Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE COWARDS OF EUROPE


"This team will frighten the life out of Europe. It will frighten the life out of the cowards of Europe. It will take them and shake them and frighten them. Those cowards of Europe will not know what has hit them"


Mr Allison’s words. These were Mr Allison’s words. They were Mr Allison’s words of war and they were words of war made for the European Cup. For the players and staff of Fenerbahçe, the unknown Fenerbahçe, who must now surely be trembling in their hastily fabricated and cheaply constructed football boots, made out of goat’s hide and sticky back plastic.

The words of Mr Allison were in every newspaper. They were in English and in Turkish. Mr Allison’s words were translated into Turkish. Mr Allison’s words were in English. The words of Mr Allison made good reading in the newspapers for the readers. The words made good reading in Turkish, with their sedillas and their circumflexes and their noisy guttural palatalisation.

Mr Allison’s words looked just fine in Turkish and were read by the supporters and staff of Fenerbahçe, the unkown Fernebahce, with their makeshift boots and their cowardly aroma of sticky back plastic.

These were his words of war. These were his words of European Cup war.

***

No spine. One man team. This is what they said.

No spine. One man team, they all said. And they repeated it. No spine. One man team. All the newspapers repeated the phrase: one man team. It was a one man team and it was a team that was going to be beaten, because it relied on only one man. All the readers of newspapers digested the words and remembered them. It was a one man team waiting to be beaten, a one man team waiting to be dispatched, waiting to be parcelled off by the men from Rome.  

The words were not those of Mr Pellegrini. They were in English and in Italian, but they were not the words of Mr Pellegrini. These were words of war, but they were not Mr Pellegrini’s words of war. They were newspaper editors' words of war. They were the words of war for a different war, a war of newspaper editors waging war on reader numbers and website clicks.

And the reader numbers clicked by as the words flowed. And the war was waged on all of us.

***

Mr Allison looked at the team sheet and bit his nails. He looked at the team sheet and puffed on his cigar. He puffed long and hard on a big, fat cigar. He looked again and asked his captain what he thought. His captain said he thought it would be fine. His captain Anthony Book looked through his manager's hastily constructed cigar smoke and nodded.

It would all be fine, he said.

Mr Allison also thought it would be fine. All fine. Mr Allison looked at that team sheet and stared at the names upon it. It would be fine, he thought. His captain thought the same thing. Anthony Book, captain of Manchester City, thought exactly the same thing. Mr Allison's cigar tasted just fine too and the smoke smelled just right.

He looked through the list one more time, admiring it, staring at it: Kenneth Mulhearn, David Connor, George Heslop, Alan Oakes, Glyn Pardoe, Colin Bell, Anthony Coleman, Michael Doyle, Michael Summerbee, Francis Lee and Neil Young. That would do, he thought. That would do nicely.
And captain Anthony Book thought so too. It would do. Even though Anthony Book, captain and right back, captain and inspiration, would not be there to play the makeshift men from Turkey. Not only would it do, it would be fine.

***

Mr Pellegrini asked Mr Cousillas what he thought of the team’s chances in the circumstances. The circumstances were grim. No spine left, one man team. This is what the press had been saying. This is what the press had been saying all week. This is what they always said. And no spirit. No team spirit. And these were the words of war that the newspaper readers read.

Mercenaries with no team spirit. Mercenaries playing for the petro dollars. Petro dollars and nothing else. Oil money. No team spirit and no spine left. Just dollars from the micro petro state in the sun.

Mr Pellegrini rubbed his chin and looked at the team sheet. Joseph Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Fernando Reges, Fernandinho Rosa, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko.

But no spine and no spirit was the message from the men in the press.

It might not do, he thought. And Mr Cousillas thought that too. It might not do, they both thought without uttering the words one to the other. It might not do. It might not do at all. And the press might be right.

***

The day of the match. No sleep. A terrible clatter, banging outside the hotel, drums and shouting, wailing and sirens. A terrible clamour. A terrible clatter. People running around in the dark, car horns sounding, people wailing in the streets.

Kenneth Mulhearn rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock, the digital clock, the new fangled digital hotel clock. The new fangled digital hotel clock read 05:05. It was five o’clock in the morning. It was five minutes past five in the morning. Five past five a.m. Istanbul time. Local time. Time for the locals.
Kenneth Mulhearn rolled over in bed and looked at the curtains. Dark green curtains with a little yellow stencil pattern. The dark green curtains with a little yellow pattern looked back at Kenneth Mulhearn and he did not sleep anymore.

