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Commentators: Much Ado About Nothing

Commentators. I have a theory about them – a theory which basically states that Kenneth Wolstenholme has got a lot to answer for and it’s entirely his fault that I dislike so many of the current crop of those who comment on the beautiful game..

Wolstenholme’s “they think it’s all over” quote from the 1966 World Cup final was a spur of the moment comment that gained international fame, book deals, was sampled in hit records and even got its own TV show.

Wolstenholme had previously been established as the BBC’s authoritative voice of football and went on to cover the climax of five World Cup championships and the finals of 16 European Cups and 23 FA Cup finals besides dozens of internationals.
He was proud that he had produced a timeless piece of broadcasting and coined a phrase that has entered English folklore. But this was tinged with a hint of regret that the words had overshadowed the rest of a hugely successful and ground-breaking career (though he used the phrase for title of his memoirs, so wasn’t too upset, clearly).
Over on ITV, Hugh Johns was the “the other voice” of the 1966 World Cup final. At the same moment, to a much smaller audience, Mr Johns was concentrating more on the striker’s hat-trick as he told ITV viewers: “Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has… so that’s it. That is IT!”

I like Johns’ commentary. It does the job for me. The problem is no one remembers his words. And now every commentator does not want his Johns moment, but his Wolstenholme moment. It seems sometimes that every commentator wants fame and a legacy of a piece of beautiful prose at a key moment in a key match. And no Clive Tyldesley, anything to do with “that night in Barcelona” doesn’t count. So rather than comment on what’s happening on the pitch, commentaries have become a competition to see who can say the most dramatic, prose-soaked comment. I am still scarred by a Portsmouth match commentated on by Peter Drury a few seasons gone, where Drury felt it apt to continuously refer to Portsmouth’s financial problems by quoting Shakespeare. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times, you see!

Oh hang on, that’s Dickens.

But as Piquione volleyed in the second goal, I thought to myself that it was a far, far better thing that he did, than I have ever done; and I couldn’t help think that it was a far, far better rest that he went to than I have ever known.
Drury would have worded it so much better though.
“What can Portsmouth do in this second half? If football be the food of love, play on. To sleep, perchance, to dream, for the Pompey fans have discovered that all that glitters is not gold. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me, and Utaka’s missed an absolute sitter there! Lord, what fools these mortals be. Thoughts, Craig Burley?”
“Well, youse got to say he should’ve buried that, the lad’s gonna be disappointed not to hit the target.”

A new breed of commentators emerged a few years ago, each of whom seemed to have their own “angle”. Commentating well was deemed not to be sufficient anymore.
For Drury this meant prose and intellectual nonsense, Alan Green’s was to criticise everything, and Jonathan Pearce’s “angle” was to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY about everything, because even a throw-in early in the game had its own little frisson. Stick to Robot Wars Jonathan.

Now I have no problem with commentators doing research before a match – they should be doing, it’s their job, not that this has concerned studio pundits or many co-commentators. What I can’t stand is the need to crowbar statistics in and more than that, the need to crowbar puns and catchphrases that they have been working on, as if they have just completed a six-week tabloid headline-writing course.
Jonathan Pearce has said that 90% of his job is research, but only 2% of that will be used during a match. That’s how it should be. Less is more.

It wasn’t all this way – it’s easy to get nostalgic, but Davies, the old Motson (by which I mean the young Motson) or Wolstenholme did not attract the ire that their modern counterparts do. Maybe that is just a result of modern media whereby anyone (even me) can broadcast their views to anyone who will listen. All you had in the old days was Barry Took on Points of View.

And then there’s Alan Green. It’s very fashionable to have a go at Alan Green, so that’s what I am going to do.
Now he has his supporters of course, who argue quite simply that he is one of the few commentators to “say it as it is”. I am not sure what they mean by this, but presumably, they mean he whinges, moans and criticises everything before him. So in other words, they think football is rubbish. He certainly seems to think so – if he does enjoy the beautiful game, he certainly hides it.
At one Champions League final, for which he was being paid handsomely to watch, his first thought was to moan about how awful the commentary position was.
For an England international, within three minutes of the match kicking off he had moaned about the weather (sorry we couldn’t sort that out for you Alan), the new England kit, banners around the edge of the ground (he doesn’t like them, like most things), and two attempted tackles/passes by England players.
It’s all subjective of course, but even I know there are good commentators. Generally those that stick to describing the action, give you a rounded-picture of the match, and keep matters in perspective. I’ve no doubt it is not an easy job, but it can be done well. What I don’t need to know, because I don’t care, is what the commentator thinks about City’s wealth, banners around grounds, Mexican waves, football kits, the weather, managers, the price of tuna in supermarkets or the quality of hamburgers at Villa Park. I’ll form my own opinions, thanks. You’re there to describe the match – I’m well aware tuna is ridiculously expensive nowadays.

But despite Green, radio seems to have got it right more than television. Radio 5’s football coverage is generally excellent, and it is TV that seems to struggle. With radio commentary, you are required to stick to the script and describe what is happening, as you are the eyes. With TV, commentators seem to think that silence is evil, and must not be allowed. I couldn’t disagree more. You could turn the sound off, but then you’d lose crowd noise too.

So I would argue that the memorable moments, on and off the pitch are spontaneous moments that cannot be rehearsed and planned in advance. Going back to that glorious day, and it got me wondering how Drury would have covered that 1966 World Cup Final finale.
“And here comes Hurst, sprinting up the pitch. Could this be it? Geoff Hurst, ask not what England will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man! Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty! Goal!”

As for Alan Green?
Green: “Some people are on the pitch. Oh this is disgusting, absolute disgrace. Ban them for life, no one wants to see this, animals, what are they thinking, shame on you, shame on you! I am embarrassed to be British, this is shocking, are they looking for a fight, they might be, idiots, absolute idiots, oh dear oh dear, ruined the game for me, shocking.”
Jimmy Armfield: “Hurst has scored by the way, 4-2, hat trick for him, England have won the World Cup!”
Green: “Have they? Oh but it’s been overshadowed for me, it really has…oh, and now everyone’s doing a Mexican wave, they really should be shot. Lamentable.”

Hugh Johns had the right idea.

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Buy THese Charming Men: Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review on Kindle and in paperback here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/These-Charming-Men-Manchester-Season/dp/1499639732/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402395971&sr=8-1&keywords=howard+hockin

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Football In The Bible: Part 2

Genesis & Exodus

In the beginning there was earth and Sepp Blatter.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech, and this language was football. As people moved eastward, and westward they found a tax haven in Zurich and settled there.

But the LORD came down to see the people. “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” And thus some called it soccer and some picked up a squashed ball and called that football.
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, even to Qatar.

They said to each other, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with two towers that reach to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” And this was Wembley.
And great rivers of urine would flow down the aisles during competition.

And the LORD added, as he was a chatterbox and a bit lonely: “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

And one woman named Jordan did take this command seriously, and she did multiply and she begat many men.
And Dwight of York(e) did make an eventful journey through Jordan.

When Yorke was 25 years old, he became the father of Harvey. And after he became the father of Harvey, Yorke lived 100 years and had other sons and daughters and begat many women of glamour.

When Jordan had lived 24 years, she became the mother of Harvey. And after she became the mother of Harvey, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

But first she begat Teddy from the town of London, and Dane of Bowers, who was on another level. Then she begat Warren the gladiator, who was ace.
And the LORD did proclaim: “Awooga.”

When Jordan had lived 27 years, she became the mother of Junior Savva Andreas Andre having previously begat Gareth at the heavenly gates and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Junior Savva Andreas Andre, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 30 years, she became the mother of Princess Tiaamii Crystal Esther Andre having previously begat Alex Reid and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Princess Tiaamii Crystal Esther Andre, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 33 years, she became the mother of Jett Riviera having previously begat Leandro Penna and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Jett Riviera, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

When Jordan had lived 36 years, she became the mother of Chardonnay Dame Butternut S’quash Bianca Precious Price having previously begat Kieran Hayler and Peter of Andre. And after she became the mother of Chardonnay Dame Butternut S’quash Bianca Precious Price, Jordan lived forever and had other sons and daughters.

And after naming her 5th child, the lord did ask “Are you ******* serious?” and Jordan doth reply “yes I am.” And so it was thus.

Yet whilst Jordan populated the earth and spread the seed, a tribe with no history sought refuge and a place to stay two thousand and three years after Christ.

The LORD’S cityzens did say unto him, thou shalt build me a council house to dwell in: for I have dwelt in a mis-shaped house since the day that I brought up the blues unto this day. And I sat on uncovered seats and I was wet.
The lord spaketh: I will ordain a place for my people , and will plant them, and they shall dwell in their place, and shall be moved no more, except for European games and stadium expansions;

And a man named Bernstein did predict: He shall build me a house, and I will establish his throne for ever, and due to a market-fair sponsorship deal, it shall be named the Etihad.

Bernstein travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Beswick. The LORD appeared to Bernstein and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him and he called it the B of the Bang. But it did fall apart and speared three people, so it was destroyed by fire and cranes and rust.

