There’s something about City…

17 September 2015

Juve’s defensive trio celebrate at the final whistle

Manuel Pellegrini’s men succumbed to a Juventus comeback on Tuesday and with it, an example of the fortitude required at the top level. Even so, this defeat may not be attributed to the malaise in the English game so highly claimed in recent time, which makes Man City’s case all the more intriguing.

Surely it’s not supposed to be like this. September 23th 2008, Sheikh Mansour and his entourage completed the swift takeover of Manchester City with a majority share and completed the £32 buy of Robinho from Real Madrid shortly after. With riches that dwarfed Roman Abramovich’s, the sky was the limit for a club who two seasons previously had been fighting relegation. Manchester City are a great club, with memories of Maine Road, Rodney marsh and matches with cross city rivals Manchester United to name but a few. This takeover, however, signaled their intent to embark on the most ambitious period in their history.

Sheikh Mansour transformed Manchester City and they began to challenge for honours

Yet fast forward seven years and the sky blues are 1 billion pounds spent on players and the overall consensus is a project still unfulfilled. Two premier league titles and two FA cups in the last 5 years is rightfully commended. However, when Sheik Mansour bought the club his ambitions were to not only win the Premier League, but to instill a dynasty that would see the club dominate for years to come. With that meant European success or progress towards such. That dream has yet to come to fruition and the question remains. Why?

Arguments of this team’s strength ‘on paper’ are well rehearsed and the glamour title of being an ‘English team’ can only take you so far. The arguments over player power also take a hit when you consider their opponents on Tuesday. Juventus were without Marchisio and Khedira because of injury. Vidal, Pirlo and Tevez had left in the summer. They had failed to win any of their first three Serie A matches whilst simultaneously bedding in a number of new players. City, although without Aguero and Zabaleta, had a 100% league record so far. They also beat last seasons’ champions Chelsea and had not concede a goal whilst also strengthening vastly this summer. Cue the lights and it were the Italians who held all the cards in the end and stifled City’s new found optimism for this seasons’ Champions League.

City played the game with pace, verve and precision passing and created the chances to win the game. Sterling being the guilty party with a one on one chance well kept out by Gigi Buffon in the early stages. Vincent Kompany gave the English side the lead with a leaping header over Giorgio Chiellini in the second half that more than hinted of a foul. They continued to push for a second with Sterling and Silva producing a superb double save by Buffon to keep Juve in the game. Sturaro then forced a save from Hart after being set up by Morata in the box before a peach of a cross by the impressive Paul Pogba was latched onto by Mario Mandzukic to equalise for Juventus. With nine minutes left the comeback was complete after a lobbed ball by Lichtsteiner bounced off Kolarov and fell for Morata outside the box who scored a stunning strike in off the post. City pushed towards the end but it was too late. A game City had lead and one that could have gone either way ended with no points.

It can be said that the finer margins are the culprit of their jaded European campaigns. Looking deeper it looks a bit different. Whether it’s an apathy towards opposition like Ajax and CSKA Moscow, coming up against the super elite in Bayern or Barcelona or lacking the cohesion and tactical assuredness of Borussia Dortmund, Juventus or Napoli. All these teams have contributed to City’s woes and for different reasons. The former point is the most confusing.

To fall short of excellent sides is one thing, but to fail to put your stamp on so called ‘lesser’ teams is a mystery especially when Champions League progress is at stake. The Etihad has a muted atmosphere on Champions League nights and is compounded by the home fans booing at the traditionally lauded anthem for the tournament before kick-off. This may be due to UEFA Financial Fair Play rules that have had a negative effect on the club in recent years and unofficial statements from UEFA figures condemning City’s spending and singling them out as an example.

There has been criticism over the empty seats at the Etihad on European nights

Why should the fans care about a tournament when the organisation behind it are attacking their methods? It’s a juxtaposition.

Long term city fans would not have been dreaming of a European cup win as kids as it wasn’t a feasible possibility. The almost instant change of the team from decent premier league outfit to European powerhouse hasn’t followed suit as much with fans as first thought. The growing artificial and corporate natural of football, at elite level at least, has become the norm, but City fans have been exposed to this new world at an alarming speed. With very little of their club left from even ten years ago. New owners, a new stadium and a new team can’t shake the feeling that City fans perhaps long for the ideals back then, where the teams’ traditions and long history are more apparent and better felt.

Maine Road, City’s old stadium, was demolished in 2003 and turned into a housing development

Now this is not to say City don’t deserve to be the top or that they haven’t earned their keep. They do, however, appear to be the only major side to treat Europe’s major club competition as secondary to the Premier League. In domestic competition they have history, rivalries, cup final appearances, titles and a global powered city neighbour in Manchester United to add to their own individuality. The league is their first base camp for their growth. A lack of European competition in the past means the club has no standard for them to live by. Victory over teams who have had power over them for so many years in the league seems more satisfying than defeating a European club with whom they have no relation or genuine rivalry with. A hollow competition. It’s a club that don’t get carried away with the floodlights of midweek matches and have their priorities elsewhere. It’s an interesting, grounded, community like thinking for a star searching club.

To that end the fans shouldn’t be accused of ignorance, but pride. Rejecting an established order for home comforts suggests a shared cultural ideal where UEFA’s premier club competition embodies an unnatural and superficial take on the football world. This article wouldn’t have be made if City’s result and performances were much improved, but time for growing pains for the team has past and European success needs to be a reachable target at present. Performances on the pitch can be affected by the crowd’s atmosphere. Opposition teams can sense this and take encouragement by the fans anxiety. To that end the anxiety of the fans has filtered to the team and compounded to a European predicament. The noises about European success generally comes from within the club and not from fans who should be the driving force for their targets for the season. See Arsenal as an example.

Michel Platini. UEFA President, approves FFP regulations

Noel Gallagher, a famous life-long city supporter, in an interview in November 2014 said he’d rather win the Premier League than Champions League and that the reason behind City’s apathy to the competition is unclear. City’s team is the strongest the league and if they can get the balance right, or just give it some time, their moment in the Euro spotlight will come.

Until that happens they will have to make do with a club with an iron team, but a golden heart.