better and better.

How highly do you rate Joe Hart? I’ve had my doubts in the past, but he has clearly had a great season.

Well Hart is getter better every season. He is by far the best English keeper in the league, and I think he has his best years to come.

Apart from the obvious candidates, are there any other goalkeepers you really rate right now? Is Neuer the best of all?

I am a big fan of Gigi Buffon and in my opinion he is the best of them all. He has had a fantastic career and is a great leader on and of the pitch.

Is the English Premier League the most popular foreign league in Iceland? Who are the biggest English teams over there?

English football is like a religion in Iceland and has always been. The most popular teams are Liverpool, United Arsenal and the last few years Chelsea. I have seen more and more kids wearing a City shirt in the last couple years so we are also getting more popular here.

Finally, do you have plans for after you retire? Do you wish to stay in the game?

I have my coaching degrees and I have my goalkeepers’ academy here which is doing very well. I also have been doing a lot of TV work for the Premier League and Champions League which I like very much. I am also on the verge of renewing my contract with Breiðablik, and also hope that we will for the first time qualify for a big tournament with Iceland.
I will always be the biggest Icelandic City supporter and I am looking forward to all the glory in the coming years.

An Ode To James Milner

There was little surprise when it popped up on my Twitter timeline that he had officially gone, subject to a medical he can’t possibly fail. James Milner had moved on after five years, to pastures new, to sign for Liverpool, the lure of Champions League football not sufficient to retain a player wanting to play more often and more centrally. It had been the longest goodbye, that new contract never signed, the rumours of his next club constant and varied.

 

He will be missed, have no doubt about that. Not only are City seeping home-grown players away at a rate of knots, which will probably require the management to purchase English players they don’t really want to sign (at inflated prices), but City have lost a player valued at comfortably over £10m for nothing who will now have to be replaced, under existing Financial Fair Play constraints. No wonder that City tried so hard to keep him, though it is only a matter of time before a croissant-munching Sun journalist bemoans on the Sunday Supplement why City let him go, as Neil Ashton nods in agreement, recalling how City don’t play Englishmen so he was forced to go. He doesn’t justify being one of City’s top earners, but our management realised it was cheaper to overpay him than see him go and have to replace him at much greater cost.

 

Nor should we hold any grudges. City paid £24m for a player for the term of his contract, and any player is perfectly entitled to let it run its course and move on. If City signed someone on a free transfer you wouldn’t be complaining, and calls that he strung City along are drivel, and without any evidence. From what I have heard he really was torn between what to do in the future, and would have signed a new contract with City if he had felt that to be best for his career. It’s hardly as if he has done this for the money, especially after what City are reported to have offered him.

 

The key point is that City are losing a great squad player. James Milner was rarely injured. He was the consummate professional, a manager’s dream. Never in trouble, never causing trouble, never moaning, never letting a gobby agent act as a spokesman. James Milner never wore gloves during a match – he’d wear shorts for training in a blizzard. There is not one skill that James Milner is truly world class at, but there is not a single skill he is poor at- he’d probably even put in a good shift in net.

A tireless worker, he can pass, he can cross, tackle, and he proved himself adept in front of goal. Most crucial of all perhaps, his work-rate meant that when he was in the team, out wide, the full-back behind him was always protected. He made life easier for his team-mates, and allowed the more skilful of them the freedom to express themselves. He isn’t the greatest, but pretty much every squad in England would be stronger for his inclusion, as he could cover so many positions, and protect so many teammates.

  

For a while, I couldn’t understand the reasoning behind leaving. I wasn’t being blinkered or deluded, football has its own food chain, and unless you support the biggest club in the world (no, not them), there are clubs below and above you. And right now, a player with over 30 appearances a season for Manchester City should not be considering a move to Liverpool, who won’t be participating in the Champions League next season, nor in my opinion challenging for the title. But slowly, I saw his point of view, as his reasoning became common knowledge.
We know he wants to play centrally, like the Aston Villa player we signed all those years ago. City will never give him a permanent berth there, there’s too much competition, and whilst I am not convinced that it is actually his best position, he clearly thinks it is, wants to play there, and will naturally be swayed by a big club’s manager assuring him that he will play there, though with Brendan Rodger’s track record, I’d get something down in writing.
Secondly, he is the archetypal player who is desperate to play every week, and that trumps a big pay packet and perhaps even trophies. This is his last big hoorah, and he wants to play regularly, on his terms. Fair enough, especially if it helps add to his 53 England caps. Of course playing regularly is exactly what he has been doing in the past 10 months, he’s starred in as many league games as David Silva (though admittedly some were from the bench), but you suspect that with a busy transfer window ahead for City, he saw what lay ahead. Summer is coming, and with it less pitch-time for James Milner, and he never nailed down a proper 1st team place.