Now there was a famine in the land, and the people did not see a single goal for months. So Stuart of Pearce brought forth Beanie and he did see an upturn in fortune and all did rejoice, occasionally.

And out of the wilderness came three wise men.

These wise men brought gifts. Gold, Frank’s (in cents) share of the club and more.

And the lord did apologise for the previous line. And the three wise men were Sheikh Mansour, Khaldoon al Mubarak, and a joker whose name the LORD has forgotten who was soon despatched to the shimmering deserts of the east.

There was great joy amongst the cityzens and this joy was purchased with petrodollars. But it was non-organic joy and this provoked wrath in others.

But then the red tribe came to the fore with the greatest attacking threat seen since the birth of the glorious game, which was a thousand years and nine hundred and ninety years with two more years after Christ. #ynwa
1992. I’m trying to say 1992. Why didn’t people talk normal in those days?

But the author did digress. Then the LORD said to the cityzens, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? You must believe.” And the Lord did log into Twitter and create the believe hashtag, and so it was that it was trending in Manchester, as was #fighttotheend, #mercenaryyaya and #sellgarciai’lldrivehimtotheairportmyselfifihaveto.

And a great man led the tribe to greatness, and he was named Stevie G. And the people spake on the mount, saying that glory was his destiny and fitting, in this year of all years. But with magnificent spoils in sight he did slip and the man of sheep did take the ball and place it firmly in the onion bag.

And Stevie G spake to the lord, for he was distressed and he said:
Hear me, lest otherwise they should rejoice over me: when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me. For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.
But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied and have fine voice when signing songs about me.
Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation

And the tribe walked on, and they walked on, with no hope in their hearts, and the bus that was without roof did reverse into the garage, and there was much beeping and there was also much weeping and silences of sixty seconds at the surrender #ynwa

But the messiah spoke to his people and he did say: “People, we made a great journey. This year I doth hand out no envelopes, as our warriors did capture the hearts of a nation, and of all neutrals. From Newcastle, which is by the brink of the river of Tyne, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Birmingham, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us: except for the crystal palace. And Chelsea. And the cityzens of Manchester. And I proclaim now – next year will definitely be our year.” #ynwa

And lo(l), they captured Ricky Lambert #ynwa

And there was sadness around the land, in studios from the north to the south, from the west to the east. From the Lawrenson tribe to the Hansen tribe to the Rush tribe to the Thompson tribe to the Owen tribe to the Fowler tribe to the Redknapp tribe to the Hamann tribe to the Reade tribe to the Green tribe – across the land a great sorrow spread like pestilence and consumed all those in suits of shells #ynwa.

And the chosen one brought the united tribe out of Europe with a mighty hand. And thus he was exiled to the wilderness as united aspired to be like the cityzens. In exile was where he did fight in wine bars. And he did transgresseth by wine, as was the United manager way.

And into exile followed Micah, Les’cott and the milliner and Rod’well.

And there was great mourning and anger at the Daily Mail, as Neil of Ashton asked what this meant for the country’s team. And he thought it was bad.

The Book of Figures

But then a great cloud covered the east of Manchester, a plague sent from the east. And the lord did say:
I send a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of UEFA your god, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day.

For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the UEFA your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him; then will the LORD drive out all these penalties from before you, and ye shall possess greater solvency.

And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day, for these commandments have come from above, from David of Gill, from David of Dein from Arsene of Wenger and from Karl Heinz of Rumenigge. For they doth protect their interests at your expense and it must be so for these are the rules.

For the wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, saying financial fair play is just. The sheikh did laugh at him, for he seeth that his day is coming.

The wicked G14 have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation. Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. And the red devils, led astray into the wilderness by the chosen one, shall reap what they sow. The wicked borroweth via debt and leverage and payeth not again: but the righteous showeth mercy and giveth, both in trophies and pukka pies and city square and holistic ways.

The Book of Bumps

And Brian of Marwood hastened into the tent unto Sarah the lady of the canteen, and said, make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. For it be Yaya’s birthday and thou hast forgotten amidst the celebrating of the great title. Go forth and knead, for he is needy.

And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights. Nor had he been sung to nor even had the bumps. And he was not happy as he felt unloved. And he went to his advisor and he did tell him to arrange him an escape.

Then Mansour said to Kolo, “Where is your brother Yaya?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s agent cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth and be sold to QPR.”
Kolo said to Mansour, “My punishment is more than I can bear.”
So Kolo went out from the scousers’ presence and lived in the land of London, east of Bath. And his keeper Harry, who was inflicted with cockneyness, did proclaim he was triffic.

And the agent said unto Yaya, depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of east Manchester, unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people with great facial hair: lest I consume thee in the way.

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments nor on the back of his shirt.

And the people did slate Yaya on Twitter. But then Yaya did backtrack quicker than a Liverpool parade bus and did say he was mistaken as his advisor did find no suitor in the land of Catalans, and the people did worship Yaya once more and they did proclaim: “when you are of thirty and two years, we will not forget. And there will be cakes and balloons and streamers and a party with fish and bread. And so it came to pass, that there was a party with cakes and balloons and streamers and Yaya was happy for another year as he had six hundred extra shekels of gold by weight.”

And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And the people did shake their hands low and high and did sing him his song.

The Book of Cups

And every four years we shall celebrate this holy kicking of the pig’s bladder with a competition. And the lord did command that only certain words would be spaken from competition beginning to competition end, and these words were the best a man can get, always coca-cola and impossible is nothing. Just do it spoke the LORD.

And Wayne Rooney did place the ball into orbit from twelve cubits, and the ball did travel through the heavens for 40 days and 40 nights before landing in Argentina. And Wayne was distraught and appealed for leniency. And he was taken to one side and he was reassured and he was introduced to an ad man from Domino’s and everything was peaceful.

And Jesus did feed the five thousand. And he did walk on water. And he did perform many miracles. And great plagues were brought down on the people. And the earth was flooded. And Adam did speak to a snake. And Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley did lead England to glory in the competition of each four years.
And the LORD did take the author of the bible to one side and he did say “you can’t put in that bit about Jones, Smalling & Cleverley, for the people with think the book too far-fetched.” And thus the author did replace their story of glory with a tale about the sea parting in two.

Book of Epilogues

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.

He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed. He is Vincent Kompany.

Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore said the lord, and he did so.

The lord spake: the righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever, or at least until the tenancy expires.

And the rest, as the LORD did say, was history…..

You can buy the author’s Manchester City 2013/14 Season Review book in kindle and paperback format here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/These-Charming-Men-Manchester-Season-ebook/dp/B00KH8H22Y/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1401999567&sr=8-1

Journalist Q and A: Oliver Kay, Mark Ogden, Jonathan Northcroft, Simon Mullock, Nick Miller and Gary James

After an exciting Premiership season, I asked a few football journalists their views on the season just gone, from City, to Suarez to Financial Fair Play and more. This is what Mark Ogden (Daily Telegraph), Oliver Kay (The Times), Simon Mullock (The Mirror), Jonathan Northcroft (The Sunday Times), Nick Miller (football365,com, The Guardian, ESPN and more) and Gary James (Manchester City historian) had to say:

Your brief views of the Premiership season just gone?

Mark Ogden (MO): It had everything really, with the exception of a final day surprise or bit of drama that had people on the edge of their seats.
Obviously, the title hadn’t been resolved in City’s favour, but it felt
like a formality and Norwich were down bar the counting, so nothing
really happened on the final day which created a memory like Aguero’s
goal did a couple of years ago.
But the season had loads of stories, with the best one arguably being
the meltdown at Manchester United. It lasted all season and, when you
are so used to watching a club win and bounce back, it was an
interesting new angle to cover.

Oliver Kay (OK): Dramatic, unpredictable and entertaining, with a lot of very good football – much of it from City. It makes such a difference when you have a proper title race. Ultimately, the best team won. They weren’t quite flawless, but they were the best all-round team.

Jonathan Northcroft (JN): A 9/10 season in terms of the competitiveness and unpredictability of the competition. But only a 7/10 in terms of quality. Liverpool and Manchester City played some exceptional attacking football at different points of the campaign, but showed sizeable faults – Liverpool defensively, City in their early away form. They were a worthy 1st and 2nd but there was no dominating, truly outstanding side: from 2004-09 English clubs were the best in Europe, dominating the Champions League and to become champions of England required world class standards. You couldn’t say that’s the case at the moment. Good as Liverpool and City were, Arsenal’s 2003-4 side, Chelsea’s 2004-6 team and Manchester United from 2007-9 would have won last season’s Premier League easily. Great entertainment, twists, turns – and lots of goals in the 2013-14 competition though.

Simon Mullock (SM): It’s been the best Premier League season ever – despite lacking the final-day drama of 1995 and 2012. At various times, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal all looked unstoppable and to have four teams in the running for so long made it unique in the Sky era. There was a nice contrast between City and Liverpool going on the attack and Chelsea beating them both home and away with disciplined (dour) defence and counter-attack.
In the end, City are champions because they had the best balance of any team in the league. Despite what Richard Scudamore thinks, it was also refreshing to see a title race that didn’t involve United.

