Sunday, December 22, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ: Fulham away

*adopts weighty tones of David Coleman* 


***

"Craven Cottage, a real traditionalist's venue, welcomes a rampant Manchester City side, for whom coach Manuel Pellegrini makes a number of changes, some enforced others not. The beanpole Bosnian Dzeko replaces the injured Aguero, whilst the Chilean will be hoping Gael Clichy reveals a hitherto undiscovered right foot..."

*** 

"And the little magician waved his wand and left the crossbar twanging like a simple elastic band. City centimetres from taking the lead..."

*** 

"One-nil! It's there. And. What. A. Strike. It. Was. The big Ivorian seems to own that top corner..."

*** 

"It's in! And Kompany leads the way in a true captain's fashion. He was there to pick up the crumbs and that's what makes a champion's feast..."

*** 

"And. You. Cannot. Defend. Like. That. City undone down the flanks and Richardson pilfers a goal like a petty thief..."

*** 

"It's there! Two-two!. City unravelling before our eyes and it's the captain undoing all his good work. The ball just arced over Hart in slow motion. What a game we have here now..."

*** 

"3-2!! Fulham undressed by the speed of Navas and the sheer speed of thought of little Silva. A goal crafted in Iberia. Wonderfully worked by the darting Spaniards..."

*** 

"And. What. Can. You. Say. About. That?! There's just no accounting for that pass from Negredo. He hit it with the outside of his boot and it just flew into the path of Milner. Skill and impudence will bring its reward and City are coasting now..."

R.I.P.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A DELAYED ARRIVAL IN HEAVEN part two

You have an upgrade, Sir
We all remember what it was like to get our first glimpse of that impossibly green pitch as a youngster at Maine Road or in more recent times the Etihad, but what if the experience is gained in middle age? And what if your Mancunian host has had some ideas of his own about how to entertain you?

In this second part of his recent adventure, Cort McMurray tries to come to terms with the beauty and diversion of Manchester City.

In July 2010, in the swelter of an Atlanta summer, my son Noah and I made our first sighting of
fellow Manchester City fans. City were playing Mexico’s Club America in an exhibition match.
Club America was the big draw: Atlanta has a sizable population of Mexican expats and Los
Augilas are one of the strongest, best established and most popular clubs in La Liga Mexicana. 

City? City was far enough under the radar that Noah and I were able to find the private school
where the team was based, wander into a training session and collect autographs, with nary
more than a bemused look from Roberto Mancini.

So a couple of hours before match time, running into a group of guys at the CNN Center, kitted out in City gear, was a bit shocking. They were from Manchester, sweating their way through City’s Tour of America. One of them, a gregarious railway engineer named Paul, asked for my
email address.

Over the years, we’ve exchanged emails. It’s been a cordial, but casual acquaintanceship. 

****

A few months ago, as our family was planning a trip to England, I contacted Paul, and asked
him for help in securing tickets to The Etihad. His response was immediate: “Leave it to me,
mate. We’ll get you sorted
.” He asked that Noah and I send him a photo of the two of us,
wearing City shirts. This seemed reasonable: He hadn’t seen us for more than five minutes,
and that was three years ago. The City shirt request seemed a little odd, but we complied.

Paul and his friend Ted were waiting for us at Manchester Piccadilly. We were greeted with
laughter and hugs and a hearty, “Welcome to your City!

This was a recurring theme: at every turn, people we barely knew treated us like long-lost
relatives and reminded us that as City supporters, Manchester was our home. This wasn’t a
stretch for me: Manchester, great and grey and rainy, reminds me of Buffalo, New York, the
aging industrial city where I grew up. It felt familiar. It felt like home.

After getting us settled in at our hotel, Paul said, “Now it’s time to see the real Manchester.” A
few twists and turns down some dark side streets, and we entered the warm and ancient
confines of Mother Mac’s. Packed shoulder to shoulder with City faithful, Mother Mac’s walls are
plastered with faded photos of old City squads and assorted military memorabilia. Aside from
the video Pub Quiz machine and the flat screen tv hanging on the wall, it might as well
have been 1948. Paul introduced us to a bunch of his friends – “we’ve been going to City
matches together since we was lads
” he explained – and we got to know one another. A
burning question: Why can’t Americans cook a proper piece of bacon?

Noah and I quickly learned that the Full City Experience is lubricated by copious amounts of
beer, glass upon glass upon glass of it. All of this lager posed a problem for me: I don’t drink.
It’s a religious thing. Wrapped in the warm embrace of dozens of happily quaffing City fans, I
felt a little out of place, delicately sipping my glass of tonic water. 

One of my new friends offered quick reassurance. “Ay, Cort, ye haven’t touched a drop. It’s like
we’re with Cloudy-O Rrrrreyna!
” This was the first time I’d ever been compared to the former
City midfielder and it made me feel a little less self-conscious.

