Déjá vu comes in different guises, both good and bad…just ask Manchester City.
Having retrieved seemingly lost causes to win two Premier League crowns in three years, they are now hell-bent on giving away their hard earned title – gift wrapped – for a second time in 36 months.
Under Roberto Mancini, City capitulated and handed Sir Baconface one last hurrah, surrendering their title by an embarrassing margin of 11 points in 2013.
Low and behold the present day and the sour-faced ‘Special Needs One’ holding what could soon be a nine point advantage over Manuel Pellegrini’s City…and there’s still three weeks to go before we crack open the first Easter egg.
Far from chasing Chelsea to a photo finish, Manuel and his miserably malfunctioning City, risk a ricked neck, anxiously looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack, homing in on Champions League places.
There is a genuine danger City could not only relinquish second spot, but slide straight past third, through to fourth and, God forbid, even down to fifth – they ARE that bad at the present time.
As was the case at Anfield a fortnight ago, City had no adequate defence to excuse a woefully underwhelming showing at Turf Moor, one where maximum points were squandered and a minimum of effort all too often applied.
A season that promised to be a duel to the last with Chelsea, is disintegrating amid a plethora of pathetic performances. What the hell is happening at the Etihad?
Successfully defending a Premier League title is perhaps the best domestic barometer of a team’s true worth. The prospect of being Champions of England in three out of four attempts was so much more than a possibility at the turn of the year, it was a distinct probability for City.
Having weathered the storms of losing various vital vertebrae of the team (Silva, Aguero and Kompany) for prolonged periods, City clawed back an eight point deficit to sit plumb level top of the league with Chelsea on New Year’s Day night.
Even when striker-less, City had continued amassing PL points. Even when hope had all but gone in the Champions League, City pulled off stunning victories over Bayern Munich and Roma to progress to the knockout stages. Even the prospect of talisman Yaya Toure going off to the infernal African Cup of Nations for six weeks, failed to dampen the air of anticipation. It was all even stevens, but City could surely only get better…couldn’t they?
Optimism levels rose further with the £25m acquisition of striker Wilfried Bony, albeit he wouldn’t be available until he and Yaya eventually emerged out of Africa in mid-February.
Yes, there were murmurings regarding Pellegrini’s obsession and intransigence with a 4-4-2 formation, a set up that had found City wanting on more than one occasion, but an injury riddled City were level top… and still to hit their stride – surely a sign of the champions that they were, and how they would remain so, come May 24th.
2015 is now less than a quarter cooked, but it would appear Manuel Pellegrini and a number of his overrated players are just about done to a crisp.
Star players appear burnt out, The Engineer’s slick smooth-running machine is grinding to a halt and the season resembles a car crash.
It’s not disrespectful to Sean Dyche’s team to say City should beat his Burnley braves 95% of the time. If you’re the Champions, awash with international stars, a handful of world class players and resources beyond compare, of course you should come away from Turf Moor with the points.
Pellegrini said City’s 70% domination of possession, 21 attempts on goal and half-a-dozen corners, represented a ‘normal performance’ – nice stats Manuel.
The trouble is MP’s ‘normal’ for City is totally at odds with what is witnessed by the fans – true blue City fans – those who earned their stripes at Lincoln, Wycombe and York away, not the shallow glory hunters who might be considering swapping sky blue for royal blue shirts, sometime soon.
The new ‘normal’ belies any analysis based on misleading statistics. City’s increasingly habitual failings were all too obvious; a laboured approach, devoid of guile and pace, desperately in need of multiple Duracell battery insertions in ‘Big-time Charlie’ backsides.
Many a four letter word has been uttered, nay, bellowed, in recent weeks at City’s millionaire misfits, the most constructive of which has been ‘WORK’. The players simply aren’t doing it.
So what lies behind the Manchester City malaise? In football parlance, has Pellegrini ‘lost the dressing room?’ Has the Chilean’s stubbornness and tactical rigidity provoked a subtle player mutiny in the ranks?
Do the players know best? Have the majority of the squad who effectively fell out with the fiery, autocratic style of Roberto Mancini, now decided they’ve had enough of the professorial approach of their learned and gentleman-like South American manager?
Alternatively, is Pellegrini – the man the overwhelming majority of City fans took to their hearts after a League & Cup double in his debut season – suddenly out of his depth tactically and/or from a man management or motivational stance?
It’s incredibly difficult to dislike Manuel. He is courteous, diplomatic and to all intent and purposes successful, but if Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak decide a trophy-less campaign is unacceptable, he’ll be gone.