Nick Miller (NM): I think it’s the funniest season I can remember. Liverpool losing it so spectacularly, United not so much imploding but slowly collapsing like a poorly-constructed meringue, Mourinho is always pretty funny, mostly down to how cross he makes people, Kostas Mitroglou, Tim Sherwood. I could go on.

Gary James (GJ): Amazing of course. Thinking about everything except City for a moment it has to be good when so many teams are able to challenge for honours, top four places and also to avoid relegation. When I was a kid in the late 70s Liverpool were fairly dominant, but it still felt like any of about six teams could win the League (teams like Forest & Villa did and City came close) and that’s what we now have again to some extent. This year’s top 4 all took points off each other and, when you add in rivalries with London clubs, Everton and United, it’s easily possible that teams normally associated to be outside of the top four could sneak into it in future years if results go their way. I said in my Big Book Of City in 2009 that the takeover would open up the so called Big Four and that instead of making it five teams challenging it could easily become six or seven. That’s how it feels we’re now heading.
Thinking about City specifically… What can be better than winning the Premier League again? Twice in three years and when you add into that our other two finishes since 2011 then it’s clear we’re the most consistent team of recent years. This is our era now!

Did you agree with Suarez winning two player of the year awards,
considering his past indiscretions?

MO: I voted for Yaya Toure in the Football Writers’ award, but I can’t
argue with Suarez winning either of them.
He has had a brilliant season and I think his past indiscretions are a
reason why he actually won both awards.
You cannot fault the guy for turning his career around after the Evra
and Ivanovic incidents. He could easily have gone off the rails, sulked
after not being allowed to leave Liverpool and just played for a move,
but he did the opposite.
If a guy makes a mistake and redeems himself on the pitch as Suarez has
done, then he deserves recognition.

OK: I voted for him for the FWA award – and that was after asking myself if it was “right” to do so. I wouldn’t have voted for him in 2011/12, no matter how he performed, because that award is meant to be about “precept and example”, not just performance. But because his behaviour has been much improved (if still a long way short of angelic), I was happy to recognise his performances, which were incredibly good for the most part. I know some like to follow the Mourinho argument that these awards should go to a player in a team that wins something, but that’s not the idea at all. It’s an individual award. With due respect to Toure and some other very good contenders, I thought Suarez was the best individual.

JN: Yes. He’s a truly special player. A colleague put is best: other top players are capable of one or two jaw-dropping moments per season. Suarez gives you one or two every game. His 31 goals – a joint PL record for a 38 game campaign – were amassed despite his ban and the fact he doesn’t take penalties or, indeed, all Liverpool’s free kicks. Amazing.
I’m not a fan of bringing ‘indiscretions’ into PoTY awards. In an ideal world, maybe a player’s character and standards of behaviour could be considered but in the real world players are human beings and flawed – and you could go through a list of the previous PoTY winners making moral cases against them, on the basis of things they’ve done.
That said, in very serious cases of misbehaviour – like racial abuse – it would be invidious to reward somebody, no matter how well they played. I wouldn’t have given Suarez player of the year in 2011-12 but this was 2013-14 and, not only did he play brilliantly, he behaved – and showed improvements in terms of calmness etc, which should also be recognised.

SM: I think everyone deserves a second and even a third chance. Suarez had a fantastic season and has obviously redeemed himself in the eyes of a lot of his peers and members of the Football Writers’ Association. But I didn’t vote for him because when the going got tough, he reverted to type. When Suarez found himself shackled by both City and Chelsea, his only answer was to start diving in an effort to win penalties and free-kicks and to get opposition players into trouble.
The citation for the FWA award says “by precept and by example” and while I suppose diving is better than biting or racially abusing people, it’s still cheating.
The bottom line was that Suarez scored 31 goals – none of them from the penalty spot – after being banned for the first six games of the season, so I can see why he won both awards. But I think there were more deserving players out there.

NM: There’s an argument to be made that he shouldn’t have even won it based on purely his play given that he disappeared/didn’t score in so many big games. Still, he probably deserved it, and that sort of thing should only be judged on play, rather than a moral aspect. Plenty of bad people have won it before, and as a man with a shelf full of Morrissey records I can’t really say someone with iffy views on race shouldn’t be recognised for their art/sport. Just don’t use the ‘redemption’ word.

GJ: Ignoring his past indiscretions, I still didn’t think he deserved the FWA award this year. The PFA award is different because it’s voted by the player’s peers so I tend to think that they’re aware of contributions that I personally am not aware of because I don’t play professionally, and although I still disagree with his selection I can’t really debate that one. The FWA award is supposed to be about someone’s all round contribution and that includes respect, demeanour and many other attributes as well as playing. Past winners like Joe Mercer, Johnny Carey, Stanley Matthews, Tony Book, Bert Trautmann… I could go on, but they won the awards not because they scored a lot of goals or had not been as lacking in discipline as the previous year, they won the award because they were great footballers and superb role-models or ambassadors. We all know that Yaya should have got this, but to be frank Vincent Kompany would also have been in the top three if you were thinking about being a role-model.

Your manager of the year?

MO: Tough one to call. Pellegrini won two trophies in his first season in
English football and did what Mourinho did in his first spell at
Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers took Liverpool from seventh to second and Tony
Pulis did fantastically well at Crystal Palace.
All success stories in their own right, but dealing with different
demands and pressures. Steve Bruce has also had a great season at Hull.
But the guy who wins the league is the guy who wins the league, so you
would have to give it to Pellegrini.

OK: Apologies, but I agree with the LMA — a toss-up between Rodgers and Pulis. When you’re trying to evaluate a manager’s performance, it has to be relative to expectations and resources. Those two far exceeded expectations, doing things that few (if any) thought were possible with those teams. Pellegrini? He did roughly what was expected and demanded with that squad. It’s impressive that he did it in his first season, after a sticky start, with his team playing some very exciting stuff at times, but you would struggle to convince me that it is a better managerial performance than what Rodgers or Pulis did – or, for example, what Pellegrini did with Villarreal when people were sneering that he couldn’t be a top-class manager because he hadn’t got the trophies (in Europe) to show for it.

JN: Brendan Rodgers. Pulis and Pellegrini did great jobs but what Rodgers managed – taking a side from seventh to within a game of being champions – was more special. He improved players, played great football, developed talent, showed tactical innovation and handled the weight of expectation and history that’s upon Liverpool.

SM: I’m torn with this one. If it was going to a manager at the top end of the table, then no doubt Pellegrini should have won it. Title, Capital One Cup, brilliant attacking football, the way he healed the squad after Mancini. And the fact that he exudes sheer class. I don’t think there is another manager in the game who would have waited to shake hands with Liverpool’s players after the disappointment of the defeat at Anfield. He’s proved nice guys can be winners.
The only other candidate for me was Pulis at Crystal Palace. Taking what was nothing better than a Championship squad to mid-table was an incredible achievement, whether you like his style of football or not.
I was surprised by the League Managers Association. Apparently, Pellegrini wasn’t even in the top-four and there were gasps of disbelief at the annual dinner when the nominations were read out and his name was missing. There has only been one foreign winner in 21 years – Arsene Wenger – so something isn’t right.

NM: Tony Pulis: magician

GJ: Manuel Pellegrini of course. Two trophies in his first season, meaning that he is by far the most successful manager in his first season that either Manchester side have had. All those issues that people said Moyes had – a new club, players used to certain ways, philosophy different etc. – Pellegrini also had. Moyes, apparently, didn’t have enough time to buy the right players, well he was appointed before Pellegrini! So, all of this adds up to a great achievement. My gut feel is that all the player & manager awards were voted for before the real end to the season was clear and that at the time people were formulating their ideas of who to vote for Liverpool looked like they’d walk away with the title.

I’ve seen it mentioned many a time that City should have won this
league more convincingly? Do you agree?

MO: Yes, but they probably would have done had Aguero and Kompany not
missed so many games due to injury.
It makes me laugh when I hear Arsenal fans talking about injuries
costing them the title, as though they are the only team to suffer
injuries.
It’s how you deal with those setbacks and Arsenal fell short again.

OK: I would go further and say that they should have won the past three league titles. This squad is by far the strongest in the Premier League and one of the best in world football – and I wouldn’t say that of the teams they were competing with this season or the Manchester United team who beat them to the title in 2013 and 2011 and ran them so close in 2012. City’s is a squad that, in my opinion, should be getting 90+ points every season. This season, with a new manager and with Kompany, Silva and Aguero all missing at important times, it was more difficult to get to that level and it was noticeable how much better their record was from mid-November onwards. With Pellegrini now having got used to his players and to English football, they should be perfectly capable of winning “convincingly” next season, but it’s rarely quite so easy in reality unless you’re one of those teams that is more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think City, for all their quality, have reached that point yet.

JN: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that City are the best side in the country by a bit of a margin. In the last five games of the season we saw that – the squad is bursting with top players and Pellegrini is a very fine manager, so when you look at it that way the title should have come straightforwardly. However this was Pellegrini’s first season and new players were bedding in. It was going to take time, so the poor start was understandable. After the first 11 games City were seventh but what came after was a sustained run of champion form. City gained eight points on Liverpool, nine on Chelsea, 11 on Arsenal and 21 on United (or thereabouts – this off the top of my head, check the stats!) That’s “convincing”.