 

I just can’t get away from the feeling though that he has made a bad decision. Kudos to him for leaving and seeking a new challenge, and for taking a risk, but I just don’t see it as being a good move for him, I just don’t. As mentioned, he will get playing time in his preferred position, but unless you’re Lionel Messi or Ronaldo, he surely can’t have been promised to be picked every week, and if he has that sets a very dangerous precedent for Brendan Rodgers and his team, especially if he loses form and is still playing every week.

 

Anyway, this is surely a great signing for Liverpool, yes? Well I presumed so, but as I speak, Tony Evans is on Twitter, deriding the ambition of his club Liverpool for the signing. For free, it seems a steal, though it is never truly free with the signing on fee and the weekly wages, and Evans rightly pointed out that it does not say much for a team’s ambition if James Milner is one of your top earners. However, it is still a great signing if it is backed with other signings. I really don’t see how snapping up an England international on a free transfer can ever be considered a bad move. The worry will be that a central midfield pairing of Henderson and Milner has many things going for it, but it will hardly frighten their competitors.  

 

Still, the revisionism can now begin. Free of City’s shackles (as the ITV website bizarrely described his time at the club), now people may truly appreciate his worth, like they suddenly did when Gareth Barry left. Milner was always the scapegoat for England’s failures, and I hope one day that changes, for his sake. I hope he is fairly successful at his new club and has no regrets. City don’t need a James Milner to win trophies, but there will be matches when we would have benefitted from his presence, and will miss him now he is gone.
And so leaves another player integral to the most successful period in our history – we are left with the memories, from Manchester to Munich -all the best James Milner.

Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2: Match Thoughts as City Come Up Short In Europe Yet Again

And so, another lesson if one was needed, that City are not yet ready to conquer, or terrorise, Europe. It was men against boys for 45 minutes, and by the time city woke up, it was too late.

All the talk before the match was of how City would not fall for the same mistakes as last season, and not be overly-cautious against the might of Barcelona, but perhaps that was in fact the team’s first mistake.

And as the team was announced, my fears were confirmed. You see, I don’t think City were overly-cautious last season. They were negating Barcelona for 50 minutes, and a misplaced pass, penalty and red card ruined all the tactics. We’ll never know of course, but it’s my theory they were keeping it tight for an hour or so before showing more ambition, playing with the two legs in mind. Either way, last year’s caution was a better tactic than this season’s “let’s-go-for-it” line-up, with the wonderful gift of hindsight.

So, two upfront. It made no sense to anyone bar the manager, but as those who know more about tactics will point out, it worked well for Bayern Munich when destroying Barcelona the other year. We’re not Bayern Munich though, and it relies on the forwards dropping to midfield, covering the pitch and working their socks off. Dzeko was far from the worst performer, but it’s not really his forte to show the required agility to play in such a role in such a game, but he did ok in my book. It was suicidal to play a proper 4-4-2 against a team that dominates in midfield as much as Barcelona. So naive in Europe again, and the stinging criticism obviously hit home with the manager when he should have ignored it and done his own thing. Or maybe this was his own thing, which is even more worrying.

However, a caveat. I’d say it’s not 4-4-2 in itself, it’s what you do with it and who you employ, as hinted above. Atletico Madrid can do it too, but I just don’t think we have the personnel to make it work against such teams, and thus five in midfield makes more sense. However, I didn’t know before kick-off what our team should be – I bet Barcelona fans did, and there’s another part of the bigger problem.

The first half was, quite simply, a disaster. City’s only chance of pulling off a result required incessant pressing of the away team, and this was sadly lacking, alongside a very square back line camped on the 18-yard line. Milner is a great player, and one I pray stays at the club past the summer, and he has put in a man-of-the-match performance at the Allianz Arena, but I don’t think he can do much alongside Fernando in a four-man midfield against Barcelona. They can just pass round him.

The first goal only took 16 minutes, and you can blame Kompany, but it was fortunate to be fair, an attempted block falling right back at the feet of the cannibal, and that was that. Then Kompany did what he does worst and went charging forward and diving in for no reason and Alba was freed on the left after more exquisite play from Messi and the full-back squared to Suarez who criminally wasn’t picked up and prodded the ball home ahead of a sprawling Demichelis.