A rather harrowing cab ride and we arrived at Sport City. I keep an aerial photo of Maine Road
on my office wall, its lovely, ungainly mess of architectural styles wedged into the row houses of
Moss Side. Sport City is nothing like that, at all. The Etihad looms, all smooth lines and
spotlights, like a freshly landed spacecraft. Parking lots, practice fields and chain-link fences
effectively sequester the stadium from the rest of the world. This isn’t Maine Road.

Still, it works. City have done a very good job of bringing festivity to what could be a generic,
even antiseptic environment. There are bands and canteens selling hot dogs and pies and beer. It is, as Lyle Lovett sings, “an acceptable level of ecstasy.”

Paul, who is to City what the Apostle Paul was to early Christianity, didn’t give us much time to
soak in the atmosphere. “Come on, mates. There’s something you need to see.” He led into
the upper floor of the enormous City gift shop, where we met a man who looked official. “These
here are all the way from Texas
,” Paul told the man, who shook our hands and handed us a
couple of match programmes. An envelope poked from the pages of one of the programmes.

Welcome to Manchester,” the man said, and disappeared back into his office.

Paul was grinning. “Take a look on page 52.” There was the photo Paul had requested, Noah
and me posed in our City best, with a caption welcoming us to the Etihad. “Now look in the
envelope.
” Our tickets had been upgraded to VIP “Platinum Box” status.

Entering the VIP area at the Etihad is a little like arriving at the gates of the Emerald City, except
everything is sky blue, not green Everything is covered in white twinkle lights, and your ticket is
verified by a cadre of very lovely young women, dressed in short hemmed great coats and
imitation bearskin hats. “Welcome to the Ethidad,” they cooed.

Inside, there were statues of Colin Bell and Bert Trautmann, and a few live, in the flesh lesser
City idols. “Dad,” Noah hissed. “That’s Stevan Jovetic! Dad! That’s John Guidetti!” In a
hallway, we passed an impossibly large, impeccably dressed man, talking with a couple of other
fellows. My son’s eyes bulged. “Dad, that’s Patrick Vieira! Patrick Vieira!” Have you ever stood
arm’s length from Patrick Vieira? There is only one word to describe the man: regal. And we
were sharing a hallway with him! I would have taken a photo, but taking a photo of Patrick Vieira
without his permission felt wrong, and actually speaking to Patrick Vieira seemed an endeavor
beyond my meek and lowly station.

There was yet another surprise. At halftime, the club sent Ian Brightwell and Richard Edghill to
visit and pose for photos. Both are friendly, classy gentlemen, fine representatives of City.


In the midst of all this, there was a football match. Kun Aguero converted a penalty, and fine
scoring strikes from Nasri, Negredo and Eden Dzeko overcame both Plzen’s scrappy attack and
their leather-lunged fans (seriously, the good people of Plzen are insanely loud).

As we left the stadium, it was more backslaps and hugs, more laughter and friendship. We left
Manchester, lovely grey Manchester, the next morning, with a sack filled with City souvenirs,
and a deep appreciation for the generosity and kindness of our new friends.

There are not many times when you’re able to give one of your kids a truly unforgettable
experience. Thanks to Paul, and the people at City, I had that privilege.

I am not Mancunian. I am a stranger, an outsider. But Paul is right: Manchester is my City, and
Noah’s City, and it will always be.

You can follow Cort on Twitter here

Monday, December 16, 2013

BARCELONA




Manchester City and Barcelona have rarely crossed paths and only once (home and away) in a competitive fixture.That the fixture in question occurred just twelve months ago carries a certain amount of irony. City, still relatively new to all this bluster and fanfare, don't know whether to stick or twist in the Champions League. The blood-freezing pomp of Zadok the Priest comes accompanied with boos and whistles at the Etihad and the mesmerising glow of Heineken's high fibre diet of faux-abstinence publicity stunts have many diving behind the steamed up windows of the Hare and Hounds for one last stiffener before the show begins.

At the weekend, the worried talk was all about trying to do the impossible: beat Newcastle United whilst having your brains thumping rhythmically to the beat of a Catalan military band. City not only managed this, but torched Newcastle so thoroughly, that the famous stripes almost melted off their shirts. 

Meanwhile, those masters of hundreds of European glory nights, Barcelona, took their own eyes off the prize and lost at home to Manuel Pellegrini's old side, Malaga. Fate was doing its bit but was it four days too early? One would suppose City have far more to contemplate than Barcelona on the eve of the most important game of the season so far, but perhaps City's expertise is beginning to play just a little bit on southern minds too.


*** 

TACTICS


In the Spanish league Barcelona have played Málaga twice, drawing one and winning one, conceding precisely no goals in the process. And there's more, the Blaugrana have only managed three shots on target during said games. As City try to when Jesus Navas is on the pitch, Barcelona will open you up if they manage to get around the back of your defence. With the forward talent they have, you would think that stopping them one way, would just funnel the problem to another part of the pitch, but Málaga have proved it is possible to more or less nullify the threat. 

