Thursday, May 30, 2013

DENVER CITY BLUES



With City completing an incredibly successful post-season trip to the United States, where the club succeeded in raising its profile on numerous levels, this is Part Two of our reports from the US and reveals the efforts fans make to follow the club
This is what it's like to be City, Stateside

 
Joe Beauprez – Treasurer, MCFC Denver

Denver, Colorado USA

 ___________________________________________________

Being a passionate City Supporter in the USA has never been the easy road; the list of ‘lovable losers’ here is comprised of very few teams, all of them in ‘American Sports’ (Cubs and Browns fans, take a bow) and one’s affection for them almost always down to having been born in their respective cities.  Choosing a team (not to mention an English Football team) outside of one’s hometown is generally an exercise in taking the safe road.  I originally came to support City through my love of Manchester’s music; what was good enough for Ian Curtis was good enough for me.  What shocked me was how quickly and deeply the connection took hold. I’m every bit as emotionally invested in City as I am the Denver Broncos, my hometown NFL team (meaning, terribly, irrevocably and, if you ask my wife, maddeningly invested). 


Being a City supporter in Denver has always meant embracing a willingness to endure the sticks, stones & harsh stares from ‘them.’ As recently as a few years ago, it wasn’t unusual for there to be only a few of us Blue shirts at the pub, even on Derby Day. Surrounded by a sea of red, but safely insulated by our commitment, love and unexplainable passion for City, come what may. The reds don’t understand why we love our club, but it doesn’t matter. We’re secure enough to not care that the misguided hordes think a trophy case full of silverware means they’re better than us. Silly them; truth will out. 

I’ve been thinking/talking/tweeting the last few weeks about our dear club. Some of the true believers may have felt cause to question the direction of the club, the motives of the board, and if not their own willingness to carry on, at least to once again undertake the internal discussion as to why self-torture makes any sense at all. 

Few can question the Ambition of those in charge. Personally, I’ve been viewing everything through a filter of Authenticity. Does the Club remember who it is? Does it really care who supports them? Does it value the communities, not only where it currently resides, but where it seeks to gain traction (read: USA)? Can I still be proud of my Club? Does City still feel….like City? 

Pete Wright, DenverMCFC Chairman with unknown City fan before the game
The tragicomedy of the timing of the Mancini rumors followed by the FA cup disaster certainly felt to all who remember like the City of old, as most negative events do. The difference, to me, are the events that have followed on. City have lined up a manager who, by all appearances, can take the foundation of success and the winning attitude that Mancini created, almost from nothing, and build a lasting modus operandi into the team DNA, one that mirrors and even exceeds those of ‘old guard’ English & European clubs. City has also come to America, not (only) with money and splashy PR-ready events but with grass-roots, community focused camps and football activity to ensure generations of support, rooted in a deep and Authentic love of club. 

Was there a certain brutality to the treatment of Mancini? It’s hard to argue otherwise. But is the City board now sincerely doing its best to do what we never thought possible – win at every level, every year? Also hard to argue otherwise. 

My love for Manchester City will not waver if I never live to see another trophy. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like to win. That said, I’d never want my club to feel like something other than City. I will defer to the ‘old-timers’ whose memories bear the scars of decades of heartbreak and to whom the success of the last few years must still feel as strange as inhabiting another person’s reality. This ‘new City’ is all well and good as long as it’s still City – Authentically City. True Blue. We support the shirt, we support our club. Winning is alright by me……but no matter what, I’m City Till I Die, I’m City Till I Die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m City Till I Die. 


What was for some time only a few blue shirts in Denver has grown to, by our count, 20 to 30 committed supporters, including a couple guys from Manchester. Hard to say when we’ll finally have a ‘sea of blue’ here but we’re on our way. We have grown by being Authentic. It is said that you don’t find a club to support, the club finds you. To the extent we can, we are drawing new supporters for the club through pride and devotion, and those who are drawn to that are finding us, and finding Manchester City. Just as we can feel good things coming for the Club, we feel good things coming for our special group of Blues here in Denver, and for our fellow OSC chapters in the US, many of whom we were able to meet in St Louis. We have a wonderful home pub at The Armoury in Denver, which has been as supportive a pub as any Supporters Group could possibly ask for. During the last Derby, for the first time, we dramatically outnumbered the reds in attendance. That’s something I never expected to experience, not this soon at least. 

Such is the life of a City Supporter in 2013 that the offseason still carries with it the continued weight of hope and anticipation, albeit of a decidedly more positive nature. In years past, those emotions would be needed to get through the inevitable internal discussion, wondering why we’d subject ourselves to another year of this. Now they focus on thoughts of more silverware and another year of bragging rights. It used to be enough to hope for a quiet morning in the pub without constant taunts from the Red Menace; 3 wins out of 4 in the league over 2 seasons, along with an FA Cup Semifinal victory, have turned the volume down on that a bit. No group talks smack from ahead like United fans however, and #20 has brought the trolls out from under the bridges once again. They never learn - we can’t be bothered by their taunts; everything that happens for us lately still feels like so much gravy. 

