Sunday, September 27, 2015


After a brief respite at Sunderland in midweek, when City walked through the first thirty-five minutes then hit the off button and went to bed, Pellegrini's side turned back towards what they have done best in a history of wildly fluctuating fortunes, fabricating a sizeable silk purse into a sow's arse in a display at Spurs that smelled first of roses, then of a heavily steaming midden. 

The entire history of Manchester City football club was laid bare for all to see in another 90 minutes of breathtakingly controlled-then-brittle football.

A first half of total dominance at White Hart Lane was rounded off by a linesman offering the home side an equaliser that had seen a critical part of the build up stray a clear yard offside. The linesman, with his flag half up then down again was in front of the action, bang in line and close to play. It was a clear case of the unthinkable joining the unfeasible and making the improbable happen. Jokes about the poor man's eyesight would just not be enough at this juncture. Needless to say, I hope he hasn't seen it all on his tv.

With City reeling from the shock, they were caught cold at the start of the second half and proceeded to disintegrate in alarming fashion.

A team that is not ruthless enough, managed by a man who is too charming (read gentle) was left being given the run around by a suddenly exuberant Tottenham side who quite possibly could not believe their good luck. On these occasions, when the sun emerges and Spurs players realise their luck is very much in, all those flaky, lightweight midfielders that Tottenham specialise in, suddenly turn into a freeform version of Eder-Falcao-Zico. True to form Eriksen shone and the normally peripheral Lamela, always on the look out for a chance to back flip the ball when a solid five yard pass will do, turned into match winner extraordinaire.

Previously, against Juventus, chances had come and gone to bolster City's one-goal lead, but eventually the wily Italians plugged away and got two sucker punch goals to take the three points. It had all been, in fact, slightly unlucky and talk afterwards was of City's European jinx, their European mental block and their European inexperience. This in fact had been their European Soundtrack, starting with boos, filling up with cheers and ending with stunned silence.

A clear one-off considering the blistering form the team was in.

Against West Ham, City started like a man sleepwalking towards the top of the stairs, again received two sucker punches and wobbled, fizzy-headed into a 2nd half comeback where five goals could have been scored on another occasion, perhaps even more. Adrian, the West Ham keeper who had sieved six in the Capital One Cup semi-final on the same ground, suddenly acquired steel-rimmed gloves. It had been such a wildly one-sided second half, with every single one of Jesus Navas' 312 crosses either cannoning back off James Tomkins' gigantic shins or ballooning away off somebody or other. Not one fell kindly to lurking City players on the edge of the box. The Law of Averages was being liberally trashed. Such a strange game could sadly not be called a one-off, as we had already added that moniker to the Juventus match.

A similar scenario wrote itself in bold capital letters in London, as City totally dominated possession and chances in a one-sided first half, before the linesman took his opportunity for nationwide exposure bringing unlikely parity to the game at half time. If that one idiotic moment sank City for the second half, then the winning mentality we had all presumed played a part in the four trophies won since 2010, might not have been quite so decisive after all.
Spurs away was evidently not a one-off either, sadly.

Looking at the one game won in this 4 game slump, against an execrable Sunderland side so down on their luck
Where have all the goalscorers gone?
they might have been tempted to take to the pitch wearing prison pyjamas and conical hats, City took their initial chances and were four up after little over a half an hour. Look again, however, and you will notice something critical.

Before the first goal, a penalty put away by Aguero, the same player had already missed three chances to score in nine minutes. After the barrage, Aguero again missed, this time, from a yard out after rounding the goalkeeper. The kind of effort that even one of the Flying Ameobi brothers might gobble up. The same sort of chance that Navas had made a royal fist of at Crystal palace, when he suffered anterior lobe misfunction when faced with the task of swatting the ball into an unguarded net from five yards.

A match that should have been 5-0 at half time was thus 4-0 and, by the end, after a somnambulant 2nd period, 4-1. An absolute away rout to some, but, look a little closer and it bears many of the characteristics of the other three "unique, one-off defeats".

The argument is thus that the game on Wearside revealed the same tendencies as the other three in this increasingly distressing mini run of grande collapso. Although it looks on paper like a crunching away win, it was profligate in the extreme, as were in particular the West Ham second half and the Tottenham first half. Juventus too will probably admit to have looked optimistically at a draw after the first 57 minutes at the Etihad, yet won it in the end.

Put basically, City have had a sudden slew of important injuries, have shuffled the centre backs too often and have seen games change unluckily at critical moments, but - if the strikers had been on top of their jobs - none of these other factors would have mattered.

All eyes turn to Sergio Aguero. Never in his time at City has he looked or played like this. The odd game where his touch was not 100%, yes. A match when a defender has played him just right, certainly, but never have we seen four straight games where he has continually misfired like a novice. Shinners, too many touches, slips, slides and running into brick walls, the entire average striker's repertoire has been on full public show. It may be sacrilege to even consider criticising one of City's Crown Jewels, but Aguero has gone suddenly and fatally off the boil.

last 2 games: CITY- 49 attempts on goal, 3 converted.

Shorn of David Silva's threaded passes, Aguero looks short on ideas for the first time, short on goals for the first time and short on confidence now that a discernible pattern has started to develop. Whether he was rushed back too quickly from injury is unclear. Scott Dann's assault at Selhurst Park in the end did not remove him from more than the Juventus match and even then he appeared when it was clear that Wilfried Bony would have needed a fork lift truck to aid him to get through on goal.Bony, it has been noted, is no Edin Dzeko when it comes to hiding average performances with a crucial goal or two. Just average all round from Wilfried so far.