SM: No. Other managers were given transitional or settling-in periods, so why not Pellegrini? Early-season problems away from home were due to the fact that the team were asked to play a completely different way than under Mancini. High line, both full-backs bombing on, Fernandinho having to cover defensively on his own to enable Toure to get forward. Four defeats in the opening six away games suggest that there were definitely teething problems.
Add to that prolonged absences of Kompany, Silva and, especially Aguero. Only Arsenal had injury problems to the same extent as City – and look what happened to them.

NM: Probably. But I wouldn’t waste a huge amount of time arguing the case.

GJ: Not when you consider what happened at the other clubs that expected to challenge AND changed their managers. Liverpool and Arsenal were the two ‘steady’ clubs who, we were told at one point, right at the start of the season would gain most from the issues that City and Chelsea would face. We were also told that Moyes’ knowledge of the Premier League would give him an advantage, so overall no. Obviously, the squad City have is what most focus on, but that old argument about how much has been spent is a false one because, as we all should know, City were still playing catch up and so how much City paid for players who don’t appear often shouldn’t really focus minds. Instead the media should focus on starting elevens and, if the maths we heard were correct MUFC’s team for the Old Trafford derby that lost to City was more expensive than City’s.
This season is comparable with 2011-12 – then Tevez’s situation and the African Cup of Nations limited our 1st team during January disrupting our momentum, this time injuries impacted our great run. But we came back strong again when almost everyone was available for selection.

If you have had dealings with Pellegrini, what are your views on him?

MO: Nice guy, decent man, but from a media point of view, massively dull.
The Manchester journalists had dinner with Pellegrini and Txiki
Begiristain at Christmas and it was great. Txiki is a character, full of
stories, but Manuel is much more reserved. He is shy, basically, but he
really is a likeable man.
His job was to win trophies for Manchester City, not cultivate the
media, so I am not complaining about his approach.
But we do miss Mancini’s quotability at times!

OK: The only dealings I’ve had with him so far have been official press conferences, which are invariably very low-key, lacking much by way of insight. But there’s a tendency among journalists to describe Mourinho’s press conferences as “box office”. Personally I much prefer managers to produce “box office” football than “box office” press conferences.

JN: Huge admiration. His calmness and maturity won City that title. He set the right tone in the run-in, when the heat was on, and he showed great consistency, reassuring the players after the difficult start to keep playing in the same way. In press dealings he’s a gent – and not afraid to say what he thinks. I warmed to him when he was asked why he didn’t shake Mourinho’s hand at Stamford Bridge. “Because I didn’t want to,” he said. More honesty like that from managers please….

SM: Mancini at City was a hack’s dream and a press officer’s nightmare because he had an opinion on everything. Pellegrini is very cautious in front of the TV cameras and the dailies don’t get much out of him because of that. The Sunday pack are able to speak to him privately in a separate room, away from the cameras, and he does relax a bit more. He’s still pretty straight with his answers and won’t be led into issues he doesn’t want to address. But we do get to see his sense of humour a bit more and he is quite a dry bloke. He hinted that he had a bit of a temper in his younger days and I’d bet it’s spectacular when he does lose his rag. But he is a genuinely nice fella with no obvious agendas other than to play great football.

NM: Never had any dealings, but he seems like a man who would be smashing company over a nice glass of red.

GJ: Not really enough to form a strong opinion. But he does feel like a guy who will let his players do the talking. A bit like Tony Book as manager – he’s got the knowledge and experience and when allowed to focus on football matters he quietly delivers success.

And if you have had time at the club, has there been a different
atmosphere to last season?

MO: Absolutely. It was joy-less last season, everybody had a face on them,
from players to staff and you could tell that it was an unhappy place
and split dressing-room.
It’s a much happier place now, Pellegrini has brought calm, but the
only danger is that the club is lacking in characters.
Aguero, Yaya and Silva are all great players, genuine world stars, but
they lack the box office status of Tevez or Balotelli or, Suarez or
Rooney.

OK: Totally different. It was a volatile atmosphere with Mancini in charge, in dispute with everyone, and with players like Balotelli, Tevez and Adebayor. I know a lot of City fans at the time tended to react to reports of tension by suggesting that either (a) this was normal or (b) it was healthy tension, but no it wasn’t normal and, according to pretty much everyone at the club, it wasn’t healthy. Although there is a challenge to try to keep the English players involved and happy, it actually feels like a stable club now.
One other thing I’d mention regarding City is that pretty much everyone I know there, across various departments, loves working for the club. They’re quite evangelical about it. Far more so than other clubs, in my experience.

JN: Yes. More assurance. More the sense of a grown up and harmonised football club.

SM: Definitely. I really liked Mancini. I know the fans will never forget what he did and I hope the club don’t try to airbrush him out because he was exactly what City needed at that time – an absolutely ruthless winner. But the atmosphere towards the end of last season was poisonous. You don’t have to be loved to be a successful manager, but you do need to have the trust and respect of the players – and that had gone completely.
I went on the pre-season tour to Hong Kong and the change was unbelievable. The players actually wanted to stop and talk about the new season without being pressed into it by the media team. It’s also noticeable that the players praise Pellegrini without being prompted by a question. The common words you hear are “calm” and “respect. The way he handled Hart earlier in the season was a master class in management. Mancini would have stuck the boot in by criticising the player in public; Pellegrini just took him out of the firing line without making a drama of it.

GJ: There’s definitely a more positive feel. I also sense that ambitions have rocketed in recent months and that the club really is now becoming established as a power. Before this season we all hoped it would happen and the management were putting the right people and resources in place, but now the success on the field is matched by the success off it. Best thing is that few in the game have yet realised that this is still only the start!

City’s Financial Fair Play penalty – fair? A good deterrent?

MO: It’s difficult to say really until we know what Uefa have done to the
other clubs.
A £50m fine seems very harsh, but until it is placed in context
alongside the other penalties, you can’t really judge it.

OK: It’s certainly a strong deterrent. But as for whether it is fair, I don’t think FFP is geared towards fairness or towards creating the level playing field that Platini and Uefa were talking about when they first raised the concept of “financial fair play” (lower case) in 2008. I dug out an old Platini quote the other day where he said that he wanted FFP to stop those who want to “come into football to make money”. Instead, the establishment clubs persuaded Uefa to turn it into something that would stop another Chelsea emerging. It’s actually a rule that encourages and allows investors to come into football to make money. I don’t like FFP at all. It was meant to be about eradicating financial excesses and inequalities, but instead it has ignored most of them and focused on the one thing that Bayern, Real Madrid, Milan, Manchester United, Arsenal etc were all terrified of, which was big-spending outsiders threatening the elite. I don’t particularly sympathise with City over the punishment because they have broken rules. Where I sympathise with them is over this portrayal of them as the bad guys and the establishment clubs as the good. I don’t think the case at all.

JN: No. I don’t think the FFP rules are being used the way they should be. For me, they were set up to stop clubs over extending themselves and going to the wall – not to curb benefactors and investors. City have owners who want to build for the long term, care about leaving something positive in East Manchester as an area and have kept ticket prices down. What’s wrong with that? Other clubs who pass FFP have £1000 per year season tickets, or owe £500m thanks to leveraged buyouts. I’m not sure what ‘wrong’ FFP – as it’s now being used – is trying to right.

SM: I’ve got no problem with FFP being brought in if it’s to prevent clubs going out of business. That’s not the case with the regulations as they stand now. Even Platini admitted they have been designed at the behest of powerful clubs like Bayern, Milan and United to protect their position at the top of the game. I’m still yet to hear how attempting to fine a club £50million for allegedly overspending is the best way to promote financial prudence. We don’t even know how these decisions are made and we should all be suspicious when there’s no transparency. I’ve got to say, some of my colleagues in the press have written some absolute shite about FFP without challenging its legality or morality. Thankfully, Martin Samuel has produced some great arguments against it – and a few more influential columnists are finally starting to follow his lead.

NM: I’m going to plead the fifth on this one because I don’t know enough about it and every time I try to read up on it my head starts to shut down. I think it’s the same part of my brain that won’t allow me to understand how to play poker.

GJ: If you want something to stop wealthy businessmen investing in potential then yes it’s a good deterrent! The real issue is debt and football clubs living beyond their means like Portsmouth, Bradford, Leeds etc. That’s what should be tackled. I find it ridiculous that within about 4 miles you have two leading Premier League clubs – one owned by a businessman who has taken millions out of the club to fund his family’s life and other interests leaving the club in serious debt, while the other is funded by a businessman who is pumping billions into the club and surrounding area/community which in turn will help the game develop, yet it is the investor who is punished. Ridiculous. Clearly there needs to be safeguards against owners taking money out or putting clubs in serious debt, but investment should not be punished.

What one thing would you change about the modern game?

MO: Not a problem that City have to worry about – or United for that
matter! – but playing the Europa League games on a Thursday night is a
total waste of time.
Get it back to Tuesdays and Wednesdays and people might be interested
in it again.
It just feels like a pointless competition. When City and United played
in it two years ago, I was at Ajax v United and what should have been a
game between two of Europe’s most successful and historic clubs felt
like a testimonial because it was shunted onto a Thursday night.

