Sunday, October 25, 2015

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE

Allison: darling of the Stretford End
Not in my lifetime, noisy neighbours, welcome to Manchester, why always me

The heavily nuanced, insult-filled, low-respect Manchester Derby is back at the top of the bill, frothing at the mouth and swaggering like a top heavy drunk on his way out of Yates Wine Lodge.

This one reaches  us, as usual, with plenty coming to the boil, a full mother load of reputations at stake and the recognisable blustery faces telling us it is bound to be all red or all blue at the end of the day.

In the last five years Manchester has witnessed such a sea change that even that old sage Alex Ferguson has been caught on the hop. What was not supposed to happen in his lifetime, not only did just that but happened on his watch. Much of what we now see of Manchester United, a club scampering to pick up lost ground on their neighbours, is a result of the slack final chapters under Ferguson’s stewardship. United may have wrested the title away from City one final time before the Scot faded into retirement, but what has come since cannot all be blamed on the Glazers, on the incapacity of David Moyes and on the Ed Woodward Show.  

City are busy empire building. Whilst having Far East coconut drink partners smacks of a rampant commercialisation that City fans thought and hoped would never come their way, it is part of a new Manchester City unafraid to grasp opportunities and benefit from how modern football works. And, whisper it gently, they are making a pretty good fist of it all.

                Daniel Taylor’s Guardian report on youth teams' progress highlights a sea change in                       Manchester youth football
                Swiss Ramble’s financial report is proof of incredible progress off the pitch 

Football, dynamic , unpredictable and quixotic beast that it is, has sucked us all in and thrown us out the other side in somebody else's trousers. 


Current Manchester Status actually has the record league champions portrayed as upstart challengers, down on their luck despite spending a fortune to avert the decline and desperately clawing their way towards the light in a belly-scraping operation along the Chester Road. 

City, the feathered beauties, all shine and gloss, are Kings of the North with their two titles in three years (Reds will tell you it’s also two in 46 years, but never let the small print hold you down) and a slew of other baubles and trophies that have been collected since the desert sandstorm blew in over Moss Side.

And yet. Football's delicious ability to trip up the arrogant, to dispose with the cock-sure and put leeches in the bed of he who carps too long and too loud, means the first Manchester Derby of season 2015-16 brings together two sides well capable of doing damage to each other. United, diminished and devoid of the old swagger, can still grind out the wins. Louis van Gaal has dragged them up the table with a string of uncomplicated and unfettered victories that have been big on percentages and starved of style. The United power of the last two decades has faded now but the old beast can still throw a punch or two. City, with their tails up, step out in search of their 50th Derby win. That United already wait for their 70th tells the story of two and a half decades of unchallenged hegemony. 

City's enter the fray without Sergio Aguero and David Silva and with Vincent Kompany unsure whether it is his brittle hamstrings or his manager’s hurt feelings that have been keeping him away from first team action. These absences represent United’s best chance, for City with the Spanish-speaking pair would surely be too strong for their neighbours. As it stands, summer additions like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are hardly much of a drop in quality, while Kompany is likely to be given the nod over the slash-happy Otamendi.

Brightwell: welly
The Blues may have followed up a scintillating start to the season with a dreary defeat to West ham and an inexplicably leaky performance at White Hart Lane, but the signs since then have been pointing back towards the positive. In beating their last two opponents 6-1 and 5-1, City have hardly needed to break into a sweat.  That will almost certainly not be the case at Old Trafford, in a game where traditionally nothing is gained without serious toil being involved. Given that in the past even that was often not nearly good enough, City must up their game and their mental approach considerably on the last feeble effort when United rolled them over far more easily than was expected.

United remain in front in the Derby stakes thanks to a period between 1983 and 2003 where City hardly had a look in. Andy Hinchcliffe, Ian Brightwell and a select few lightened the burden briefly, but the rest was dull, dark and dense. 