Here again a strange pattern develops. Injuries have dogged City for seasons, seemingly more significantly than most of their title rivals. Of these, of late, how many appear to be happening just before the game begins? Silva limped out of West Ham seconds before the start, Kompany - already not 100% fit - tweaked something in the warm-up at Spurs. Are City putting too much pressure on the big game players to be present for the big games? And if so, why, with such a broad and talented squad at the manager's disposal?

Injuries, lack of form, loss of form, bizarre refereeing decisions, fired up opponents, bad luck. Sounds like a normal enough season to most people, but perhaps not to be expected in a tiny four game snippet of the season.

Only one possibility remains and this will only return to the agenda of the mainstream press now that City have hit a losing streak and will chime loud enough if City fail in Germany this midweek. Manuel Pellegrini, the gentle, cajoling presence on City's touchline. The man who shakes hands with the manager who called him a c**t a year ago, who shakes hands with the linesman, who has just torpedoed his team's chances and who says at the end of the day "if we don't play well I don't expect us to win". We all like a good guy, but the truth is in football it's the nasty win at all costs types that often win in the end.

Whether he or Scott Dann or James Tonkins are the main reasons for City's malaise, the chatter will turn into something else if Monchengladbach explodes in City's faces in similar fashion.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Mark Lillis plays with damaged nose + cheek
In 1986 the streets of Rusholme looked a little like a scene from a low-budget cop series. Sirens howled, busses chugged to a stop in front of packs of meandering kids. Feral eight year olds with snot encrusted faces asked you if you had a car to mind. The smell of curry drifted everywhere. (That was the good bit). Slate grey skies dribbled their corrosive rain all over you and glass-eyed dogs barked a cacaphonous welcome in the distance, ready to tear you to bits if you lingered too long while having a leak against the chapped red brick walls of the alleyways that criss-crossed the area. Sooty little back yards separated poverty from squalor, poverty from squalor. Terraced houses with off-colour net curtains hid a thousand little secrets of Rusholme.

In 2015 things are tidy, modern, clean and sharp. There are few who harbour thoughts of the bricked-up tobacconists on Lloyd Street or the faintly threatening doorways of Claremont Road. City are long gone from there. Glass and steel meet the smarting eye of the modern match goer. Car dealerships and swing bridges, apartment complexes aimed at you the aspiring young city dweller and gusty tow paths meet the eye. The gales still blow chip paper onto your trousers, but the odour on the air has changed. All you can smell now is well varnished ambition.

Dank, heavy, drizzly, misty Manchester. 1985-86, a season back amongst the big boys for City. There is the red hair of Jim Melrose, standing out in the gloom like a beleesha beacon. He juts his ginger bonce in the way of a deflection off the West Ham defence to equalize at 2-2. A lucky deflection! How City would have liked one of those last weekend, when every single loose ball ricocheted out of the Londoners' defence and found an area of space and peace that wouldn't have been out of place by the duck pond at Tatton Park.

There will be no deflection and no 2-2 for City on this occasion.

Back in September 85 a topsy turvy, rain drenched game at Maine Road does finish two apiece, however. This is the 9th game of what will be a dreary season of rehab, City's first back after relegation. West Ham, upwardly mobile and jetting towards their best finish ever, have McAvennie and Cottee, style and pace. They have Scottish defenders called Orr and Stewart plus a midfield of Ward and Devonshire, lungs and artistry.

I turn for the exits, mounting the old Kippax steps, darkened and malodorous, and head down from the back of the old stand and into the relentless drizzle outside. The view is familiar, across the school yard and beyond into those mysterious alleyways, the death runs of away fans daft enough to escape the police corden and make their own way out of the darkening precincts of Moss Side.


Modern day West Ham seem less flexible, with the prowling protagonist Slaven Bilic sporting the face of a thousand Balkan conflicts. He lopes around the technical area, flicking his arms with the air of a man wearing a tie as a punishment.  

Soon, Mangala is airborn like a falling tree but Adrian has brought his business gloves. It is quickly clear he has forgotten his clock, however, as the keeper slows everything to a dawdle. The reason for this has happened at the other end: Moses, a left footer, a three times discarded Chelsea misfit, uses his right foot to leave Hart grasping grubby air with his fingers. City are flat on the floor after only 6 minutes.

It is City's first league goal conceded. Midweek there were two other first goals conceded, but that was v. Juventus, that was Champions League. Three in two games. It feels like the floodgates are opening suddenly.

Was this early sledge hammer anything to do with the back four? Sagna-Otamendi-Mangala-Kolarov. You wouldn't have got away with that eight months ago, when Zabaleta-Kompany-Demichelis-Clichy was the chosen barrier. Otamendi, a giant Argentinean with lop sided hair, seems to settle well, as he quickly shuts out Jenkinson, who will later have more cramp than a double marathon runner.

Goalkeeper Adrian turns up his fists to deny the lively Navas, whose smouldering unblinking eyes suggest a man on some kind of mission, as yet ill-defined. Adrian, meanwhile, is beginning to enjoy himself much more than his visit here in December 2013, when six Capital One Cup goals flew past his ears. He has since tightened up his game somewhat, as have the Hammers.

The time wasting continues. We are 25 minutes in. Bilic nods as his strategy -- one he has used before -- is put into practical action. City are way too slow to destabilise this West Ham anyway, playing it across, playing it wide, playing it back.

2-0 at Arsenal, 3-0 at Liverpool. Surely not again?

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” Hunter S. Thompson, with a word about refere Mr Madley.               

Sakho is flattened by Mangala, a brilliant block, as Aleksander Kolarov falls asleep again. His good start to the season, apparently thanks to the darting progress of Raheem Sterling in front of him, has been suddenly lost in the wind, perhaps as a result of Sterling's own problems. The ex-Liverpool man is ineffectual here, a shadow of the electric-heeled start to the season.