All our worst fears were coming true. This was looking like a humiliating defeat on home soil, and you wondered just how many goals the Catalans would pick up. Messi was at his predictable best, an absolute joy to watch, utterly unplayable. Suarez has come into form for Barcelona, and Neymar is Neymar, another player of exquisite skill, as you’d expect for £80m. Rakitic keeps the midfield ticking over and Iniesta is quite simply one of the top three midfielders of his generation. Alba’s not bad either. The only potential weak link was the keeper, but there was little opportunity to test that theory. Another team came to the Etihad and showed perfect ball control and retention skills, whilst we looked nervous, pressured and panicky with the ball.

I was just happy then to get to half-time with no further goals. Alves (the ****) clipped the bar from wide, and apart from Dzeko heading comfortably wide, and a fumbled save by the keeper, there was little hope. Neymar had a lob cleared near the line by Zabaleta and Hart had to be alert to smother two other chances.

Thankfully, the attitude changed in the second half. Was the formation to blame after all? With the same 4-4-2, City were pressing much better, and creating chances. Aguero shot wide, Nasri had a great chance blocked and Dzeko spurned a header that was easier to score, hampered by a standing start, after a lovely flick on FROM A CORNER from Vincent Kompany.

The situation was helped though by Fernandinho coming on, who was far superior to the midfielders of the first half. Of course Barcelona had a two goal lead by now, so it would be natural for them to sit back somewhat and protect what they had, but I don’t think that argument totally holds as they still had the desire to seek further goals and that wouldn’t explain City creating chances. Anyway, eventually, City got a goal back. Clichy won the ball well from Messi, fed Silva who flicked it behind him for Aguero to pounce with a massive burst of pace, before finishing off the move with a goal that somewhat resembled a certain famous goal of seasons past.

City were definitely improved, and there was renewed hope, but that was extinguished with the third red card in a row against Barcelona. There can be few complaints either. It wasn’t the worst foul in the world as Clichy went for, and missed, a bouncing ball, and of course Alves was always going to act as though he had been shot, but it was a typical yellow in a European game. Clichy had paid for his slow reaction to getting to a loose ball contested earlier with Rakitic, which earned him his first yellow.

From this point on, I just wanted to walk away with a single goal deficit. City toiled manfully, but Bony wasn’t fully awake and he  went for the same ball as Fernando resulting in a comedy shot wide, whilst Aguero dallied on the ball for too long and was tackled. Alba was denied by a superb Zabaleta tackle then pathetically feigned injury.

And that was almost that – Alves had a strop when subbed, Neymar argued with a City fan, and then Zabaleta lost the plot as the game came close to the end. No doubt the brilliance of Messi forces players to do stupid things, but Zabaleta’s lunge at Messi as he ran onto a Pedro flick was very poor indeed, and it seemed what little chance of progressing to the quarter finals was being extinguished. Thankfully, it seems that Lionel Messi, the best player I’ve ever seen grace the Etihad pitch, does have two weaknesses. Having missed three of his previous six penalties, he proceeded to have another saved by Hart, then somehow managed to head the ball wide. Penalties and diving headers – he is human after all.

So a single-goal defeat, which almost felt like a victory after the opening half-hour. Recriminations will be plentiful of course in the intervening three weeks, so where did it all go wrong?

Two things really. The team put out by Pellegrini was, in my opinion, all wrong, if not the formation. To give Fernando, a player who struggles with the likes of Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, a start against the best front line in world football was ridiculous, especially overlooking Fernandinho in the process. No tackles, no aerial duels won, no clearances – and this wasn’t his worst game in a sky blue shirt if I’m honest. Clearly Pellegrini wanted a pure defensive midfielder on the pitch to screen the defence, but as we don’t have one capable of the job, picking “the octopus” wasn’t really the answer. City then failed to press, and the problems were exacerbated by the rather large, woolly-mammoth-sized elephant in the room, namely the continual erratic form of our club captain, who as a friend commented some weeks ago, seems permanently angry. Something’s not right anyway. City improved in the second half, but the damage had been done – and you have to ask why the team didn’t start that way and with the personnel that were on the pitch with 20 minutes to go. Nasri once more underwhelmed against top opposition, with a mere 31 touches in an hour (though we’ll always have that night in Rome), whilst Dzeko was reduced to spending much of the first half on the left wing. It clearly wasn’t working after the first goal went in, let alone the second one, and a braver manager would have made changes immediately. It could have been even worse because of Pellegrini’s inactivity, but credit to him for once more firing up the team at half-time and spelling out their responsibilities as the same eleven did improve after the interval.