City’s recent years have mainly been spent shattering perceptions of them put in place by Giggs and Butt and Scholes over a painful drawn-out period of bruises and black eyes: The FA Cup victory over Stoke after waiting to replicate the feeling of 1969, a first League Cup win since 1976, a league title after 44 years twiddling thumbs and wringing hands. Not since the Malcolm Allison-inspired days of bravado in the late 60s when the coach would stride up to the heaving Stretford End before the start of the game and raise the number of fingers that he thought City would win by have City had such a clear upper hand.

Yet still the memories of André Kanchelskis whipping  in three goals in a truly horrible 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 1994 cling to us. Still the pictures of Hughes and Ince and Bruce waving their fists in the air haunt our dreams. Samir nasri’s casually raised leg and last season’s shambolic no-show have added more recent layers to the technicolour nightmare that losing to United represents.

Time, though, stands still for no one and the next chapter is about to commence.  Maybe it is no longer so clear who the noisy neighbours are and who let the football do the talking for them. Maybe it is no longer so evident who the title big-shots are and who are tagging along in their limelight. Things have changed quickly on the Manchester football scene, too quickly for some, more rapidly than even the wiliest old souls predicted, but you get the distinct feeling that the trend of the last five years that has brought the Blues to parity with the Reds and carried them quickly beyond, has not yet run its fascinating course.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SPANISH STEPS

City take a walk into near-virgin territory this week with the first of two games against Sevilla in the Champions League. Although the clubs have met before (a 5-1 win for Sevilla in a 1951-52 friendly), City have never played in this part of the world in a competitive fixture.

In recent years, the club has begun building up an unenviable record against some of Spain's more high profile clubs, being unlucky enough to bump straight into Barcelona in the last 16 for the past two seasons of disappointing Champions League combat. As well as the four games against the Catalans (which threw up a monotone four straight defeats), City have also played Real Madrid with little noticeable success and were also pitched against Villareal twice in the group stages of their inaugural Champions League season in 2011-12.

The Madrid games proved a chastening experience, with City extremely unfortunate at the Bernabeu, having a 2-1 lead turned into defeat in the final minutes of the match. Still, a defeat's a defeat and the Blues only have the solitary home point from a 1-1 draw at the Etihad to show for their games with Real so far. For the fans, who travelled to the Spanish capital, there were the usual squeaks along the way before the seemingly inevitable fate befell us.

The Villareal experience proved a considerably more positive. In a similar situation to now, City played the Spaniards home then away in consecutive Group A games after playing Italian and German opponents in the shape of Napoli and Bayern Munich. As with this week's fixture, Villareal also offered an opportunity to get qualification properly on track after a stuttering start, which had seen City draw their first ever Champions League game with Napoli and then lose in controversial circumstances in Bavaria, on the night Carlos Tevez got his ego caught up in his tracksuit bottoms.

City won the home game by the skin of their teeth, a last minute Sergio Aguero goal (actually timed at the soon-to-be magic 93 minute mark) finally turning a match around that had swung Villareal's way as early as the 4th minute. The second game is still fondly remembered as one of City's best away showings in the competition so far, a 3-0 win hinting at what Roberto Mancini's side might be capable of later in a season that ended in the most dramatic domestic title win in living memory.

A critical defeat in Naples meant both City and Villareal would ultimately miss out on qualification from a difficult group, so the two wins against the Spaniards had not been enough. Two wins against Sevilla almost certainly will suffice this time around.

City's recent record against Spanish sides in the Champions League looks like this then:

P 8 W 2 D 1 L 5
2011-12 CITY 2 Villareal 1  /  Villareal 0 CITY 3
2012-13 Real Madrid 3 CITY 2  /  CITY 1 Real Madrid 1
2013-14 CITY 0 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 2 CITY 1
2014-15 CITY 1 Barcelona 2  /  Barcelona 1 CITY 0 
In the only other competitive fixture with a Spanish side in the modern era of regular European qualification, City were placed in a wildly unbalanced looking Europa League group in 2008-09 which would look overburdened with quality if drawn out today. Not the slightest sign of anything from Azerbaijan or Finland here : it featured Schalke, Paris St Germain, FC Twente and Racing Santander. Even back then City were pulling out the plum draws.

