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.

Now or Never for Kelechi

Now or Never for Kelechi

With Sergio Agüero suspended for four games, the duty to lead the frontline once again falls to his deputy Kelechi Iheanacho. The Nigerian was given words of encouragement from the senior striker and Pep Guardiola gave him a runout in the dead-rubber Celtic match to shake off any ring-rust. The manager knows what many are in denial about: this is Kelechi’s last, best chance to stake a claim for a role in his long-term plan.

At first glance, that will appear to be an overly dramatic statement, well-suited to the silly season of newspaper headlines currently doing the rounds. Add to it how he’s universally loved by City fans – perhaps since he solidified his fan-favourite status in last season’s FA Cup tie with Aston Villa – and any constructive criticism is dismissed with anger.

Based on pure stats, the adoration and unwavering support seems justified. Three goals and three assists in nine Premier League appearances and two strikes from two Champions League games doesn’t tell the whole story. His contributions have made impacts – a goal and an assist in the league at Old Trafford the most eye-catching – but his overall play has left much to be desired.

It may seem snide to pick holes when a youngster is in the formative years of his career, transitioning from youth player to first teamer. But we know from recent activity at the club – the ruthless ejection of Joe Hart, for example – that Pep Guardiola takes emotion out of all decision-making processes. Kelechi was retained as the back-up striker when Wilfried Bony was sent out on loan.

Admittedly, a back up to Sergio Agüero does mean fleeting appearances but it comes with the proviso that when required, the Argentine’s boots can be adequately filled. This hasn’t happened, he’s offered little hint he’s improving as a footballer, becoming a specialist impact man instead.

Agüero himself has been made to up his game, offer more overall play. Pep’s public comments about this earlier in the season were a clear marker to all his players. For his strikers, it meant even they couldn’t avoid full immersion into the new system. Goals are not enough to ensure a place in Pep’s masterplan.

Arguably, Iheanacho’s most complete performance was in the 4-0 win against Bournemouth. But his goal aside, he barely got a mention as all eyes were on a magnificent Kevin De Bruyne performance and the confirmation Raheem Sterling was a player reborn.

Kelechi does have a bit of grace. In many ways, his age affords him time, he is a pet-project of Pep’s. However, progress needs to be visible. Months have passed under Guardiola’s tutelage and while all City fans still happily sing the Nigerian’s name, the nagging feeling he might not make the grade increases.

This suggestion will anger many but those offended should take a minute to consider how the fans have inadvertently acknowledged Kelechi hasn’t taken the bull by the horns.

It’s the time of year millions celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus and the growing excitement about our own junior of the same name tells its own story. A great weight of hope and expectation have been placed on the shoulders of a young man very few had heard of a year ago. Even when he was scouted in the Olympics by City fans, his performance whetted the appetite as “one for the future.”

The team’s dip in form, coinciding with Kelechi Iheanacho’s failure to emerge as a better-formed player, means suddenly, he is being talked about as our saviour.

Had things panned out with Kelechi’s development in the manner Pep hoped, Gabriel Jesus would be expected to recuperate after an extra-long season. The fact he’s needed shows the current contingency plan has failed.

Of course, it may be that Guardiola has already braced himself for a shortfall in quality so has other plans on standby. Nolito was signed with the tagline of being able to double-up as a striker. The reality of this has been somewhat different. A tablespoon can stir a cup of tea but it’s not a teaspoon. He’s proven to be clinical but his inclusions always come with an eye on midfield duties.

It’s plausible the next four games will see a conversion to Kun’s role but unlikely it would be before Kelechi has a crack at asserting his suitability for the job.

Should Nolito find himself playing as a stand in for both strikers, it opens up another possibility: we don’t play with any recognised strikers. It’s a formation Pep’s applied before and there’s certainly enough midfield talent that can rotate and open teams up, allowing players with an eye for goal to get forward.

Which brings us to the option that would have looked like fairy-tale stuff less than a month ago: Yaya leading the line. He’s looking lean and motivated. Already he’s reopened his scoring account and could quite easily run into the gaps players like De Bruyne and Silva create.

It’s also conceivable that four games from now Kelechi Iheanacho will have more than doubled his tally for the season and talk of his development will be conveniently shelved. But unless his osmosis into a Pep type player becomes apparent, nobody will be able to confidently say he’s coming along well, and this season’s back-up man will be next year’s fringe player.

