City lost but nobody died at the Etihad

The legendary Bill Shankly is accredited as saying: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it’s much more serious than that.”

Whether his words were ironic or sincere, it’s still a great quote from the ex-Liverpool manager but, either way, they don’t stack up in reality.

When Anthony Martial put Manchester United 2-0 up against Manchester City at 17.59hrs on Saturday, it was a bit of a shocker. Actually it was bloody horrible, it was grim, not only for me, but for every City fan on the planet. It was bad enough trailing by two goals to ‘them’, but it also saw the last flickers of life extinguished on City’s hopes of winning a third consecutive title.

The view at kick off at the Etihad – it was as good as it got as City lost 2-1 to United.

Four minutes later I received a text which put an imminent Manchester derby defeat into perspective. It was a simple message: ‘Sue passed away peacefully this evening xx.’

It was from our dog sitter, a lovely lady called Sue, who cares for Miss Mollie Zaba – our gorgeous Cockapoo – when Mrs Read But Never Red and I attend City games together. Sue’s partner – also called Sue – had died after an incredibly courageous battle with cancer.

My wife, Debi, wasn’t with me at the Etihad. She was at home looking after Mollie Zaba, because Sue’s obvious priority was to be at her partner’s bedside, as that bastard of a disease finally did its worst.

Losing it at the Etihad, but no loss of life.

Reading the text was a sombre and sobering moment. Six words had conveyed that life had become death, half-a-dozen elements of information that made ‘Manchester City 0 Manchester United 2’, pale by comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still desperate for City to somehow conjure up three goals to go on and win, but in the greater scheme of things I was watching a game, a sporting encounter – nobody was going to die.

Of course, you can’t gauge each and every experience by such an extreme parameter as somebody losing their life, but it just happened to be that way on Saturday night.

As for City, the dream of three successive Premier League crowns is now over. For the City of old – invariably knocked out of the League Cup before Christmas, the FA Cup in early January and no European involvement – it used to be a case of, ‘Now we can concentrate on the league.’

Not quite so Sweet Jesus – Gabriel had a great goal scoring opportunity, but it went begging.

The rest of 2019/20 is more like, ‘Now we can concentrate on the Cups’ – retaining the League and FA Cups and, dare we even think it, go for that tw@t of a Champions League, the one UEFA are desperate for us never to win.

Obviously, we need a swift return to winning ways in the Premier League and a top three finish, but any silverware lies beyond the highly dubious vagaries of VAR, and the orchestrated efforts of finally making 2020, ‘Liverpool’s Year’.

That said, City simply aren’t up to the task this season. If you want to win the League you simply cannot lose to Norwich, Wolves and Manchester United – three defeats where City pretty much got what they deserved – nothing. The 3-1 defeat at Anfield is a completely different story, but it is what it is and there’s sweet FA to be done about it.

One of, if not, THE best keeper in the world, but Ederson is only likely to get a clean at present if he went to work in a Chinese laundry.

As is so often the case, City had all the statistics in their favour: possession, attempts on goal, pass completion, corners – yadda, yadda, yadda – but they all count for nothing if your defence is as steady as a bloke who’s downed 20 pints on a curry night out, and your attack is as spicy as an extra mild chicken korma.

City have been sizzling under Pep Guardiola – 198 points in two glorious seasons, two titles, two League Cups an FA Cup, plus a couple of Community Shields (if the latter count as trophies) – but things have cooled this season.

Lest we forget…

You don’t have to look far as to why. Injuries – yes, that old chestnut – the ligament damage, the torn tendons, the mystery ‘muscular problems’, the catalogue of catastrophes that has dogged City for the past three seasons.

Amazingly City became The Centurions and The Fourmidables despite key players being injured or absent for prolonged periods; Vincent Kompany, Benjamin Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, John Stones, Fernandinho, the list is extensive. No other team in England could have achieved what City did in the face of such overwhelming adversity.

It’s been different this time. The loss of Kompany back to his native Belgium, was always going to have profound consequences. The moment Aymeric Laporte was injured, they were compounded 100 times over. Mendy is no longer the swashbuckling, potentially world class left back, recruited from Monaco in 2017. Injuries have seen him lose his place to make shift full back Zinchenko and, more recently Angelino – a specialist left back – who sadly, doesn’t have the pace to perform to Pep’s exacting standards.

The loss of Laporte cannot be overstated. How would Liverpool cope without Van Dijk?

City’s attacking armoury was stifled the moment Leroy Sane twisted awkwardly on the Wembley turf last August, signalling the start of an eight month lay-off. The inability to supplement the two-man strike contingent of the sublime Sergio Aguero, and the industrious and up and coming Gabriel Jesus, leaves Pep short of options when injuries hit hard.

With the acceptance of Guardiola’s assessment that it is ‘unrealistic’ to bridge the 14 point gap at the top of the Premier League, the focus switches to a Cup Treble.

