Manchester City 2 West Ham United 0 & The Parade: Some Thoughts
And relax everyone. Manchester City are the 2013/14 Premier League Champions and double winners. Feels good, right?
The morning dragged on and on, the clock seemingly ticking backwards, and I just wanted the match to start. The weather was all over the place and once more I worried as I had in midweek that it would be a “great leveller”. As for the team itself, no surprises there, though I half-expected Milner to start. It was a good enough team anyway and at last there was a fully-fit squad to choose from.
In the end, City didn’t put us through the wringer quite as much as last time. The news that Liverpool were losing quite early on settled a few nerves as the team pushed forward without reward much like the previous game. And once more the players knew how to hold their nerve when all around them were losing theirs.
What’s more, the atmosphere, despite the nerves was good, as it should be. The players went about their business in a professional manner and when you look at the game as a whole, the result was rarely in doubt, though it may not have felt like it at the time. The truth is it could have been more, with the woodwork struck, the keeper making one great save from Nasri, Aguero spurning two good chances and various other shots whistling over the bar. West Ham didn’t muster one good chance but got into good positions to do so occasionally.
But of course this is City. After going two goals up their concentration slipped slightly for five minutes or more and news filtered through that Liverpool were now a goal up and a man up as Phil Dowd tried his hardest to help Liverpool. You could sense the nerves kick in around the ground and a subdued atmosphere followed, City fans broken by decades of failure worried that West Ham only needed three goals to ruin everything. Of course, it was never really going to happen, but only on 88 minutes did the crowd deem it say to sing about being champions. A man who tried to on 80 minutes was quickly silenced, the odd death threat slung his way.
So at last full time, and not quite the carnage of last time as City strolled over the line, but it still felt magnificent. Respect also to the West Ham fans who stayed to watch the presentation and a bit of mutual admiration is always heart-warming in this cynical, modern world.
Let’s not forget as we look back on what is perhaps City’s most successful season that only three weeks ago there were serious questions being asked about Pellegrini’s suitability for the job. That says it all really about the modern game and the sense of entitlement that some carry around now.
As I am a sad man, I spent much of the morning retweeting some of the bolder predictions from her majesty’s press, none more so than from the depressing Neil Custis, another man who has never quite got over the sacking of Mancini and thus held a grudge against Pellegrini ever since. John Cross held similar views, and of course the utterly pointless Adrian Durham over at Talksport, but it is always this way. There is a breed of journalists who are simply incapable of analysis and cater for the brain-dead and that’s just the way it is. But these jibes that have followed Pellegrini around all season have helped show in a way why he was appointed in the first place. He has not reacted, apart from one ill-advised attack on a Swedish referee and had given journalists nothing to feed on, to their obvious frustration. Whilst Mourinho has spent the whole season making a fool of himself as expected, Brendan Rogers has strutted about like the messiah (with new woman in tow) and Arsene Wenger has reverted to type and whinged his way through none months, the holistic Pellegrini has just done his job and eventually the football did all the talking. I’m not only happy for myself and all the other fans today and of course the players, but really happy for the Chilean too. He has deserved these trophies and his European drought is over.
And as the players celebrated on the pitch there was so much to smile about. The English youth players bringing out the trophy, the Toure dance performed by the squad but above all the Pellegrini bumps that will probably result in a summer hip operation, but which showed what high esteem he is held in by his players. I hope he is at the club for a long time.
This is a blog that is big on the media’s narratives and you can bet your bottom dollar (whatever that is) that the narrative for City this season will generally be that they should have own the league earlier, you know because the team cost a billion and all that. Never mind breaking the goal-scoring records for the top flight in all competitions, or having a goal difference greater than United have scored all season, nor securing the double or the standard of the football. It could have been better. City were of course hampered by their poor away form at the beginning of the season, and as you will also know, only City are not allowed to have a transition period with a new manager – again because of all the money and that.
So now that the title has been wrapped up and the dust is beginning to settle, it’s time to talk about Liverpool. It has to be made clear from the start that much of what I am about to say is not some tirade about their fans, who are numerous and varied like any set of supporters, but more the media-led narrative that developed over the last two months ably led by the club’s white-toothed manager.