Despite some criticism of Luis Enrique around Christmas when the side's form dipped, he has reintroduced a pressing game and spiced it up with an aggressive offside trap. He seems lately to have also found a secure way of fielding all three stellar forwards, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar, at the same time without unbalancing the side too much. Clearly this will be a big night for the gradually improving Vincent Kompany and his likely partner Martin Demichelis. Although Eliaquim Mangala played in the rout of Newcastle and showed signs that he is at last beginning to settle in, Pellegrini has invariably chosen the more experienced Demichelis for big games such as this. The Argentine will be looking for some kind of pay-back for last year's fixture too, one would imagine.
 
City - famously building the club's training structure on Barcelona's - will have their work cut out making headway, but they will be well drilled and well aware that the visitor's defence is far from impregnable. With Silva and Nasri working the spaces and Aguero darting in behind the defenders, City can profit from the kind of lapse from Dani Alves that gifted Málaga their winning goal at the weekend. 

The big loss is Yaya Touré. Just back from African Nations Cup duty, he was the steady bulwark on Saturday, from whom most of City's great movement was initiated. Without him, there is no dominant force in central midfield to hold possession and turn the tide. Worse still, without him, the defensive midfield axis looks more penetrable and never far from a critical lapse. 

In last season's games, particularly at home, City showed their opponents respect by the bucket load. The first leg started slowly and proceeded in a cat and mouse fashion that suited Barcelona down to the ground. Without being gung-ho, City can believe in their ability to puncture Barcelona's defensive line and when they do, the chances that fall must be snapped up like they were in the first 60 minutes against Newcastle. 

City were unlucky twelve months ago to head to Spain with a two goal deficit. The tie was all but dead before the 2nd leg kicked off. Despite that, they found spaces at the Nou Camp and, with this in mind, it is essential to give themselves something to hang onto for that second game in March. Even a draw, preferably scoreless, would be of use. However, looking at the creative talent on the pitch, a game without goals is almost impossible to imagine.

***  

HISTORY


The first clash between the two sides was back in 1952 but City can count three successes in the few fixtures between the sides since then. What they can also count is two very recent games where little separated the two sides after two well fought matches. 

2nd June 1952. Les Corts (Barcelona).
BARCELONA 5 CITY 1
City: Trautmann, Branagan, Rigby, Westwood, Paul, McCourt, Meadows, Williamson, Smith, Spurdle, Clarke.Goals: Kubala (19’, 21’, 56’), Torra (20’), Gràcia (68’).

8th May 1957. Les Corts (Barcelona). 
BARCELONA 3 CITY 2
City: Trautmann, Leivers, Ewing, Sear, Phoenix, Paul, McClelland, Kirkman, Johnstone, Hayes; Clarke.Goals: Villaverde (9’), Tejada (77’), Sampedro (78’).

12th November 1974. Camp Nou (Barcelona).
This match was to celebrate Barcelona's 75th anniversary, a favour finally returned when City opened Eastlands in 2003
BARCELONA 3 CITY 2
Barcelona: Sadurní, Rifé (De la Cruz, 46), Gallego, Marinho (Juanito, 78), Albaladejo, Migueli, Juan Carlos,Marcial, Heredia, Cruyff and Sotil.
City: MacRae, Barrett, Donachie, Henson, Clark, Oakes, Summerbee, Bell, Marsh (Leman, 46),Keegan, Tueart.
Goals: Juan Carlos (3’), Cruyff (53’), Marinho (59’).- Bell (?)

Barça captain Johan Cruyff exchanging penants with the City captain before the game to mark the Club's 75th anniversary. PHOTO: ARXIU FCB.
Rodney Marsh and Johan Cruyff swap pennants before the match



Colin Bell scores one of City's two goals
15th August 1986. Municipal Huelva. Torneig Colombino (semifinal).
BARCELONA 1 CITY 1 (City won 4-3 on penalties, then lost the final on penalties to Huelva)
Barcelona: Urruti, Gerardo, Migueli, Julio Alberto, Víctor (Pedraza, 70), Fradera, Carrasco (Clos, 80), Calderé,Robert, Hughes and Marcos (Esteban, 70).
City: Suckling, Reid (Brigthwell, 41), May, Clements, McCarthy, Redmond, Davies, McNab, Christie (Kinsey, 23), Baker, Wilson.
Goals: 1-0: Robert (16′). 1-1: Wilson (50′).