The group's uneven format meant City played certain teams at home only and others away only,
Darius Vassell makes vague contact in Santander
leading to another memorable trip for travelling Blues to the northern port of Santander. Sadly the trip will be best remembered for the beach-side hostelries than the football, which City managed to lose with a whimper, the only goal coming from substitute Felipe Caicedo in the 92nd minute.

Caicedo's strike, a thing of some rarity and very little beauty, ended the night's rendition of "he comes from Ecuador, he'll never fucking score" and also put an end to any hopes the locals had had of exiting the group, as PSG's win over Twente the same night put paid to that.

To complete the distinct feelings of imbalance on a strange evening, City's attack was occupied by Robinho and Ched Evans, one of the least likely strike partnerships to grace European football, whilst further back Micah Richards and Tal Ben Haim provided the Keystone Cops defending:
2008-09 Racing Santander 3 CITY 1
To find City's other competitive opponents from Spain in European competition, we have to head back to the only other time the club was considered a major player domestically and abroad. On the way to lifting the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup in Vienna, City beat Athletic Bilbao in the first round. Bilbao, with future West Brom manager Ronnie Allen in charge, were backed by a noisy 45,000 Basque crowd for the first leg. Malcolm Allison, still smarting from the previous season's inglorious exit to Fenerbahçe, after the coach's threats that his City side would run riot across the continent, played seven of the team beaten by the Turks. Only Joe Corrigan, in for Ken Mulhearn, captain Tony Book - who had been injured the previous year - Tommy Booth and Ian Bowyer (replacing Tony Coleman) were new.

With City trailing 0-2 after a quarter of an hour, Neil Young managed to peg one back before half time, only for the home side to reopen a two-goal lead in the 2nd half. Back came City again, with goals from Booth and Luis Etcheberria in his own net to gain a creditable 3-3 draw. Allison was as forthright as usual after the game, saying, "The boys have the needle tonight, because we didn't win. Just wait until we get them to Maine Road. We'll give these Spaniards a roasting..."

Allison's boastful prophesy was to be proved right on this occasion, City running out easy 3-0 winners in a second leg watched by nearly 50,000 at Maine Road, with Colin Bell, Alan Oakes and Ian Bowyer notching the goals. City would go on to beat Lierse, Académica de Coimbra, Schalke 04 and Gornik to lift their only European trophy to date.
1969-70 Athletic Bilbao 3 CITY 3  /  CITY 3 Athletic Bilbao 0
Alan Oakes' shot hits the Bilbao net at Maine Road
Three seasons later saw City's only other competitive game with a Spanish side, this time Valencia in the UEFA Cup. After a 2-2 draw at Maine Road in the first leg, City travelled to the Mestalla. Amongst the intrepid Blues fans was Graham Corless who later wrote in Dave Wallace's book "Us and Them" in the ground we joined a small but very loud band of City supporters who cheered all through the match. I remember Valencia attacking from the off (as they had done at Maine Road in the first leg) with the old Real legend Alfredo di Stefano in charge. They came through 2-1 winners. Rodney Marsh gave us hope but Valencia's pace upfront caused us too many problems...

This was the day that club president Albert Alexander died, providing a sad backdrop to City's early exit from the competition.

1972-73 CITY 2 Valencia 2  /  Valencia 2 CITY 1
There have been a few friendlies against Spanish opposition, listed below, but on the whole, City have managed to avoid this part of the Iberian peninsular with some success. When they did make it to Spain, it was almost always to return with their tales between their legs. Of particular interest on this front was the brutal Christmas friendly with Real in 1979 when City received few presents bar the five goals and two red cards dished in their direction. More recently, Real also took City to the cleaners in the last pre-season, when a scratch City side faced the all-whites (in off grey) in a match that turned into a Cristiano Ronaldo exhibition match, straight legged goal look at me celebrations and all.