City’s move towards the annual expectation of silverware has taken some getting used to for all but its most recent supporters. The desire of those from outside the Blue Circles seems to be to paint the team (and the supporters) with the same broad brush as other big, Nouveau Riche “Pretenders” and their fans; heartless glory hunters who wouldn’t know tradition if it rose up from League One to hit them across the back of the head. 

What they still haven’t realized is that being a true City Supporter is in and of itself a glorious tradition, one that no sane person would willingly choose for himself (save those who’ve taken it up in the last couple years). Our tradition binds us together, gives us a common language; our suffering makes us a proud family, Authentically Blue.  

You can follow the Denver Blues on Twitter  




Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CITY ON TOUR, ST LOUIS MISSOURI



With City completing an incredibly successful post-season trip to the United States, where the club succeeded in raising its profile on numerous levels, this is the first of two eye witness accounts of how things were on the ground and reveals the great efforts fans made to be present at the games. 
This is what it's like to be City, Stateside

City on Tour: St. Louis, Missouri
By
Matthew Eide (with input from fellow travelers, Moritz Reiter and Liz Gossens)

The Journey

As Chairman of the Capital City Blues, Washington, DC’s Official Manchester City Supporters Club, I was thrilled to learn that City was coming to the States. After spending so much of my life watching them on television—I would finally be able to cheer them on in person with other supporters from across the US.
From nearly the moment it was announced, it was decided that a few members of the club would travel over 800 miles to St. Louis. A 13-hour trip by car across half of America was well worth it, because this is what it means to support Manchester City. We booked hotel rooms and rented a car, days before tickets went on sale. Logistically, the trip was filled with all sorts of bumps for a new club and Chairman: There was a point in time when we weren’t even sure we would have tickets.

Crossing the Mississippi
I worked with the Chair of the Chicago group to procure tickets (eventually), and connect with three other major supporters clubs—Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; and New Orleans, Louisiana. We joked that it would be like the meeting of The Five Families of the famed organized crime syndicate…albeit with a much more congenial agenda.
The three of us: myself, my girlfriend Liz (technically an Arsenal fan, but also the Club’s Logistics Officer), and our friend Moritz (founder of Capital City Blues, and current Social Secretary) left Washington, DC at 9:00pm. We had already logged a full day’s work at our respective jobs, and faced a 13-hour drive through the Appalachia and across three flat Midwestern states, before the Gateway Arch would come into sight, on the other side of the Mighty Mississippi. Just before crossing the DC/Maryland state line, I turned to Mo and said, “Be prepared for a rainstorm—it always rains when Liz and I go on road trips”, Mother Nature would prove me correct. The skies opened up.
The drive was long, tedious, and in a few places outright scary. Liz took the first leg, winding through the mountains in the pouring rain, lightning illuminating the hills and scattered towns in Western Maryland, Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio. I took over somewhere after Wheeling, WV, and Liz slept. When Liz woke up, I was navigating through seemingly forgotten construction sites, and I noticed that the other side of Interstate 70 was shut down due to what we later learned was a fatal collision involving three semis and a pickup truck. Shortly after seeing the charred remains of the trucks blocking the other side of the interstate, with at least two miles of stopped cars and 18-wheelers, waiting for it to re-open, we witnessed the immediate aftermath of a small car hitting a deer a few yards in front of us. Chilling. It was a long night, and we were grateful to get out of Ohio. 

Liz took over about two hours outside of Indianapolis, and made the executive decision that we needed to stop at Long’s Bakery (an Indy staple favorite) for fresh doughnuts and milk. This was exactly the energy and morale boost we needed at 6am, and Mo took the wheel for the last few hours into St. Louis, as Thursday morning welcomed us.
We were greeted at our hotel with the wonderful news that they had rooms available early, and we could check in, sleep for a few hours, and regain our composure.  To say that we were exhausted would be an understatement.   

Fast forward to Thursday afternoon.

Pre- Match

Tommy and Victoria
While Liz and I slept, Moritz snapped photos of the Arch There he met Tommy, a lifelong fan since the early 1950’s who grew up in Moss Side outside the old Maine Road stadium.  He and his wife flew up from San Antonio to see family and the match. Moritz then headed to the bar in the hotel lobby, where he met other City fans that had come from Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Winnipeg, Canada.  More on Tommy later.
By 3pm everyone was ready to head to the local pub, Paddy O’s, to start the celebration. We walked over with guys from Pittsburgh and Chicago; unsure of what to expect when we arrived at the bar. It would be incredible.
Over the course of the next three hours, a steady stream of supporters mostly wearing sky blue joined us at the bar. We sang and sang, and got to know each other. 

It was there that we met up with members of the supporters clubs from Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, and Denver, and fans who were trying to start their own local branches. It was there we would meet Kyle, from Chicago, who donates his time to City Soccer in the Community, and gave us advice on how to help build the program in DC—a major goal of our supporters club. 

This is where the story really begins. As American football and Major League Soccer (Vamos United!) fans, we all know what it’s like to be a part of a larger group of people all cheering for the same thing. We watched Chelsea fans do their thing in little groups, grilling, drinking, playing bean bag toss- but the City fans interacted as though they had known each other for their whole lives- connected simply by their love of the team. This was more than a group of people joining together to watch a match.
What made this experience different from all that is the fact that Manchester City supporters are part of a family.