OK: The way that so much is being dictated by ownership. I’m not really referring to City here. I’m referring mostly to the way that clubs have been hawked around to the highest bidder and, in a number of cases, ended up in totally unsuitable hands. City got lucky – and you might well argue that they deserved that break after the previous four decades – but other fans have seen their club being trampled all over, causing the kind of damage that they might never recover from. Leeds, Blackburn, Coventry, Birmingham and Portsmouth, to name but five, have suffered terribly. And with the culture in football right now, where so many clubs seem so desperate to keep the status quo, it might become very hard for those other clubs to recover.

JN: The same thing they all say – diving. I still haven’t heard a convincing proposal as to how to do that though.

SM: Drums – in fact, musical instruments of any kind – should be banned from football grounds. I’d also make it a flogging offence if players wear boots that aren’t black. My kids say I’m miserable. I say I’m a traditionalist.

NM: I’d like to introduce some sort of revenue-sharing provisions in a similar way to American sports, but I imagine it would be completely unworkable. Also, get rid of goal music.

GJ: The dominance of the Premier League in terms of money, attention and the media. Of course, City will benefit from all of this but we must never forget where we’ve been and how difficult it would have been to come back had the gulf been as wide as it is today. I’d also change seeding in Europe – aimed at protecting the big clubs. I get why they do it, but it feels that it should be based more on current merit not your history – the Champions of the main leagues should be number one seeds and head groups if seeding is to be used, not in pot 3 or 4.

What’s been the best/most enjoyable single moment in your job this
season?

MO: Watching Cristiano Ronaldo score a hat-trick for Portugal against
Sweden in the World Cup play-off in Stockholm last November.
It was one of those nights when you felt like you had witnessed a great
at the very top of his game.

OK: As enjoyable as it has been, I would like to think the best moment is still to come. A World Cup in Brazil, whatever the talk about travel and logistical chaos, is something to relish. It has been looming on the horizon all season, but now it finally feels real.

JN: The raw excitement of football never leaves you. For me going to the Vicente Calderon to watch Atletico Madrid v Chelsea. One of the great atmospheres in the world game…and about to be demolished so being there was a privilege.

SM: I did a one-on-one interview with Wayne Rooney and as part of the piece we had to pose for pictures together in front of a huge poster of him celebrating scoring the overhead kick in the derby a few years ago. With a big grin on his face, he nudged me, asked me if I liked the picture and said they’d dug it out especially for me. I told him he shinned it.

NM: I was in the press box for Spurs v City and was about ten feet from Sergio Aguero’s thighs. If it wasn’t a night game and the sun was out, they would have blocked it out.

GJ: Being able to watch and note another season of success for future use in my next (or next after that) book.

And the worst/least enjoyable moment?

MO: Watching United lose to Olympiakos in Athens, knowing that the next day
would be a nightmare in terms of finding out how long the Glazers would
put up with David Moyes. Not much longer, as it turned out.

OK: Being stuck in the car park at Crewe station for an hour at 3am after getting a lift back from an England match at Wembley. The exit barrier wasn’t working and, despite the best efforts of British Transport Police, I couldn’t get hold of anyone to sort it out. It wasn’t great fun.

JN: Too many hours on the motorway.

SM: Seeing close up how the racial abuse Yaya Toure was subjected to in Moscow really hurt him. I was stood a couple of feet away from him in the mixed zone when he spoke about it and to see this giant man close to tears really hit home.

NM: It’s not football but sitting in a freezing living room in England covering the fourth Ashes Test was fairly grim. Particularly when I started to hallucinate due to lack of sleep on day four.

GJ: Seeing how everyone jumps to conclusions when the occasional result goes against us – the Sunderland game is a good example. The mood that followed suggested City were a crisis club once more but in truth everything carried on as before and it turned out to be a point won rather than two lost. I hope we can all exhibit a more stable approach next season.

Any good news item in football that didn’t get the coverage it deserved
during the course of the season?

MO: Not that I can think of. Football gets so much good press, but people
in the game are quick to moan when it goes negative.
The best stories are those which just happen and not those that are
spoon-fed by PRs wanting to tell you how great the latest community
initiative or charity event is.
Just do the good stuff and don’t chase the plaudits. Otherwise, people
will think you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

OK: I did like the story of Markus Rosenberg, who left the entire contents of his house to charity when he was released by West Brom. But players do a lot of good work with charitable foundations etc. I think some of them could and probably should promote them more in cases where they want to raise awareness as well as money.

JN: Tens of thousands of selfless acts at grassroots level, never to make the papers.

SM: The Premier League gets a lot of criticism – plenty warranted – but the Christmas Truce Tournament, which sees Academy teams play against clubs from Germany, Belgium and France in Ypres, is a brilliant initiative. It’s something I think deserves a lot more coverage.

NM: I think the amount of coverage football gets over the media it’s almost impossible for anything to be under-reported. That said, even though it has been well covered, I don’t think it’s been truly appreciated in England how incredible Atletico’s season has been.

GJ: Perhaps instead of the focus on Greg Dyke becoming the new FA boss more time should have been spent on the achievements of David Bernstein’s brief period in charge – and that may have helped raise the ridiculous age discrimination policy of the FA (in direct contrast to its own history as well when age was viewed as a positive – both views out of place of course!).

Finally – your tip for the World Cup, and if you like, an outsider tip?

MO: I can’t see anybody stopping Brazil in Brazil. And in terms of an
outsider, I think England might do better than expected. They will get
through the group and then face a decent run to the quarters, so who
knows?

OK: I’m split between Brazil, Argentina and Spain. I’ll say Brazil, even though I’m well aware it’s nothing like the most talented of Brazil teams. Not very original, I know. I didn’t want to say Belgium or Colombia as outsiders, because it’s too obvious, but the fact is that the draw gives those two a decent chance of getting to the quarter-finals. The same applies to whoever wins Group E – France, Honduras, Switzerland or Ecuador. If France get their act together, they could do quite well. As for England, I can’t help going back to my gut feeling when the draw was made, which was that they’ll find it tough to get out of the group.

JN: Brazil to win. Chile to shock their group opponents and go on a run.

SM: Belgium to win it, Chile as dark horses.

NM: Tedium alert: Brazil. I think Italy will do better than most expect.

GJ: England and England!

And a final question for (Nottingham Forest-supporting) Nick Miller:
Are you happy with Stuart Pearce as the next Forest manager?
A rather thorough answer can be found here:
http://www.football365.com/faves/9246022/Stuart-Pearce-And-The-Fear-Of-Clay-Feet-And-Thighs-

Thanks to all who took part and made the blog……

Gary James’ excellent work can be found at http://www.manchesterfootball.org and his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GaryJames4
Also check his biography of Joe Mercer: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joe-Mercer-OBE-Authorised-Successful/dp/0955812747/ref=zg_bs_1040524_25

Manchester City Player Ratings for the 2013/14 Season

After securing a double in the 2013/14 season, I thought it a good time to look back at the squad that made it happen. I haven’t listed the likes of Lopes, Huws or Boyata as they haven’t really featured enough to merit appraisal, though the future looks bright on that front.

Defence
Joe Hart – 8. There was a point in this season where such a mark seemed the stuff of dreams, but credit to England’s Number 1 for getting back on track. You could say “he could have done better there” numerous times since his return from exile, as you could with any keeper, but he has barely put a foot wrong for me in recent months and has his mojo back. Looking at the season as a whole he has done well and I haven’t docked him more points as during his shaky spell not all the mistakes were solely his fault, accompanied as they were by mistakes from those in front of him.

Costel Pantilimon – 6. Our Cup keeper won himself a cup medal, performed fine without excelling and proved able back-up, though I still wouldn’t be too confident in him having a long stint in the first-team.

Richard Wright – 10. Stunning performance against Al Ain.

Gael Clichy – 7. A player I find hard to judge. In match reports throughout the season you can see me mulling over how good a player he is. He’s certainly not made glaring errors and is a consistent performer, but for me is not quite top quality, and underwhelming form early in the season saw him share the left-back berth for the remaining matches in the season. Better defensively than Kolarov but inferior up the field, he has done ok/fine this season, without excelling, but has improved as the season wore on. Just don’t ever let him play at right-back again.

Aleksander Kolarov – 7.5. One of the surprise stories of the season was Kolarov’s “phoenix from the flames” revival after a public spat with fans in the last home game of the previous season against Norwich. I couldn’t see any chance of him staying at the club last summer, but he has dug in, and to quote the man himself, has improved his performances due to increased playing time. Thus the unthinkable has happened and now many consider him our first-choice left-back.

Micah Richards – 4. Most marks lost not due to ineptitude but for being made of glass. Such a crying shame, but his time is probably up at City. A fresh challenge is probably best for both sides.

Pablo Zabaleta – 9. He is the fornicating man. What more can you say? A cult hero, a consistent performer, a warrior – EVERYTHING you want in a player. Superb temperament means such an aggressive player rarely gets into trouble with officials (except after hospital passes from Gareth Barry). Only started 18 league games for City in our previous title-winning campaign, so his rise is more recent than you may think, but since Richard’s decline he has stepped in and taken over that berth. Another inspirational Mark Hughes signing.