Laporte should be back in January. Sane might be ready for the Champions League knockout stages – certainly the quarter and semi final stages – if Pep can edge City closer to Sheikh Mansour’s Holy Grail (that’s one screwed up religious analogy), and ultimate victory in the last game of the season in Istanbul.

Leroy Sane has been a big miss on City flanks this season.

As the City Football Group stack up huge investment numbers, rising profits and enhanced revenue streams, a summer transfer splurge seems inevitable. Some players have served City with great distinction over the years, but a well structured, and subtle changing of the guard, is on the way.

Youngsters Phil Foden and Eric Garcia will get the game time they deserve, as the promotion of youth brings vibrancy and added energy to the world class talents of Ederson, Laporte, Sterling, De Bruyne, Bernardo and Aguero.

The biggest signing, should it happen, will be that of a certain Josep Guardiola Sala. With a contract tying him to City until the end of next season, Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak are right to want him to extend his stay at the Etihad, but worrying noises are emerging from Pep.

City are blessed with a great chairman in Khaldoon, and the best manager in Pep. Long may they continue working together.

In the aftermath of the derby defeat, he has been quoted as saying City, ‘might not be able to compete with the best teams in Europe…’ adding that City may have to, ‘…accept that reality.’

It begs the question, are they Pep’s sincere sentiments, do they reflect a frustration at the season so far? Is there more than a hint of overall disenchantment as to how he, his team and his club, are under constant negative scrutiny by many sections of the media in this country?

For a man who works at such an incredible intensity, it must be a draining experience to have wave upon wave of negativity directed your way, week after week. Pep’s achievements over the past two seasons are virtually peerless, and yet, as soon as City hit a bump in the road, he is once again questioned in so many quarters. The detractors claim ‘Pep’s been found out’, ‘He has no Plan B’, ‘He’s Fraudiola’.

What utter and contemptible bollocks!

Natural born leaders – Pep and Vinny.

Alternatively, is Pep making a public declaration that City need to be very active at the top end of the global transfer market once again? Is it a dig at, or a nudge to, Khaldoon & Co to release the purse strings? Are relationships and internal affairs at City as cosy as Khaldoon, Ferran Soriano, Txiki Begiristain and Pep would always have us believe?

He has achieved, in his vernacular, ‘so, so much’ but there is ‘so, so much more’ that can be done by a football genius who could create a dynasty at City. Guardiola is not there yet, but he has it within his grasp to do so between now and 2025. The flip side of the equation could be that he walks away this summer, without even fulfilling the final year on his existing deal at City.

You have to have the frustrating moments in life to fully appreciate the exhilarating times.

Pep once said: “I strive to live with passion and not to be desensitised to life. Things matter to me. You’ve got to live like that, otherwise what’s the point?”

Life is for living and Pep lives for football. Let’s hope it’s a life still to be lived at M11 3FF.

  

By David Walker

Dedicated to Sue Lowe – a lovely lady going through the darkest of times. Find the strength to carry on and squeeze every ounce out of every moment in life.

www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu

 

20 Comments

  1. December 9, 2019  10:47 am by Sean Reply

    Unerringly accurate and beautifully written as always. My deepest sympathy for the sad loss of your friend David.

  2. December 9, 2019  11:28 am by Andrew Bissell Reply

    David,
    This is a beautifully written, undoubtedly well informed, piece of literature, that brings out both the truth behind City at this critical time and the truth behind what life is really about. It reduced me to tears with it's passion. As a neutral football fan I doubt very much that the PL will see the departure of Pep any time soon. He is an ambassador for not only City but also for very watchable football. Sadly the departure of Sue is rather more sobering and we both wish strength to you, Debi, MZ and Sue's partner in your sadness. Xx

    • December 9, 2019  11:31 am by David Walker Reply

      That is one hell of a comment sir! Thank you for your gracious, sincere and extremely thoughtful feedback.

  3. December 9, 2019  12:11 pm by Ian Lowe Reply

    All you say is absolutely spot on, no doubt about that however something you don't mention is, how difficult it is to get a group of players up for a third title challenge . Yes they're world class players and yes they've done it all before but isn't that the problem, or a large part of it. Not replacing Vinny and sticking with Stones (who he clearly doesn't rate or trust) and Otamendi who was supposed to be on his way out of the club in the summer has been disastrous but I feel we should have "spiced up" the squad both in midfield and up front, not just because we could but in order to give fresh impetus and enthusiasm to the squad. Maybe 2 or 3 out and replaced who, Gundogan, Mendy (I know he's not been with us long but can't see him ever truly fitting in) and not sold but a replacement found for next season D. Silva.
    However too late to worry about that now, it's onwards and upwards, there clearly has to be some rebuilding and if Pep is only to stay another season (here's the sacrilegious bit) maybe he should go at the end of this season and let the new man do the rebuilding as he wants.rather than inheriting Peps squad.