But here’s the big reason, that some seem reluctant to grasp. Are you sitting comfortably? Well, the main reason Barcelona won this game is this – and it may shock you – they have a much better team than City. Their front two cost £140m, supplemented by the world’s greatest player, and sometimes you have to just admit we’re not on the same level. This is not a squad value comparison argument – whatever the players cost, their team is simply better man-for-man. This is partly due to Financial Fair Play, partly due to the academy not yet bearing fruition, partly due to not strengthening the team or squad sufficiently after our league title victories and whatever the reasons, it still comes down to them being better than us. This is not an excuse for losing – Atletico Madrid have prospered without spending hundreds of millions of pounds, but then Sid Lowe recently called Simeone’s achievements the greatest of any manager in the last 20 years, and he may have a point. Bayern Munich, for all their power and pillaging of any team that threatens their crown, haven’t spent huge sums either, so it’s not an excuse, but the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid go and spend £60m on a top-class player when needed, and the gulf shows. We have great players, but we sign Wilfried Bony – I think it’s a great signing, but I’m not sure it’s the type that will make us dominate Europe. The simple fact is, we have a long way to go to match teams like Barcelona. You may blame our Spanish executives, our manager, our players freezing on the big night, Michel Platini or someone else, but that’s the way it is. This summer is very important in determining which path we take in the near future- we must strengthen significantly next time around. This squad with the likes of Pogba and Reus in it would be a different proposition, one that could go up against any team as equals – but it’s not easy attracting top players like that – it’s still easier for the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid or Bayern Munich to do so instead.
After all, we wanted Isco (in sublime form at the moment, naturally), we wanted Hazard, and we’d love Messi and Guardiola too, but it’s really not that simple.

Milner and Fernando against Rakitic and Iniesta. Dzeko v Neymar. Messi v Nasri (or Silva!). There are no comparisons. When their lowest-key member of a front three is last season’s Premier League player of the year (by a country mile), then you know you’re up against it. We have a squad to win domestic trophies, but not one to conquer Europe. We can still do better though. And of what we did spend? We spent £40m on a defender six months ago who is still not ready for the Champions League “biggies” it seems. We kick out a player from the Champions League squad and effectively end his City career to include a new striker we put on the bench. Worth it was it?

The fact I won’t really miss Clichy in 2nd leg (his absence confirmed as soon so he picked up his first yellow card) tells you all we need to know about the squad deficiencies in Europe.  We need a top class left back,  a top class (left?)winger,  and an ageing squad may be close to needing a major overhaul,  with some major names getting no younger…

And for all the criticism of Kompany, he could do with help. He never has the same defensive partner for any period of time, and his rashness seems to at least partly stem from feeling the need to cover for others. With a top class defensive midfielder in front of him, a deeper defensive line and a regular partner, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation (as often).

In the end, it was a player who I don’t quite rate as top, top class – Joe Hart, who once more made me eat my words on a big night – he was excellent, the Man of the Match for City.

So what now? A ridiculous three-week gap until the return leg, and City need luck, skill and grit to pull this off. Perhaps a red card for the home side would help too (yeah, right!). Aguero up front, with Silva and Yaya behind? Yeah, why not…

As for the manager, his possible departure draws nearer if City go out. I have no doubt that the players thought the domestic cups not fully worthy of their attention, and all so we could concentrate on trying to get past a better team which would then leave us with three more huge hurdles to win a trophy our owners crave so much. Hope it was worth it lads. Having won both domestic cups in recent years, you’d hope that the players would want to experience that day at Wembley again (though not the Wigan one), If other fans wonder why we haven’t embraced the Champions League, they will point out it’s only because we’re not very good in it, and whilst there is an element of truth in that, with City putting in a ropey performance on day one, that doesn’t really tell the full story. I grew up dreaming about the FA Cup and the league, and it’s those trophies I still crave. It will change no doubt, but not yet. You’ll never hear me booing Abide With Me.

And so to another big match. A loss to Liverpool and the season, draws closer to a premature end. With Chelsea at Wembley though, it’s a chance to narrow the gap and put some pressure on the league leaders. Two up front?