Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 7

BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY - A TRIP THROUGH 2010-2011
PART 7 - Mirror, Indicate, Gesticulate

Ten minutes had existed between the Blues and the end of the FA Cup trail for another year. A collective sigh of relief could be heard in the East Midlands as East Manchester prepared for the replay. Could City keep the run moving past the dark days of winter? We would very soon see.

If "the February sunshine steeps boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within" it sometimes has a funny way of showing it. In the Midlands, budding trees were conspicuous by their absence as City clawed away a point from a game they should really have won. After a half season of hitting the moon, Aleksander Kolarov's enthusiastic and frequent shooting produced a second goal in four games and, as one would expect waiting this long into the season, it was a thing of quite troubling beauty, as it slid its way around the wall and the outstretched fingers of Ben Foster and inside the far post with the width of a small Serbian cigar to spare. The 2-1 lead that this offered City until 15 minutes from time would have shrunk the gap with Arsenal in 2nd place to two points but Gardner's penalty evened things up and Kolarov's late blockbuster went the way of previous attempts only troubling a freezing cold man in the crowd. 

With this point, City gained a foothold on their West Midlands bogey that had already seen defeats at Molineux, The Hawthorns and Villa Park. Unfortunately, the way it was delivered made it feel unnecessarily bleak. City's luck had been missing, gloriously summed up when Micah Richards, attempting one of his unorthodox energetic clearances, collided head to head with Nigel de Jong, poleaxing both players and leading to Richards being subbed by Kolo Touré. As the two men shook hands, an interesting scenario took shape. Whilst the player exiting knew next to nothing of what had just happened to him, the one replacing him knew little more of what was about to befall him in the coming weeks. Sister Fate still had a trick or two up her flowing white sleeves.

The next challenge presented by the West Midlands was altogether different as a lethargic looking West Brom succumbed to Carlos Tevez's neat hat-trick. With the skipper regaining top form in time for the Old Trafford derby, City prepared to travel across the city boundary in good spirit and growing confidence. The match against United had a familiar finish, even if it took a strange route to get there. With City playing impish, one touch football from the start, David Silva missed an early chance to flatten out the nerves, when he toe poked across the face of Van Der Sar's goal. It had looked simpler to score. The same City player would eventually find the net, but by then it was an equaliser in the 2nd half, after Nani's strike had made it 1-0. Silva actually knew nothing of it as Dzeko's surging run and clipped shot went in off the Spaniard's back.  

A touch of luck had brought City right back into it and now they forced the pace again, only for a deflected cross to loop up past Kompany's jump and onto the flailing shins of Wayne Rooney. The story had already been written by our friend Sister Fate and a connection, which nine times out of ten would have sent the ball whistling past Mike Phelan's offspring in the red brick enclosure in the Main Stand, rocketed the ball past Joe Hart's right ear and into the top corner. As befitted a player who had been on the brink of leaving the club at Christmas, Rooney threw a Croxteth Crucifix pose and the media went into meltdown. If you were lucky enough to possess a Sky subscription, you saw nothing else for a week. Commentators jockeyed for superlatives and high pitched eulogies. An avalanche of adulation washed down off the Old Trafford precincts as the so-called noisy neighbours finally piped down a little. Only the moaning of the deeply afflicted could be heard from those in blue. 

What we didn't know at this point was that there would be one more unexpected meeting between the sides, one more chance for City to redress the balance. We would see what hand Sister Fate would play then and what volume the end of season songs would be played at.

Sandwiched between Europa League duty against Aris Salonika (0-0 and 3-0) came the cup replay with Notts County, or Plucky Notts County, as the press would have it. With 27 Million Pounds Edin Dzeko again on the scoresheet, the 5-0 stroll looked just the job. It covered up a series of indiscretions, however, and three of the goals came in a slightly surreal last 5 minutes. As Chris Bailey put it. "Despite three goals in the final six minutes they will have to perform much better if they are to lift the venerable trophy for the first time since 1969."


Season end approaches
Indeed City had needed four games just to get past Leicester and Notts County and enter the 5th round, a sunny spot most Blues are not that used to basking in. These heightened expectations of some kind of breakthrough were beginning to heap on the pressure. Still, in this new climate, it had all appeared somewhat laboured and the looming tie at home to Villa seemed a perfect opportunity to step up a gear and enter the sixth round. The month ended with the dreaded visit of Fulham, fast becoming an inexplicably difficult opponent in Manchester. Having used the big guns to quell Notts County and Aris, City put in a lethargic performance and, despite a beautifully crafted goal from Mario Balotelli, were held to a draw. With March hoving into view, City's tired troops were being asked to gather themselves for crunch ties with Villa in the Cup, Dynamo Kiev in Europe and a trip to Chelsea in the league. In the next few days it would become considerably clearer how the season was going to go. 