There is no doubt though that there was a general belief among pundits, ex-players and some fans that the title was Liverpool’s destiny and somehow fitting for them to win, whilst also believing that they had the support of the nation behind them as they strode for glory. Stevie G was the focal point for the narrative, the Liverpool hero who bleeds red and deserved title glory more than every other player combined, as long as you ignore the fact he once tried to leave the club. The fans were singing about winning the league over a month ago, setting themselves up for the biggest of falls. In the end, they learned something important. Titles go to the team with the most points, the best team, they are earned on the field, and there is no divine right to a title, there is no such thing as destiny and some big flags a #ynwa hastag at the end of every sentence and bricking rival coaches doesn’t change that.
Brendan Rogers certainly believed the hype, acting like a fool for the past month with some dire mind-games that along with the crowing fans certainly proved definitively that the nation was not behind their title charge. The added myth that the team was a massive underdog in the title race, packed as it was with loan players, youth products and cheap signings helped set the tone, despite the hundreds of millions of pounds frittered away on players over recent years and once the title began to slip away the narrative of the fans suddenly changed overnight from “we’re gonna win the league” to “we’ve done brilliantly to come second” so there was nothing to be down about.
Of course they have done brilliantly and Rogers has done a great job, but some impressive tune-changing went on after they lost to Chelsea.
Still, next year is DEFINITELY Liverpool’s year.
For the record, Liverpool’s financial losses last season were virtually the same as City’s, but because they are not in Europe it seems this doesn’t matter.
But what a sad way for Alan Hansen to finish his job at Match of the Day. So, so sad.
As for City’s summer plans, that all depends on the rumbling arguments over the Financial Fair Play penalty. What many fans and those in the media don’t seem to have grasped is that City’s arguments do not rest on the fact that they consider the rules unjust (though they probably do), but that they have been stabbed in the back after regular dialogue with UEFA over the past few years and assurances being reneged on. By the end of the day we may know more.
And now to the summer and a few laughs at England, the anticipation of a new fixture list and the Sky premiere of Sky Sports Premier League Years 13/14. Drink it in everyone, drink it in.
As I was sat in a city centre pub on Sunday night thanking Sheikh Mansour for his benevolence, I got an email off a City employee asking if I’d like to watch the parade from the Cityzens bus that would follow the players’ bus along the parade route.
I naturally assumed it to be a wind-up, but it turns out it was not. And so last night I had the honour of the most wonderful, surreal night of many a year. It was even worth missing Game of Thrones for – that’s how good it was.
But first, British health and safety rules did their best to scupper everything. Despite being stood 6 feet away from the bus, there was a small metal barrier in the way, which of course could not be moved as no one had the required level of training, so instead we had to detour half a mile through 10,000 people to get to the bus, taking half an hour, to get back to where we started. Staggering.
When a child tried to high-five us as we got on the bus, I knew it was going to be a weird night. Then Natalie Pike, Danny Jackson and “Chappers” got on with various City staff and as the bus rolled into the throngs, everything went a bit mental. Seeing everything from the bus, seeing the thousands and thousands of people lining the streets, stretching to the horizon and the sea of blue before me and the flares and the NOISE was one of the most amazing experiences. How many clubs in the world would give their fans such an opportunity?
The players’ bus was much closer than I anticipated, and at one point the trophies were passed back to our bus – I was eventually told off for hogging it and told to pass it back to the front bus.
Eventually the parade ended, and as we sped through the streets into the back entrance of the Phones4U Arena, I was reminded of the Mike Bassett film where the bus goes the wrong way and ends up on a motorway, as we ducked going through low bridges and past overhanging trees. Sadly we weren’t allowed near the players (probably for the best) though the photos I got from the bus are the best I will ever take. And then I was back in the street wandering back to Piccadilly Gardens with the odd vuvuzela siren travelling in the breeze and it all felt like a strange dream and it still does. Thank you City – for everything.