306 passes is double West Ham's total after 45 grinding minutes, but this has been of little use. West Ham have claimed a second and City just one, a De Bruyne shot as precise as that of Moses early on. De Bruyne and Melrose, twin red haired scorers, separated by 30 years and a broad expanse of skills. Only 22,000 of us watched Melrose's feat that September day and wondered why we had bothered. There are an incredible 30,000 more in the Etihad now, a stark reminder of where football has taken us all.

CITY 1 WEST HAM 2 HT -- 10 shots to 3, 66% possession
It is the first goal conceded away from home in the league by West Ham, but not everyone is satisfied
Half time wisdom comes from Blind Man Buff correspondent Duncan Castles on Twitter: "Not entirely sure De Bruyne caught that shot as well as he wanted to, but his team badly needed the goal." -

As Alex Shaw of ESPN retorts, "I think he wanted to smash it in the net, which is what he did...".

City start the second period like the 5:15 express bound to Santiago. We are treated to Twenty Minutes With Yaya Toure, who shaves the post twice and carries all before him almost like the old days. On days like this, sepia images of him bulleting through the middle ranks with a full set of Aston Villa players hanging off his surging shoulders spring to mind. What a player he could be before he had the cake and ate it.

85-86 Melrose gets his head on the end of a deflection. 2-2
The question is asked, "How many centre back partnerships can one team have before it becomes embarrassing" as the hole left by Mangala appears to have been filled by Martin Demichelis. His lack of hair does not hinder him and City are immediately more composed, thrashing into West Ham like there's no tomorrow. Bony is also on for the meak Sterling, but Navas, brave, blind or confused, continues down the right, with an absolute torrent of crosses straight into Reid's shins, which must look like the twin pillars of Corynth to the dashing Spaniard.

He will end the match with the bewildering stats of 2 successful crosses out of 18 attempted. It's not all about statistics of course, you could also see for yourself what he was up to.

City are in the Classic 442. Sadly City dont do classic 442, but it's there for perusal and visual enjoyment anyway, proud as punch, with Bony's muscles accompanying Aguero's oddly out of shape performance in a fox trot around ten visiting defenders.

Hammers captain Noble eventually tires of his own team's time wasting tactics and pulls the once more prone Jenkinson to his feet. How must the lumpy full back be feeling to have this visited upon him, infront of a live audience? The shame, the shame. Mr Trouser Suit, the pig-headed referee, has not a single gram of wit to tell the visitors to halt their time wasting. Noble of name and noble of nature is doing it for him, as City's captain - Yaya? - doesn't seem to be mentioning it in passing either. The rest of us are left to go bog-eyed with frustration, as the match turns into an exercise in growing old extremely fast.

City lose/Chelsea win; losing at home to West Ham is much more than that though. Losing at home to West Ham is like dropping an anvil on your foot and having to walk home in the driving rain. Its like being splashed by the last taxi on the streets when you still have 8 miles to go. Its like losing your front door key, climbing a tree to get in the upstairs window and slipping from your foothold. You end up swaying by your parka hood from the branches of a sycamore. And you stay there swinging until Carl Jenkinson's imaginery injuries have healed, one by tedious one.

Slaven Bilic in tie-less days of yore
Good luck to the new look, fit for purpose Hammers. They have often been supine opponents in the past and have defended doggedly here. City will not play another half like the one just finished without hitting the target, we all tell ourselves. Beaten by Juventus in a match that could have been won, beaten by West Ham in a match that should have been won. Good for the game but not for the nerves. And, as if that was not bad enough, the Blues follow that little lot up with an away game in the League Cup at Sunderland. That promises to be one for the collectors.


Thursday, September 3, 2015


Thanks to Down the Kippax Steps, Argentinean football magazine Sólo Fútbol's Tabla Moral - used in the 80s to reright football's wrongs - is enjoying a re-run in the 2015-16 Premier League. In it, we hope to highlight blatant wrongs, crass errors and large slices of injustice and rewrite the Premier League table along moral lines:

The opening weeks of the season have produced several lumpen performances from fancied sides but, despite some of the more precious managers' protestations, still little in the way of controversy.

Barring an odd refereeing performance on the opening day from new man Simon Hooper, who invented some of his very own Rules for Association Football to mark the occasion of his Premier League debut and Norwich City's return to top flight action, there have been few serious errors of judgement.

The last game of Matchday 2, however, did produce a sizeable problem. With Liverpool struggling to break down newcomers Bournemouth, playing their first ever Premier League away game in the daunting environment of a packed Anfield, Christian Benteke scored what seemed to be the winning goal.
The offside rule has been tweaked to supposedly clear up the grey area of when a player is interfering with play only for Bournemouth to find themselves the victim of a situation this was meant to avoid when Benteke scored Liverpool's winner.
- BBC sport website
Referee Craig Pawson ignored the fact that the new offside rules are now in use and waved away complaints that Philipe Coutinho, loitering with intent in front of the unsighted goalkeeper Artur Boruc, had even waved his leg at the ball as it sped past. As Alan Shearer tweated afterwards "It's the Kop End, so not offside!!". Pawson was later seen picking up his new copy of The Rules Updated from Anfield's back office.