Cuttings courtesy of Graham Ward


10th August 2003. City of Manchester (Manchester). Official Opening of Eastlands
CITY 2 BARCELONA 1
City: Seaman, Sun Jihai, Sommeil (Dunne, 74), Distin, Tiatto, Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt (Barton, 74),Sinclair (Sibierski, 74), Benarbia (Berkovic, 30), Anelka (Wanchope, 63), Fowler (Macken, 63).
Barcelona: Rustu, Puyol, Andersson (Gerard, 46), Reiziger, Òscar López (Ros, 83), Xavi (Márquez, 83), Cocu,Quaresma (Saviola, 46), Ronaldinho (David Sánchez, 83), Kluivert (Iniesta, 63), Overmars.
Goals: 1-0: Anelka (34’). 1-1: Saviola (58’). 2-1: Sinclair (67’).

The Guardian report from City's first ever game at Eastlands v. Barcelona
A very young Andres Iniesta pictured with Paul Bosvelt on the cover of the first home league programme ever produced for the new stadium, for the match with Portsmouth (1-1, David Sommeil)
__________________________________________________________________________________

19th August 2009. Camp Nou (Barcelona). Trofeu Joan Gamper.
BARCELONA 0 CITY 1
Richard Dunne coyly lifts the Juan Gamper Trophy in 2009

Barcelona: Pinto, Montoya (Alves, 46), Fontàs (Henrique, 63), Puyol (Bartra, 31) (Piqué, 63), Maxwell (Muniesa,63), Touré (Thiago, 46), Sergio Busquets (Keita, 46), Gudjohnsen (Jonathan Dos Santos, 46), Pedro (Messi, 46), Bojan (Ibrahimovic, 46) and Jeffren (Gai Assulin, 54).
City: Given, Zabaleta (Garrido, 65), Dunne, K. Touré, Onuoha, Weiss, Wright-Philips (Tripper, 81), Ireland, Barry (Etuhu, 69), Petrov, Tevez (Bellamy, 64).
Goal: 0-1: Petrov (27’).

__________________________________________________________________________________
18th February 2014. Etihad Stadium. UEFA Champions League
CITY 0 BARCELONA 2
12th March 2014, Nou Camp, Barcelona. UEFA Champions League
BARCELONA 2 CITY 1
City/Barcelona: full line-ups for the first leg here 
Barcelona /City: full line-ups from the Nou Camp return here
"By that stage they were down to 10 men after another refereeing decision that will convince Pellegrini his team suffered badly over the two ties because of poor officiating. City were convinced they should have been awarded a penalty for Gerard Piqué's 78th-minute challenge on the substitute Edin Dzeko but the French referee, Stéphane Lannoy, waved play on and Pablo Zabaleta took his protests so far that he was shown a second yellow card. 
City had a reasonable grievance on a night when Pellegrini was already barred from the dugout because of his lacerating post-match comments about the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson after the first leg. Yet there was more to City's defeat than trying to pin the blame elsewhere...." - Daniel Taylor The Guardian
In short, Barcelona represent two fascinating elements to Manchester City: an opponent which has been out of reach unless played in friendly fixtures for 100 years or more and a ripe, obvious target to measure oneself against in the club's new competitive clothing. Given the circumstances of last season's matches, there is every chance of pushing the Catalans closer to the limit than City have managed before. Current form suggests two titanic battles are about to flow before us. Barcelona start as overpowering favourites to progress, but -if the winners are from Manchester at the end of it all- some will begin to believe real headway can be made towards the final in Berlin's next May. 






Sunday, December 15, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ - Arsenal home



Both Daniel Taylor and Paul Wilson reported on the following two matches between City and Arsenal in Manchester, one a thrashing of City, the other a pulverising of Arsenal. Ten years and a gulf in attitude separate the two matches...

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian 22 Feb. 2013 – 
Manchester City 6 Arsenal 3

Arsenal can console themselves that Manchester United endured their own ordeal here in September, and Tottenham suffered even worse when they were hit for six without reply in November, but it was still a deeply chastening experience for Arsène Wenger's team. Arsenal's manager said he did not want to use their midweek Champions League tie in Naples as an excuse, but then proceeded to do exactly that. Title-winners generally do not cite fatigue midway through December and Wenger was stretching the truth to the point of incredulity when he argued Arsenal might have extended their lead over City to nine points rather than being cut back to three.

City, he said, were "not unbeatable" on that performance, adding that Everton and Southampton had been just as good. A more realistic appraisal is that Arsenal were outplayed and finished in near disarray, with Jack Wilshere risking a ban for showing his middle finger to the home crowd and Per Mertesacker angrily remonstrating with Mesut Özil for not applauding the away fans; the midfielder later apologised for the omission. Maybe it could be put down as merely a one-off. But Arsenal, put bluntly, did not look like champions‑in-waiting, or even close.

Daniel Taylor, The Guardian 14 Dec 2003 – Manchester City 1 Arsenal 5

At half-time the historians among Arsenal's fans might, without exaggeration, have been thinking about the record 12-0 victory against Loughborough Town in 1900, but their team settled for just one more, Patrick Vieira scoring the fifth. Nicolas Anelka's late consolation, set up by the otherwise maladroit Robbie Fowler, was a mere irritation.
The incredible thing on an afternoon when, undeniably, it was only Arsenal's drowsy contentment that spared City more humiliation in the second half, was that their fans remained so supportive. "Any other club in the world, boos would have been ringing in our ears," Keegan said proudly, before adding a flat note. "I suppose you could say we've got the crowd, we just haven't got the players." 