The Real Trouble with Touré

The Real Trouble with Touré

It’s not often you get to revisit an old story as if it’s new. Back in October 2014, writing about the birthday gate scandal and all things Yaya (The Trouble with Touré), The Football Reflective concluded it was time to get behind a midfielder that had just provided 24 goals and pushed the team to a league and cup double. The recommendation was given while acknowledging his misdemeanours.

Like all bad offenders, trouble has reared its head once again.

The escalation to a standoff between manager Pep Guardiola and Yaya has been a few weeks in the making. As ever, the Ivorian’s agent, Dimitri Seluk, placed a pivotal part in proceedings. He fanned the flames when he said his client had been “humiliated” following his exclusion from Manchester City’s Champions League squad.

Going as far to claim the Spaniard would owe Touré a personal apology should the club fail to lift the trophy this season.

It was classic goading, that until now, Pep was right to ignore. A manager lives and dies by his big decisions but the world has already seen none will be shied away from during the reshaping of the Etihad outfit. It’s also reasonable to assume that like Joe Hart, Yaya would have been informed he was down the pecking order, and in his personal case, unlikely to feature in the UEFA squad.

Unlike Joe Hart, Touré and his agent lack any semblance of dignity or respect.

It had always been a suspicion that the birthday cake debacle was a rouse to manufacture a move when Yaya’s stock was at its highest. This time the pair needed to play a different game for the maximum financial return.

In the year that will see Paul Pogba’s agent earn more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitri Seluk obviously fancied one last big pay day. The final milking of his own personal cash cow.

By remaining under the radar, appearing to favour the fight for his City place, meant the summer transfer window slammed shut, locking club and player in a £220,000-a-week contract. That is fine, it’s a two-way street. Contracts give security and in a perfect world are honoured by both parties unless a reasonable way to part is offered.

In 2014 City said they were not prepared to sell Yaya, hence, they used that binding contract to their advantage. Part of that choice would have been to assert authority over players, to prove the club couldn’t be dictated to. Back when they took that stance they were prepared to be out of pocket to make the point.

Seluk knows this, and knows last time his planned was foiled.

Rather than face a second defeat, he’s hoping he can create enough of a storm so that City pay off the majority of Touré’s contract, freeing up a move to another club. He could then sell the idea to the next club that Yaya should get an even larger signing on bonus in lieu of a transfer fee.

Any doubts finally have faded away: Yaya Touré and Dimitri Seluk are driven by greed first. Football interests come way down the list (below cakes and call girls).

In a desperate attempt to further incite the club, Seluk has made outlandish claims to The Mirror, calling into question Pep’s ability as coach. Claiming he inherited teams and didn’t improve Bayern Munich. Guardiola’s start to life in the Premier League has offered just a glimpse into the unique talent he possesses.

Pep hasn’t just improved Manchester City in his short time as manager, he’s reinventing the English game before our eyes.

Seluk’s attack comes at the end of Touré’s sick note for a migraine. They can be unpleasant but Pep has taken offence at the midfielder’s lack of courage to pick up a phone and tell him he was under the weather.

For a no-nonsense manager, the hint of silly games is enough to lay the law down fast. Reminding the world what his agent had said about humiliation, Guardiola demanded the team and fans receive an apology for those comments. Until that happens, Touré won’t play again.

It may seem that phase one of Seluk’s plan is complete – but he’d be wrong.

Manchester City can afford to let Yaya rot, albeit at the cost of £220,000-a-week, more than agent and player can afford to watch a whole season of football pass them by when the talent is in severe decline. Yaya was never the most mobile player and he’s no spring chicken. Time is working against him.

The club will back Pep with any decision. For too long bad attitudes in the dressing room have dictated performance on the pitch. No longer will this be the case. City have a General happy to exert authority over all of his troops. They’ll be no Carlos Tevez style climb-down here.
Yaya apologises or he will never pull on a City shirt again.

It’s a sad end to a player that should be remembered as one of City’s all-time greats. But Citizens value character, personality and correct application as high – sometimes higher – than ability. Despite his contribution over the years, Yaya Touré has failed with his traits as a professional.

The real trouble with Yaya isn’t his greed, or his conceited agent, or even his couldn’t care less approach to legacy.

It’s his stupidity.

Stupid to think he can win a war with Pep. Stupid to think he would benefit financially. Stupid to tarnish his legacy with City’s loyal fans.

It will haunt him in years to come, when as an old man, he realises all the cash in the world doesn’t wipe out the debt caused by the irrevocable damage these decisions have done to the game’s lasting memory of Yaya Touré.