Next door David Connor also looked at his curtains, as did Michael Summerbee in Room 106 and Alan Oakes alongside in 108. Nobody slept anymore, owing to the clatter and the din in the street. The clatter and the din just kept getting louder and louder.

***

Joseph Hart awoke at eight-forty five precisely. The liquid crystal digital read-out on his mobile phone read 08:45 Roma. The mobile phone was vibrating and pulsing. It made little noise and the streets outside made little noise. Owing to the triple glazing and the specially chosen location and the police cordon of little yellow and orange bollards, the street outside made little noise.

It was a quarter to nine in Rome. Rome time. Joseph Hart thought of the day ahead, stretching, exercising, preparing, talking to microphones. Stretching, exercising, preparing, talking to microphones.

Joseph Hart looked into his mobile phone to find music and to find the newspaper headlines that would talk of mercenaries and last chance saloons and failure and gladiators and Roman ruins.

The mercenaries. The pound stretchers. The bunch of cowardly individuals that were not a team. The cowards of Europe.

Joseph Hart yawned and put on his headphones. Joseph Hart yawned and scratched his head and put on his headphones to listen to music.

***

The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was already packed. The new digital time display in the stadium read 09:23. Breakfast time in Istanbul. The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was rolling and rocking. The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was full to the rafters at breakfast time. 
Kenneth Mulhearn joined his team mates. David Connor, Michael Summerbee, Francis Lee. They all looked tired. Michael Summerbee did not look as if he had slept at all. Kenneth Mulhearn felt a little like Michael Summerbee looked. The players gathered in a meeting room. One by one they gathered in the small hot meeting room. One by one the players, looking tired and flustered, sat down in the hot and small meeting room to listen to the words of Mr Allison, who also looked tired and hot and restless.

Mr Allison did not smoke a big cigar.

Mr Allison looked at the players and sighed. Mr Allison’s confidence was shot through. Mr Allison, for the first time, wondered if they might not lose. Mr Allison told them that he felt confident and he repeated it, but his face told them another story, his eyes told them another story and everyone understood what his face and his eyes were telling them.

***

The Estadio Olimpico was empty. Thousands upon thousands of empty blue seats. A silence lay around the place.

Jospeh Hart arrived in the lobby with his headphones and his bag. Fernando Reges did the same, as did Fernandinho Rosa. They all looked bright and well presented. Mr Pellegrini noted that they all looked well presented and bright. Mr Pellegrini and Mr Cousillas both noted that all looked well and shiny eyed, that all looked like they had slept the sleep of the unworried, the sleep of the uninterrupted.

Mr Pellegrini told Mr Kidd that he thought everything would be fine. Mr Kidd nodded. He also thought everything would be fine. Mr Kidd looked at the faces and the eyes of Joseph Hart and Fernandinho Rosa and decided that all would be alright, that all would be alright.

***

The roads were choked. Choked roads with thousands of people. The players of Manchester City
looked out of the windows and watched the choked roads with their thousands of people. 

Kenneth Mulhearn looked at the roads and the people. Kenneth Mulhearn shifted in his seat and returned to his newspaper, with his bloodshot eyes and his heavy head, which kept sliding down the window. Kenneth Mulhearn did not feel at all like playing football.

Mr Allison looked at the roads and sighed. Anthony Book and Michael Summerbee looked at the roads and sighed.

The people bounced and jumped, bounced and jumped. The people in the choked roads lit flares and banged drums. They shouted and sang and made a frightful din. The din entered the coach and the players of Manchester City sank behind their newspapers, with the din ringing in their ears.

***

Joseph Hart and his team mates sat silently in their modern bus. It slid down empty streets towards the stadium in a swish of near silence. The roads were dark and still.

Joseph Hart listened to music on his headphones. Mr Pellegrini watched and sighed. Mr Cousillas and Mr Kidd watched and sighed. Mr Pellegrini looked at Mr Kidd and he looked at Mr Cousillas and Mr Pellegrini nodded.