"Fowler finally gave Anelka an unmissable chance three minutes from time. Maine Road erupted into a chorus of "You're not singing anymore...."

"Bravely, though, inspired by their magnificent support, City fought on..."

 * In 2003, the Maine Road crowd stood and clapped Arsenal and their manager off the pitch. 
* In 2013 the same Arsenal manager claims Southampton are a better side.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A DELAYED ARRIVAL IN HEAVEN



Remember your first visit to Maine Road? Or the Etihad? 
How does it feel when this life changing moment occurs in middle age? 

Cort McMurray supplies the answers:

I’m not like the rest of you.  

My devotion to Manchester City isn’t part of some ancient tradition, handed down from father to son.  I’m not Mancunian. I’m not even English. I’m a middle aged American, who grew up mostly on baseball, basketball and hockey, up in the cold and lonely reaches of western New York State. I’m a stranger, a convert.

A bit more than a decade ago, I’d grown tired of American sport, with its player strikes and steroids and great green mountains of cash, and I had a six-year old son who showed no interest in baseball or NFL, but whose eyes lit up when he saw the Mexican and Nigerian kids from our neighborhood playing five a side in the local park. I wanted to give him a club to love. 

Why City? 

It fit.  

There was an article, about devoted supporters sneaking into Maine Road to spread their loved ones’ ashes. There was an online photograph of a ruddy, round-bellied man, squeezed into a blinding chartreuse striped jersey with “brother” stretched across the chest, celebrating the Miracle Over Gillingham. There were the Gallagher Brothers, wrapping festering sibling discord in City away kits.  And it was all happening in the shadow of a rival that always managed to be a little more slick, a little more polished, a little more successful (okay, okay, a LOT more of all those things.)  Being a City fan meant believing in the impossible, the unbelievable, the True. From the beginning, City felt familiar.  City felt like home. 

My son, now seventeen, bleeds sky blue, like his father, but it’s different.  For me City is ghosts and borrowed nostalgia, Colin Bell (a player I’ve never seen, not even on film) dazzling the adoring Kippax masses (a place I’ve never been). 

For my son, City is Kun Aguero and the Little Magician and the fearsome majesty of Vincent and Ya Ya, live in our living room at 6:30 on Saturday morning.  My City is a little like Albrect Durer’s rhinocerous, a mix of eyewitness accounts and my own secondhand imaginings. My son’s City is a You Tube channel, as real and close at hand as the dozen sky blue jerseys hanging in his closet.

This is a golden age for American City fans: five years ago, it was nearly impossible to watch matches in the States; today, every single match is televised, and the Internet provides a steady stream of City ephemera. We’ve seen City play stateside exhibitions, we’ve gone broke ordering shirts and tchotchkes from the Official Online Store. 

The only thing we hadn’t done, is make the pilgrimage to Manchester.

Last week, that changed.


What we found in Manchester was far different than either of us expected.  And far better than we had ever imagined....



Next time,  Oz in the Eastlands.


You can follow Cort on Twitter





 

Monday, December 2, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ - Swansea home


Laudrup walked up in a wavy line and hit the press ropes first. I knew it was him from the stacked
hair, that weird slanting coxcomb, the cheap Scandinavian aftershave. "Hi boys, take a slurp out of that little brown bottle in my shaving kit if you like." He said as nonchalantly as you'd expect.

"What is it?" I asked innocently.
"Adrenochrome," he said. "You won't need much. Just a little lick."

The bottle went round the gang, Ladyman, Samuel, Ashton, even the bush-haired, boss-eyed monosyllabic guy from the Flintshire Evening Leader. We all dipped the tip of a finger into it. "That stuff makes mescaline taste like ginger beer.” said one of the guys with a crash helmet on, who was already beginning to tilt to one side. “You'll go completely crazy if you take too much."

I licked the end of my paw. "Where'd you get this?" I asked. "You can't buy it." "Never mind," he said. "It's absolutely pure."

I shook my head sadly. "Jesus! There's only one source for this stuff . . ."

He nodded smiling weirdly and said something very fast in Danish. Something about marmalade.

"The adrenaline glands from a living Fulham central defender," I said. "It's no good if you get it out of a corpse. Tastes like shit."

"I know," he replied. "So we left Jol well alone.” He laughed at that. Some in-joke that we’d pick up on later when we'd sobered up. I told the guys I'd just as soon have a fresh adrenaline gland to chew on as glugging this shit from a brown medicine bottle.