Pellegrini was given a strange ‘brief’ when he came to the Etihad – ‘Win five major trophies in five years’ – as he signed a three year contract!
As disgruntled as they are – and not without good reason – City’s fans and owner alike, need to consider how the club wishes to be perceived by the world at large.
Who and what is to define Manchester City Football Club? Is it a Barcelona-esque style of play that wins hearts and minds and praise from the purists?
Is it a pragmatic – bordering on the cynical – win at any cost approach, as deployed by Mourinho and Chelsea?
Having created and now embarked on the evolutionary process at the City Football Academy, do the powers that be want stability and clearly defined succession planning?
Continuity and sustainability sit comfortably under the holistic approach that emanates from the Etihad. Not so a revolving managerial door.
How much of City’s recent decline should be blamed on the manager? Irrespective of it being 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3 – it’s more like the bloody Enigma Code – does Pellegrini instruct his players not to push themselves to the physical maximum?
Of course he doesn’t.
If the players – and we’re talking some of the finest ever to wear City colours – can’t be bothered to press opponents, shut down space and track back, what chance would any manager have?
Pellegrini is culpable in City’s disturbing fall from grace, but so too is a myriad of established names who have lost form or are no longer properly motivated to actually earn their wages.
Does the problem extend higher up City’s hierarchy? Who is the real powerbroker behind City’s transfer dealings, transactions that, with hindsight, have not helped City progress?
It’s inconceivable that Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, doesn’t exert huge influence in the comings and goings among the playing staff.
Who bears responsibility for the £150m outlay on the likes of Mangala, Fernando, Fernandinho, Jovetic, Navas, Negredo, Caballero – none of whom would figure in the Chelsea first team, let alone Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Europe’s other leading lights?
When the Abu Dhabi millions started flowing into Manchester in 2008, City knew a revolution was required. With Financial Fair Play lurking in the background, evolution wasn’t an option, speed was of the essence.
Seven years and two Premier League titles later, City ought now to be a far more measured and evolving environment, fine tuning the squad and upgrading with top quality bite-sized chunks.
The harsh reality is the ageing and under-achieving squad needs a radical overhaul this summer, further complicated by the requirements for home-grown talent.
A brilliant and well executed business strategy spearheaded by CEO Ferran Soriano, has spawned massive off-field commercial successes, halving losses and doubling revenue streams year-on-year.
It means City will no longer be haunted by Napoleon Platini and UEFA’s fatuous FFP, but will sufficient funds be available in the short-term, to elevate City in both domestic and European football?
Who is to be trusted with investing in new players? Does Txiki rule the roost? Does Manuel see out his three-year deal? Is the stage set for Pep Guardiola to finally come to England in 2016 when his contract with Bayern Munich concludes?
Is Patrick Vieira ready to step up from his duties with the Elite Development Squad? If so, does he bring bright young talents such as Thierry Ambrose, Brandon Barker and Angelino with him – are the CFA’s finest ready to mix it at the senior level?
One can only hope and pray that rumours and whispers linking Brenda(n) Rodgers and Napoli’s Rafa Benitez with City, are just that and nothing more.
Fiery Argentine Diego Simeone is touted as a possible successor to Pellegrini this summer. This will be the same Simeone whose reigning Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, trail La Liga’s leaders Barcelona by nine points tonight – hardly a ringing endorsement.
Of more pressing concern for Pellegrini and his team is, having lost to mighty Burnley how the hell do they cope with Messi, Neymar Suarez & Co at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night?
Even the most optimistic City fan would be accompanied by an entourage of men in white coats, if they think City will be in the draw for the Champions League Quarter Final.
On recent showings it is Mission Impossible for City to upset the Catalan cart, but if the result is deemed beyond reach, reputations and careers are still very much on the line.
Pride In Battle has to be displayed in abundance by every player. Even if they are bettered by a superb Barcelona, it must not be for the want of trying.
Patience is a virtue, as is keeping your nerve, when the proverbial is hitting the fan. Only time will tell if two trophies in two years keeps Manuel on track for five trophies in five years in Sheikh Mansour’s mental arithmetic.
By David Walker
In conjunction with our friends at CampoRetro we gave readers the opportunity to win one of two special edition MCFC T-shirts. City fan MARK SHAW was the first to have his name drawn from the proverbial hat and he chose the MANCHESTER version as his prize. Thanks to all who entered and keep an eye open for a SHAUN GOATER competition coming up later this month.
The Made In Manchester and Made in Argentina T-shirts are available at £15 each or two for £20 via the website at http://www.camporetro.com/
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