Sadly for Liverpool enthusiasts the goal must be chalked off and, despite Benteke later hitting the woodwork, the reworked score at Anfield reads: Liverpool 0 Bournemouth 0. A day later in the Express, the Premier League was forced to agree that Pawson had made a bad call. Read the article here.
The only other contentious elements occurred in Manchester City's dismantling of Chelsea, where José Mourinho told the press that the result was fake. Citing Ramires' offside goal, the Portuguese was both right and wrong. The result was fake. Most onlookers were pretty sure it should have been several more than 3-0. However, he was also right to state that the Chelsea goal should have stood, as the wiry Brazilian was fractionally onside as the ball was played through, which means the corrected score at the Etihad reads: Manchester City 3 Chelsea 1.
Ramires begins his joyful celebration at the Etihad
Since then only Micah Richards' incredible open goal miss and Stoke's two red cards against West Brom have raised as much as an eyebrow, but neither instance had match or score-changing powers. Thus, the table after four games reads very much like this, with Norwich and Bournemouth the major early recipientes of Tabla Moral justice:
1. Manchester City             4    +9     12
2. Leicester City                 4    +3      8
3. Swansea City                  4    +3     8
4. Crystal Palace                 4    +1     7
5. Manchester United         4     +1     7
6. Arsenal                           4      -       7
7. West Ham                       4      3      6
8. Everton                           4      1      5
9. Southampton                   4      -      5
10 Bournemouth                 4      -       5
11 Norwich City                 4     -1      5
12 Liverpool                       4     -2      5
13 Aston Villa                    4      -1     4
14 Chelsea                          4      -2     4
15 West Brom                     4     -3     4
16 Tottenham                      4     -1     3
17 Watford                          4     -2     3
18 Stoke City                      4     -2     2
19 Newcastle United           4     -3     2
20 Sunderland                     4      -4    2

Monday, August 10, 2015


Thanks to Down the Kippax Steps, Solo Fútbol's Tabla Moral from the 80s in Argentina is enjoying a re-run in the 2015-16 Premier League. In it, we hope to highlight blatant wrongs, crass errors and large slices of injustice:

The opening day of the season produced several lumpen performances from fancied sides but, despite some of the more precious managers' protestations, little in the way of controversy.

Whilst José Mourinho tried his best to produce a theatrical piece to camera from Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Swansea, the red card for Thibaut Courtois was deserved and the penalty award to Swansea correct, the keeper taking out Bafetembi Gomis at thigh level as he was entering the penalty area.

Elsewhere the only noteworthy explosion of ire was heard at Carrow Road, where we were treated to a brand new Premier League referee and a brand new intepretation of the 100 year old rules of football to boot. In Simon Hooper's * shoes, what would you do: opt for a low key performance to ease your way into the way of Premier League things on your debut or go for broke making one of the wierdest football decsions in many a year, wiping out in one ill-conceived sweep of your arm a century or so of fantastically acrobatic goal scoring?

Doesn't require an answer, of course, as the hapless man went for broke and decided to take us all

Mr Hooper explains his new rule change
into the new and thrilling territory of judging overhead kicks dangerous play. Thus in one fell swoop Dennis Tueart, Denis Law, Jurgen Klinsmann, Trevor Sinclair, Stan Bowles, Charlie Nicholas and a host of others could forget the airborne heroics they had treated us all to down the years. The feet were too high. There marvellous goals should not have counted.

Good call, Mr Hooper and, yes, you are now successfully part of the Premier League's refereeing community.

As a result of this moment of Numb Brain in the Sun Syndrome, Norwich were docked not only a perfectly good goal, but a stunningly executed one. That, along with the clearest penalty of the weekend, also not given by the prodigious Mr Hooper, makes Norwich the first recipients of the Tabla Moral slight readjustments.

So, awarded the goal that they deserved and the penalty that should have been given, the Carrow Road Tabla Moral result is corrected to Norwich 3 Crystal Palace3.

No other troubles elsewhere, unless you judge Peter Cech's performance for Arsenal to be contravening the rules of normal goalkeeping ("It's Wojciech Szczesny in a hat" shouted the usually unfunny Independent), thus making the first table of the season look like this:


1. MANCHESTER CITY     1     3-0    +3               3

2. LEICESTER CITY          1     4-2     +2              3

3. WEST HAM                      1     2-0     +2             3

4. ASTON VILLA                 1     1-0     +1             3

5. MAN UNITED                   1     1-0   +1              3

6. LIVERPOOL                     1     1-0   +1               3

7.CRYSTAL PALACE         1      3-3   - 1              1

8. NORWICH                        1      3-3    -                1

9 CHELSEA                          1      2-2    -                1

10. SWANSEA                      1       2-2   -                1

11. WATFORD                     1       2.2   -                 1

12. EVERTON                      1       2-2   -                 1

13.NEWCASTLE                 1       2-2   -                 1

14. SOUTHAMPTON          1       2-2   -                1

15. STOKE CITY                 1       0-1   -1              0

16. BOURNEMOUTH         1       0-1   -1              0

17. TOTTENHAM               1       0-1   -1               0

18. SUNDERLAND              1       2-4   -2               0

19. ARSENAL                       1       0-2   -2              0

20. WEST BROM                 1       0-3   -3               0
 +1 3

* Remember the name. He looks promising in a Hairless Mark Clattenburg sort of way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


When Edin Dzeko arrived at Manchester City for a fee of £27m from Wolfsburg in January 2011, nobody noticed that he wore the vacant expression of a man receiving first time instructions on how to tackle the Moscow underground.

That would only become relevant later, when he started missing sitters against Norwich, doing a good impersonation of the chap with the map upside down.

Neither did anybody notice that the Bosnian reminded them vaguely during these first passing moments of frivolity of a free-flowing floral dress on a breezy summer's day: it looks kind of interesting but the nagging thought remains that all that billowing up might just be hiding something underneath that we needed to know about before it was too late to turn back.

He had departed what had been an unexpectedly rapacious attacking duo at the German club with his reputation sky high. An exhilirating and unexpected Bundesliga title had arrived in Volkswagen Land in 2008-09. The essential YouTube compilations of his feats made him look like the healthy offspring from the marriage of the Cannonball Kid with Wyatt Earp. His partnership with the unheralded Brazilian Grafite had brought a cavalcade of goals, helping to establish the lanky Bosnian's credentials to perfom higher up the football food chain.