The fella from the Flintshire Evening Leader was dribbling down his sheepskin by now. He was talking to a giant portrait of Rodney Marsh on the whitewashed wall. “Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits -- a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and tremble like a chimp in a cage.” he was saying.

Marsh’s expression didn’t flicker one iota. He kept his eye very much on the ball.

Outside, the game had started in the meantime. I hissed and panted, went the wrong way into The Mancunian Suite. You buy the ticket, you take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe you have to chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten three or four nil. Walk away and prepare for West Brom.  

There had been a slow start to proceedings. Either that or the adrenochrome was working backwards. “You can't stop here,” one of the waitresses yelled in a freak high voice, “this is bat country!” Somehow we made it through to half time. Only once did I see the net move. A shot from kilometres away by some pirate guy in big-ass shorts. There was a weird pause, as the crowd didn’t know whether to clap or start rolling joints. We headed downstairs with Ogden and a few of the more unhinged looking from the Telegraph crew.



We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, plus the Brian Horton elephant pills in a funny purple velvet bag with a drawstring. Also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a party case of Boddingtons, a pint of raw ether, a box of Tesco extra long straws and two dozen bags of salt and vinegar whizzers. Half time would be a blast.

The second half looked more like a third half from where I was slumped. Much faster, much more psychadelic, more power, more movement, more goals, more legs, more colour to the shirts, more weird animals dancing around the touchline. Every now and then when the patterns got complicated and the little weasels in blue shirts started closing in, the yellow and purple guys looked confused, hemmed in, freaked out. I summed up the only cure for them would be to load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Collyhurst to the Mumbles with the music at top volume and a pint of ether to keep the road lines more or less straight. Laudrup would have approved, back there in the tunnel still addressing the bacon issue to a man from the BBC in very fast words of Danish.

Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can tell us just why that little Frenchman with the imp face had turned it all around like that. Whatever it meant. . . .in retrospect, what actually happened was... a kind of blur.....blurred legs and minds and recollections, billowing nets and those little whistling imps with three heads.

We aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Ship Canal at a hundred miles an hour wearing nothing but L. L. Bean shorts and a padded training jacket we had lifted from the Megastore....booming through the airport tunnels, not quite sure which turn-off to take. There was madness in every direction, at every hour. So now, in the gathering twilight, I hooked up Geddy’s tablet and there it was.

With the right kind of eyes you could see it quite clearly: I closed one eye and began down the league table as deliberately as the cavorting lightning in my eyes would allow. Manchester City and Swansea were sure to be in there somewhere, if I could just focus long enough.


(- ode to Hunter S Thompson, King of Gonzo -) 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

THE CONDENSED READ: VIKTORIA PLZEN



Viktoria’s fans, scant but singing, jumping, making hay (and hops) whilst proud of club’s showing, of its gritty skill. Indomitability in action, will to win, or not to go down.

 ***

And what a show it was. Goals, a custom in this part of town, shot down on us in clouds of buckshot, mists of napalm. City, always inflictors of havoc.

***

A match that could run without passion, without action, without injury or much mishap, grown into a doughty show of skillful might, staunch spirit and lusty back and forth football.

 ***

City first , x marks spot. Small man, big spirit, broad of thigh, with a contract for accuracy, blasts ball into goal with air of an individual in utmost form.

***

On top of our world, on top of all worlds. But Viktoria find solution straight away. All straight in forty six rounds of a clock. All still to play for.

***

But City, and not Viktoria, carry forward thrust, hold solutions. A quick fix from a Gallic foot and again hosts find a way to command. Not for long. Two two!

***

Boiling, bubbling in a glacial mist, a match to warm hand and body, mind and soul. Nasri in and out, Hart a salmon in front of his trusty goal posts.

***

At last a flood of action to warm hands in polar conditions, an outpouring of joy for a crowd in wintry grasp, no stubborn chill as myriad goals fly in.

***
  
Spanish boss is calm and placid at this grand show of harmonious attacking. Just two topics of inquiry still hold forth in our brains. First, which man will guard goal?

***

And two: which four individuals, strong of arm with skill in coordination, shutting doors, bolting portcullis, barring ways of approach, can do a job of work in front of Hart?   


> (fin) ^



.....(* Ode to Georges Perec and Raymond Queneau   *300 words    * 10 x 30 words    *No letter 'e').....






Monday, November 25, 2013

IN APPRECIATION OF SERGIO AGUERO

Those of us long enough in the tooth to remember watching with mesmerised pleasure the forward play of Francis Lee, Neil Young, Rodney Marsh, Mike Summerbee, Dennis Tueart, Peter Barnes, Brian Kidd, Uwe Rosler and in more recent times Shaun Goater, Nicolas Anelka, Shaun Wright Philips, Carlos Tevez, Bernardo Corradi and a host of lesser mortals, will sleep easy at night knowing there is always a shot, a header or a gently billowing goal net to send us into our dreams.