Vincent Kompany – 7.5. The truth is this has not been Kompany’s finest season, but his value to the club is immeasurable, as always. Known as the “glassman” at Hamburg, our captain has had his injury worries once more and has made mistakes too. Michael Cox over at Zonal Marking argues that he always has a mistake in him, and what at first sounds like a ludicrous statement does have an element of truth in it. He has also put in his usual quota of excellent performances, grown in stature alongside Martin Demichelis and his mere presence on the pitch clearly has a positive influence on the team. Despite his troubles, his absence has seen some of our worse defensive performances over the past nine months and a settled partnership in central defence should see him regain total consistency.
Another inspirational Mark Hughes signing.

Martin Demichelis – 8. I was tempted to give him 10 as a two-fingered salute to no one in particular. Costing just a few million pounds and as one of City’s lowest earners, you could now feasibly argue he was the signing of last summer. Signed as backup and for his obvious experience, Demichelis immediately got injured then on recovering from that was thrown straight into a game at Stamford Bridge. Injuries have meant he has featured far more than may have been expected. Shaky form to begin with saw him labelled a liability by many if not most football fans, but he has grown and grown with each passing month, was a vital cog in the title run-in and even won player of the month for April. He may lack pace, but his experience and anticipation shines through.

Matija Nastasic – 4. A season wrecked by injury that then contributed to some shaky form meant this was one to forget for the Serbian after such a great campaign the season before. With pain in his knee that seemed to mystify the medical team, he is at last fit as the season ends, and hopefully can start afresh in August and develop further.

Joleon Lescott – 5. Once more, he’s top of the league. As expected has had few opportunities this season but has done ok when called upon. His time is up at the club, and he will be remembered as a top-class professional who helped contribute to a trophy-laden few years and he has been worth every penny of his transfer fee.

Midfield

Yaya Toure – 9. I would only give a 10 out for a perfect player having a perfect season, and Yaya is not perfect, but perhaps I should have relaxed the rules on this occasion. My Player of the Year for one of the most complete midfielders in world football. Struggled occasionally against high-tempo teams that packed the midfield, but his season in general was phenomenal, both in goals scored, assists, the free-kicks and his general bossing of many a midfield. Surely the best season of his career? Twenty league goals and 9 assists to boot.

David Silva – 8. Only marked down as he was another player that had his injury woes. When he was fit he was simply on another level to most other players that shared a pitch with him. If only he could shoot. One of the best players to ever wear the shirt, just a joy to watch and a privilege. I LOVE YOU DAVID.

Samir Nasri – 8. An improved season for the Frenchman, though not enough to get him in the French World Cup squad, though I doubt that decision was made on ability alone. Evidence of what an excellent man-manger Pellegrini is, he nurtured Nasri perfectly and the player responded, filling the void in Silva’s absence and showing more consistency across the season. He still has his quieter days, but his ability has been there for all to see over the past nine months and his contribution was significant – the stats back this up.

James Milner – 7. Another season where Milner did what you’d expect of him. With a year left on his contract he may want to leave if he can’t be guaranteed more playing time. He had his bad days, he had his good days (Bayern Munich away being the best of the lot), but he always gave a disciplined, hard-working performance in a position still not considered to be his best. An excellent squad member to have in any team, he will be 7 or 8 out of 10 every season.

Fernandinho – 8.5. Oh how people laughed as City shelled out £30m for a player who couldn’t even get in the Brazil squad in an era when Jo could. In the early weeks of the season, this laughter did not subside as he struggled to develop an effective partnership with Yaya Toure, but thereafter the player has grown week-by-week to become one of City’s most effective performers. The end result was a call-up to Brazil’s World Cup squad, the only surprise being Pellegrini’s favouring of Garcia in the season’s closing weeks, but perhaps the long English season had taken its toll on the Brazilian. Either way, whilst Fernandinho is not a natural defensive midfielder, perhaps at last we can move on from Nigel De Jong.

Javi Garcia – 7. Another player who proved that sometimes it is best to give people a chance to develop. A basic player who does what he does effectively, Garcia has grown in stature throughout the season, one small step at a time, to become a useful squad member. As already mentioned, he was entrusted to protect the back four as City won their final five league games to secure the league. Will never dazzle or win awards or even have a song named after him, but at last he has proven he has a role in the squad.

Jesus Navas – 6.5. For me the second biggest disappointment of the season, after Jovetic’s disappearance act. Navas has not been a failure, but I feel we haven’t seen the best of him yet, as he hasn’t used his electric pace to destroy opposing full-backs enough, and thus hasn’t been a regular starter. He is great squad player to have though and I am hopeful of seeing much more of what he is about next season.

Stevan Jovetic – 5. A midfielder? Never mind, he’s staying here. This was the signing that excited me most of all last summer, but it has been a frustrating year for the young man who struggles to keep his clothes on. Injuries derailed the start of his City career, and he has never recovered. His absence was often not explained fully by Pellegrini, and there were rumours of him being unsettled, but the brief glimpses we have had of him make me believe my excitement was justified. Pellegrini still didn’t trust him at the end of the season, but as the cliché goes, I hope that come August he will be like a new signing and a big talent in the coming year.

Scott Sinclair – 0. Who?

Jack Rodwell – 4. Another wasted season and yet I am sure there is a wonderful player in there, but I doubt City fans will ever see that player. More injury problems, little time on the pitch and a frustrating nine months all in all. I’ve no idea what the future holds for Rodwell, but I dearly hope he can play regular football somewhere.

Attackers

Sergio Aguero – 8. Talking of injuries – is Kun the biggest injury worry of all? Seventeen league goals show that he is as good as ever, but this was a season hampered by seemingly endless niggling injuries. The guy is sheer class, a little piece of dynamite, so we can only pray that other clubs keep their dirty mitts off him and that he can have a fuller season next time around. The number of muscle injuries suffered by City players over the course of the season is a worry though.

Alvaro Negredo – 7.5. It’s almost an impossible task to grade a player who had a season of two halves. For the first half, Negredo looked like the buy of the summer (for any team) as he forged a lethal partnership with Sergio Aguero, scoring 23 goals across all competitions in half a season, before injuring his shoulder in a game he didn’t need to play in, as City cruised to Wembley in the Capital One Cup. Since then, he has looked a shadow of the player we first saw, the confidence seemingly drained out of him, unless he was still hampered by that shoulder. A fresh start in August will hopefully rekindle the fire.

Edin Dzeko – 7.5. Another rollercoaster ride for Dzeko, who proved his worth once more, and at the business end of the season when it was really needed. Sixteen league goals showed once more what he has to offer though he continued to frustrate at times. Overlooked for much of the first half of the season, he took over from the flagging Negredo to help see City over the finishing line, scoring key goals throughout the final straight, from the opener at Crystal Palace to the crucial brace at Goodison Park. He is the same Edin Dzeko we have always known and mostly loved.

Manager: Manuel Pellegrini – 9. Robbie Savage said today that City should have won the quadruple, whilst only weeks ago a minority were questioning Pellegrini’s future, as many journalists did when he was appointed. Back in the realms of reality though, it is fair to say that overseeing a double and a club’s most successful season in your debut season in a new country can be considered something of a success, irrespective of resources available. The man oozes class and dignity, the holistic approach our owners crave, and has kept his head and his team’s head as those around him floundered or poked him looking for weaknesses. He has made mistakes, of that there is no doubt, and his maths isn’t the best, but the trophy haul at the end of the season says it all. The players clearly respect him, the mood around the club is harmonious and he looks like the late, great Dave Allen. He’ll do for me.

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.

The Parade:

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.

Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0: Some Thoughts

Last week I had a wonderful dream. Manchester City were cruising to a league title. They were ten points clear at the top, and another trophy was a matter of time. There were no slip ups, little pressure, no gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking games. It was a procession. Like most of my wonderful dreams, it will probably never happen.

Yes, here we are again. Tomorrow I will be sat at my desk shuffling some paper and suddenly the thought of the Sunday’s match will rush quickly through my head and my stomach will clench as if going over the crest of a rollercoaster. That’s what happened on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and today.

A small part of my brain saw this coming. After the loss to Liverpool, the logical part of my mind rued the missed opportunity and wondered if that defeat was a death knell for our title campaign. Somewhere at the back of that mind though a little voice kept whispering. It kept whispering that this defeat had probably made a title victory more likely, because if City were going to win the league then you could guarantee they would do it via the hardest possible route. Thus, when City went 3-1 up at Goodison Park on Saturday, it was inevitable that Everton would pull a goal back with time to spare and make for a nervy finish, as what’s the point of a comfortable win? Where’s the fun in that?

That narrative though didn’t include Liverpool surrendering a three goal lead at Crystal Palace on Monday. It has given City that little bit of breathing space.

Those nerves returned before last night’s match and they were there in abundance at half-time. City had dominated possession as expected in a game they couldn’t afford to lose and I dreaded that deadly breakaway goal that I have witnessed so many times down the years.

I was also panicking at the weather which I worried would be a “great leveller” and ruin our plans. I am capable of worrying about anything, basically.

The thing is though that the players do not think like the fans – there is a completely different mind-set at play. We sit there powerless, a bag of nerves, voyeurs watching events unfold over which we have no power. The players are paid big money to deal with situations like this and it has been the City way many times under Pellegrini to show patience and wear down the opposition – and that is precisely what happened.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in Aston Villa. I expect any team to try and disrupt City’s rhythm and get men behind the ball, but not quite to the extent that Villa did last night, considering that they are safe from relegation and the same applies to the timewasting throughout much of the match. As a fan, a voice inside your head screams constantly – “JUST STOP TRYING VILLA AND LET US WIN, FFS!!”

In the end though it was comfortable, thanks to Villa’s one chance not crossing the line, a possible Sliding Doors moment in the match. It could have led to a nervy last 10 minutes, but was instead followed by two further goals.

There’s little more to be said about Yaya Toure. As soon as he got the ball I expected a goal, which pretty much says it all.

And what a wonderful way to bring up the 100th league goal of the season. City’s goal difference is now the same as the number of goals Manchester United have scored all season (63).

The star of the night though was Pablo Zabaleta. A title triumph for him would be more fitting than for anyone else, especially considering he only started 18 matches the last time City won the league. As the song reminds us, he truly is the sexually-active man.

And with the flood of goals came an atmosphere to saviour. It brought back good memories. I can’t speak about anyone else, but I am simply incapable of creating an atmosphere whilst stressed. I think they call it multi-tasking.

City have hogged the headlines elsewhere this week of course, due to Financial Fair Play penalties. Nothing was going to distract from the football for me this week and if we win the league I don’t really care what they do. There is also little point me explaining what I think of the regulations as you will all already know what a farce they are and the real reason they have been implemented. What I will say though is that UEFA cannot say where the £50m fine money will go and the figure does not come off the club’s balance sheet next season so is little more than a back-hander, which tells you everything you need to know about these rules, and with reports coming out that PSG will receive a smaller fine than City despite making no effort to meet the regulations, despite posting much bigger losses and despite their ridiculous inflated sponsorship deals, it’s worth remembering that Michel Platini’s son works for PSG, which I am sure had no bearing on UEFA’s final decision, no siree. If City’s sponsorship deal for the stadium is deemed of unfair market value than City should really tell UEFA where to go, considering United signed a bigger deal just for training kits soon after.
Money is fine in UEFA’s/FIFA’s/Platini’s world of course, especially oil money, if it is used to bribe officials into hosting a World Cup in the middle of a desert and debt is fine too, though the Glazers got their grubby hands on United well before Platini came to power, but then as I said I am telling you nothing new.
The whole deterrent to City is pointless considering they won’t be making losses within a year or so, though I do see some good in making clubs self-sufficient, but these rules weren’t set up for the good of football but to maintain a status quo. UEFA has paid scant interest in dealing with the real issues in football such as racism, corruption, violence and so on, but with £100m+ in its back pocket for fines, at least we can sleep safe in the knowledge that its top brass can continue to tour the world, feasting on the finest food and the finest wines known to humanity in the shiniest of 5 star hotels.
As for the penalties, the fine and the Champions League squad size restrictions are not the end of the world. Our owner can pay the fine by reaching behind his gold-plated couch. The problem is a limit on wage bills as it could hamper the summer transfer plans.
City have to be cautious about taking UEFA on though. If they refuse the penalties then it goes to an independent panel. I don’t know what the penalties could then be, but City need to know what the worse case scenario is. What’s more, it’s never good to take on your sport’s governing body, as it marks your card somewhat. I would hope for a compromise late in the day, then we can all move on.
(though I have heard City expected no problems with UEFA this week, so you do wonder if the club have been stabbed in the back)

Anyway, I’m off to protest against FFP by climbing the Big Wheel. I’ll be down at 10pm, point made.

I’d discuss next year’s season ticket prices too, but I’ll only get even angrier. City will get £96m if they win the league on Sunday – pricing out loyal fans is not only a bad idea prior to a stadium expansion, but totally unnecessary.

And so onto Sunday. So close now, so close. City cannot try and play for a draw and there will no doubt be nervy moments ahead, but their only choice is to be positive and go for goals. Fingers and toes crossed for a wonderful day.

P.S.
I hope no one was inconvenienced by the “large bodies of water” outside the South Stand after the match last night. I’m not sure the stadium announcer needs to warn Mancunians about such matters.

Everton 2 Manchester City 3: Some Thoughts

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Another excruciating 90 minutes saw City show their character in the most important game in years to take one step closer to the title.

It wasn’t the easiest way to start my 40th birthday night out – by the end I had gone straight to 50. Needless to say this won’t be much of a match report, as I can’t remember everything that happened last night anyway.

The team sheet was of little surprise, though I did wonder if Pellegrini might go for one man upfront. The biggest surprise again was the repeated inclusion of Garcia over Fernandinho. Like Demichelis behind him though, it was a reminder of how much the Spaniard has progressed over recent months. He is no superstar, but he hasn’t let the team down.

And so began the game in the strangest of atmospheres. As the impressive Barkley curled a beautiful effort into the back of the net, dreams of title glory seemed so distant. Yet again Everton seemed to be doing a job on us. To answer the question everyone had posed, the home team was certainly not throwing the game. The toffees fought from beginning to end, and the victory was as hard-fought as they come.

A City team of old probably would not have responded after going behind, but as we know this team is different and City responded excellently. A sharp shot from Aguero saw City level in a move that summed up his season – a goal followed by an injury.

Is Aguero worried about the world cup? He goes off a lot as a precaution – well hopefully that was all it is. I doubt he will play any further part in this season though.

Even better was to come though, the thought of going in at half-time inconceivable after Everton’s early goal, but it was a sublime header from Dzeko that gave the blues the advantage at the break. The player that frustrates more than any added a 3rd goal in the second half with a simple finish to notch his 10th goal away from home this season in the league. Only Luis Suarez has scored more on the road.

Before that though was perhaps one of the crucial moments of the season, a pivotal save that changed everything. Joe Hart’s brilliant save from Naismith kept City ahead and was followed soon after by City’s third. How important that save could be.

It had to be with City though that they would make life difficult, and thus Lukaku pulled a goal back and City faced a nervy last 25 minutes, sitting too deep but surviving to the final whistle. That final whistle that came suspiciously late was great to hear. City had completed their first double over Everton (in itself worthy of a trophy) in over 30 years and passed their sternest test.

It’s amazing how this season has resembled the title-winning campaign of two seasons ago. Seemingly out of the race, a win over West Brom revitalised things and a scrambled draw at home to Sunderland almost ruined it all whilst a rival’s defeat put it back into our hands. It may be a superior goal difference that once more proves decisive. Let’s hope the end result is the same, but please please please do it without the stress of last time.

But of course this title race is not over. City need to win two more games to lift the trophy and whilst yesterday’s results went our way leaving our two opponents with nothing to play for, they will be no easy touch and City must retain total concentration and do a job.

150 goals this season, the greatest number ever in the top flight. Not bad City, not bad.

Still, if you thought scoring three goals at Everton and winning one of the toughest games of the season with a title on the line was impressive, you thought wrong. Andy Dunn at The Mirror wasn’t impressed:
But City – even though they were casual, disorganised and moody for significant parts of the game – would have been rightly derided had they not navigated this challenge.
That they made such hard work of it might be a reflection of either their nerves or their over-confidence.
Considering the importance of the stakes, there was an unfathomable sloppiness about much of this City performance.

And if you thought giving to charity was a GOOD THING, a NICE GESTURE, especially when a club donates all gate receipts from a match, then you are wrong again. As Glenn Moore explains in The Independent:
Manchester City do some valued community work but donating Under-21 match receipts (est: £10,000) to Stephen Sutton’s Teenage Cancer Trust campaign smacks of a publicity stunt. City say they are increasing awareness, but Stephen’s Story is hardly unknown. City’s daily wage bill: £638,356.

And so it’s all about Wednesday now, and the nerves are already kicking in. Fingers crossed that it is everything we hoped for and that standards don’t slip. A new series of 24.

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester City 2: Some Thoughts

Oh god, here we go again.

(I wasn’t expecting that)

And so Mr Negative himself (me) sat down and prepared himself for the end of season party, the day the title campaign was officially surrendered. A weakened Chelsea team pointed to only one result at Anfield and I didn’t think City would show much fight thereafter. That’s the spirit eh! The only thing in my favour was being positioned in my lucky spot in my local, from where I had seen City win comfortably away three times this season. It was my last roll of the dice.

Thankfully the players actually involved yesterday thought differently to me. A bedraggled Mourinho did what he does best and we all had a good laugh at the “faces like a slapped arse” on display from the 17,000 ex-Liverpool players in attendance. Kenny Dalglish was my favourite. Suddenly it was BACK IN OUR HANDS and I thought we’d then go and mess everything up at Palace, because that’s how my mind works.

How fitting that it was Stevie Geeeee who messed up to hand Chelsea the initiative in the match. I don’t really have much against the guy, unlike others, and he is isn’t responsible for the love-fest surrounding Merseyside over recent weeks, but his mistake did bring a wry smile.