Pre-match revelry the same the world over
From relatively new fans like Liz, talking about their favorite players on this year’s team, to people who have supported the club literally their entire lives, talking about growing up in Manchester and going to the stadium with their family and friends, everyone was instantly connected. Mark, from Blue Moon Dallas, led the packed bar in song after song, and then everything got quiet as a few unexpected guests showed up: The one-and-only Buzzer, City alum Mike Summerbee, and Vincent Kompany’s father, Pierre Kompany.

Liz watched a woman tear up with happiness as Summerbee spoke to the group about football gaining traction in the US, and how much it meant to him to be with us at the pub in St. Louis. I watched Tommy, the lifelong City supporter who Mo met under the Arch, choke up as he was given tickets by another supporter, for his family who hadn’t been able to find any. Tommy would later state that “this is what makes us City fans—we’re a family.” Truer words may have never been spoken.

Drinks were consumed, songs were sung, and everywhere I looked, there were fans sharing their City Stories and connecting on a level I had never seen before in anything else. Manchester City may have millions of dollars in the bank and is becoming one of the biggest clubs in the world but they have retained the family feeling of a small club: Strangers buying drinks for one another, giving away spare tickets, and solidifying lifelong friendships. 

There was some talk of the New York expansion, but as devoted DC United fans, we are torn on this development. As a Yankees fan, however, Mo is excited that both of his favorite teams are coming together. Liz and I aren’t sure that New York needs another MLS team, but are happy to see City represented in the States. Other MLS fans we spoke to generally echoed this sentiment: That there are other cities that could benefit from a professional soccer team (St. Louis, for example), and that New York didn’t make sense. Anyhow, on to the match! 

Match Time

At 6:30pm, we headed around the corner to Busch Stadium. The lines were long, and the City fans started singing without stopping until they had all cleared the gates. Chants of “If you hate Man United, clap your hands” coupled with the Toure brothers’ chant, and Blue Moon rang out around the South gates, with silent stares from the supporters in dark blue. Eventually the lines moved and we made our way to our section. We were surrounded by Chelsea supporters, a handful of other Premier League and general football fans, seeing their first professional match. It was clear that football is an under-recognized sport in St. Louis, which was echoed by numerous conversations we had with fans.
We hung our supporter’s club flags, and started cheering even before the players walked onto the field. Our seats were on the third base line of the stadium, and we had a bird’s eye view of Petr Cech in goal. 

During the match itself, the experience was similar to most sporting events- cheering, songs, and ribbing of the few Chelsea fans within earshot. Unfortunately things did not go our way, and the only goals scored in the first half were the three by Chelsea. Watching City come back from three-nil at the half, to win the game by one goal, was great- but it was being with these people throughout the match that made all the difference. These were no longer simply a group of people wearing the same colour, but truly a big, City family. The exhilaration of being on the winning side, coupled with the emotional full-ness of being part of something made this a completely unique experience. 

Four Poznans later we would walk out there proud of our boys on the pitch. The mood at Paddy O’s after the match was raucous and genuine. People had to leave at various times to ensure that they made it back to their hometowns, and there were lots of hugs and pictures taken. Between Mo, Liz, and I, we have been to too many sporting events to keep track of, but this was by far the most memorable. Even though it was a friendly match, the fact that we’re now part of the City family is what made it so powerful. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to spend time with these folks- and to see City in person again. 

Matthew Eide is the Chairman of the Capital City Blues, Washington, DC’s Manchester City Official Supporter Group. This trip was his first time seeing City in person.
 
You can follow the group on Twitter:
@ManCityDC



Sunday, May 26, 2013

PORTO TARGET PELLEGRINI

He's behind you
According to the Portuguese press, Manuel Pellegrini, outgoing manager of Malaga and hotly tipped to become Roberto Mancini's successor at the Etihad, also features at the top of FC Porto's wanted list, if, as seems likely, they dispense with coach Vitor Pereira's services in the next few days.

According to Sunday's A Bola newspaper, Pellegrini is already in possession of a proposal from Porto's S.A.D., the business arm of the club, to become the next manager of the northern giants and Portuguese league champions of 2012-2013. The news will send a shiver down the spine of those in Manchester fully expecting City to be the next port of call for the experienced Chilean. According to A Bola, the fact that City are also "in the race" for Pellegrini does not necessarily put Porto at a disadvantage and the paper claims that the Chilean finds the Porto proposal "highly attractive", although exactly who it is that appears to have uttered those words is unclear.

Pereira's departure from Porto appears to have been decided well before he managed to haul in the title against the odds with a last day win for his Porto side away at Paços de Ferreira. Although Porto went through the entire season unbeaten in the league, they failed in the Champions League, ironically being dismissed from the competition by Pellegrini's sprightly Malaga side at the quarter final stage. It was perhaps these two games that brought Pellegrini to the closest attention of Porto president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, a man notorious for having it all his own way in Portuguese football. Despite their late success in the league, Pereira has neither the unanimous support of the Porto supporters nor the club's board members.With Pinto da Costa the owner of a deliciously suspect trigger finger, it is on the cards that Porto will indeed shortly be without a manager. The offer that has already been tabled to Pellegrini's agent is thought to be well short in financial terms of what City have offered, but Porto's recent sale of João Moutinho and James Rodriguez means they are €70 million up on this time last week, a fact that might allow them to bid higher if it came to such a fight.

