There once lived a very clever man who was nicknamed the Engineer. His real name was Manuel and he made ‘machines’ – but not just any old machines – Manuel’s machines won cups and were acclaimed as Champions.
He was a scholar and a gentleman. He travelled to different continents and often he created machines where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
He forged a good reputation as he travelled and worked in his native South America. He broadened his horizons and came to Europe, to Spain. Once there, the highly educated, grey-haired Chilean continued to construct machines that over performed.
Then one day he was invited to England by some extraordinarily wealthy men from Arabia. They handed him lots of shiny components – some of the finest he’d ever had at his disposal – and asked him to build the best machine of his career.
He inherited a set of seemingly reliable parts, supplemented by some new and expensive elements, but it was never clear if Manuel had selected them himself.
At first all went well. Manuel’s machine ran smoothly, albeit there were a couple of hiccups when it first started up. It purred to perfection through the cold temperatures and wintry conditions, before emerging into the spring and being acclaimed as the best in all the land…if not all the world.
But trouble wasn’t far away. Most of the gleaming new parts quickly became tarnished and even those that were thought to be ultra-reliable, started to malfunction.
And then, the worst thing that could happen did happen…the machine ran out of gas, but not just any old gas.
This ‘GAS’ was primed for a ‘twin-stroke’ engine based on both physical energy and mental attitude. It was fuel to make the parts function; passing, tackling, shooting and heading the ball.
Even more importantly, G.A.S. was an abbreviation for a part, fundamental to enhanced performance levels.
It was known as Giving A Shit and too many of Manuel’s pieces simply didn’t and still don’t.
Sadly, the story-telling has now turned into a tale of never ending nightmares as Manuel’s Manchester City side stuttered and stumbled to a fifth consecutive away defeat, their fourth in the league.
A disappointing season is rapidly descending into a disastrous campaign, one that could become even worse if Liverpool or Southampton can catch and overhaul City for the final Champions League berth.
Such a scenario was unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
City were still vying for the Premier League title in a head-to-head tussle with Chelsea – a Chelsea team who had been at City’s mercy on January 31st as Jose Mourinho parked his bus at Stamford Bridge during the 1-1 draw.
Yaya Toure and new £25m signing Wilfried Bony were returning from successful African Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast, and Pellegrini’s defending champions would kick on.
At least there was an FA Cup final appearance and an assured Champions League spot to cling on to when Mancini’s City meekly surrendered the title in 2013. Not so this time around.
Manuel’s machine – if indeed it ever truly was his – has gone kaput.
This derby day reversal – more than any other setback this season – emphasised the alarming rate at which City’s superiority has been eroded. To allow, what at best is an average to mediocre, Manure to score four goals is shameful.
To play so poorly as to make microphone head Fellaini look unplayable and, God help us, Ashley ‘Dive Dive’ Young win the Man of the Match, is criminal.
There’s a deeply disturbing malaise that afflicts City, and has done for some time now, and it was captured perfectly in the immediate aftermath of Sergio Aguero’s second goal of the game – remarkably his 100th for City in just 158 games.
When retrieving the ball from De Gea’s net, City showed all the urgency and fighting spirit of a sloth on Valium. Yes, they were still two goals adrift at 4-2, but United had been reduced to 10 men and City had nothing to lose.
What stopped them racing back to the centre circle, sticking the ball on the spot and hastening Manure’s kick off? What prevented them swarming all over the hitherto coasting, confident Reds, with a tenacity to unnerve the Trafford troglodytes?
There’s been plenty of fighting talk from City players at various key stages of the season, but that’s all it has ever been – rhetoric, empty words, from shallow vessels.
It’s one thing losing a Manchester derby, but it’s quite another when those in red show more hunger and desire than those in sky blue – supposed champions who were on the ropes, needing to dig deep and draw on reserves of grit, determination and ultimately, quality.
It’s quicker to say which players should be retained by City in 2015/16, rather than those who should go – how on earth can that be so?
Arguably only Hart, Silva and Aguero have earned the right to stay. A worrying dilemma is will Sergio want to if, as expected, Real Madrid come calling.
Kompany has had a shocking season, but deserves the opportunity to put things right, once fully fit and refreshed next season.
Similarly, living legend, Zabaleta has had full backs turn him inside out more times than Bear Grylls’ underpants on a survival expedition, but he too must be given a shot at redemption.
Bony hasn’t had chance to get going in a City shirt, so can’t be tainted with the same brush as the majority of the squad. Other than that, City could try trading the rest!
Under the blessed ownership of Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City have come a very long way in a relatively short period.
In seven years City have been dragged back from the precipice and the threat of actually going under, and rewarded with two Premier League titles, a brace of domestic cups and four consecutive years of Champions League competition.
But, if they fail to find some way of harvesting 13 or 14 points from their last half-a-dozen fixtures, they could be dumped into the ignominy of Thursday night and Sunday afternoon football in 2015/16, far away from Europe’s elite.
Pellegrini has to arrest the slide. He has to at least find some kind of spark to drag his dysfunctional machine over the Premier League finishing line in fourth place, as a worst case scenario.
The fans aren’t privy to what goes on inside the walls of the hallowed City Football Academy. Rumours dribble out of discontent among senior players, frustration at formations and boredom at repetitive training sessions.
Alternatively, there’s a bad attitude among prima donna players who can’t, or won’t, adapt to Pellegrini’s style of play. Has Manuel ‘lost the proverbial dressing room’ – surely the CFA isn’t that difficult to navigate?
‘You don’t become a bad side overnight’ is often heard by those seeking to defend what has become the indefensible.
It has only marginally more credence than a misguided phrase that used to be applied to Man City teams of yesteryear, ‘They’re too good to go down’ – and we all know how that turned out on numerous, painful occasions.
It was the self deprecating humour of old that had wags lauding the fact that City were ‘Staying up’ after the excruciations of The Swamp.
The days of comparing modern day billion dollar City, to the darkest days of life in the third tier English, are long gone.
It’s a totally different ball game, but how has it come to pass that the squad has the oldest average age in the Premier League and is stacked with City slackers?
Forget the excuses of UEFA Financial Fair Play, City have still squandered £150m in under two seasons. If spent more prudently, City wouldn’t find themselves overloaded with second rate players, clearly unable to sustain success and kick on.
Off the field, City has evolved and, crucially, sustained the upward curve of business success, but such a major on pitch rebuilding exercise will come as a big and unexpected blow.
Taken in isolation, one derby defeat in five isn’t the end of the world, even if felt like it on Sunday evening.
The real problems arise if defeats and gutless showings become the norm.
Having lost five away games on the bounce, it’s beginning to feel that way so Manuel and the ‘tools’ at his disposal had better get in gear, floor the accelerator and hit the GAS…before it’s too late.
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu