Monday, December 12, 2016

THREE MEN IN A BOAT

When is a two goal deficit an absolute thrashing?

It’s a question that probably troubled Plato, Kant nor Confucius unduly, but nevertheless it’s one that was rebounding around the precincts of the King Power Stadium on Saturday with impressive velocity.

City, finishing with an Aleksander Kolarov-inspired flourish, had reduced a four goal difference to two. However, anything that needs inspiration from Aleksander Kolarov in his present mind-set, is in significant trouble. Kolarov started the season as a surprisingly, if momentarily, adept mini-clone of Franz Beckenbauer, back in the sunny days of autumn when Pep Gaurdiola could pull rabbits out of people’s hats and produce playing cards from behind Dimitri Seluk’s luxurious alpaca-wool collars.

For those that dote on pain, who dote on the pleasure of the absence of pleasure, not smoothness but conflict, there is quite a party warming up. The word fraud is banging about under the clouds and it won't go away. Just where do City take it from here, with their multi-million pound defenders that look like they are running through custard with breeze blocks strapped to their backs?

Since that beguiling start, the Catalan has come face to face with what is commonly termed “The wet Tuesday in Stoke factor”, the wonderfully British concept that you just can’t beat the Premier League, with its idiosyncratic Anthony Taylors, its hurricane-force football, its sweary, fully-committed crowds and its blustery push and shove. You cannot, as a self-aware foreigner in jet black knitwear, simply swagger in and take control of the whole glorious landscape with a nonchalant wink tot he ranks of pressmen and a shrug of those continentally sloped shoulders.You can't sip non-committally from your distilled water bottle as a hitherto eunuch-infested Leicester are striding through your defence like silverback gorilas on heat.
A proper Premier League apprenticeship will include a grilling from a hostile press, who are beginning to think you’re not the real deal, humbling experiences at odd places where the locals bang plastic clappers together ferociously and have their eyes positioned too close to each other and others where they boo some of your players with the fervour of a pitchfork mob looking for witches to burn; a thick pall of crisis is thrown over everything you try to do. Your desperate fate will finally be sealed when a man you have never heard of called Spam Collymore appears to shout you down with discordant words and pointy fingers.

It may also rain quite a lot on your days off. There will be baked potatoes overflowing with baked beans masquerading as meals. People will find your shoes effete.  
Señor Guardiola has reached this junction. There are signs for Purgatory County, for nearby Ignominious Retreat and, still there, but a little bent and scorched by the wind, one for the village of Little Redemption.

Where Pep’s Reliant Robin turns next is anybody’s guess. In a way, unmapped scurrying has always been a temptation too far for Manchester City, so there can be no great surprise that – even with the world’s greatest coach at the helm of the Good Ship City -- it continues to buck on the high seas like something about to head swiftly and incontrovertibly for the seabed.
What Pep Did Next is a book yet to be written, but you can bet your bottom dollar this chapter of bullet ridden cars and twisted corpses in the street will not last too many more pages. January will open windows and the fresh air of winter will blow all over us and sharpen our senses. Some of those impressive athletes sliding haplessly around at Leicester at the weekend, will be receiving bad news with their Christmas cards. Those manning the backlines in their own irrepressible way over the last few weeks will fear the postman’s knock most. Messrs Otamendi, Zabaleta, Kolarov and Clichy would do well to stay well away from the letter box.

Seldom has a team with so much star quality managed to defend like an under 10s eleven after eating too many bags of peanuts. The spots in front of their eyes are real enough. The gaps too. The sound of gnashing teeth is real as well. In fact the only things that seem unreal are the early season reports praising them all to the skies. Kolarov is not Franco Baresi after all. Gael Clichy is still trying to pass to the moon. Zabaleta, bless him, is not Pavel Nedved, nor anymore, is he a rugged modern copy of Tony Book. At Leicester in fact, he played what looked dangerously like a farewell concert. Yaya Toure is no Edin Dzeko and Nicolas Otamendi is not a full cup of tea.
Pep must now make his mind up. The tinkering has brought us so far. It has been fun, and then not so much. It has opened eyes but now it is opening them too wide. The man whose teams  have conceded  7 defeats (Barcelona 08-09), 4 (Barcelona 09-10), 6 (Barcelona 10-11), 4 (Barcelona 11-12), 6 (Bayern 13-14), 9 (Bayern 14-15) and 4 Bayern 15-16) has already conjured 5 in early December as a first effort in Manchester. To stop the rot, he may well have to ask Txiki for yet more pocket money, but if it helps avoid the necessity for a Clichy-Otamendi-Kolarov axis of evil against 53-goal Monaco in the Champions League, we will all breathe a sigh of relief.

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