It has to be said that a good 40-50% of the stories that feature in the Portuguese sports dailies at this stage of the season have to be taken with a decent pinch of salt, but the piece today, tucked away on Page 27 of A Bola on the pages dedicated to FC Porto, occupies a full page and goes into unusually deep detail. It is clear that Porto are and will be interested in Pellegrini. What is not so certain for them, is how interested he would be in them.

The link to the Porto/Pellegrini story


Monday, May 20, 2013

CONDENSED READ - Norwich (h)

Sunday 19th May 2013
Manchester City 2 Norwich City 3
Rodwell (2) - Pilkington, Holt, Howson 
Att:47,054

____________________________________________

THE BEGINNING: Season 2012-2013 has caved in like an undercooked flan. Still it is our last supper, so we consume.

THE MIDDLE: How to make Johnny Howson look like Jairzinho. But, wait, here comes Micah to the rescue! To save the day for all of us! (large sausage shaped object flies headlong past yellow-shirted striker as if fired from a cannon). Oh....

Yaya grazes, Edin dozes, crowd fidgets, Norwich score. Welcome The Real Jack Rodwell.

THE END: The curtain falls. Brings railing down with it. Bye bye Edin, Kolo, Joleon, Micah, Scott, Aleks, Carlos, Costel, Brian? Ciao, Roberto, and thanks. One Chilean flag.

THE STAT: City score in 50th consecutive home game, the longest current run and 2nd longest in Premier League history. Norwich win for only the third time in history at City and for the first time at the Etihad. Previous wins 1964 and 1997, the year of Lee Bradbury.

THE QUOTE: "I've been blessed and been grateful for what football has given me. I was asked to take charge for two games and America, which has been tough with the boss going. The club make the decisions and you abide by it. I'm a big boy." - Brian Kidd

THE LIST: Signing off in (City) style


Manchester City 5 Cambridge United 0
Manchester City 2 Everton 5
Manchester City 2 QPR 3
Manchester City 0 Chelsea 2

Manchester City 5 Charlton 1
West Ham 2 Manchester City 0
Manchester City 0 Luton Town 1
Bradford City 1 Manchester City 1
Gillingham 2 Manchester City 2
Blackburn Rovers 1 Manchester City 4
Middlesbrough 8 Manchester City 1
Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2
Newcastle United 3 Manchester City 4
Manchester City 5 Everton 1
Manchester City 1 Middlesbrough 1

Thursday, May 16, 2013

REVOLVING DOORS

The man with the Champions League halo
Time waits for no one in football. The various shades of dust are still settling on Manchester City's Retro Tribute FA Cup Final weekend, where the cup was lost against a side relegated three days later, in circumstances even Tony Soprano couldn't have made more complicated. There was no horse's head, but the blood letting has not stopped for three days and the rest of us have been left feeling like a finely sliced salami.


Outgoing manager, Roberto Mancini, leaving with the songs of thousands still ringing in his ears, has already begun to be painted in a different light, now that he has left the building. With the useful golden rule of never cross your assistant kit man added to an ever-lengthening list of things to be aware of as a football manager, tales of arrogance and autocracy now seep from the Etihad's walls like blood from a still warm corpse. He had a man, whose sole purpose in life was to wash his bicycle! He sat in restaurants in silence despite being in the company of esteemed British journalists! He forced innocent people to eat gnocci! He ignored the holistic approach and aimed at a kind of granular dictatorship of the mind. And the assistant kitman noticed all of this. The assistant kitman is now at Sunderland where his new best mate is Adam Johnson. He may well be a visionary of some kind.

With the door still swinging merrily on its battered hinges after the fulsome push it was given on Monday, we await the in-rush of air and what or indeed who might be carried in on its light yet powerful zephyrs. The Guardian, along with a sizeable and audibly chattering flock of journalistic sheep, has already chosen its man, witness the helpful little article already posted by Jamie Jackson on their website, entitled Five Things for Pellegrini to Put Right at City.

This has provoked a rash of material to be unearthed on the man himself. He can speak English, although this solely according to Graham Hunter's view through a swanky hotel's safety partition where he was seen "alone in conversation with Alex Ferguson for over an hour...". While this is certainly proof of a man's capacity to listen to what he thinks might be English, only time will give us the proper answer to this particular question. Maybe this need is an exaggerated one anyway. Whilst Luis Filipe Scolari failed at Chelsea partly owing to communication frailties, Mancini's English never progressed beyond passable and it didn't seem to hinder him too much. Although, maybe that was the reason for the pregnant silence before the gnocci were served.

Pellegrini, we are told, is not just the man, who built the fantastically entertaining Villareal side of Riquelme, Cazorla, and Forlan but also produced an excellent team and performance in his one season in charge of Real. Pep Guardiola went out of his way to emphasise how well his side had been chased to the line by Pellegrini's men. His most recent exploits at Malaga also reflect well on the man. Holding a grumbling squad of unpaid players together, he eventually got them to within seconds of knocking out the continent's new darlings, Borussia Dortmund, in that nail-chewing quarter final in the Ruhrgebiet. He is a man of tactics, a "coach", say Hunter, not a manager. This then is an individual, who can dovetail well with the "holistic" needs mentioned in the press release after Mancini's dismissal, a man more at home with the shaping of his football team than the frippery of today's massive football periphery.