Friendly results against Spanish opposition: 
1951-52 Sevilla  a 1 5
Barcelona  a 1 5
Real Zaragoza a 3 1
1956-57 Lloret de Mar a 9 0
Barcelona  a 2 3
1974-75 Barcelona a a 2 3
1976-77 Real Betis  a 1 1
1979-80 Real Madrid  a 2 5
1980-81  Real Betis  a 1 3
1986-87 Malaga a 3 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Real Betis  a 0 0 Tourneio Int. Costa del Sol
Valencia a 0 2
Huelva a 2 2 Colombino Tourneio
Barcelona a 1 1 Colombino Tourneio
1990-91  Real Sociedad a 1 1 Tourneio Int. Real Sociedad
2002-03  Barcelona  h 2 1 Inaugural City of Manchester Stadium match
2007-08 Valencia h 0 1 Thomas Cook Trophy
2009-10 Barcelona  a 1 0 Juan Gamper Trophy
2010-11 Valencia h 2 0 Thomas Cook Trophy





2015-16   Real Madrid        Aus          1    4
 * full record and description of all games v Barcelona can be read here 
** full story of the controversial game with Real Madrid in 1979 can be accessed here

The view from the visitors' section at the Bernabeu 2012-13

Sunday, October 18, 2015

THE CONDENSED READ: BOURNEMOUTH (H)

Otamendi prepares to clear his lines
Saturday 17th October 2015
Manchester City 5 Bournemouth 1

City lose five goal Sergio Aguero and replace him with 5-goal Wilfried Bony and Raheem Sterling. Jesus Navas refuses to use his left foot, probably keeping it dry for his old pals from Seville. Meanwhile, further back, Mangala again forgets to close down an opponent who is shaping to shoot, with predictable consequences. Alongside him Nicolas Otamendi is still shanking his clearances like an amateur golfer with a heavy slice problem. The matchday programme includes a drawing of the Argentinean that reduces kids to tears, whilst his majestic diagonal passes into the stands have the same effect on their parents.

City follow 6 with 5 and lead the table, although 2nd and 3rd place are occupied by 3-0 away winners, with the top three having a Top Three look about it already.

For the second home rout on the trot, manager Pellegrini removes his big hitters with half an hour still to go, Paranoid about injuries? You bet and with good cause. As each one leaves, the crowd looks intensely for the signs of a limp. But City aren’t limping, they’re breaking into a gallop.


Ill-prepared for the privilege of living, the rest of us wait for the horse to go lame, because habits of a lifetime die hard.

Friday, October 16, 2015

FUNNYMEN

Eddie tries a slick one-liner on John Benson v Luton Town
Most clubs, who come up against Bournemouth in the Premier League this season will be doing so comfortable in the knowledge that this is an opponent that has seldom, possibly never, crossed their paths in league competition. 

For City, however, the sight of the South Coast team will take them back to a recent past when the club’s fate appeared attached to a sizeable breezeblock.

City's infamous draw at Maine Road in the penultimate game of 1988-89, where a win would have seen the club promoted, became a benchmark for about as typical City as you could get. In true style, the team had been 3-0 up after 45 minutes and thus coasting to a fabulous sun-drenched promotion party. 

With the Kippax in full voice and the hostelries of central Manchester preparing themselves for a bumper evening, manager Mel Machin went down with a full and boisterous bout of Cityitis that some will say he never fully recovered from.

Calling sometime comic Eddie Large into the dressing room at half time, Machin sat back and allowed the rotund tv personality to administer the team talk for the second half. Paul Lake takes up the story in his autobiography, painting an interesting picture of a club preparing to go out for 45 minutes of football that - if successfully negotiated - would lift them back into the elite. You wonder what Don Revie or Joe Mercer would have done. 

