Cod opinion sharers suggest a losing run can take hold just as firmly, just as certainly, as a winning one. With a grip like a vice, it freezes the limbs and jellifies the brain. Football is a game played, after all, on grass and in the mind. The bit on grass is difficult enough, but the other part is where the complications really begin to tuck in and make themselves at home.
This is the dull shade of grey that represents City's recent form. The month is January, only January. Those, who get queasy, look away now:
- Sunderland 1 City 0
- City 3 Liverpool 0
- City 2 Man Utd 3 FAC
- City 0 Liverpool 1 (CC)
- Wigan 0 City 1
- City 3 Tottenham 2
- Liverpool 2 City 2 (CC)
- Everton 1 City 0
It is our unendearing role to analyse this little lot without throwing ourselves out of the window. Don't forget that City had not been beaten until a December loss at Stamford Bridge. Since that slightly unlucky (a phrase that may well crop up again a little later) defeat, we have ushered in four more of its kind, at the same time engineering an exit from both domestic cup competitions. It was most certainly time that January accepted our invitation to bugger off and never come back.
City supporters are nothing if not resilient, however, and once the tears have dried and the anguish has settled, we may feel safe to sit down and brood for a bit. The concomitant problem with brooding is that question marks start appearing before your eyes. As I lay on the sofa late last night, fizzing and spitting, like a chicken just removed from the oven, a cold flannel over my brow to bring the temperature down, a scattering of cushions decorating the floor where they had landed during an increasingly difficult second half against a willing but extremely limited Everton side, these fevered thoughts passed through my mind:
Is David Silva beginning to wilt a little? The little maestro, well below his best at Goodison, has not played at full tilt since the game at QPR. He has not been found out. Good players like him are not found out. They are understood, admired and chased around in a frenzy of ever-decreasing circles, but they are never found out. It is all very well understanding what he does and how he does it (approximately), but just try stopping it happening. This is form loss, only slight, admittedly, but nevertheless enough to have an effect on the machinations of the City midfield. When Silva's little diagonal balls are going into touch or hitting Kolarov's shins and spooning up into the ball boy's face, you can assume the whole team will catch the same cold, starting with Big Edin.
here and I have seen nothing in the month of January to make me change my mind. Yaya Touré is absolutely essential to this team's well-being
Has the Tevez Soap Opera had an effect? A truer indictment of the modern game you could not wish to discover. Here is a footballer, a man, with so little respect for his employers and the supporters of the club he is supposedly paid handsomely to serve, that he might as well have been born an albatross. He just doesn't seem to get it. Aside from the fact that City have lost a talismanic striker, one of those rare beasts who can lift up a side and pull it by the scruff of the neck to the most unlikely of victories, despite the annoying drain (however piffling it may seem to them) on the owners' coffers, despite all of this and more, the most salient point must be that a drifting saga like this must eventually also have a negative effect on the staff. Yes, he has been dealt with. Yes, it is costing him and his odious adviser a hill of cash, but it has gone on too long by half. City played in the Allianz Arena on the night of Tuesday 27th September, a night made infamous by a player refusing to warm up in preparation to play. This hideously bubbling stew has had four whole months to permeate through the fabric of the club.To what effect?
Mind games can't hurt us, can they? The drip drip effect of Messrs Ferguson and Redknapp and their daily bleatings about this that and the other, can gradually but forcibly lead to premature madness to those exposed to it over a long period. Ferguson is 70 years old for Christ's sake. He has been doing this since a dim point in time before we were all born. It creeps from every pour. You know what to expect, you know very well it's coming and indeed what's coming, but it still digs out a reaction. Last night he called it "a very significant moment in the title race". Fluff and ash, as we all know, but still. United, with an inferior squad to City's, with a difficult month ahead and with a playing staff that is a weak slither of past championship-winning sides, are batting strong with relatively shoddy goods. Like a hyena who spots a limping gazelle, Ferguson will be slathering all over us, teeth bared, if this poor run carries on into February.
Can Mancini do it for us? Here is a man clearly struggling with the culture (witness the furore over his Italianesque card-waving), with the climate (look at the press delight at his smart coats and fluffy scarves. Now there are gloves. What next for the daily Star to giggle at?), with the very pumping heart of British football (watch his disgust at unpunished tackles, his tight lipped swearing as his workmanlike players fail to execute a simple piece of acrobatics executed a million times for the swathes at Sampdoria). This is a man, we know, who cultivates an aura of excellence. Even his somewhat embarrassingly glamorous personal website (see here for the shimmering looks of Mantovani and the touching claim that he loves "Pasta al' Forno di Mama") claims a "champion of class". How does a man, who sees himself in this classico elegante persona deal with a screaming Scouser who has just thrown the remnants of a meat and potato pie at him? Or a Geordie, red faced and damp, whacking the old hand gesture feverishly up and down as he leaves the pitch? He is ill at ease. His English betrays him. He reveals his impatience with his players more and more often. His frustrated arm movements, hair flicks and facial ticks reveal inner torments, bubbling ever closer to the surface. This can work in two ways. Players can be motivated to try harder, as the ever willing Barrys and Milners surely do, or they can retreat into a shell of dismay and feel hard done to, like Adam Johnson, like Samir Nasri and, most sadly of all, like Carlos Tevez.
Do we have the bottle? We are reminded constantly that these players are winners. They have come from far and wide to bring glory to the blue legions of Manchester after the biblical drought of the last thirty-five long years. Big game performances thus far underline this point, but never forget the power of Manchester City. This is not a club that emerged from the ashes when Robinho stepped onto the tarmac at Ringway blinking and blushing. City -as some of us are painfully aware- is just as much Neil Heaney as it is Neil Young. It is just as much Bradford as it is Bayern. A few short years of swishing thobes and bishts, a string of Robinhos and Adebayors, does not remove a dna stamped deep with Shrewsbury Town and the cuban heels and combover of Peter Swales. Francis Lee's cup for cock-ups is still on the mantlepiece, gathering dust alongside the 1999 Second Division Play off Final Trophy. My mental mantlepiece is also heaving with pots and gongs. Maybe we all need a bit of a clear-out.
here and I was immediately and impressively ticked off by all and sundry that the list of ignominious ill work against our good club that I had lovingly assembled through my one good eye was too short, incomplete and a job barely half done. The list in said article grew again last night, for those of us who saw a foul on the trundling figure of Dzeko in the immediate build-up to the only goal of the game, for those who saw a red card offence by Drenthe on Micah Richards and again for those who saw a clear handball in the box by Phil Neville. These things even themselves out, of course, so sit back and relax in the sure knowledge that the critical months of February, March, April and May will be liberally sprinkled with gloriously fortuitous penalty decisions, the most ridiculously inept and comical own goals and goalkeeping mistakes, weird fixture pile-ups for our nearest rivals, a rash of unexplained and inexplicable refereeing decisions in our favour, red cards to our opponents in five consecutive matches (some as early as the 10th minute!!) and a broad church of press opinion that the sun shines indefatigably from the back of Mr Mancini's expensively pleated Armani slacks.
So, it's going to be alright then? Of course it is! See you at the party at the end of the season. Bring a bottle and a pillow to cry in.
Just in case.