Here is a man who inspires respect not through bullying but through inclusion. He appears tough. Riquelme, for all his talent, did not last at Villareal in the end, when he refused to buy into Pellegrini's vision. It was not an unwillingness to play beautiful football either. Pellegrini's teams have a fine reputation for that too. It was simply the installation of discipline and team ethic to make the vision come to fruition, which it did so spectacularly at El Madrigal. His Villareal side, packed with such talent as Ibagaza, Riquelme, Senna, a young Matias Fernandez, Capdevila and Rossi, played expansive attacking, pacy football that brought results. Often one outweighs the other, but in Pellegrini's little tactics books lie the secrets to marrying the two together and making beautiful music.

Perhaps his Malaga side's two games with FC Porto show him at his best. In the away game, a cagey defensive formation limited a powerful Porto side to 1-0. In the return, with the same players unshackled and reshaped, thrilling victory was achieved. 

In an interesting piece written in 2009, Tim Vickery likens him to a football Roger Moore, a suave urbane man, to whose head Villareal fans would be only too happy to affix the all-important halo.

Without doubt, Mancini's successor faces a big challenge to be ready for the new season, to clear out the deadwood, to reintroduce order and to have his chosen staff in place on and off the pitch in time for August. In light of the reasons given for Mancini's exit, some of the latter will be taken from the new coach's hands anyway. If that man does turn out to be Pellegrini, it will only serve to give this tactical master even more time to shape City's football style for the immediate future. Present wounds will heal fast when we see the whites of the man's eyes.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

THE SHOW GOES ON

As the rains came tumbling down Tuesday on this neat little patch of green in Berkshire, it was difficult not to think the Football Gods had sent at least some of the downpour to wash away the grief of another Manchester City managerial tragi-theatre piece. Others might have seen it as a chance to swill away any signs of the Roberto Mancini regime, already disintegrating at pace, as David Platt declined an offer to come to the show and instead headed for the dry hills to find his friend. Yet others might have linked the gushing water everywhere to metaphorical tears for yet another self-made implosion in the grand old custard-pie littered history of Manchester City football club.

Whatever your leanings, it all seemed pretty apt.

-Aguero, Dzeko score to lead City
-Pellegrini favourite to replace Mancini
-Mancini sacking starts staff overhaul


Brian Kidd, his hair plastered to his head, sat wringing his hands with nobody to talk to. With Platt gone, Mancini long gone (in football terms at least), there were plenty of spare seats in the dugout, as there were in the City section at the Madejski, as supporters voted with their feet and with their empty wallets. The average Premier League manager lifespan is down to 16 months, we are told.

With The Guardian already posting pieces on "What Pellegrini Needs to Do First" on its website, the 59-year-old Chilean's clock appears to have been set running even before the wild speculation can finish. This is modern football and its impatient, all-consuming character. One thinks back to Joe Mercer, to Malcolm Allison, to Johnny Hart and to Tony Book, to an era of thick coats and strange hats, of board members with pipes permanently angled from the corners of their mouths.

City’s history has meandered gently around all of these characters to now stand on the brink of a Chilean tactical wizard, recently of Real Madrid and Malaga and Villareal, backed by the suited ranks from Abu Dhabi. What Ron Saunders and Peter Swales would have made of that is anybody’s guess.

You can read on at ESPNFC 

GRAZIE MILLE, ROBERTO

It is not exactly anything new for football clubs -- any football club, and especially our own spotlessly shiny Manchester City -- to be accused of shabby manoeuvring and low-hand skullduggery with its managers, so FA Cup final weekend's inglorious tribute to Roberto Mancini and the many thousands of hours he has put in toward the Good Cause should not really have come as much of a shock.

Exactly a year on -- to the very day, let it be said -- from the greatest moment in any City supporter's lifetime, the air is full of the sound of tutting and expletives being offloaded into the night sky left, right and centre. Roberto Mancini has left the building with the wailing and gnashing of teeth loud and clear behind him. The Italian leaves in his wake a stream of distraught supporters, shocked at the brutality of the modern game and its lust for immediate success.

- Marcotti: Mancini's halted progress at Man City
- Brewin: City make no case for Mancini's defence
- Pellegrini favourite for City job
- WhoScored: Stats support Mancini sacking
- Jolly: Man City gamble with Mancini sacking
- Gallery: Mancini at City

In the whirring vortex of such news, it is difficult to see the wood for the trees, but let us for a moment try to take the man, his accomplishments and people's reaction thereto as our starting points.

In the maelstrom of innuendo and bleating, of finger pointing and gesticulating that we now find ourselves dispatched to, it is always the rational that is first to be dispensed with. That this storm of words was permitted to hit the nation's presses before the FA Cup final is borderline criminal, especially for a club whose appearances in these festive occasions can still be counted using the old upturned tree sloth and his three dirty little flea-infested fingers. Whether the news was squeezed out or escaped all by itself, the timing was legendary in its inappropriateness.