"An assured first half performance was capped with a brace of goals from Paul Moulden and a poacher’s strike from Trevor Morley. Our promotion was almost within touching distance, and so buoyant was our mood that we almost danced a Highland fling up the tunnel at half-time. Adding to our glee was the fact that the club had promised us an immediate no-expense spared holiday abroad if we were to secure the three points and as such were prepared to field a second string side for what would be a meaningless final game of the season.
As we back slapped each other in the dressing room and mentally packed our suitcases, a typically low key Mel Machin expressed caution and warned us against complacency, but then a mischievous grin played across his face as he informed us that he’d arranged for one of his pals to give us a quick motivational pep talk. What do we need this for? We’re 3-0 up, for Chrissakes’ I remember thinking, wondering which former colleague of the gaffer’s was going to get wheeled out.
From the direction of Roy Bailey’s physio room toddled Eddie Large, the Mancunian funny man and City fanatic who, in those days was a huge primetime TV star with his weekly sidekick ‘supersonic’ Syd Little. What followed was the most surreal half time team talk I’ve ever experienced. Eddie wearing a shiny grey showbiz suit with rolled up sleeves, proceeded to dole out individual advice to each of the players using his well known repertoire of celebrity impersonations. So Deputy Dawg ordered me to keep tight in defence; Frank Carson told Nelly to use the width and pace of Whitey; Cliff Richard advised Trevor Morley to shoot on sight; Harold Wilson told Bob Brightwell to keep it simple and Benny from Crossroads told Andy Dibble to stay awake. If only the cat had heeded Benny’s advice. He conceded three goals in the 2nd half (no thanks to a defensive horror show in the final ten minutes, and a Bournemouth midfielder by the name of Ian Bishop running rings round us) and the sure fire win that we’d assumed at the interval finished up as a sorry score draw. Mel’s mystifying decision to take off in form Paul Moulden at the interval probably hadn’t help matters, but we were all to blame for a pathetic 2nd half display.
After the match we sat in the changing room dumbstruck, half expecting Eddie Large to com back in and do his Oliver Hardy Impression.“Well Boys, that’s another fine mess you’ve got yourselves into…?”

Bournemouth’s 95th minute penalty equalizer produced something less than belly laughs on an occasion that will stick in the minds of anybody, who was unlucky enough to witness City melt quicker than the ice creams on sale down Claremont Road.

Turn right here
The other Bournemouth memory that everyone will have had trouble shaking off over the last 15 years is of Kevin Horlock, walking slowly from the Dean Court pitch after being awarded the most ridiculous red card in football history. 

Mr Brian Coddington, for it was he, had already dismissed Jamie Pollock for “being slightly overweight”, when he yet again brought play to a halt so that he could play a brief tune on his whistle. Horlock exasperated and clearly inflamed by the off-key flautist, was immediately sent packing before he could even reach Mr Coddington with a suggestion of where to lodge his instrument. “Aggressive walking” was the infamous description given by the official, who later helped Michel Platini with some of his keynote speeches to UEFA congress.

Clearly City should be well aware that when Bournemouth hove into view, the planet tilts a little to one side. You have all been warned.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

MANGLED PAPERWORK

Portuguese paper Record's report
Eliaquim Mangala's transfer from FC Porto to Manchester City in the summer of 2014 was a thing of strange and unnatural beauty, taking most of the close season to unravel, dress up properly and bring to a proper conclusion.

The powerful French central defender had been touted as a City target for several weeks, before news finally filtered through that the transfer was officially on. However, it took the rest of the holiday period to untangle the clogged web of investors and funds, who all purported to represent chunks of the player.

The main negotiation for the player had taken place directly between the two clubs, an old fashioned way of doing business sometimes forgotten in football's rush to be spectacularly complicated.

This was backed up by the statement given by a spokesperson for Doyen Sports, the investment fund in the middle of the current search for clarity, who said: "There was no intervention whatsoever on the part of Doyen during the negotiation. The deal in its entirety was worked through between the two clubs."

At the time Porto announced that an agreement had been reached with City and a transfer fee of €30.5 million would be paid for his move to the Premier League. It represented a rapid rise for Mangala, a defender who had only been at Porto three seasons, after arriving as the lesser known part of a double transfer from Standard Liege with the coveted midfielder Steven Defour.

At first his appearances were restricted owing to the heavyweights Rolando, Maicon and future City team mate Nicolas Otamendi ahead of him in the pecking order. Becoming a regular only in his second season, he was part of the Porto side that won a third successive title, with Mangala even scoring a vital goal against Benfica along the way. In his third and final season at Porto, he grew into a regular feature at the heart of the Dragons' defence.