    • December 9, 2019  2:46 pm by David Walker Reply

      So much conjecture surrounding City all of a sudden. It's not as if we've become a bad team overnight, but there are so many players either injured or not performing to their capabilities - and it all seems to have happened in a relatively short period. I hope to goodness Pep is staying for the long haul, but his track record thus far, would suggest otherwise. Who knows? From being a comparatively young and vibrant team, we seem 'leggy' - the high pressing game has subsided, we're too profligate in front of goal and the defence needs a radical overhaul with a stellar left back and centre back, the priorities. I can't believe we don't have the financial muscle to compete at the very top end of the transfer market. Your observation on a new manager rebuilding his own squad is a chilling prospect as it means Guardiola will have gone. Thanks for the feedback.

  4. December 9, 2019  12:32 pm by Phill Reply

    I had suspected over the summer that topping the centurions AND the Fourmidables was going to be a very tough task indeed even without the injuries (and VAR!)
    To maintain (or better) that level of intensity would be too much.
    But the season is far from over. Still inb3 cups and 7 knockout games from winning the CL.....
    But id we dont win anything sure there will be disappointment but us Blues are not (or should not be) arrogant enough to feel entitled to win a trophy.
    City have won more cups in the last 4 seasons than they did in the first 52 years of my life! So a barron season wont be a hard thing to take!

    Finally, saddened to hear about your friend Sue :(

    • December 9, 2019  2:50 pm by David Walker Reply

      Indeed it is a huge ask to keep on winning, particularly because of the intensity demanded by Pep. Let's hope we can pick up some silverware this season and give Pep the time and finances to re-evaluate and reshape his squad. We have had it so good in recent years that Pep has almost become a victim of his own success. Thanks for your comment on Sue. All the best PG.

  5. December 9, 2019  1:00 pm by Doug Henshaw Reply

    So sorry to hear about your friend Dave my deepest condolences
    to Sue, life can be so cruel at times. As for City & Pep we will be back get injured players back & hopefully a better 2nd half of the season. Once again I am sorry to hear about your friend Dave.

    • December 9, 2019  2:51 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thanks Doug. As we all know life can be, and is, sh*t at times, the irony being that it is death that often makes life almost unbearable for those left behind.

  6. December 9, 2019  1:34 pm by Malcolm Reply

    David,

    Another excellent analysis. I would defy any team to do what City has done for the last 2 years and not display any signs of mental and physical fatigue. Pep is rumoured to want to be around to implement a rebuilding program at City. I hope the typical City negative brigade in the stands don't force him to reconsider.

    • December 9, 2019  2:56 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thank you. The rumours regarding Pep are at polar opposites. One has him ready for the regeneration of the squad, the other not even seeing out his existing contract. He must do whatever is right for him because, if it isn't right for him, it'll be both he and City that suffer. The guy works with such intensity that fatigue and temporary burnouts seem to come with the territory. Let's hope the fire still burns within and Guardiola delivers more success in the future than he has in the past. It's not asking for much is it? ;-)

  7. December 9, 2019  5:09 pm by Tony Alex Reply

    Another excellent piece, David. When the negativity builds, a calm and rational response is required, so thank you for that. As you have said, some things - many - are more important than football and your friend's passing underlines that. Keep up your excellent work.

    • December 9, 2019  6:01 pm by David Walker Reply

      Your feedback and words are much appreciated. Thanks.

  8. December 9, 2019  5:37 pm by Paul Barry Keys Reply

    eloquent as ever David. Condolences on the loss of a friend, it sure puts things in perspective, take care

    • December 9, 2019  6:00 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thanks Paul, lots of elements to encompass with City at the moment, and then you have the real world, where putting a ball in a net is hugely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

  9. December 9, 2019  5:42 pm by Donald Price Reply

    excellent piece and so sorry to hear about your friend

  10. December 14, 2019  9:34 am by John Bampkin Reply

    Brilliant David.....as always. Very sorry to hear about the sad loss of your friend and it really does put sport into the right perspective. After reading your two posts during the last week or so, suddenly the season does not feel too bad at all. Memories of watching City in the 80's and 90's with my friends (who are all United fans) makes me realise how grateful I should be that we now have a team that is so capable and still with so much promise to deliver the greatest prizes in European football. Comparing the feeling of defeat to your biggest rivals with the passing of a close friend clearly puts things into perspective and rightly so.
    You really have filled me with a much more positive view on this season - I mean it! For the first time in a long time we have hit a few roadblocks, not UEFA or VAR speedbumps, genuine roadblocks. Injuries and defeats that we could not have foreseen have made us all a little more humble again....which is no bad thing.
    Its time for us all to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and get back to that "Fight to the end" spirit that has seen us become the most successful side ever in English domestic football.
    I cant thank you enough for your fantastic literary perspective! Hopefully you will be able to continue these on a more regular basis once again.

    • December 16, 2019  3:21 pm by David Walker Reply

      Thank you so very much for your kind and comprehensive feedback, it is greatly appreciated. Losing someone forever certainly puts football into perspective. I'll try and write a bit more regularly but sometimes it's difficult finding the time. Thank you once again.

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