Roberto Mancini is a dignified man, who has often appeared ill at ease with the spit and flotsam that comes as part of the English football existence. He is, of course, Italian, so let us not pretend that he has not seen a few cut-throat shenanigans down through the years. He is no wet-behind-the-ears novice, after all. From Machiavelli to the Medicis, the Italian powerhouses have always been able to handle themselves, and Mancini is hewn from tough stock.

His departure now, with the papers falling over themselves to take a peek at Manuel Pellegrini and his credentials, smacks more than a little of the same ugly dustcloud kicked up around Mark Hughes when Mancini himself was supposedly waiting in the wings to take over.


You can read the rest of this article here



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

THE MAN WITH THE ANGRY FACE

Well, well, Fergus, it has come to this. I don't need the 'sir' now, do I. We have known each other long enough, you and I.

Ah yes, twenty-six years we have been staring at each other through the gently drifting swirls of coffee smoke. twenty-six years we have exchanged knowing glances behind a waft of liniment or a whiff of cordite. Twenty-six years we have ground each other down to minute dusty grains. Like an
old wardrobe or a faded picture hanging in the spare room, there has never been a moment when I didn't think you would be there with your lovely mauve hooter and your rounded Glaswegian r's. You were part of the furniture, a figure to moan and groan at when the wife was less obliging. There was always something going on between us, after all, whether it was us being of little consequence or us making too much noise, you getting too big for your boots or you rubbing our noses in the silage spill of our mid-nineties attempt at being a football club. There was always a little prospect of stray gunfire, always the faint sound of war drums banging in the distance.

And let's face it, we loved it, both you and I. We loved the opportunity to bleat and counter-bleat, to mock and foam in indignation.We liked to look non-plussed by it all and head around the corner to spit feathers. We football folk are like that, though, aren't we? A bit of leg pulling here, a bit of ribaldry there, a smile and a joke, then into the bathroom to wretch and curse and crack a few mirrors, eat a hairdryer for tea.

Our relationship, I don't know whether you remember, started well enough. On a sunny day, you made a bit of a squiffy start. Ralph Milne and all that. There was Lee Martin and a couple of other ringers in those early days and the hate mob that appeared on the Old Trafford precincts telling everyone that you had to go. They got their wish in the end then, the soft sods! It all looked quite promising in a Ron
The Milne
Atkinson
sort of way. But this was a long time ago, back when Mike Phelan had hair and Dave Beckham was a little West Ham urchin in some Dagenham sink estate. There were no Big Ron necklaces about your neck, no Big Ron perma tans and no Big Ron champagne flutes. You had your Adidas puffa jacket and a bottle of whisky, but it all looked precariously un-Big Ron after a while. I hoped maybe the saga would develop with time into Tommy Cockery or Paddy Crerand Ha Ha Ha, but these too seemed an imperfect match to your serious football glances and mean, pencil thin lips.

Time moved slowly in those early years. Painfully slowly. You showed little early signs of aptitude after the Awesome Aberdeen Days. There was no Wullie Miller here. No big flaming haired Alec McLeish. Not even a John Hewitt, for heaven's sakes. Just an Archie Knox for company and that's not saying much. Those early signings gave us all a little insight into what was coming though. You had Viv Anderson and his long legs and big mouth, you hauled in Steve Bruce, one of the two Ugly Sisters who would stop a container truck with one of his smiles, you had Choccy McClair and Clayton Blackmore, with his hair like an afghan hound that was just a little bit too pleased with itself. Then we all had Jim Leighton. This was for City as well as for United., I felt. A gift to the lot of us, I suspect, the first of several that you warmly and generously offered to us during your stay in Lancashire. You weren't averse to a bit of wobbly goalkeeping, Fergus, and for that we thank you! The lad Taibi would come later of course, and he was the big present, as we grafted away in the lower leagues under your
all-engulfing shadow. That thing he did with his legs against Southampton. I thought you were going to explode in your little seat down the side there. My word, what times we were all traversing together.

You gave us other titbits to keep us from drowning. Mark Bosnich was one. And Paul Ince, for which we must thank you.

I'd like to think, once you got your tartan slippers properly under the desk, our relationship took proper constructive shape. You told us what was what and we sheepishly agreed that we had had it. We were sunk. You presided over a bit of serious empire building just as we became a music hall joke. Stuart Hall's Theatre of Base Comedy, although who's listening to him these days, eh? We were, by our own reckoning, all over the shop. That 5-1 at Maine Road with the Platt Lane empty but for a few young crackers with their banner, the Three Years of Excuses one, seemed like a long long time ago when you managed to persuade Kanchelskis to make Davey Brightwell look like a mound of wet cement sacks. I had an inkling that night that all was not exactly ok. It wasn't just the 5-0 bumping your cohorts gave us; it was the whole manner of the slaughter: unkind, devestatingly clinical and of course a five to wipe out our own five. This was to become typical of our relationship. We were already a laughing stock and you, Fergus, just made it all ten times worse. Three Years of Excuses. And Twenty-Two of endless rivers of trophies. I don't mind telling you, I became utterly sick of your I'll get yae back mentality.