Manchester City, at the time of his arrival, might already have considered themselves a more wholesome proposition than Vfl Wolfsburg in some ways, but in reality were still something of a lumpen weight looking for a little momentum from somewhere. City were climbing the foodchain alright, but there were still some steps to go before they would break through the clouds.

That has now been accomplished with City's seasons since his arrival looking lke this: 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd.

As Dzeko departs, he has not only been an integral part of each and every one of City's recent glut of prizes, but he has also cemented his name in the annals of the club's history for being right in the limelight for some of the individual highlights too. He was not just a part of the party, he was frequently the focal point and occasionally the prime cause of it.

City's back catalogue of tall front men has some legs. Having graduated from the knock knees and

White Hart Lane
chopstick legs of Trevor Christie and the barren hulk that was Tony Cunningham in the 80s, the club took it upon itself to resurrect the career of a gangly Irishman, who had been moving like a new born giraffe on the fringe of the Arsenal first team. Niall Quinn would grow into one of the most prolific and trusted strikers of City's successful early 90s campaigns, when two consecutive fifth place finishes under Peter Reid represented a high water point before the trusted and timeworn dive back into troubled waters.

Even whilst negotiating those choppy seas, City entrusted the goal scoring to another striker whose limbs appeared to have been dropped off from an Ikea reject plant. Shaun Goater, with the movement and touch of a runaway step ladder, grew into one of City's greatest heroes in their darkest hours. Goater possessed a similar feathery grasp of the ball to Dzeko, employed knecaps, elbows and shins to divert the ball goalwards, but shared the Bosnian's ability to create havoc whenever there was a following wind. 

By the time Dzeko appeared on the scene at City, the club had spent the intervening period yo-yoing between the divisions, even hitting an unharmonious low point of third tier football for one desperate season in 1998. With £350,000 pat of butter impersonator Lee Bradbury up front it could hardly have been any other way. In those desperate, parched, end-of-century days at Maine Road even tall people had begun to look small.

The £27 million City shipped out across the North Sea represented the club's second highest transfer fee ever at the time, just 5 million or so down on the Robinho purchase the previous summer. Roberto Mancini's exuberant spending spree had made Dzeko the sixth most expensive Premier League recruit ever and for that sort of money, hopes were high that the Bosnian could boost City's chances of tangible success.

To underline what would become an ability to play meaningful parts in each mini chapter of City's success story, Dzeko's first goal in sky blue came at Notts County in the FA Cup in a game that City were struggling badly to deal with in the proper manner. City survived by the skin of their teeth thanks to his equaliser and thrashed County in the Etihad replay with Dzeko again scoring. He would not play in the final that May, but he had played his part in getting City's to their crucial first trophy win since 1976.

Before his first half season with the Blues was done, he had notched two more crucial goals. First the winner at Wigan and then, on the final day of the season, one of the goals at Bolton that helped City clinch a 3rd place finsh and a first-ever qualification for the Champions League. For an initial impact, the Bosnian's work had been pretty enlightening.

What came next would cement his reputation in the Premier League, however. Dzeko began 2011-12 with a bang, hitting a superb goal to put City ahead in the Community Shield against Manchester United, a game eventually lost 3-2. Within weeks he had carved his name into Premier League folklore with four goals in a sun-drenched romp for City at White Hart Lane. That day, he revealed a knack for powerful heading, right foot placement and finished the show with a left foot curler from distance that flew into the top corner. Edin Dzeko and Manchester City had truly arrived in the upper echeleons of the English league. The panache and elegance of his performance at Tottenham would be a far cry from the stumbling, disinterested displays that littered his later appearances in sky blue and would perhaps act as a rod to beat him with when he fell below this astonishing level of performance. He had laid an early marker of the highest calibre.

He continued to play his role of Johnny on the Spot with a canny ease, scoring a vital goal at Wigan as City began to overhaul United in an incredibly tense title run-in. In the final denouement against a relegation-threatened Queen's Park Rangers, when the Blues famously considered enacting the most City-esque belly-flop of all time, his header on 90 minutes brought that last surge of momentum towards the Aguero seconds no football watcher in modern times will ever forget. If it had stopped there, the Bosnian's contribution would have had his name up in lights on City's hall of fame: a solid but not-always-reliable, sometimes spectacular sometimes misdirected input that had helped drag English football's most unwilling winners over the golden finishing line.

But Dzeko wasn't finished. In a less successful second full season his tally of 15 goals was part of an effort that brought City to Wembley again, a second FA Cup Final in two years, this time lost to Wigan. Despite the bitter disppointment of the culmination of Mancini's eye-watering tenure in Manchester, Dzeko had still managed to notch an iconic goal for City in their first ever appearance in the Bernabeu and get on the end of a stunning sweeping counter attacking goal at West Brom in the league, a strike that mirrored another breath-taking break out at Arsenal in the League Cup, when Dzeko revealed himself to be more than a gangly goal scorer, picking up a clearance and hauling the side forward to notch a late clincher through Sergio Aguero in a break that had also invloved the twinkling feet of Adam Johnson.

Dzeko was once again pivotal in City's much more successful campaign in 2013-14, scoring regularly in Manuel Pellegrini's blitzkrieg debut season. The Chilean had recruited Spaniard Alvaro Negredo and a flood of goals burst upon an unsuspecting public. The Bosnian was perhaps also taken unawares of Negredo's raw power and suddenly found himself falling down the pecking order for places. Being taken unawares had in the meantime begun to be one of Dzeko's specialities.