Or an air guitar riotously celebrating your only meaningful goal of the season. Dreams can turn weird sometimes.

Unless I am mistaken, however, City's current side - heavily endowed as it is with attacking intent, bristling as it is with such fulminating power and gossamer delicacy - is home to perhaps the greatest forward the club has ever employed, a player of such athleticism, professionalism and potency that this season's goal tally already outranks that of Tottenham Hotspur, the team still nursing its bruises from meeting him and his team mates in such coruscating form at the weekend.

Sergio Aguero, in his present incarnation, must be tantalisingly close to the very top of the football tree right now. Praise is due to the ferreting work of master digger Fernandinho, the blossoming partnership with Alvaro Negredo, the supply line - constant and inch perfect - from Silva, Nasri and Navas, the bombing distractions of Yaya Touré and Pablo Zabaleta, but up at the pointy end where the tackles are flying and the elbows are constructed from steel and iron, City possess possibly the most potent attacking force seen on either side of the Manchester divide for many a long year.

"Alegria" in Buenos Aires and Manchester
Drifting back 24 hours to the Tottenham game, still fresh in the mind with its vivid colours and sharp vital smell of sweat well spent, the 47,000-plus at the Etihad were treated to a masterclass from the stocky Argentinean. What he delivers to a football pitch appeared so far beyond the likes of Dawson and Kaboul to counteract, they might as well have been fashioned from papier maché. Indeed at times it seemed as if they were. One decent burst of rain and they would have been completely finished.

Aguero, low to the ground and built on legs that could belong to a Mongolian horse wrestler, is apparently almost impossible to knock off the ball. This power and low centre of gravity, allied to a close control of the ball that is second to none, reminds the casual observer of his countryman Diego Maradona. Who will ever forget the Mexico World Cup of '86 and those trademark slalom runs over wild scything tackles? Maradona carried Argentina to the world title that year, through sheer force of character, will power and edge of the seat skill and bravery. This heady package would well apply to Aguero too, a modern day reincarnation of his countryman's physique and ability to hold possession amidst the most horrendous buffeting from the sport's less well endowed.

There is a speed off the mark, the first milliseconds of which take place inside the mind, that allows him to leave his marker completely for dead. Once caught, if it is possible to do so, try to dispossess the whirling feet of the ball, by foul means or fair - and Spurs quickly realised that their best, nay only, chance of success was by the latter, and see where it gets you. In Dawson's case, flat on his backside. In Kaboul's, facing totally the wrong direction. In Walker's, gulping greedily on the thin air left behind.
Pray for Kyle Walker
An icy breeze tickled their cheeks. He has gone, accompanied by the roar of the crowd and all you can do is bask in how oafish you look.

The touch with his left foot to divert Navas' quickfire cross past Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal for City's third yesterday was the work of a man supremely confident in his ability to dispatch the ball, any ball, into the net. The ball was smashed across at speed, two defenders had the chance to do something about it but failed, leaving Aguero with a split second to rerarrange his feet, change his body position and get some sort of meaningful connection on the ball. It skimmed lightly off his instep, the only touch that would do the job, and slipped diagonally past the wrong footed keeper. Sublime artistry at breakneck speed. Made to look like a stroll in the park.

But this, as we know, is not nearly the whole story. Watch any passage of loose play in midfield and look for the so-called superstar striker, digging in, chasing back, involving himself in the blur of one touch passes that carve out a new passage of possession for his team. No, prima donna goal hanging for the league's top scorer. No ghosting into special positions to pick up the crumbs for this man. Sergio Aguero plays a full and energetic part in shaping the chances that often culminate on his own toe end.



Football is a team game. Some players rise above this to elevate themselves to another level. Yet others, and there are very few of these, manage to stand out whilst remaining an integral part of the whole. For this, Sergio Aguero, we salute you, a truly outstanding footballer in an outstanding team.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

PROBLEMS PROBLEMS

You can find an abridged version of the following article at the official MCFC site


TRY GOOGLING “Manchester City away form” (don’t do this at home, kids) and you will find yourself bombarded by a shocking variety of headlines featuring the words “worried”, “perplexed”, at least one “bamboozled”, “negative effect on the title”, "worried for the future", "no chance at all", "Javier Garcia Murdered my Uncle Theofilius" and “bringing down a plague of locusts on the entire community of Greater Manchester”.

I may have made the last two up, but I'm pretty sure you get the approximate picture. It is a calamity, wrapped up in a disaster, cushioned with grief and waiting to explode all over us. Manuel Pellegrini’s hair, already a whiter shade of pale, must be turning peroxide with the worry.

Clearly, if anything can be said to be clear in football these days, City’s perfect home record is going a long way to balancing out what is happening away from Fortress Etihad, but let us take a minute or two to analyse the four away defeats that are providing so many people with ammunition at the moment.