The three men lent back in the chairs in the silent bus and felt comfortable. The players behind them looked rested and alert, rested and alert. Joseph Hart felt like playing football. Joseph Hart really felt like playing football. And so too did Pablo Zabaleta and James Milner.

***


The BJK İnönü Stadyumu was surrounded by people. They looked wide eyed and excited. The people jumped up and down and thumped their fists on the side of the bus as it edged forward, inch by inch, inch by inch.

Kenneth Mulhearn had a headache. He closed his eyes and he closed the curtains. The little curtains only went halfway across the window and the people thumped even more. Kenneth Mulhearn had serious doubts and serious pains in his head. He did not at all like the look of the scene outside his unfamiliar smelling bus.

Anthony Book revised his thoughts. He did not any longer feel that all would be well. He felt something knotting in his stomach and he turned to Mr Allison and told him so.

Mr Allison smiled a weak smile and said none of the things he usually said on the bus to the stadium.

Francis Lee gripped his knees and looked out of the window. Tonight was going to be a difficult night. Tonight was not going to be his night.

***

The Stadio Olimpico was already reverberating to the distant noise of firecrackers and song. Red favours fluttered past the graded windows of the luxury bus as Joseph Hart looked out at the excited throng. Joseph Hart adjusted his earphones and settled a little lower in his luxury padded seat. He did not hear the faint bangs or the distant cries. Joseph Hart heard only music.

Out in the dank streets, people moved in the shadows. No noise came through the graded windows. The graded windows shielded them from any noise. The bus glided and the people mouthed wordless things.

Behind him Samir Nasri looked out too and gripped his knees with his hands. Tonight was going to be an interesting night. Tonight was going to be his night.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

COMPETITION

Not really sure how we've all survived these long years without CampoRetro, but now they're here, they make a difference to our mundane and tepid lives, spent buying disappointing pies and chasing next door's cat with a cricket bat.

Now they have taken the wise move of offering one of these beauties for FREE. All you have to do is answer the question below the images. 






QUESTION: Of Mike Doyle, Paul Lake, Neil Young and David White, WHO WON THE GREATEST NUMBER OF ENGLAND CAPS?


You won't find the answer here, but you'll find a heap of stuff you'll want to wear: http://www.camporetro.com/Shop-By-Team/Premier-League/Manchester-City 

You should state preference for one shirt or another and mention in calm tones just how large you have become since becoming addicted to wagon wheels. Answers to the quiz should be sent in to competitions@camporetro.com
 
Entries in before 25th February please.

Best of luck and remember the answer is not, was never and never will be Buster Philips


Sunday, February 1, 2015

KINGS ROAD COUNTERCULTURE

Fernandinho put in a Man of the Match performance
Coming away from Stamford Bridge with a point, having come out on top in every aspect of the game except actually winning it, should not be scoffed at. For those stating it was the big opportunity missed, I beg to differ. An opportunity, perhaps, but it is diffcult to imagine there will not be more moments to take advantage of in the next three months. Even in the light of twenty four hours to digest the ebb and flow of a fascinating contest, the word "missed" might still not be the most apt.

Did anyone expect Manchester United to lose at Wigan and concede a ridiculously careless 4-4 draw with Everton three years ago? Did anyone believe Liverpool would self-combust against Demba Ba and the gathered might of Crystal Palace a year ago? Football continues to enthral and surprise and will no doubt do so again before the end of this campaign. We just don't know how and who it will affect.

City have plenty of previous on the catching up leaders against the odds front and, even if key players are three years older than the first time they managed it, they can plainly still do it. As some have begun to hint, a side whose core has has been together for four years, will soon necessarily begin the process of overhaul. But here at a darkened and atmospheric Stamford Bridge, it was City's elder statesmen carrying the game to Chelsea for long periods of a tight physical battle.

With Chelsea backpedalling to such a degree in the second half that they looked like the away team, City's territorial dominance was not matched with really clear cut chances. When chances of sorts did occur, they fell to an Aguero in improving form but not quite back to the full coruscating net-blasting impishness of pre-Christmas. Two other presentable opportunities fell to Fernandinho, one of the side's less potent threats in front of goal. The first he skewed just wide, then met a second half cross with a downward header so ill directed, it nearly burrowed underground before bouncing over the bar. The evening was, soon afterwards, done.