Despite the Moscow metro look never really having completely left him, Dzeko's less impressive displays (and there were an increasing number of these by now) were always likely to be balanced by sudden bursts of unerring savvy and fast-whirring brain cells. You just never knew when it might break out next.

Dzeko would keep his powder dry until later in the season, as Negredo's goals spectacularly and suddenly dried up. In stepped the Bosnian - having already passed the 50 goal mark - to hit the fastest ever away goal at Old Trafford in Premier League history (32 seconds) as City began to rise again. As City closed in on Liverpool, Dzeko netted at Palace, two vital goals at Everton and another two at home to Villa as City hauled in Liverpool metre by painful metre to win their second title in three seasons. Once again the wily Dzeko had been thrust into the limelight at the most appropriate moments of another tear stained success for the club and had come up trumps.

By now many observeers had descended on the Bosnian's ability to look disinterested, caught gazing at his feet or loping back slowly from another misshit attempt on goal. For every goal, his detractors told us, there were untold games where he disappeared, if such a tall man could manage such a feat, and was basically a clumsy, error-strewn passenger. To the rest of us, he had the uncanny knack of netting from all angles when it mattered most.

In many ways, Dzeko was damned by the company he was forced to keep. Those threaded passes

from David Silva and the rocket heels of Sergio Aguero began to make him look like a second class citizen, slow to pick up the pass and slower still to finish it off. Anybody could look a little one-paced and brain dead alongside that gilded pair, but Dzeko was unlucky to find the club he had aided so strongly on the way to greatness actually beginning to outgrow him.

There will be those that voice the opinion that, as time went by, he began to look uneasy, lazy some said, lolloping around like a grazing giraffe on the Serengeti. Others will force us to remember the howling misses and the dreadful lack of control that seemed to afflict him like an apprentice violinist with delirium tremens. It was often very off tune, they will tell you, the desperate scraping and whining.

Dzeko may well have left a bigger legacy, been even more productive, even more deadly in front of goal, but that was not his style. He had a languid, easy movement that carried him hither and thither at his own special pace. When resting he looked like he had been closed down. The facile expression, at once blank, vague and empty, offered few clues as to how emotionally involved he was becoming as the tears and shivers gripped the rest of us on the sidelines. Even some of his spells down on the turf injured seemed to last longer than other players, but there can be no doubt that Edin Dzeko deserves the heartfelt thanks of the City support for the critical part he played in the club's most invigorating period of success for nearly half a century

Extract from a piece I wrote for Champions Magazine on Dzeko, August 2014:
When Edin Dzeko's wonderfully cushioned back heel lay-off fell perfectly into the path of David Silva's left foot in the 44th minute of Manchester City's opening Premier League game of the season at St James Park, Newcastle, many onlookers were moved to comment that the beanpole Bosnian striker must have been taking secret lessons in deft touches and body movement whilst out in Brazil for last summer's World Cup.
A long, looping through-ball from Ivorian midfielder Yaya Touré had descended from the heavens towards Dzeko, who was closely marked by Fabio Coloccini and Mike Williamson. Seconds later the two defenders were left staring into space, as the ball dropped in from above and immediately departed again off Dzeko's heel, in one deftly-volleyed manouevre. Silva, taking it in his stride, took one extra touch to prod it a little way in front of himself and finished with aplomb beneath the onrushing goalkeeper Tim Krul with his second touch. The ball had been propelled from deep midfield to deep in Newcastle's net in four rapid touches.
And in one split second Edin Dzeko had demonstrated the folly of underestimating his talents.

Having a good touch for a big man  is one of those football phrases that commentators have uttered into folklore in the English game. From Niall Quinn through to Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole, the Premier League's existence has been dotted with strikers with the physical attributes (and occasionally sprightliness of mind) of a telegraph pole....
English football and its sometimes rather rudimentary tactics have provided a safe haven for what purists might call the dinosaur, the huge brick-reinforced number nine, who will rough up the opposition defence and - with some luck -barge his way to a small portion of your team's required goals.
Modern systems in the game require much greater subtelty, however, and Edin Dzeko is amongst the foremost examples of the mobile, capable, yet powerful central striker that these days prowl the eighteen yard boxes. Size can remain a hindrance, however, and some experts and casual onlookers alike remain non-plussed by the Bosnian's attributes. Even amongst the Manchester City faithful, there remains a large (mainly) silent minority, who find it difficult to acknowledge Dzeko's worth in City's stellar squad.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini is obviously one person leading the "yes" vote, as Dzeko became the fifth major star of the summer - after David Silva, Joe Hart, Sergio Aguero and skipper Vincent Kompany - to put his signature to a contract extension. In amongst the big summer imports to the top of the Premier League, these contract extensions for players who make up City's redoubtable spine could turn out to be just as important in the long run.
It takes only a cursory glance at the Bosnian's scoring record to see why Manuel Pellegrini was so keen to lock him into a new contract. He scores regularly and is just as likely to curl in a devestating left footer from 20 metres as he is to nod in at close quarters from a corner or free kick. His size and movement make him extremely difficult to mark and his ability to drop into midfield and link play with City's revolving midfield personnel is a noticeably efficient part of what makes the sky blues so difficult to pin down. What stands out even more, however, beyond the consistent scoring rate, the broad variety of finishes and the evident team ethic of the player, is his knack of scoring on the big stage, when goals are critical


Tuesday, July 28, 2015


In a little under a month Manchester City will walk out for their first home fixture of the new season. The Etihad Stadium, formerly known as the City of Manchester Stadium (and briefly before that even, as the Commonwealth Games Stadium), continues to grow upwards and outwards as City’s owners assiduously follow their masterplan to have the club join the elite of European football.

