Centurions

Centurions

Before 2017 was even over, pundits and fans started to ask: Is the current Manchester City side the best the Premier League has ever seen?

By April, the mere suggestion had morphed into serious debate. It seemed the crown was to be contested by Pep’s latest side, and this season’s Premier League champions, Arsenal’s Invincibles, and Manchester United’s treble winning team of ’99.

All had merits that were difficult to argue against. Arsenal hold one of the few records that the current City team didn’t break. It was of course, the honour of going a full 38 games without tasting defeat.

Nothing should take away from that feat – one which may never be beaten – but the table never lies (we’ll keep coming back to that cliché). This season, the Citizens won an incredible 32 games; the Invincibles drew 12 in their unbeaten campaign.

If Mayweather gets criticised for winning without being exciting, the old chants of “Boring, boring, Arsenal” can be shoehorned (if a little unfairly) into this debate. Arsenal took a great singular achievement – going undefeated – and have traded on it ever since. It kept Arsène Wenger in a job for a decade longer than necessary.

The United team from 1999 is remembered as an all-time great because of how it captured the perfect treble: league title, FA Cup, European Cup. The injury time heroics against Bayern Munich helped give the season a Hollywood ending, almost on a par with that Agüero moment.

But the table from that year paints a different picture. They edged out Arsenal by a solitary point, tying with them on most wins that year – 22. It was actually Leeds United that held the record for consecutive victories with seven.

It hardly reeks of domestic dominance.

By comparison, this season City smashed records for most away wins in a season (16); most goals scored in a season (106); best goal difference (79); and one that will stand the test of time like Arsenal’s Invincible record – breaking the 100 point barrier.

City were head and shoulders above the rest of the league during the 2017/18 campaign. Detractors can’t say the league isn’t as competitive as it was in 1999. Back then the traditional Big Four played without fear of failing to qualify for Europe. Nowadays there is a strong top six, and anyone outside it can win any given match.

The results, week-after-week, promote unpredictability. The only certainty, the season defining constant, was Pep’s men would continue to march onward.

The competitiveness and response to it was best summed up in the home game against Southampton. A team that would avoid relegation by three points managed to hold the Blues until the fifth minute of injury time.

Then along came Raheem Sterling, he linked up with Kevin De Bruyne with a quick return pass, and curled the ball into the net, and was probably this writer’s favourite goal of the 106 scored all season.

It kept the winning streak going, making it 19 on the bounce.

That defiance and determination to keep excelling propelled City to unimaginable heights. Guardiola’s style of football, which had faced doubters the season before, was now controlling the English game.

Armchair experts – whose simple solution to Pep’s possession-based attacking football was simply to press City into submission – had to sit stunned as the Blues steamrolled every team they faced. They made the Premier League look like the top-flight North of the border.

Unfortunately, the seven days of destiny became a week of despair as City lost to Liverpool in the Champions League twice and missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to clinch the title at home by beating arch-rivals United.

In a way, it had to be this way. A strand of “Typical City” will always exist in the club’s DNA. If there’s a hard way to do something, that places untold strain on the hearts of supporters, City will find it.

But this time, it was a blip rather than a prolonged period of pain. It acts as a slight taint on an otherwise perfect league campaign. No one remembers the three teams that beat United in the league back in 1999, or the 12 times The Invincibles dropped two points as they went unbeaten.

City’s slight imperfections make for more dramatic stories.

But they shouldn’t be the story or cloud judgement. Remember, the table really doesn’t ever lie. After 38 games the only story that matters is told by points acquired, goals scored, goals conceded, and the gap created by these in relation to other teams.

If those damning statistics aren’t enough, remember how City achieved such a massive gulf. It was by playing the sort of football that turns drunks into poets. It’s more than just possession football; the ball isn’t kept for the sake of keeping it away from the opposition, it is kept to create dreamlike sequences.

No team’s highlight reel from any era is a such a pleasurable viewing experience.

Pep’s team are the first Centurions, this alone makes them deserving of being named best team the Premier League has ever seen. The manner in which they achieved it just underlines the point.

The scary thought: they are only going to get better.

(Photo credit: http://www.mancity.com)

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The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

The Real Fan Problem at Manchester City

After watching City overcome Monaco in one of the most exciting European nights imaginable, it’d be easy to think the next article will be wax lyrical about Pep Guardiola’s side. Or, perhaps to fit in with the mainstream media, it will take away from the spirit shown and focus on the many faux pas we saw and bemoan two poor defences. It will do none of these things but it will attack a certain element of Manchester City, while defending its most important aspect: The fans.

When Willy Caballero saved from Falcao’s penalty, this writer celebrated like City had won the Champions League, such was the level of tension and passion in the stadium. It was a night where the Etihad took it up a notch. The fans feeding off the team’s fight, the buzz energising the players. The perfect example of the symbiotic relationship that should exist between those in the blue shirts and those in the stands.