It wasn't as if you didn't have other targets to pick on. Liverpool fat and loathsome on their perch, The French Professor and all those languages he spoke, Real Madrid and their viruses, that tricky Inzahgi who was born offside, and even some your own inner cabal not exactly polishing pebbles for you. Grown up Dave Beckham, Stam, Van Nistelrooy, even the old vein bulger himself, they all got on your 
A proud man
wick eventually, didn't they? That chump Rooney has gone down the same road and now he's off to practise his communication skills at, where was it again, Bavaria? Paris? Makes so little difference for a cosmopolitan man like that, I suppose. You might like to offer him a word of advice as you both pack your little departing suitcases, as to where to get a decent Chablis without needing a straw or how to spot a decent Bordeaux. Looks A bit like Vimto" will probably suffice for the lad."

We went off your radar for a while, it must be said. Occasionally our paths would cross and you would chirrup something tasty about how inconsequential we were. If we weren't already feeling suicidal, your mots justes would certainly have propelled us towards the edge of the cliff. I'd wager your utterings had me in a royal froth on more than one occasion. I was livid. But then so were you half the time. We were down on our luck. Third division, Auto Windshields, Mansfield Town et al. Your chums at The Mirror did a job on us that night too! You had them all licking drips off the ends of your stubby Glaswegian fingers, you rascal.

We met in the Cup and, by some quirk of fate, the little bald Geordie ref saw your lot through with a penalty from heaven. Your man Cantona, a strutting collar-up pillar of hormonal self-love, was your on-pitch spokesman. Not the ugly aunties Pallister and Bruce, not the girly voiced Beckham, not even the rabid dog Keane, but this cocksure Marseillais stallion with a smirk on his face. I still see his reaction to that goal against Sunderland at night sometimes when the wind is banging against the window panes. He embodied all those finite, beautiful yet cruel acts you deemed paramount, all those thrusts of the knife into our bleeding hearts.

Of late, our relationship has changed for the worse, of course. We became a threat. You got rattled. Carlos did the dirty. The sign went up in town. The tables turned. Your expression turned to granite. We know even today that there are times when we should just steer clear of you. That face, set in Son, you were sitting at the Captain's Table. Now you're rowing down with the other bastards...". It was always us and them, you and me. Poor John Motson. You gave the BBC twenty years of Mike Phelan and his mustache. Not caring much for etiquette, unless it was being fired in your direction, you slapped bans here and made snidey under the microphone asides there. Anyone and everyone was a target in your thunderstruck democracy.
An affectionate hug
stone, gripped by some perceived injustice, tells us quite clearly to step aside. Some have fond out the hard way, with a flying boot or a torrent of expletives. Some have been banned from talking, from writing, from entering the red promenade. You were a poet too in those moments of cruelty. As one of your ex-men of the press Mr Palmer heard, "

But maybe we have to apologise for the last three years. We have risen quickly and above our station, giving you migraine and gut ache. Quite unnecessary for a man of your age, who had fought to knock those Scousers from their "fucking perch". Now a new foe, so close to home, with the volume turned up so loud. You did your best to belittle us as before. There was the 6-1 stuffing on your own patch. Johnny Evans looked like a bollard and you used the words "suicidal" and "embarrassing" in public, as if you almost accepted the sea change.

Not in my lifetime, you mumbled, but having diarrhea on the hard shoulder is easier than seeing City off these days. We stuck at it, even as you gloried in our demise. People chuckled about Devon Loch and you tried not to enjoy the horse racing analogies too much. It was tough going keeping your face straight, then Moyes's Everton blew everything up in your face. Suddenly there was a thrashing and
threshing noise behind you, culminating in one very ugly afternoon on Wearside that must have felt like the end of the world. To us, at that late point, in that manner, with the locals dancing up and down like that. No respect. It was irony moulded into a lethal dart.

And then that stopwatch of yours started telling you something new. The ticking got louder. Times sands shift and wait for no man.

So you swallowed your pride and you came back for more. One last time, as it now appears. You may have been a bully to us all these years but you have been a fighter, still now in your sunset years; you don't give up and that has brought you your final reward: to go out at the top. Not cowed, not beaten by us interminably chirpy pessimists, but as a league champion once more. You ruled with an iron fist, you celebrated with a granny jig. But you can relax it all now. The fist. Unclench it. You leave us as a winner one last time.

And, do you know what, we'll not begrudge you that, with your angry old face.





GRIN AND TONIC

Edin Dzeko leads the reaction to his clean connection on the volley
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder, and there was something for every artistic bent at the Etihad Tuesday. 
Like a ripe apple, this was a match that could be divided into three distinct parts: 20 minutes of slumber, followed by 25 of electric attacking, followed by 45 of stumbling around. Much has been said of City's advantage over United in terms of squad depth and Tuesday that was at least half proved by the sight of a practically all-new 11 out on the pristine Etihad turf, compared to the Sleepwalk in the Valleys last weekend. 


There was an entirely new back four, featuring the welcome sight of the arm-banded Micah Richards and the less promising sight of Aleksander Kolarov strolling around at left back. As expected, the reserve central pairing of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott also got the nod, a clear confirmation that young Matija Nastasic will take his deserved place in the Cup final, after a debut season in the Premier League which has been rich in promise and high in quality.