City, though, had much to be pleased about. Dominance is a fake friend when the opposition choose to reduce their input to stalling tactics, but in doing this, far from simply preserving their five point advantage, Chelsea were admitting they could not do any better.

As statements of intent for budding Premier League champions go, it didn't exactly shout superlatives from the main stand roof.

Pellegrini had clearly done his homework. Bacary Sagna, a surprise inclusion on the right of defence, had his best game in a blue shirt, raiding willingly up the flank and partnering the surprisingly effective Navas in subduing much of the obvious threat posed by Eden Hazard. Tellingly, when Hazard did free himself to get on the end of Ivanovic's crossfield pass, his cleverly volleyed cross back across the City area - taken early to wrong foot the onrushing defenders - resulted in the opening goal, with Kompany again looking suspect as he made it into position but retracted his right leg at the last moment. Whether trying to avoid knocking it into his own net, or uncertain whether he'd reach it or not, with Remy right behind him, Kompany really had to attempt to get his foot on it in one form or another.

This was a shame both individually and collectively, as both the captain and the side in general had been performing much better than of late. With Navas also finally pounding for the byline instead of circulating in that infernal cutting back loop that he sometimes seems trapped in, he was City's most effective attacking threat and, with Sagna, provided City with a strong outlet down the right.

Fernandinho in the centre was immense, shutting out the threat from Matic and making up for Fernando's lack of zip. Matic is an immense player and can run riot through the central areas if left unchecked. Much like the missing Yaya Touré, if allowed to boss the middle areas, he will do just that with consummate ease. It is curious that City's raids on the Portuguese Liga for defensive midfielders has brought Garcia and now Fernando northwards but never alighted on Matic, easily the best of the lot. With Clattenburg generously allowing a string of his fouls to go unpunished, whilst booking Fernando for leaving a loose leg hanging, Matic could maintain a robust presence and City needed all of Fernandinho's wiry energy to stunt the big Serb's progress.

With Milner providing his usual spirit on the other flank and David Silva desperately foraging for any tiny spaces that he might be able to open up, City bossed the game territorially, had the better of the possession stats, provided almost all of the game's shots on goal and - in their substitutions - were clearly the only side trying to win it as the game grew old.

One man's handywork
Five points remain between the two sides, still a mere trifle at this stage. With Touré and Nasri to return and the firepower of Bony to be added to this side, there is no reason to doubt that City can continue to provide a strong challenge in the coming weeks. Chelsea, stuck in a habit of playing the same side each week, may well rue this later on, if and when tired limbs begin to give up on them or loss of form finally affects some of their more important players.

All to play for, certainly. Chelsea have the points advantage but a supposedly record global audience watching on tv around the planet, will have noted which side was hungrier, which side had the greater cohesion and which side came closest to winning this breathless and compelling top of the table clash.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

QUALITY IN DEPTH

Manchester City 0 Middlesbrough 2
All hail the Cup that runneth over and spills unmentionable stuff all over your going-out trousers.

There will be some who bemoan the fact that Manchester City's players only arrived back from their warm weather training ("lucrative Middle East friendly" when translated into Sanskrit) the day before this game and - in fact - it is written in the Bumper Book of Elijah, that "he who cometh out of the desert and doth not give himself enough time to empty his plimsoles of sand, will fall into a deep pool of his own excrement. Try telling Fernando Reges and Dedryck Boyata about that just at the moment.

And if you do, then tell Captain Vincent too.

City carved out enough chances in a lively first half to have been well ahead, despite the sand-filled (or was it cement?) boots. You got the distinct impression that the deeply fragrant Phil Dowd could be a game changer with his nonchalant waving away of a City penalty for hand ball, but, in the end Middlesbrough didn't need him. They did it all by themselves (with minimal help from a troublingly obliging City defence), and with something to spare too.

The second half saw quite the most eye-watering transformation since Frank Maloney shipped up in Harley Street. City, nonchalant to the point of being criminally negligent, suddenly looked like long flights in and out of the promised land did mean something after all.

There were culprits all over the pitch, so it would be childish to pick out Kompany, Boyata and Fernando for special mention, but Saturday evening was never a time to be completely grown up, so let's do just that. Kompany did not look fit, Boyata did what he always does and Fernando's grim antics will have made some people pine for Javier Garcia, never mind Nigel de Jong.

City became more ragged and less convincing as time dripped by.