Monday, July 18, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 6

BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY - A TRIP THROUGH 2010-2011
Part 6 - No Stopping at the Zebra Crossing!


With the FA Cup about to start, pitting City into a curiosity-laden tie at Sven Goran Eriksson's Leicester City, thoughts turned to Niel Young's sweet left footer at Wembley in 1969. With David Bernstein the surprise choice of FA head, some were beginning to picture his face in June if he had to hand the cup over to Carlos Tevez. To most, cup victories in May seemed a very distant dream. Even having Tevez for the next match at home to Blackpool seemed a long shot at this point.

Cigar? Check. Champagne?
City welcomed the New Year in with a 1-0 win over Blackpool, Johnson's goal all that separated the teams in a game where there was clearly more than a single goal difference in quality.  Blackpool's much talked about manager proceeded to wave his arms around and fill the interview area with bluster, but the game had been simple enough for City, with an appearance by the captain to scotch the rumour mongers for another 48 hours. He might have wished he had not bothered showing up, however, after Varney's comical attempt to outmuscle the lighthouse physique of Yaya Touré presented City with a penalty, which Tevez did not even manage to hit the target with.

This somewhat  threadbare win was followed up with a dreary shut-out at Highbury, the stalemate triggered great rumblings of discontent from the banks of purists at the Emirates. That City's goal had led a charmed life was without question, with one particular early flurry of activity around Joe Hart's goal resembling Chipperfield's Circus when the monkeys get out and spoil the clowns' ordered presentation of plate spinning, but the point gained would prove vital by the end of the season, by which time Arsenal's supporters would have readily swapped crowing about City's inadequacies and started berating Arsene Wenger for providing them with "yet another" blank season. One was tempted to ask oneself when exactly did Arsenal fans switch from those bushy-bearded patient lot watching Trevor Ross and Tony Woodcock sky chance after chance to the snobbish upstarts of today? More than likely approximately three honey-laden seasons into the Wenger era.

The FA Cup trail started in January with a tie positively framed in used banana skins: Leicester City away.  That the Midlanders were now managed by Sven Goran Eriksson made the possibility of an upset even more mouthwatering to some in charge of media laptops. With the match also designated as a Neil Young tribute - the City scorer against Leicester in our last cup final having been diagnosed with terminal cancer - the stage was set for something beyond the ordinary. This we got in spades, with a terrific match ebbing and flowing through a first minute Leicester goal, a great City comeback, a 24th minute Poznan from the travelling 5,000 City supporters to commemorate Young's cup final winner in the same minute in 69 and an unusually inept blunder from Joe Hart for Leicester's second.  2-2, after a breathless game, was the final score. This, we all agreed., was what the Cup was all about....


What the league was all about was getting back to winning ways and a 4-3 see-saw against Wolves at Eastlands provided little to undermine the doubters' ever-louder calls that City were neither ready nor good enough to challenge properly at the pointy end of the table. Despite the flurry of goals, the introduction of Edin Dzeko, or "27 Million Pound Edin Dzeko" as he would quickly become known to the press, would -we assumed- more than likely help up the goal rate in the coming weeks. When four more hit the back of Leicester's net in the cup replay, a few more doubters were ready to listen, so City headed to the traditionally happy hunting ground of Villa Park loosening up to begin the chase in earnest. 

This match was all about the public's first opportunity to compare the two respective striker acquisitions, Darren Bent and 27 Million Pound Edin Dzeko. Bent, having snatched Sunderland's winner at the death in September, did the dirty again, scoring the only goal in a disappointing defeat for City. No mention of the 24 million pound price tag was made.

Keys looking pleased with himself
As the month drew to an end, Richard Keys and Andy Gray left for the Dinosaurs' Cemetry through the Ron Atkinson Gate after a series of pub teenager asides about sex with females were inadvertently aired to microphones mysteriously left on. Gray had also been filmed trying to get an intern to grope him and, as Keys himself might have said, "they'd just smashed it". 

With nearly 80 minutes of the 4th round FA Cup match complete at bottom tier Notts County, it was clear that City's injection of forward power was not having the desired effect. 1-0 down to their hosts at an arctic Meadow Lane, it was left to Micah Richards to muscle his way down the right wing and swing in a bullet cross to provide a first ever goal for Dzeko to save City from ignominious exit. Ten minutes had existed between the Blues and the end of the FA Cup trail for another year. A collective sigh of relief could be heard in the East Midlands as East Manchester prepared for the replay. Could City keep the run moving past the dark days of winter? We would very soon see.




 

Friday, July 8, 2011

DAYS THAT SEALED A SEASON 5

The Alan Appreciation Society
BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY - A TRIP THROUGH 2010 - 2011
Chapter 5: Select First Gear Looking Sheepish

"The month finished in the snowy wastelands of the Potteries, with a last minute Etherington equaliser depriving City of all the points. It would not be the last time we would lock horns with Tony Pulis's agricultural side, but it would be the last time they got any change from this Manchester City team."