So onto Part 2 of Super Smashing Sensational Sunday.

No great shocks in the team line – up. Two up front again, Dzeko over Negredo no surprise whatsoever. Milner was in, which was fine as he seems to play better away from home anyway, but the omission of Fernandinho was the nearest thing to a shock.

And then a perfect start. A great header from Dzeko meant the relief of an early goal and from then on, City did the ultimate professional job against a form team managed by a guy with many a point to prove over City. Palace rarely got a sniff at goal, and after Toure’s superb second goal (which I bizarrely was convinced was going wide), the second half was a case of seeing the game out and keeping Palace at arm’s length, something City did with consummate ease. There was no point going all out for more goals when the three points were the most important thing, especially as our goal difference is easily the best now in the league.

Good performances were scattered through the game. Dzeko played his part and worked hard up front. Yaya was Yaya, Aguero seemed more on the ball than previous games whilst Milner, Garcia, Demichelis and more did their jobs perfectly.

Whatever happens now, yesterday gave us one great gift. The Liverpool love-in is suspended for a few days and instead of proclaiming how they are going to win the league and getting their Champions T-shirts printed (as some already have), instead Liverpool fans are waking up with queasy stomachs and a nerve wracking week ahead. Welcome to our world.

And as was predictable, the shuddering halt in the destiny-inspired Liverpool title-charge was not taken too well by many on the red side of their city. Brendan Rogers had a little cry in the post-match press conference at the horror of Chelsea not letting Liverpool play their natural game, whilst one Liverpool fan phoned 6-0-6 to express his disgust at seeing Ian Rush laughing five minutes before the end of the game. It’s what Liverpool fans do best, as we found out after David Silva had the nerve to remove his armband during City’s match at Anfield.

And then there was the curious case of Graeme Souness. I occasionally refer to Michael Douglas in Falling Down in my blogs, and yesterday it was Graeme’s turn to have a breakdown live on air. We are all used to commentators and pundits spitting their blinkered dummies out when things don’t go their team’s way, but Souness spat his out so hard it rebounded off a window and knocked a cameraman out. This is a shame really as he has been the best pundit of all over recent years and has always seemed fair to City and other clubs, but yesterday was an embarrassing shambles of a rant that was incomprehensible and quite simply made him look like an idiot. To say Liverpool were unlucky because none of their shots deflected into the goal was bizarre enough, but to then dismiss City’s professional performance as not good enough was plainly stupid and would never have been applied to any other team in similar circumstances. The best comment though was claiming City wouldn’t have won without Toure in the team. The problem is Graeme, he was in the team, so what point you were trying to make is baffling. I imagine Liverpool wouldn’t be anywhere near the top of the table without Suarez, but he is a Liverpool player so that’s irrelevant.

Using Graeme’s logic, here’s some other things we can also deduce:
United wouldn’t have won so many trophies if Alex Ferguson wasn’t at the helm.
Man wouldn’t have landed on the moon if it wasn’t for that rocket thing.
One Direction wouldn’t actually be that successful if fewer people had bought their records.
Red Rum wouldn’t have won as many races if he couldn’t run so fast.
Manchester would have a beach if it was on the coast.
If my auntie had balls….

And so to the biggest game of the season, a season-defining 90 minutes conveniently scheduled to ruin my birthday. Everton away is such a tough game that it is clear this title is not back in our grasp just yet. They have injury worries but will always pose us problems. The theory that they will want us to win does not stack up for me as the players will not think like fans and we all know that Everton and Liverpool fans all love each other so will be cheering on their cross-city rivals (sarcasm? Not sure). I’m trying not to think too much about it for now, but the team knows what it has to do and has done it before.

Manchester City 3 West Brom 1: Some Thoughts

Job done. Can’t ask for more than that at the “business end” of the season.

I hate that phrase.

There was predictably a downbeat approach to the match, not only due to the feeling that the title had slipped away but also due to the ridiculous scheduling over a bank holiday weekend of a game at 8pm on a Monday night.

The day started on a bad note with the news breaking that David Moyes was on the verge of being sacked. Devastating news, but it was good whilst it lasted. As City fans we had always joked that we needed Moyes to do a bit better so that he did just enough to keep his job – hence he needed to win at Everton and he needed to qualify for the Europa League to mess up next season for them too. He has failed on all counts. Still, surely it’s the United way that Moyes now gets to choose his successor? Let’s hope Ian Holloway’s phone is ringing as we speak.
Let’s also not forget that United have a proud history of standing by one manager. It turns out they’re not any better than the rest of us after all. Who knew?

GIGGS IN!

But back to City. The team had few surprises with the rumour that Silva was fit enough to play one game a week, but Navas, Toure and of course Nastastic were still injured. As per usual, it was a team more than capable of winning, comfortably.

And like Sunderland the week before, a quick start, an early goal and everything looked fine. City’s attitude seemed better than the previous home match and the team were well on top. A second soon followed after the ball fell nicely for Aguero, but the sloppiness of recent weeks was still there as shown by West Brom’s goal, all resulting from an appalling free-kick routine from City that certainly hadn’t perfected on the training ground.

After that though, City were generally dominant. They were extremely dominant in possession and generally comfortable and dangerous in attacking areas, though West Brom were always a threat on the break. After Demichelis became the third Argentinean to score on the night, there was little threat from the away team thereafter, though City wobbled in the minutes after Silva was stretchered off, their focus temporarily gone.

It’s just a shame that City saw to see out the match rather than go for more goals, as goal difference could still be a factor at the end of the season, unlikely as that seems. As is often the case, there was a reluctance to shoot but instead the frustrating tactic of trying to walk the ball into the net.

As for the atmosphere, it was better than against Sunderland (it couldn’t be any worse) as there was a reaction by some of the crowd to the lethargy of the previous week. It was hardly brilliant, but at least there were occasional attempts by pockets of the crowd to fire things up. Still, for a team still in with a chance of winning the title it was generally poor and whilst the kick-off time will have prevented some people attending, it is rather pathetic of those who have just given up on the season and stopped going. It’s a free world though, they can of course do what they want and those that did go can leave when they want (more on that later).

As for the away supporters, they could have come in a taxi etc etc. Their boycott of the game due to exorbitant ticket prices has been well documented and should be applauded. Boycotting is the only way to get things to change in my opinion. Prices are way too high, we all know it, and something needs to be done. Financial Fair Play rules, which result in clubs seeking to squeeze every penny of income they can out of fans, have only made matters worse.

So for such an underwhelming season, it seems barely possible that with three goals last night, City broke the all-time goal-scoring record for a top-level side in all competitions in a season.

More redemption for Martin Demichelis, who has shown his worth over the past couple of months and once more proves that it is best to give players a chance occasionally rather than writing them off after a few months. In the first half he completed 100% of the 26 passes he attempted.

The injury to David Silva however pretty much summed up City’s season. I had hoped we could have got a 4th goal and subbed him, but it wasn’t to be and another player joins the injury list. My concerns as he was stretchered off was not mainly for City but for the player himself – it would be cruel if he were to miss the World Cup. It’s all speculation, but it seems he may be only out for a few weeks, as a scan is carried out. Either way, he surely won’t figure for City again this season and without the one player who has made City tick over recent weeks, the job of catching Liverpool has just got even tougher.

And for once, I left early, for which the blame lay squarely in one place – Metrolink, the laughing stock of all transport systems. To be sure of getting home I had to leave as the injury time board went up, all because our wonderful tram operators think it perfectly acceptable to be running a bank holiday service on the night of a football match, leaving me 40 minutes from match-end to get a tram from St. Peters Square (because, just to make things even more fun, Metrolink had also decided not to run any Altrincham trams through Piccadilly for the second match in a row). They are really are a shambles on a daily basis.

And so on to another Super Sunday, where the season could effectively end. It’s time to change the habit of a lifetime and root for Chelsea, though I cannot see them winning myself. I am not sure City will either to be honest, but here’s to a summer of consolidation and a good crack at it all again next season. Chin(s) up.

Competition: Win A Retro Manchester City Shirt

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Howard’s Blog and Campo Retro have come together to offer all Manchester City fans around the world a fantastic opportunity to win a Man City retro shirt with any name & number on the back.

Campo Retro has a wide range of Manchester City retro shirts available. With classic shirts and track jackets ranging back from 1969 to 1999, not only that, but Campo Retro will also print any name and number that you want on the back of the shirt to make it extra special.

Man City 1999 Wembley

This competition is open to entrances from all over the world, so whether you live in Moss Side or Melbourne, you still have a great chance to win this fantastic prize.

It couldn’t be simpler to enter this competition, all you have to do is answer the simple question below and email the answer to competitions@camposports.com

‘Who famously scored the equalizing goal against Gillingham in 1999?’

It’s that Simple.

Manchester City 1996 Home

The competition closes on 5th May 2014 and the winner will be announced soon after. The winner will receive an email from Campo Retro to request information on shirt size, personalization and delivery address. All entries will also receive an exclusive discount to use at http://www.camporetro.com

GOOD LUCK!