If the people that have the direct say in City’s success – the men on the pitch – can see the importance of the fan base, why can’t the people that organise the club’s affairs do the same?

The official line from Manchester City will be that the fans are the number one priority: #Together. It’s great marketing, and on some level, there’ll be people that work for the club who believe it. But constant oversight and a lack of corrective action makes one doubt how genuine the words are at corporate level.

Of course, the example last night, and reason for this article, is the continued problem of gaining entry to Etihad Stadium on match day – especially European nights.

To have it happen once is forgivable, twice is disconcerting but no major issue, for it to happen constantly with no cure in sight is sacrilege.

Just like the Celtic game at home, queues zigzagged around the concourse, patiently waiting in lines that needn’t be there but the club refuse to address. Thousands of fans – that have paid full price for their ticket – are expected to miss up to twenty minutes of the first half. All because of City’s arrogance.

Before we go any further, let’s nip the two favourite retorts in the bud once and for all.

Get to the ground with plenty of time to spare.

Fans shouldn’t have to arrive one hour prior to kick-off to ensure access to their seat.

Increased security measures will cause delays.

The extra searches do not slow down or hinder access to turnstiles. They mean the person(s) being searched are delayed by thirty seconds. The queue moves past them, the turnstile never stops turning.

Another, weakly spoken, response, is fans arriving at the wrong gate cause delays. This does happen, and cup games mean new guests or people in different seats, but it does not equate to thirty minute delays. If there is any argument for ticket issues, it’s staff not directing supporters quick enough when their card or ticket is repeatedly jammed into a turnstile that’s displaying a red light. Patience, in this moment, actually saves time.

No, none of the diatribe aimed back at the fans adds up. A main contributory factor is clear: unnecessary redesigns have purposely limited the volume of traffic at preferred gates.

Take the M2 to M1 situation. Once upon a time – before the club started their final corporate solution of hospitality clubs and glass tunnels – allowed fans in the third tier of the South Stand to use both turnstiles. And the traffic flowed, not a queue in sight.

Fast forward to the present day, a wall has been built meaning those gaining entry via M2 can’t walk across to the stairwell for the upper tier. The preferred upper class customer no longer need worry about the upper tier riff raff sharing their turnstile. They can watch them queue instead.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Donald Trump’s comments, it’s that people don’t like walls being built.

The annoying thing about this wall is that it has a lovely set of double doors. The same doors that are opened post-match to speed-up everyone’s exit from the stadium. But, for reasons known only to City – those doors must remain closed until the ref blows his whistle for the last time.

etihad-stadium-the-problem-doorIt’d make no sense to allow the queue to dissipate and direct people once inside. Best to keep lots of people disgruntled, right? And it means staff manning the M2 side get to stand around and avoid work based stress. Excellent for all involved…

etihad-m2-empty-gate

Maybe United fans not being in the Champions League have gotten the last laugh: it gives them a free night to take jobs at the Etihad and help run City’s European nights.

It’s not as if City don’t know how many people to expect or can’t call upon vast experience of running match days. No fan should have to wait thirty minutes to gain entry to a ground. And it keeps happening. Against Everton, as reported here, the staff at the turnstile broke procedure and opened the exit gates to allow fans in. That, obviously, can never be the solution, but by now there should have been one.

Instead City show signs of madness, repeating mistakes, expecting a different outcome, and continue to neglect the working class fan. You can put your mortgage on the fact that if ten corporate visitors were made to queue outside in the cold for twenty minutes into the first half, there’d never be anything that resembles a line of people within a mile radius of Eastlands ever again.

Traditional fans, worried about becoming marginalised, continue to see basic consideration diminish. There’s no suggestion here it comes right from the top – Sheikh Mansour has gone to great pains to maintain inclusion for all City fans, all over the world – it’s the daily heads of office that are guilty of mismanagement, oversight, and a lack of care.

The current entry system (not security checks, the poor use of all turnstile resources) is not fit for purpose. If the people responsible for direction and management of City match days do not use some common sense to remove the current façade, they make themselves as effective as the crippled system they stand by.

Before the decision makers in Abu Dhabi consider further expansion, player acquisitions or ground improvements, they should look at the basic running of Etihad Stadium. There’s a lot of deadwood that needs removing.

Backs to UEFA

Backs to UEFA

After another round of Champions League fixtures we once again find criticism directed toward UEFA. My own contempt for the corrupt and hypocritical organisation is well noted. Now some Manchester City fans are canvassing for supporters to turn their backs during the Champions League anthem at the next three European games. Whilst I support any movement against UEFA and their ideology, City fans have to be clear on the reasons why they are turning their backs, and why they are choosing to do it now.