The thought crossed gently through the mind that Manuel Pellegrini is still to make a convincing purchase in the transfer market. All of City's Big Football Men were brought in under Roberto Mancini. Yaya, David Silva and Aguero all arrived on the Italian's watch, whilst the currently strangely diminished Kompany came in under Mark Hughes. Yes, those were the days of building the powerbase, but equivalent amounts have been spent since then on the likes of Fernandinho and Mangala with far smaller returns. Maybe FFP has destroyed the club's ability to bid for the real superstars, but the calibre and capability of new recruits is clearly on a different scale these days.

There is something to be said for having two players of equal ability for each position, but City have clearly not managed to purchase this dream.


Where does this all leave City then? Well, after an equally limp exit from the League Cup to Newcastle and a widening gap at that top of the Premier League, some might say its time to concentrate on the Champions League. That of course, sounds like the man in the pub making plans to take Demi Moore down to The Golden Dragon for a steaming hot plate of chicken chop suey, but it is suddenly the only competition where City will start in February with a clean bill of health.

Ironically, it is also the only competition where an upward trend can be noticed. The 3-2 skipping-out-of-the-grave win against Bayern and the amazingly adroit showing in Rome pulled the club through to the knockout phases as only the 7th team in Champions League history to qualify from the initial groups after failing to win any of their first 4 games. That statistic certainly has something of the night about it and City will need to be quite something again if they want to put anything more than a small twig in Barcelona's spokes. Still, it will be nice starting that tie as the continental version of Middlesbrough entering the grey precincts of Manchester in the FA Cup.

Expectations low, output high.

In the meantime, we will enjoy the view of Bradford City and Palace and Leicester and West Brom in the 5th round. We will wait to see if Cambridge and Preston can join them in the world's most revered cup competition and secretly inside we will chuckle that the old pot can still throw up all these dramatic, romantic storylines that mean we can never take it - or the opponents it throws up - for granted.

Friday, January 23, 2015

BORO v CITY: A LONG HISTORY OF DISASTER

1974-75, Maine Road: Colin Bell speeds towards the midfield barrier of pre-baldness David Armstong and pre-curling tongues Graeme Souness in a two-one home win for the Blues


