‘Have the lambs stopped screaming?’ It’s a chilling line delivered by serial killer Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter in the famous 1991 Hollywood thriller, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’.
Fast forward 28 years and a similar question could be asked of the red Merseyside-dominated media mafia, ‘Have the Scousers stopped bleating?’
In the way that Sir Anthony Hopkins’ human flesh-eating character would skin, butcher and devour his victims, Pep Guardiola’s back-to-back Premier League Champions, show no mercy or compassion for those that stand between them and their objectives.
Such an outlandish comparison could be construed as a tad distasteful, but not half as unsavoury as the torrent of bile and venom unleashed on City, in the wake of a unique, domestic treble-winning season, (I’m resisting the temptation to include the Community Shield and call it a quadruple).
When someone of the calibre and class of City’s Chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, speaks of the ‘jealousy’, ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘envy’ directed at City, you know the pernicious accusations, unsubstantiated allegations and vile attacks have gone too far.
It heartens every City fan that finally – finally – City are prepared to take on UEFA and FIFA in the courts, and not the corrupt governing bodies’ own ‘kangaroo’ courts.
The unrelenting, insidious and carefully choreographed criticism of City is now boringly predictable and obvious to all.
Consumed with faux outrage, the media pander to their traditional mass audiences of viewers, listeners and readers, drawn from those of various red persuasions both Liverpudlian and Traffordian.
They all received, and adhered, to the memo – ‘Keep up the negativity on City and keep our punters happy.’
City’s achievements, first as Centurions, and latterly as Treble winners, are only grudgingly acknowledged. Even the most jaundiced ‘journos’ and putrid pundits, cannot deny City’s brilliance, as much as they would love to do so.
One can only imagine the media’s gut wrenching glorification of Liverpool if they’d snatched the title and 2019, had turned out to be ‘their year’.
A nation rejoiced that they didn’t and it wasn’t – apart from those peddling the misplaced romanticism of Klopp’s team and their ‘wonderful’ fans.
We’re constantly reminded, 97 points would have won all but two Premier League titles, since its inception in 1992. Klopp’s style of so called ‘heavy metal’ football was big on the bass booster, but fundamentally lacking when it came to a perfectly pitched treble. How it must rankle with the likes of Jamie Carragher, John Aldridge, Phil Thompson, Steve McManaman, Danny Murphy et al. What a joy.
Ever respectful and magnanimous, Pep, thanked Liverpool for pushing City onto new levels of performance and endurance. Yes, it came down to a solitary point, but that hardly tells the full story of a Guardiola team that had amassed a staggering 198 points from a possible 228 in the past two years.
Arguably City’s most influential player, Kevin De Bruyne missed half of the season with three different injuries. Captain Fantastic Vincent Kompany was absent for 21 matches, Benjamin Mendy only played a quarter of the games, whereas the vital Fernandinho, was ruled out 25% of the time.
Much has been said about ‘fine margins’ – John Stones’ goal line clearance in the 2-1 win over Liverpool and Sergio Aguero’s winner at Burnley.
In Pep parlance, those few centimetres were ‘so, so satisfying’, but the points gap could have been a gulf, with a fully fit City squad.
Injuries are part and parcel of the game and City have coped with more than their fair share, in their back-to-back titles, but how would Liverpool have fared if Virgil Van Dijk or the Diving Pharoah of Bootle had missed half-a-season?
Little wonder then, that Guardiola believes City can improve further and be even stronger in 2019/20.
City’s detractors pathetically harp on about the club’s ‘lack of history’, a bizarre and skew-eyed interpretation at the best of times. It’s convenient to forget how City missed out on being Champions of England, by a single point in 1977.
Ironically it was Bob Paisley’s Liverpool who pipped Tony Book’s City to top spot – a City team deprived of Colin Bell – the equivalent of Pep’s Kevin De Bruyne. Only the The Annual Village Idiot Convention or The Kop, could argue that City wouldn’t have won the League, had ‘Nijinsky’ been fit and able to stay the distance.
Of course we didn’t have the vices of social media back in the 1970s, so there was no chance of an online petition demanding a trophy for coming second.
As City look to the future, they do so without the legend that is Vincent Kompany, with a handful of other title winners also set to depart the Etihad. Nicolas Otamendi, Fabian Delph, Claudio Bravo, Eliaquim Mangala and Danilo are all among the potential departures.
The fact City’s defensive ranks – which conceded a meagre 23 league goals – continues to evolve, is an illustration of Pep’s relentless drive for improvement. Aymeric Laporte has emerged as the defensive lynchpin, with John Stones set to step up as a key figure for both club and country.
A double swoop for Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell, could be money well spent. Ajax’s prodigious Matthijs de Ligt would be a tremendous capture, but he looks Barcelona bound.