Champions League participation has already brought the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona (twice) and Bayern Munich (an incredible three times) to Manchester to play on an increasingly well-recognised world football stage. Rangers and Zenit also brought some kind of scruffy limelight upon the place for the noisy and ill-behaved 2008 UEFA Cup Final. The giant scoreboards, the huge pylons and shimmering slabs of aluminium and glass fibre, the arcing bridges of threaded wire are a common sight these days, just 13 years on from the exuberant weeks when Manchester successfully hosted the Commonwealth Games.

City fans greet the Blues and Barcelona for the opening of the stadium
“The Commonwealth Games has almost single handedly salvaged the reputation of Britain as a country to stage major sporting events,” wrote Duncan Mackay in the Guardian, on the first anniversary of the games, as City prepared to launch a bright new future for themselves in the revamped stadium.
The London Olympics would seal this renaissance well and truly, but the tide had turned in Manchester in 2002.

Looking back today, the opening match in the stadium looks like an artistic piece of weird and wonderful prescience, as it involved a visiting team that in those days was a more or less complete stranger to Blues fans but today appears to be one of the club’s most frequent stumbling blocks to meaningful advancement in the Champions League.

On Saturday 9th August 2003 the stadium was christened in bright sunshine with an exhilarating 2-1 win over the Catalan flag bearers of Barcelona, a side containing Xavi, Marc Overmars, Ricardo Quaresma and Carles Puyol. The occasion, given a sad touch by the final appearances in sky blue of previous City heroes Shaun Goater and Ali Benarbia, on top of a last chance to bid farewell to Marc Vivien Foe, who had died that summer in Cameroon's Confederations Cup match with Colombia in Lyon, was nevertheless seen as a pivotal moment in the club’s attempts to find stability. The occasion also gave the City fans a hilarious opportunity to sing the praises of Ronaldinho, who had just turned down the lure of a place at Old Trafford. The look of bewilderment on the Brazilian’s face as he was met with wild songs of praise will live on for some beyond the toings and froings of the frenetic match itself.

City had spent the previous two decades changing division like it was going out of fashion and an increased capacity ground with untold revenue streams and possibilities for growth in all directions seemed to be pushing the club inexorably towards a new and perhaps uncomfortable future. For City, a club steeped in history, much of it quirky and slightly embarrassing, this would indeed be a giant step to take. Locking into a serious and upwardly mobile future at this early stage of the ground's occupation seemed riddled with pitfalls.

As supporters flooded in to the new ground that day, they were eager to see the club’s new signings for the season. The faces and the names on the shirts would tell regulars whether City indeed meant business or not. Although he names look underwhelming today, that is more because of the unprecedented growth surge which has taken place than the player's dubious quality at the time. Keegan had dregded up the following:  Paul Bosvelt from Feyenoord, QPR’s Trevor Sinclair, the still pony-tailed David Seaman, Bayern’s utility defender Michael Tarnat and the little known Antoine Sibierski from Lens.

David Sommeil saves City blushes against Portsmouth
Fortress Keegan” chirruped the Daily Mail on the following Monday in an article apparently lacking the ironic tones the paper these days uses when reporting on City. In truth, what Keegan would bring to City that first seasons would be so far from anything resembling a fortress that sand castles facing an onrushing tide came to mind. True the team played to full galleries week after week, but there was something terrifically fragile lingering in the dank Manchester air, as indeed with most of Keegan’s teams. Added to this City had managed to scrape into European competition for the first time since 1979. Although qualifying via the fair play regulations would be classified as a huge embarrassment these days, it was clasped eagerly with both hands in 2003.

The club had bade European football farewell with a mud spattered defeat at the Bokelburg to a ravenously talented Monchengladbach side in the 1979 UEFA Cup quarter finals, but returned to the fields of Europe with a tie against Total Network Solutions, of Wales, hardly the big name desired for the stadium’s competitive christening. That evening Daniel Taylor wrote in the Guardian: 

“There are many things Manchester City will miss about Maine Road but not the sense of foreboding.....”
A 5-0 win told everyone that, on top of the friendly baptism against Ronaldinho’s Barcelona, things were going to be alright, we could drop the worried looks and start to enjoy ourselves. As surely as we were all sat there in our smart new surroundings, so the club was pulling its socks up.

This feeling was quickly dispersed by the time the first Premier League game of the season was played in the ground, City needing a last minute David Sommeil equaliser to get anything from a game against Harry Redknapp’s tactically pliable Portsmouth team. By the time Arsenal arrived for the second home game, City had clocked up impressively Keeganesque wins at Charlton (3-0) and Blackburn (3-2) but were undone by lax defending and a performance by the unable Seaman that moved Martin Lipton in The Mirror to chortle that his name should be changed from Safe Hands to Sieve Hands.

The Mirror captures David Seaman's embarrassment against his old club.
With the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman in Keegan’s fantasy side, it was always likely to be an up and down ride. So it proved, with City’s return fixture with Portsmouth, on 14th February 2004, leaving the old romantic Keegan with a star-studded side lingering 3 points above the drop zone after a 4-2 defeat at Fratton Park. At this stage of the inaugural City of Manchester Stadium season, some of those new bucket seats were home to a number of squeaky bums. 

Could the club haul knotted catastrophe from the golden chalice that had been proferred one last time?

Certainly second division football in such a grand setting would have been a financial and public relations disaster. City though were no strangers to relegation scraps in those days and pulled themselves together, beating United 4-1 in a stunning first derby match at the ground and later on in a most critical game, Newcastle 1-0 with a looping Paolo Wanchope header sealing the precious points. It had been a terrible struggle, thanks mainly to Keegan’s profligate tactics. Only the sparkling Shaun Wright Phillips, who had gained England recognition by the end of the season, and the on loan defensive rock Daniel van Buyten really came out of it smelling of roses.