December opened with the visit to Manchester of Alan. Here was a footballer, who may never reach the heights of the world game, may never set any records, may not even set too many pulses racing, but on 1st December  2010 in a freezing cold northern English city, he played the game he will never forget for the rest of his life. It is not an easy task imagining him as an old man in a knitted cardigan in Belo Horizonte regaling his grandchildren with the story of the night he played for Salzburg (who, Pappi?), in the Europa league (what, Pappi?) lost comprehensively (oh, Pappi), only entered as a 2nd half sub, but had the whole ground serenading him for 20 minutes (but why, Pappi, you were always so shite?). Alan, we saluted you.


England's World Cup bid, headed by the unimaginably comic trio of Prince William, Prime Minister Cameron and the wordsmith David Beckham ("...like give it us, we was there at the start...like of football...") failed against the might of bent ballots and Russian/Qatari oil fortunes. Ironic really. The world immediately began to try and force up a picture of what a World Cup in Qatar might possibly look like. The ghosts of Paul Breitner, Rudi Krol, Garrincha, Eusebio, Giacinto Facchetti, Mario Kempes and Mick Mills revolved once and fell off the stage. Gay, Jewish, alcoholic supporters with asthma and allergies to dried fruit began booking holidays in Magaluf instead.


Please, Sir, can i leave the club?
After back-to-back wins over Bolton (Tevez) and at West Ham (no Tevez), the football community wet itself as news leaked that City's Argentinian captain had asked to leave. Speculation as to why was immaterial in these early stages, whilst journalists made hay with the copy. "The Project" as many continued to insist on calling it, was derailed and defunct. The little South American, meanwhile, cossetted and cajoled by his coterie of oddball advisers and an Iranian with self-delusional images of grandeur, grunted at the press and departed. It later emerged that Tevez was aiming to be the first ever professional footballer to leave his club owing to relationship difficulties with a board member.


Juventus away. Here was a European fixture that many of us had been waiting a long time for. A hark back to the semi-glorious seventies of Brian Kidd and Asa Hartford. Well, football has changed, Ladies and Gentlemen. There was no Scirea, no Tardelli, no Zoff, not even a Stadio Communale. No baying 60,000 crowd, no Enzo Bearzot. Instead we were treated to a bunch of glove-wearing small-names in front of a 6,998 audience (1500 of which had travelled all the way from Manchester),  an equaliser from top-notch Jô and first place in group A. Times, in many many ways, were-a-changing.


"Well surely it will be a funny game"
Back home in the snow, a win in our next fixture would have put us top at Christmas for the first time since The Rocket was running the Rainhill-St Helens commuter line full of black-faced miners munching dripping sandwiches. There was only one hitch. This is 2010, the age of salmon and dill wraps and the match would be against Everton. David Moyes made his usual mealy-mouthed disparaging remarks and left with the points as pre-ordained by God herself. Tim Cahill, City's official anti-Christ got his annual goal, whilst at the other end magnets and a daring array of trip wires seemed to have been employed to keep the ball from going in past the blaspheming Tim Howard.

Despite the annual bout of bed-wetting against Everton,  the end of year sheets continued to look reasonably pristine and fragrant after efficient wins over Newcastle and Villa (3-1 and 4-0) put City well in the hunt as 2011 hove into view.  Balotelli claimed the world's first hat-trick without running ten metres in the latter game, whilst Tevez returned to score in the former. With the FA Cup about to start, pitting City into a curiosity-laden tie at Sven Goran Eriksson's Leicester City, thoughts turned to Niel Young's sweet left footer at Wembley in 1969. With David Bernstein the surprise choice of FA head, some were beginning to picture his face in June if he had to hand the cup over to Carlos Tevez. To most cup victories in May seemed a very distant dream. Even having Tevez for the next match at home to Blackpool seemed a long shot at this point.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CREDIBILITY

My dear Carlitos. No, hang on. Dear Carlos,

On the day when Rebekah Brooks and her filthy dirty linen was hung up for all to see, a moment pondering the cleanliness of mind of the likes of Kia Joorabchian and your extremely good self might seem moot, (look it up) but I enjoy a challenge. Much like your good self.

Not specially nice
You footballers do not generally leave us with much hope these days. The cash has forced a wedge between us and you, the phalanxes of purple-suited advisers have told you you are great once too often and all those young orange-faced Kylies and Rebekahs (or Marias and Evas), so ideologically wide at the hips, have yelped and sighed at every insane non-entity you lot opine. Yours is an odd world indeed with its never-ending hotel stays and every-two-minutes hand-shakes. Do you even know a quarter of the hands you have to shake? Who are all these people, who call you by your first name?