Having been brought up in Belgium, Mangala could have joined current City team mates Vincent Kompany and Kevin de Bruyne playing for the Rode Duivels, but did not possess a passport at the time and his chance passed by. This was perhaps the first administrative glitch in a career that has proved to be a touch light on the relevant paperwork at the right moment.

Paperwork, or the lack of it, is now the problem affecting his situation at City. FIFA have announced an interest in looking at the details of the transfer.

Porto's valuation of €30.5 million for the sale to City was supposedly to cover the 56.67% of Mangala that the Portuguese club then owned. At this point it had become clear that there were several other elements in the picture, among them Doyen Sports and another investment fund Robi Plus. This kind of arrangement is relatively common in Portuguese football, as it is one of the only ways the clubs can afford to bring in decent talent, especially from South America, where Benfica and Porto in particular have built a reputation for unearthing jewels.

At the time of the transfer, the English press widely reported a fee of €57 million for the player, with City having bought out all parties, as FIFA regulations prohibit third party participation in transfers. City's rivals Manchester United had experienced the complications of such a set-up when attempting to lever Carlos Tevez from West Ham. The Argentinean and compatriot Javier Mascherano had landed in East London via a dubious cycle of interested parties and co-owners.

This morning's Record newspaper in Portugal insists that, according to its sources, all events during the transfer followed "normal parametres". City themselves are clear that no payments were made to any other entity than FC Porto themselves. Despite this, that well renowned house of good governance FIFA, has said that it is looking into the documentation of the deal. A formal investigation would only be necessary, however, if FIFA deemed there to be sufficient doubt from their initial consultations. According to both clubs and Doyen, this will not be the case.




Tuesday, October 13, 2015

TABLA MORAL - WEEK 8

Thanks to a surprisingly attentive showing from the Premier League's whistlers in recent weeks, the Tabla Moral, named after the moral league tables published by the Argentinean football weekly Sólo Fútbol in the 80s, has had few alterations bestowed upon it.

To remind you, the major challenges to the status quo came in the opening weeks, when the following moral results were awarded:

Norwich City 3 Crystal Palace 3, after an execrable performance from the referee at Carrow Road, Simon Hooper, who - curiously enough- seems to have disappeared from the face of the planet since then.

Liverpool 0 Bournemouth 0, after an obviously offside winner by Benteke deprived the visitors of a hugely deserved point in their first ever Premier League away fixture.

Manchester City 3 Chelsea 1, after Ramires' second half goal was wrongly disallowed for offside, just as the Chelsea midfielder was embarking on the chicken jerky routine in front of the away fans.

Since then, we have had little to get overheated about. West Brom v Southampton had a dubious penalty call, but the referee Stuart Attwell got it exactly right when booking Callum McManaman for a sneaky dive over Matt Targett's outstretched leg. As paragon of virtue Tony Pulis said afterwards, "I think McManaman dives first. It was a good refereeing decision.". Do not adjust your spectacles.

Other points of amusement were Kevin Mirallas' 136 seconds of action at Swansea, before getting red carded in the Swansea v Everton match and a horrendous/hilarious cave-in by Manchester City v Spurs at White Hart Lane, which created some hot air. This latter game attracted attention for good reason, as there was some short-sighted refereeing and the game also featured a linesman, who was unable to see Kyle Walker straying two yards offside three paces in front of his eyes, which were glued on the action at the time.

Referee Clattenburg gets ready to enjoy Kane's goal
To add insult to injury, the third of Tottenham's goals was clearly offside too, with Harry Kane stroking in the rebound from Eriksson's majestic free-kick. Kane was clearly offside when the free kick was taken, rendering his effort when the ball smacked back to his feet off the crossbar illegal.

Although it does not change the final result - this game has been amended to Tottenham 2 Manchester City 1, and it could be argued by some that, as we are talking about a goal that brought Tottenham level, it might have had an effect on City's curious collapse. However, after much deliberation and at least three pints of Old Desirable, the Tabla Moral committee decided a reduction of -2 to Tottenham's goal difference was a realistic punishment. The fate decided for Mr Clattenburg, an old adversary of City's, cannot be printed here.

All of that leaves the table looking like this after eight games:




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