- Match report: Manchester City 1-0 West Brom
- Video: Mancini looking ahead to Wembley



Of those patrolling further forward, only Carlos Tevez seems sure to play at the weekend, with Roberto Mancini having a tricky choice to make between the skills of Nasri and the drive of James Milner. Many would choose the latter; a certain well-known Italian might just do the opposite. It's a matter of taste, evidently.

 

Amid all the speculation surrounding the dreamy figure of Edin Dzeko, whether he was psychologically fit to play, whether he deserved to roll on the sky blue shirt after the distressingly vapid performance at the weekend, there he was, doing what Dzeko does best: First he dangled a great limb at a 33rd-minute cross from the left. The ball shot through him as if he were made of butterfly netting. It seems at times only Dzeko can marry the appearance of a proud forest stag with the durability of rice paper. But at least he kept at it. 


You can read the rest of this article on ESPN's MCFC pages here 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

WEMBLEY WARDROBE MALFUNCTION ZAPS DZEKO

With one side basking in that Wembley afterglow of success that sometimes strikes League Cup winners down with a rare sort of paralysis more often accredited to striped Australian bugs, and the other in a typically pre-Wembley Cup final tip-toe of self-preservation, Swansea and Manchester City served up a game that seemed to last even longer than the 102 minute marathon in October between the two sides.

That was one of the Premier League's longest ever games. This one seemed to be trying to drag itself grimly on well beyond that remarkable barrier, despite referee Mike Jones's mercy killing occurring as early as the 93rd minute.

- Swansea City view from Max Hicks: Renewed spirit 
- ESPN Match report Swans and City share stalemate


City, on an eight game run of success that has seen them hoisted as the Premier League's late season form team, versus Swansea, a team searching for any semblance of form at all. Michael Laudrup and

For Laudrup, his season's job has been done since the moment Swansea's first ever trophy was secured along with a comfortable berth in Premier League mid-table. After Swansea's inaugural season with the big boys under Brendan Rodgers, this term has been so far from the usual goblin attacks of second season syndrome as to be almost totally unrecognisable from the expected norm.

As for Mancini, his season's work hangs on the small matter of next weekend's game with Wigan Athletic at Wembley. It seems ever so slightly odd that a team that has participated in the Champions League and run with (or slightly behind) Manchester United all season for the league title, should now be staring at a single make-or-break game, but that is the reality of the situation Mancini and his men find themselves in.

Win it and City go into the close season full of hope, with a fourth trophy secured in three years, ready and willing to spend on new recruits of high calibre and working towards a renewed assault on the top of the table. Lose it and those dreaded storm clouds of old will begin to gather, the sound of sharpening knives will be heard and certain sections of the press will have their gleeful field day.

Mancini's reaction to the news that City had been chatting to Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini during the week was generally translated by the word "non-plussed" in the mainstream press. What he feels

inside is another matter. To be portrayed as a failure, or anything approaching it, is to ignore the sound job done so far and instead be dazzled by those who will have it that the Italian is a one-man vanity project, who cannot or will not countenance proper man-management and who has no time for players who do not show the same levels of technique and know-how that he did in his gilded youth.

Roberto Mancini, both alumni of Lazio and true scholars of the more artistic machinations of this simple game we call football, have their work cut out.

Laudrup, you feel, might have been forgiven for having feelings along similar lines, as he watched his charges flail and flap and fail to get past a lethargic, dreamy-looking City. Those televised tears shed so publicly here last season could have been tears of frustration Saturday, as a full strength City did nothing to suggest they will finish the league campaign devouring opponents. Instead, as Cup Final foes Wigan embarked on yet another sprightly end of term relegation sprint, City were to be found plodding around the Valleys leaden footed and disinterested.

These traits were perhaps best illustrated by the towering figure of Edin Dzeko, who appeared for the second half instead of Yaya Toure. Dzeko's moment came near the end, with just seven minutes remaining, as he succeeded in steering an easy chance wide with the aplomb of a man with his mind on the dotted line at the bottom of a contract entitled "The Undersigned Will Hereby Play for Borussia Dortmund". The Bosnian has the air of a man asked to hold onto a wardrobe for five minutes in case a light breeze blows it away, who still manages to be empty handed when you return. Four goals in 2013 for City, Dzeko's startling malaise is just a microcosm of City's big failing this season: 26 fewer than at this stage last season. For the team, this can be rectified. For Dzeko, you sense the exit door is falling off its hinges waiting for him to pass through it, both as far as he is concerned, as the club itself.

There were some positives to gain from all of this: Joe Hart accumulated yet another clean sheet towards what will surely be his third consecutive Golden Glove award, while also surpassing Micah Richards as City's third-most fielded player in the premier league era (161); no injuries were reported (although Scott Sinclair did end up in a Manchester hospital after a blood clot in his shoulder was reported. The player had not travelled with the squad); plus referee Jones saw fit not to award a penalty to Swansea (why break the habit of a season...?) when the classy Matija Nastasic wiped out Michu in the area. Dzeko later tried the same trick at the other end, but his clumsy fall looked more like an old lady running down a flight of steps. It has been that kind of an end to the season for the Bosnian. For it not to be that kind of a season for City, they must re-find the panache and drive in time for Wigan next Saturday.


NEVER SHORT OF AN OPINION: Mancini shares a tactical thought with his lazio boss Sven Goran Eriksson


This article first appeared on ESPN's website

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