Fuerte Apache, a kind of Newcross sink estate with mesquelin bandits and cackling cut-throats, is where you began your journey. (We have to call these things journeys, bear with me). Amongst litter, squalor and intimidation, ten foot graffiti, barking feral dogs and the heavy, gluey aroma of hopelessness. A giant mural of El Pibe stared down at you whilst you pissed on the fence. That you have come this far, like Diego and many others before you, is a minor miracle. For this grand achievement you should be applauded long and loud. Perhaps because of all this cardboard and corrugated metal muddle, because of the fights, the accidents, the fear, that pan of boiling soup, the hellish trick that life played on you, you have made yourself into a fighter. You have shown us this side of yourself often enough. It is something that endears you to us northerners, happy in our thick-boots-and-coat mentality to trust the qualities of the pit and the dock, rather than the more effete skills of the paintbrush and the bassoon. 53 goals do not occur in a mere 86 games if you don't know how to put a shift in. We have all witnessed how phenomenally you pester the opposition, your drive and will to win, your controlled aggression and leaping spirit. You are a bit like a bulldozer with a Ferrari engine.

Yet, also, at times like this, you seem also like a small boy whose Mummy has taken away your Solero. A Solero Exotico, at that.

Alright
Manchester can be a wet, grey and uninteresting place. If you come from a land of glorious open plains, alpaca skin slippers and barbie-friendly t-bone steaks the size of Staten Island, it can be even worse, but it is clearly not a horrid little dive with two restaurants. You have have probably never even been to Hull. You, though, come from Buenos Aires, a city with a climate not that dissimilar to northern England. Admittedly, it is called the Paris of South America, it has the luscious culture of tango, the vibrancy of Latin America and the vivacious allure of the unfamiliar. But not to you it doesn't. Not for you the wide boulevards, the accordion musicians in the park, the wrought iron balustrades. Fuerte Apache seems to me to make Withenshawe look like a viable holiday destination and this, let it be said, is your Buenos Aires.

But it is not the place you miss. It is the people. Like many human beings in 2011, you are the owner of a complicated social life. Restless loins, low attention span, grade E in General Studies. Your kids seem to be the stumbling block. This time. It was Gary Cook last time, of course, but, which footballer, as somebody famously asked, ever left a club because he couldn't get on with the directors? In fact Cook is one of many individuals at City who appear to have gone considerably out of their way to cut you *some* slack. Enough, it appears, for you to get completely and utterly tied up in knots.

Consider the money. Ah the money. Money buys you freedom, unless of course you are contracted to play for Manchester City in the worst place on the planet. You, however, have already put up with this hell-hole for many years, occasionally even being able to break into a smile and hold it. Nonetheless, if you happened to be unlucky enough to earn a million pounds per month (...say that slowly out loud to yourself, then go pour yourself a stiff drink), you would, with the assistance of the one adviser you have with O levels, almost certainly be able to come up with a scheme that sorted out your problems. I will give it a brief try: See what you think. Apologies if I seem a little amateur in my imagining of how to spend vast sums of money as if I were availing myself of a bag of chocolate buttons.

  • Fly children and their mother over at own expense and agree to house them in a warm, Spanish-speaking environment, say, Barcelona, on the coast, near Sitges, in a mock Manueline pink granite mansion with three swimming pools, one of those hoovers for your lawn, a speedboat, a cook, a bottlewasher, a bottom scrubber, some canaries, a gymnasium, a tanning salon and a very very big television. Eight very very big televisions. No, eleven.
  • Get Skype. The expensive, corporate upgraded one.
  • Agree to fly your family to Manchester (direct from Barcelona, 2 hours and 40 minutes) as often as they wish, first class, with free crayons for the kids and foot massage for ex-wife/girlfriend/mother of offspring.
  • Agree to fly in opposite direction whenever afore-said arrangement cannot happen. Talk positively to club. They have already given you everything you could ever have wished for and more. They won't say "no", I guarantee it.
  • Buy an even bigger mock-Peronist townhouse and have it plonked 500 metres from the one you've bought the kids and mother thereof. When she gets tired of the sight of you, you can take them next door.
  • Hire a really good language trainer, on full-time flexible hours. Buy him/her a house and a frequent flier contract and ask him/her nicely to fit in with your schedule and help you become a successful communicator with the people who pay for your lifestyle, those other people who pay to watch you perform, and yet other people who live in the country where you are employed. By understanding them and making yourself understood, you might even make a friend or two!
  • Take a moment to understand the culture of where you have landed. It's free, this bit! It costs nothing!
  • Agree to raise Kia to 22.5% as long as he doesn't make a single noise ever again.
  • Continue to play really well for City. Everyone will eat out of your hand.

Simple as Gazpacho. What do you think?

Yours in highly-strung anticipation,

etc etc

About Me

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

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