A slapstick 3-3 draw with bottom of the table Wolves typified City’s season, with Keegan’s underachievers only saved by Wright Phillips’s equaliser in the 90th minute. An already outspoken young midfield academy prospect by the name of Joey Barton, managed to fire off some frustrated quotes to the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield, saying: 

At one stage I was telling people what their jobs were during games. That’s the responsibility of an experienced pro not a 21 year old. We’ve lacked a leader all year…”.
For all his future pasted-on worldliness, the young Barton had hit the nail on the head.

One of the few hits of the season, Shaun Wright Phillips, seals a desperate point v Wolves
A 1-3 reverse to Southampton in the stadium’s 17th home game of the league season almost spelled disaster, as the club once again flirted with the dreaded drop. This was followed by a tremulous 1-1 draw at Leicester and the afore-mentioned release of joy against Newcastle, as City closed the season in an atmosphere as euphoric as that for the derby win earlier in the year. The big open ground, with its elusively fetching lines, had been a huge change from the tight cauldron of Maine Road. It had proved difficult to recreate the febrile atmosphere of City's old home on those occasions when the whole place seemed fit to burst.

On a balmy summer’s afternoon, City closed out the stadium’s first season of football action with a stunning demolition of Everton. The atmosphere was loud and celebratory, but the noise still seemed to be disappearing into the big hole above the pitch. Watching from high up in the stands, one was struck by the beauty of the ground’s curves, the great swathe of sky blue across the tiers and the magnificence of the setting. As each of City’s five goals hit the net that afternoon, the thought in many people’s minds must have been eerily similar. With the club once again spluttering unconvincingly over the finishing line, could the wheezing colossus that was Manchester City bring the standard of football to this fine setting that it so obviously deserved?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Manchester City’s £49m purchase of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling has unleashed a tidal wave of excited opinion across the British football media and beyond. Whether it is more apt to build a couple of new hospitals or his fee is obscene and ruinous, is open to question, but be reassured that the democratic notion of free speech to all (even Phil Thompson) has been unleashed upon us like a hurricane wave hitting the low-lying sands of Formby.

Variously voted Europe’s Golden Boy (in the slipstream of the likes of Mario Balotelli, Lionel Messi and new team mate Sergio Aguero), called Liverpool’s most valuable and talented player, the “best young player in Europe” (an earlier incarnation of Brendan Rodgers) and held up as England’s next great hope, he suddenly, at the stroke of an undoubtedly expensive pen across the bottom of his new contract, turned into a variety of less pleasant things in various parts of the country. A villain, a turncoat, a waste of time, were some of the more printable words and phrases offered up.

Welcome, dear readers, to the febrile world of modern football where everyone’s grip on reality is as fragile as the gossamer threads holding Raheem’s delicate designer shirts together. This is a world where, these days, history is cheap and banter trumps everything, where you can be king of the castle one day and a spurned and criticised pauper the next.

Sterling has not suddenly become a poor player overnight, as the most insightful of Liverpool’s support have been trying to tell us above the din of the outraged masses. His fee is not as outrageous as many think, given other clubs’ similarly high spending rates for older, lesser talented players. City, damned if they do and damned if the don’t, are paying -- or being forced to pay -- the going rate (or above) for absolute top quality (English) footballing pedigree. Make no mistake, Sterling is not yet Paul Pogba quality, but he is a fantastic young player with the world at his feet, feet presumably that will continue to twinkle for City as well as they have done for Liverpool.

Feet that -- in fact -- twinkled so well when the two sides last met at Anfield, he managed to wrong-foot half of the City defence with a deft swerve, a classic pause for thought and another lightning quick jerk to the right, before dispatching a smoothly placed pass into the Kop end net beyond a bamboozled Joe Hart. If the old adage of making yourself stronger whilst weakening your rivals is one worth believing in, City are following a well trodden path here.

City, meanwhile, must now move on quickly to their next transfer targets. The market is in a state of full bodied flux. This topsy turvy atmosphere was perhaps one of the reasons the haggling over Sterling had to come to an abrupt end. In signing the Liverpool player, City have sent out a message to the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Paul Pogba -- both thought to be next in the firing line of Txiki Begiristain --- that City will be put off neither by FFP nor the criticism at home in their attempts to recruit the talent which will carry them up a level.

The club has reached the rarefied sub-plateau of those teams feeding close to the game’s kings. The biggest challenges of all perhaps still lie ahead.  How can the club hope to compete on an even keel with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, whose modus operandi acts like a giant suction pump to the football world’s talent? The electrical energy around these two clubs is like no other on the planet. City are already engaging comfortably with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea on the domestic front. As relative newcomers to the top table the club still finds itself criticised for its extravagant spending, its creative accounting, its over-generous wages. People conveniently forget the money mountain that is modern football can only be climbed using more of the same commodity. In many ways it has always been like this. Money has always spoken loudest and those that decry or deny this are shying away from the distasteful truth.

Manchester City, once the blue eyed boys of English football fans for hovering pathetically on the high moral step of continued, slapstick, decades-long failure, are now denigrated by many as nouveaux riches upstarts, upsetting the established order at the top of the pile. Ironically, with the strong feeling that they are one of the last to crawl over the gap before the drawbridge thuds shut, it may never happen again. We may be stuck with an elite group that gets bigger and stronger from now on. It is hardly something that we all, as football fans, should applaud, but one would do well to get used to seeing Manchester City as a part of it, for better or worse. 

About Me

My Photo
Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; bitter, confused and maladjusted. Watching City since 1974 with fluctuating amounts of disbelief.

Poets and Lyricists