1975-76 League Cup semi final second leg, Maine Road. The Daily Mirror brings all the action from a memorable night as City reach Wembley after a 4-0 (4-1 on aggregrate) victory. Even the Beatles leave centre stage.
1978-79 Programme cover from the New Year's Day clash between the clubs. Peter Barnes is the thinly disguised Santa in this typically 70s "festive scene".
1978-79 Image from the same game in a subsequent programme, as Kaziu Deyna shoots for goal in the Maine Road clash, which ended 1-0 for City.
1978-79 Here is how the programme covered Deyna's winner in the same match, a 52nd minute shot with the right foot to seal the win for City.
1979-80 Programme cover from the next season, with a photo of future blue Bobby McDonald sporting the, er, famous brown of Coventry City
1979-80 For the second season running, Kaziu Deyna was the match winner. He famously swung on the crossbar after this late goal. He also scored the winner against league champions Nottingham Forest in a memorable week for the Polish star.
1979-80 Steve Daley's City career was not exactly blessed and in the Boro home game he even managed to break a toe.
1980-81 Ayresome Park. A hard fought 2-2 draw in the North East included this unfortunate goal for the home side, as Steve Mackenzie deflects the ball past reserve 'keeper Keith MacRae.
1980-81 Programme cover from the Maine Road game, won 3-2 by City
1981-82 Jim Platt looks transfixed as Trevor Francis slides in to score at Maine Road.
1981-82 Francis celebrates scoring in the same game
1981-82 Joe Corrigan under attack in the game at Ayresome Park in the same season, a dull 0-0 draw in front of just 11,709 spectators.
1983-84 The clubs meet again in the 2nd division. Here's Derk Parlane putting City ahead at Maine Road in the Blues' 2-1 victory, a win that put them 2nd in the table.
1983-84 Same game, different scorer. This is Jim Tomie, the new Kevin Keegan, making it two for City with a stylish waft of his right leg. The Kippax looks packed but Peter Swales' special crowd figure for that game was 24,466
1983-84 Alex Williams takes action in the 0-0 Ayresome Park draw, possibly the worst I have ever felt at a football match. Cold, hunger-over, hungry, bored and expecting a chasing through the streets of Middlesbrough at the end. Halcyon Days.
1984-85 The clubs are about to exit the 2nd division using spearate doors. David Phillips has just knocked another nail in the Boro coffin at Maine Road.
1991-92 An early season Premier League nightmare for Paul Lake, as he collpases at Ayresome Park, one and a bit games into a painful comeback bid. This would be the beginning of the end of his promising City career, as City lost the will to play and went down 2-0. Niall Quinn was sent off to cap an awful night.
1996-97 2nd division City give Premier League big spenders (yes, I know) Boro a real game in the 5th round of the Cup, but a late clincher from the slippers Juninho takes the visitors through, on their way to meet Chelsea in the Wembley final.
1997-98 Now the sides meet again in the league, 2nd division, with City heading downwards towards the 3rd. Uwe Rosler bangs in a dramatic Maine Road winner against table toppers Boro. A great day to be at Maine Road in a season of disasters.
1997-98 Kind Observer headline from the same match, as City prepare another false dawn for us all. Next game we went to Crewe and lost 1-0.
1997-98 Uwe Rosler's shorts are high, as are feelings in Maine Road as he salutes the North Stand after putting City ahead
2000-01 Maine Road witnesses Boro for the last time, as Gianluca Festa scores in a dull 1-1 draw with both sides back in the Premier League.
2000-01 A wild and ragged game at The Riverside, with Keith O'Neill sent off for lunging at Gerard Wiekens and a perfectly good Danny Tiatto winner ruled out for an offside that wasn't.
2000-01 More action from the same game, with City desperately in search of points to stay afloat. Yet another relegation would follow at the end of the season.
2002-03 City are at The Riverside again after a season in the second tier. Nicolas Anelka joins the action in a 3-1 defeat.
2002-03 Newsof the World report on another drab 0-0 draw, this time at the City of Manchester Stadium. 
2003-04 Paulo Wnachope fights for the ball with Franck Queudreu in a 1-2 City defeat on the penultimate day of the season at the Riverside.
2004-05 Another Boro win at the Riverside, where City's record is extremely poor.
2004-05 Perhaps the oddest moment of the lot, as Stuart Pearce *tweaks* his tactics, bringing on a second keeper to try and force the goal that would qualify City for the UEFA Cup. Strangely enough, it didn't work.
2004-05 Even worse is to come as Robbie Fowler's injury time penalty is saved by Mark Schwarzer and Boro go into Europe instead.
2006-07 Richard Dunne turns away in delight after scoring at the correct end in the sides' meeting in Manchester, a 1-0 win for City.
2007-08 Another *interesting* moment between the sides, as Elano finds some electric pace to exit the playing surface after an astonishing 1-8 reverse on the final day of the season. Sven Goran Eriksson thanks the fans for their support as the axe falls on him and the curtain falls on a complete debacle.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

GEEKSHEETS: ARSENAL home

Contrary to the firm and lucid words of that good fellow Manuel Pellegrini (to the effect that there were two reasons for City's defeat here, a wrongly awarded penalty and a lack of creativity), I put it to you that there were in fact three reasons and not one of them was a wrongly awarded penalty.

1) WELL DRILLED VISITORS Arsenal played (excellently) a structure that they seem seldom to be even mildly bothered with. In its solidity and depth, it stifled City at source, blocked the talents of David Silva and Sergio Aguero and paved the way for the fast forward-breaking players to shift into gear. In this respect, the defensive play of Coquelin was imperious, as was fellow reserve Bellerin at right back, who gave Milner no chance to shine at all. Standing out even more was a player, who has often appeared lightweight and ill at ease against the really top sides, Santi Cazorla. A vivid display from him put even David Silva in the shade. By finally embracing the idea that Arsenal don't have to be aesthetically perfect every week, Wenger managed to blunt City's own beautiful build-up play in the process.

2) DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD STALENESS In choosing Fernando and Fernandinho, Pellegrini supplied the game with a midfield duo who managed only to duplicate each other's simple stuff, and in Fernando's case, not to any great standard. Missing was the thrust of Yaya Touré and the variety of passing he and Samir Nasri provide. Although Fernandinho was successful with a number of early diagonal balls out to Jesus Navas, as the game wore on, they both got bogged down trying to play short balls that were intercepted time and time again by a hungry and well drilled Arsenal middle order. Playing this duo has worked in away games, where a certain tightness can function to the teams benefit, but here, in a home game where City had the onus of splitting a tightly packed Arsenal open, they were too alike. In this respect, Pellegrini's post match analysis was correct. One wonders then, in retrospect, why he played them both? Presumably he thought that Arsene Wenger would wait until hell freezes over before setting up Arsenal to play like they did.

3) POST INJURY STIFFNESS Once again City's main players looked like they had been hurried back into action a little too quickly. Was Vincent Kompany ready? Although he started well, his passing was a little ragged and he over-elaborated on several occasions. Worse still he picked up a booking for pulling down Giroud and - worse again - he gave away the penalty that set Arsenal on their way, by standing in the way of Nacho Monreal. Despite Pellegrini's protestations, it looked like a good shout by refere Mike Dean. Meanwhile Sergio Aguero looked off the pace at first but grew into the game as City took over in the second period. Still, by the end, he was caught out by the pace of Kieran Gibbs and pulled him back, earning himself a yellow card.

You can read here my ESPNFC player ratings for City


Sunday, January 11, 2015

DAYS OF HOPE

On Sunday 21st April 2002 Manchester City successfully completed their promotion season under Kevin Keegan and claimed the unrestrained cheers of a 34,657 sell-out crowd at Maine Road. Keegan had brought the club back from the wilderness and into the Premier League. Many in the crowd that day could not remember the last season City had entertained us so royally from start to finish, possibly because such a thing more than likely simply did not exist.
 
That last match, a 3-1 win over Portsmouth, will remain in the memories for many reasons, not least the stunning 108 goals scored to equal City’s all-time record. Stuart Pearce’s last minute penalty miss had put a typically City cork in a season of incessantly flowing champagne. It was also Pearce’s last game in 20 years of professional football and the miss left him hanging forlornly on 99 career goals.
 
There was laughter and there were tears for the end of a season so full of brisk attacking football, so many goals and so many fabulous team performances.
 
City finished ten points clear of West Brom with a goal difference of +54. The Premier League awaited Keegan’s maestros and a summer of high anticipation awaited the rest of us.
 
For much of that season – and indeed for the final part of the Portsmouth game – Keegan had chosen to play with a midfield, which was vibrant, fluid, technically brilliant and collectively unstoppable. It was an engine room that purred and cantered through so many games, creating and indeed scoring an absolute hatful of goals.
 
It is ironic then, in the light of this week’s atrocities in Paris, to remember that it was a midfield containing a pair of down to earth Brits (Shaun Wright Philips and Kevin Horlock), plus the most unlikely pairing of creative magicians the English game had seen for a very long time: one, Eyal Berkovic, an Israeli, a Jew, had played the day the Twin Towers fell, in a Worthington Cup tie at Notts County, a match which surely would have been better off being cancelled. The other, Ali Bernabia, an Algerian Muslim, joined the club two days later and made his debut in the very next game, a 3-0 home win over Birmingham, where he marked an astonishingly accomplished debut with a plethora of laser-accurate passes and an assist for one of Shaun Goater’s two goals.
 
Benarbia, in the twilight of a beautiful career that had mainly been played out in France, would play 41 games that season and Berkovic – hampered by injury – 30. It was their first season together at the heart of the City engine room and it will be remembered for many a long year for the cohesion and spirit shown by the two players.
 
 
 
The following season, the pair would once again feature heavily, Berkovic clocking 28 games and Benarbia contributing to 35, as City easily consolidated their new found place in the elite.
 
In the twisting, fizzing acceleration of the Israeli and the clever, minimalist passing of the little Algerian, City had found a kind of footballing heaven and the two protagonists had found in each other their perfect foil.
 
It was perhaps not so evident then – despite the searing recollection of the attacks on American soil that autumn – but the pair came to symbolise what sport could manage and politicians plainly could not. In light of the many heart-warming reactions to the week’s events in the French capital, it may not after all only be the world of sport where a rapprochement of faiths and backgrounds can work for the harmony of the greater good.
 
 

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Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; bitter, confused and maladjusted. Watching City since 1974 with fluctuating amounts of disbelief.

Poets and Lyricists