The contribution of a fit and firing Benjamin Mendy cannot be overstated, but when will this guy ever stay healthy enough to justify his £50m fee?
Oleksandr Zinchenko, or ‘Little Kev’, has done remarkably well in his 14 first team starts in the league, but he cannot be considered a long term solution at left back, if Mendy remains ‘un-mended’.
If Danilo heads to Serie A, Kyle Walker will need strong competition at right back to encourage him to up his levels. It could come in the form of Juventus’ Joao Cancelo, or perhaps Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
A defensive midfielder WILL be acquired, whether it be Rodri of Atletico Madrid, Ndombele of Lyon or whoever – it’s the one key position where City don’t have a ‘like-for-like’ replacement.
Ilkay Gundagon put in some outstanding displays in the absence of Fernandinho, but he lacks the defensive guile and ability to ‘put his foot in’ when it’s most needed.
Nonetheless, City are rightly keen to sign him up before his contract runs out next summer.
The biggest transfer conundrum, of course, is Leroy Sane. Pep wants him to stay beyond the remaining two years on his deal. The fans want him to stay, but does the 23-year old, with 25 goals and 28 assists from 89 Premier League appearances, want to stay?
Bayern Munich, perhaps City’s most virulent critics, are openly touting for Sane to return to Germany. The hypocrites from Bavaria, headed up by convicted criminal and tax evader, club president Uli Hoeness, have even had the temerity to say they won’t break their club record transfer fee of £70m for Sane.
Clearly Hoeness, and his partner in crime, the hideous Karl-Heinz Rummenige, are beyond contempt, but, nonetheless, Pep should put his German linguistic skills to good effect with a firm, ‘Fukken zee offen’ to these sourest of Sauerkrauts.
Two players going nowhere, but to the very top, are Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling. Surprisingly they’re both the same age at just 24 years young. Not surprisingly, they are among an elite group of Pep’s untouchables, along with Ederson, Laporte and KDB.
Bernardo was voted as the Club’s Player of the Year, whereas Sterling picked up the prestigious Football Writers Association Player of the Year 2019 Award. It was such a sweet irony for a player, mercilessly hounded by the press, since his departure from Anfield in 2015.
Another man well versed with winning is Sergio Aguero. He’ll be 31 this Sunday – one digit shy of the number of goals scored for City in this, his eighth campaign in Sky Blue. He’s not getting any younger, but neither are his goals getting any less.
This truly remarkable striker has hit 164 in 239 Premier League games, with a further 67 goals in 99 cup competitions. He’s contracted to City for two more seasons, so who’s to say he can’t get close to 300 goals, before heading back to Argentina?
Of course the dilemma will be who is Aguero’s long term successor? Gabriel Jesus has just completed his third season with City, netting 45 goals in 100 appearances. Not too shabby for a youngster who’s had to overcome two serious injuries since joining the club in January, 2017. If Pep can develop him in Sterling-esque fashion, Jesus could be the man.
Whether City are happy to wait to invest in another out-and-out striker until 2020 is unknown, but succession planning under Pep has thus far been excellent.
David Silva – perhaps City’s best player of all time – enters his tenth, and most likely, final, season when the Fourmidables return to pre-season training. El Mago opened the scoring in the 6-0 FA Cup Final thrashing of Watford and is still an important part of Pep’s slick machine.
It’s not treason to say Merlin hasn’t been at his majestic best since the turn of the year, but a below par Silva is better than most. By 2020 he’ll have secured his testimonial with 10 years served – something of a rarity in the modern game.
He’ll follow in the footsteps of Captain Kompany’s incredible 11-year stint, and should hopefully have eclipsed Vinny’s haul of four Premier League titles, four League Cup wins and two FA Cup victories before he bids adios to Manchester.
These truly are the best of times for Manchester City. With more shrewd transfer dealings, the emergence of young talents such as Phil Foden, Eric Garcia and perhaps Claudio Gomes, plus Pep’s coaching genius, it could be this City ‘dynasty’ is only just getting started.
There’ll be battles aplenty in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead. Khaldoon and some of the finest legal minds and business brains are more than ready, willing and able to fight the morally bankrupt football institutions of the world off the field.
The on-field challenges will see Pep and his squad go for a Premier League ‘three-peat’ and, as far as Sheikh Mansour is concerned, the Holy Grail, of the title of Champions League winners.
As ever, most City fans will opt for being Champions of England as the true barometer of their club’s success. Lifting crooked UEFA’s prize possession still comes a distant second, but it’d score 10-out-of-10 for pure devilment alone.
A ‘three-peat’ and a Champions League triumph?
Bloody hell, never mind the lambs, the Scousers would never stop screaming.
By David Walker
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