Every time I have written about Financial Fair Play the strong undercurrent has been a dislike toward UEFA. That particular system is anything but fair, they weren’t acting as caring overseers, the system wouldn’t even have prevented a Leeds or Portsmouth situation. It reeked of corruption, ensuring the status quo in football for the European “Big Boys.” They traversed the boundaries of sport and business, failing to ensure clarity or complete legality with either.

When they issued fines, this captured cash wasn’t distributed into grass root schemes, struggling lower league clubs, or even charities. It was fed back to the compliant clubs playing at the top European level. They should have already been filtering money from their vast profits, across all of Europe, to the smaller clubs that facilitate emerging players within the lower leagues. Instead of being a benevolent group they have edged ever closer to a Fascist regime bordering on evil Totalitarianism. They dangle high prize money for their premier competition whilst threatening handcuffs for those that can compete with healthy cash.

It’s only now, after the event and sanctions imposed on Manchester City and PSG, that UEFA have even considered clubs, such as Manchester United, facing questions over loans that form part of their finances. These help highlight that UEFA doesn’t care about fairness. In a democracy, argument and counter-argument are heard equally, then an agreed system is formed. UEFA rule with an iron-fist. Bully and ignore as they please. If they cared about the health of the sport, of the people within the game, they wouldn’t have allowed Poland and Ukraine to spend billions to host the European championships, then face ruin. There should be a moral obligation to protect clubs or national associations from such grotesque overspend. But as long as UEFA are dangling the carrot they’re hardly likely to tire of the tease.

It’s ruling with such an iron-fist which makes remarks made after the “behind closed doors” CSKA Moscow v Manchester City Champions League tie, all the more ridiculous. CSKA were the ones facing a punishment for racist behaviour. Yet, on the night, they somehow had around 600 fans in the stadium. As City captain Vincent Kompany asked: “You say no fans, all of a sudden you turn up and the team that has no fans is Man City. So who’s getting punished? Who’s being done for racism, Man City or Moscow?”

MCFC Mos

It’s almost a rhetorical question. Clearly the punishment also affected Manchester City, perhaps to a greater degree. I am not suggesting, nor is anyone associated with the club even as they launch a complaint, that the Moscow fans swayed the match. But the principle of the matter is what makes it note worthy. It’s almost a sick joke when UEFA claim there was no breach. That club delegations, media, security staff, UEFA and guests of sponsorship partners are allowed into behind closed door matches. It’s that last one on the list that tells the story: Sponsorship Partners. Greedy UEFA. Always money over morals.

They claim they can’t dictate who those guests are. They make the rules and shirk the responsibility all too often. If UEFA stated only people in pink shirts could enter, guess what, we’d all be wearing pink shirts or face being ejected from our seats. They obviously need clubs, media and security there. But they could have prevented guests of sponsors. They may have lost some cash, but is money from one game’s set of guests more important than a solid stance against racism?

UEFA No racism

To UEFA it probably is. This is an organisation that threatened action against players if they walked from the field of play during racist chants, then applauded that action when the world supported AC Milan for doing just that. They are so out of touch with public opinion and common decency that their judgement can no longer be trusted. City shouldn’t have been playing that came in Moscow in front of 600 CSKA fans. It should have been in a neutral country’s stadium filled to the rafters with Blues.  But they don’t really care about racism, half the time they come across as if the subject is an awkward annoyance to them; and they don’t care about Manchester City, we’re like the one-legged ginger step-child that needs glasses.

So as a City fan (I also happen to have been a step-child, ginger, and a wearer of spectacles) we face the decision to turn our backs when UEFA play their anthem. I agree with the sentiment. The debacle in Russia is the straw that has broken the camel’s back for many a Blue. However, I’m worried it puts City fans on dangerous ground. Surely the time for a stance against UEFA was at the first Champions League game. The droplets of faeces we’ve had on us this week are just spray from a larger, on-going, shower.

To make a stand now we risk looking bitter. That our disappointing result is more to do with the turning of backs than UEFA’s actions. Too much focus is placed on the Champions League. For me the measure of a team’s greatness is domestic success. When both Liverpool and Chelsea last claimed UEFA’s top prize they failed to secure a top four finish at home. However, the world sees it different. City’s owners see it different. Had City already secured a Champions League trophy, a stand against UEFA would hold much more weight. Instead there’s a risk our positive defiance will be pushed away with nonchalance.

MCFC Backs UEFA

Over the coming weeks we need to articulate all our grievances regarding UEFA to prevent our protest appearing two-faced. At the moment UEFA stand unopposed, everyone is bending to their rules, the rules bending further to support the evil regime. If people do take notice we need to have a clear message: That UEFA needs to change or be replaced entirely.