Published on January 3rd, 2016 | by Ian Cheeseman2
“Where City are as 2016 begins” | Ian Cheeseman
I keep meticulous records of every game I attend. (I know what you’re thinking!). As I brought everything up-to-date at the end of 2015, I realised that the Champions League game against Borussia Monchengladbach was the 1000th competitive City home match that I’ve attended. I’m not far off that number for away games. Next season should see me reach 2000 overall (a figure that doesn’t include reserves, U18s, friendlies or testimonials). The vast majority of those games were before I started covering the Blues as a journalist.
Believe it or not, I’ve never watched a live City game on TV – ever – I’ve either been there, or during my early days at the BBC, I was working when I occasionally had to miss a game (thankfully very few and now nearly 20 years ago.)
I’ve seen all the ups and downs, been there, bought the T-shirt. Looking into the future, I can only see things getting better for City. The EDS and women’s teams now have a superb stadium, the envy of most, the Etihad Stadium is as good as any, and I’ve visited almost every stadium in the UK and most of the biggest and best in Europe and even one or two outside Europe.
Looking at the bigger picture I can see (hardly a revelation) more stadium expansion and lots more development around the stadium. I’ve no doubt that in a few years, the area now used for car parking will be state-of-the-art, whatever is eventually built there.
On the field City fans have witnessed a transformation like no other, and the highlights of the last few years have been “Roy of the Rovers stuff” – you know the games, the titles etc, that I’m talking about.
In the shorter term, as the Blues move into 2016, the current team has faults (like all teams). It’s not perfect. Many supporters have become highly critical of any performance that’s not of the highest calibre. I understand that, ticket prices are high and football is hyped in the media to a level where expectation becomes unrealistic.
For fans who attend a smaller percentage of games, that expectation is even higher. When you go to a game, you want a perfect day, where the stars shine and meet your expectations. Football isn’t like that, it never has been. It’s a competition, and every club, every player and every supporter wants the same.
If winning is everything, then only one team is successful in England each season; the Champions. Every other team is a failure, by the strictest assessment.
Back to City. This campaign has seen City suffer many injuries, particularly to the key players, and in my opinion, the key players are those who have been the “game changers” for a few years. My key players remain, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart and a fit Samir Nasri. Apart from Hart, all those players have struggled with injuries this season.
The style City are adopting as their philosophy, is a passing game, designed to entertain. It’s a challenge to play at that standard every week, only the very best can do it, so the team needs everyone to be at the top of their game and fully fit. At times City have underperformed, and there may be more hiccups to come.
This season it has been great to see Leicester, Palace, Watford and Stoke threatening to shake things up. They’ve achieved what they have through hard work, team work, but also with luck and largely injury free. Ultimately, those teams will fall short, but will escape criticism from their supporters because they’ll have overachieved, as Swansea did last year; but look what has happened to their manager and team this season.
The achievements of Leicester and others will raise their expectations next season. You know and I know that if Leicester are mid table at this time next year, still a great achievement for a club with their budget, Ranieri will be under pressure. Sad but true.
I believe that City’s recent “less than perfect” performances wouldn’t have been the subject of such scrutiny by Blues fans just five or six years ago, but now many supporters expect more. This isn’t a ‘show’ being performed on stage, as many seem to think these days. This is a sport, where the opposition is also there to win. The Harlem Globetrotters basketball team used to take their opponents on tour with them, just to stand and watch while they dazzled with their skills. That’s not what you want is it? This is sport!
After many generalisations in the previous few paragraphs, I’ll now be more specific, but only thinking of the end of 2015 into 2016. I’m a big fan of the style of football City are trying to play, but sometimes I think having Silva, Sterling, De Bruyne, Aguero and Yaya Toure in the same eleven, leaves the defensive side of the team vulnerable. Mangala hasn’t convinced me he’s good enough at the top level. His positional sense is wanting, although he’s clearly fast. He reminds me, in some ways, of Micah Richards.
The left side of City’s defence looks particularly vulnerable against the top opposition. I remain to be convinced that Raheem Sterling is the real deal. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
One other thing. It feels like City are a club in limbo – in the short term. I’ve felt certain that Pep Guardiola has been the manager in waiting for over three years. Manuel Pellegrini has been a very impressive caretaker, his football philosophy fits and he’s a man with great dignity. I suspect he’s been fully briefed throughout the “Pep” plan, but has never been rattled, always stayed on message. City themselves clearly have a plan and have stuck with it.
I don’t believe City will spend within January, keeping the transfer kitty for Pep’s arrival. Who knows what might happen then? Messi, Pogba, Isco, Neymar – or all of the above. If Pep arrives, as I expect, and any or all of those players, can you imagine the reaction of some fans if City don’t win every game 5-0 and in style?
If Pep doesn’t come – well that’s a different story.
I believe the Manchester City that goes into 2016 could win the Premier League, or could stumble, hard to be sure, it’s sport after all, but in the longer term there’s only one direction the club is going in and that’s up up up.
I just hope I can continue to be part of it, as a commentator or spectator, but I’m certain City’s future is in safe hands.
I make no apology for this being quite a long blog, as the modern way of thinking seems to be that short and sharp is the only way to keep people’s attention. The era of the sound bite frustrates me. To those who didn’t stick with it, maybe the ones who channel hop on TV or leave games early, well you won’t have got this far anyway! To those who stuck it until the end, remember I don’t claim my opinion is right, it’s just the humble opinion of someone who loves football and has watched City all my life.
Up the Blues!