Each one has been by a single goal. 3-2 at Cardiff and Villa, 2-1 at Chelsea and 1-0 at Sunderland. All close at the finish, despite City's evident profligacy upfront and hopelessness at the back..

The two matches, let us call them five goal thrillers for want of a more appropriate phrase (somebody must have been thrilled by them, let’s face it), saw City leading in both and finishing with overwhelming possession, corner, shots-on and -off stats (yes, I know, but bear with me). Anyone who witnessed the Chelsea match will not be able to say that defeat was deserved there either. City matched the home side overall in a feisty contest, beat them on all statistical data available and fell to an aberration when Joe Hart came out to collect Matija Nastasic instead of the ball.in the very last minute. 

As for the Stadium of Lright last weekend, where do you start? Sunderland – the home side, lest we forget- started the match in a kind of worried crab formation, scuttling backwards and sideways, running away and half coming back again. They then scored a goal. One cannot really say that it was out of the blue, but to say it had been coming would received some funny looks from all around. They then reverted to scuttling about under their shell. 


City had 63% ball possession and made 574 passes to Sunderland’s 298. Martín Demichelis and Aleksander Kolarov alone made more passes forward than Sunderland did. City had 24 shots to Sunderland’s 5. On top of everything, on a day when three of Jupiter’s moons aligned themselves with the top of Romark’s bald head to cause what experts call “severe confusion of the senses”, the winning goal was scored by David Bardsley, ex-United reserve, local black sheep and a man who gets forward to shoot at goal once every Blue Moon.


Most stunning of all, of the top 18 pass combinations between players during the match, only two featured passes between home players and that was only because one of the club’s sponsors demanded Ki be on the ball from time to time. (Bardley to Ki, 10 times, and Ki to Brown ten times. I can almost visualise that pretty triangle going round and round and round and back again until the ball rolled apologetically out into touch).

Haul your minds back to Cardiff, if you will. It’s ok, I’ll hold your hand. There'll be no bother, I promise. 70% possession for City; 561 passes completed to the home side’s 191; 17 of the top 18 pass combinations between City players. 16 shots to 9. (Yawn).

And on to Villa Park if you will: 67% possession for City. 487 passes completed to Villa’s 192; All eighteen of the top pass combinations during the match were between City players! 13 corners to the home side’s 2.

Off we go to Stamford Bridge, where you might expect it to have been a slightly different story. None of it. Although Chelsea, as you would expect, gave City a much tougher game than either Cardiff or Villa had managed to do, City had 54% of possession, had 6 of the match’s nine corners, made 404 passes to the home side’s 332. Of the pass combinations, 12 of the top 18 were between City players.

Now, I love a stat as much as the next man. I understand that all of those little numbers can be made to jump about in your favour almost at will. George Osborne might be able to cover over a few cracks, but these numbers tell a clear story of the Blues’ season so far on the road. Massive amounts of possession, a vast majority of the successful passing, more corners, more shots on goal than each of the hosts in each of the games. Much, much more.

I can blather on about this for months but let's allow those beautiful numbers to do the hard work:




Opponent
City possession of the ball/Opponent
City shots on goal/opponent
City/opponent passses completed
City top passing partnerships

Cardiff


70%   /30%

16 - 9

561  - 191

17 out of top 18

Aston Villa

67%   33%

21 - 8

487  -  192

All 18 top passing combinations


Chelsea


54%  46%

15 - 12

404  -  332

12 out of top 18

Sunderland


63%  47%

24 - 5

574  -  298

18 out of top 20

Norwich City


68%   31%

27 - 7

711  -  292

17 out of top 18




The stats for the demolition of Norwich are not far beyond what we see for the Cardiff, Villa and Sunderland matches. The Chelsea match delivers similar patterns in slightly more balanced terms. City actually had more possession at Cardiff than during the seven-nil stroll against Norwich. Norwich had more shots on goal losing 7-0 to City than Sunderland had beating us 1-0. Both Villa and Cardiff made significantly fewer passes in beating City than Norwich did in getting toasted. So, how can this be? 

Is it down to Joe hart's dandruff endorsements? Or Javi Garcia's tug boat impersonations? Is it Yaya's off days or Señor Pellegrini's oddly taciturn configurations? Is it the Sun and Pluto in Uranus? Is it Vincent Kompany's hamstrings? Is it Romark having yet more revenge for Big Mal's early 70s shenanigans?   

Maybe we should be looking - apart from the obvious individual errors and odd choice of players - at the one area of the side that nobody has mentioned yet: the attack. For all its 28 league goals, how many chances have been missed?

Experts blame the goalkeeper (now goalkeepers plural, after one paper decided Pantilimon should "take a look at himself" after Sunderland's winner last weekend), poor choice of tactics, inappropriate line-ups, lapses in defending and the evil eye of Isabat al-’ayn but perhaps in reality it comes down to something we have been aware of for decades.

And the two magic words will not be uttered here, if you don't mind too much.


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