Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy.
30th August 2018 - It was on Sunday night that my co-writer messaged me with instructions for the next instalment of Dispatches From The Other Side.
“With Liverpool 100% and City faltering at Wolves, how about a piece on how the media report on our respective clubs next?” he wrote. I immediately messaged back in agreement and didn’t think too much about the assignment given I had more pressing things on my mind, namely what I should have for dinner.
It was the following morning that I properly took on board Simon’s instructions and, not for the first time, pondered the curious place City supporters find themselves in during this golden era for the club.
It should be joy and fun but instead, from the outside at least, there appears to be paranoia and unease at every turn.
It’s possible that at this stage of this article Simon has hit delete through a combination of fury and disgust, but on the basis he hasn’t, let me explain:
Ever since City started getting good the supporters I know have appeared to be rarely satisfied with the coverage the team gets and focus on it near-endlessly.
Thousands upon thousands of words have been written about how brilliant Pep Guardiola is, how brilliant Kevin de Bruyne is, how brilliant the brilliant football is ... heck, how brilliant Benjamin Mendy’s social media posts are, but yet there remain complaints and scepticism from the blue half of Manchester. Why is Jose Mourinho never criticised? (he is). Why is Jurgen Klopp always praised? (he’s not), and woe betide anyone who suggests City’s success may have something to do with the Abu Dhabi takeover, the 10-year anniversary of which falls this week.
I don’t want to tarnish all City fans with the paranoia brush but the ones I know definitely appear to be in a state of unease, and my best stab at why is because a decade on from becoming rich and relevant, you haven’t fully come to terms with what that means, namely scrutiny.
DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Being a Liverpool supporter of almost 30 years, I’ve grown up with this to the point of barely noticing. We’re spoken about, written about, criticised and praised; it’s part of the dance of being a big club and far better that then not being written about much at all (hello Evertonians). You need to get used to this, too, City fans because that’s what you are now - a big club. Gone are the days when everyone patted you on the head and said well done for managing to put your socks over your shinpads; now double-page spread and eight-part documentaries are dedicated to you. And you should drink it in because, truly, these are the days of your lives.
And what of the media reporting on City and Liverpool following their respective results
against Wolves and Brighton? Well there hasn’t been much given the focus since the weekend has largely been on the hilarious shit-show taking place at Old Trafford, but what there has been rather backs up my point.
Take Ian Ladyman’s report on the 1-1 draw at Molineux that appeared in Monday’s Daily Mail which, if you were paranoid, could be viewed as another example of a journalist revelling in a City mishap in a way he or she wouldn’t do if they were writing on Liverpool. Yes, there is an undeniably celebratory tone to the reporting, but look closely at the language used. The headline talks of a promoted team reminding us “that City are human”, while Ladyman writes about how, prior to Saturday’s contest, “a game of football had started to require a new definition when brilliant, untouchable City were in town.”
See City fans, the media loves you.
So chill out and don’t fret about how you are perceived; on your own terms and in comparison to Liverpool. It’s generally positive, generally well meaning, and even if it gets a little negative, remember one thing – it could be worse, you could support United. – Sachin Nakrani
30TH August 2018 – There can be little doubt that, while the standards of football writing in some areas have deteriorated markedly, the scope, depth and quality of what is on offer to read in general has exploded. Websites, blogs and podcasts have managed to create a reservoir of information and lively writing that has asked questions of some of the traditional mainstream sources for the average fan’s feed of news, entertainment and opinion about their club.
The tabloids, married at least in their grim online versions to the modern horror of clickbait, have in recent years started producing content that is more and more partisan and less and less balanced. It can be difficult taking some of it seriously. Objective reporting has become the realm of the serious press and even then, not always.
City and Liverpool are interesting cases in point.
While City’s emergence as a modern power in the game has been reluctantly accepted by some in the light of Pep Guardiola’s tactical revolution at the Etihad, the club has been through the wringer to get where it is now. Many writers had a field day (and some continue to snipe at the drop of a hat) as the money poured in aiding City to follow the only possible logical route towards football’s elite in the modern game.
Liverpool, bastions of a 70s and 80s hegemony that has produced an international fanbase perhaps only matched by Manchester United, are a totally different kettle of fish. Propped up by the warm glow of two decades of rubbing everyone’s noses in the dirt, their recent reappearance as a proper challenger has been greeted favourably from all sides.
For those like me, who remember well the Shankly, Paisley and Dalglish dynasties of Toshack and Keegan, Souness and Kennedy, Rush and Barnes and Beardsley, some of the clatter is understandable. Liverpool was a machine that almost never foundered. They were horrifically efficient and devastatingly successful. For twenty years.
While all of this will understandably engender some awe in the coverage of the club, it does not fully explain the sun-drenched prose that is often heaped on Liverpool for doing some things that a year earlier brought only ridicule on City.
The arrival of Alisson Becker in goal is a case in point. Hailed as “a goalkeeping revolution” by the Mirror last week (the poor fellow is saddled with the middle name Ramses, which might be a badly spelled throwback to the third Egyptian Pharaoh of said name who found himself supplanted by a harem revolution set up by his conniving wife at a busy picnic in Medinet Habu), it was simply the tardy and eye-wateringly expensive purchase of what the club had blatantly been missing for three seasons: a vaguely competent goalkeeper.
Compare with City’s purchase of Ederson the year before, when great slices of the tabloid press were up in arms at the extravagant price being paid (as it turned out some €30m less than Liverpool’s recent shopping spree in Rome) for their own “revolutionary” goalkeeper, and you begin to see some important discrepancies.
Factor in the general horror at the prices paid for City’s two wingbacks, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy – despite being absolutely essential elements to Guardiola’s playing style – and you had a relative shit-storm. Try to ignore the fact that the Mirror got so excited about the price that they included wages, an unusual move when reporting on transfer fees.
Some fans have their ideas where this all stems from (see below), but there seems an unmistakeable buzz in the air as soon Klopp and co hit the airwaves. His occasionally tetchy media appearances are shrugged off in a way Jose Mourinho can only dream of.
It may well be seasonal, fashionable, cyclical; a feathery breeze prone to occasional idiosyncratic influences that brings these changes. Over time perhaps all clubs get whitewashed and all clubs benefit from the little kisses to the back of the neck that Liverpool are experiencing right now. Perhaps it is – as the modern day pharaoh Richard Scudamore would have it – the Premier League’s urgent need for a knight in shining armour to come and give City a proper game that is fuelling support for Liverpool's challenge. The Premier League’s head honcho is painfully aware of the value of his product and equally conscious of how he wants it to keep making millions.
It may also be the broad army of ex-Liverpool players thronging the corridors of media outlets, ready to thrust bons mots at us at the drop of a hat. Richard Dunne and Paul Dickov are there too of course but that kind of proves the point.
While City’s treatment has improved of late, thanks to a great extent to the undeniable beauty of Guardiola’s stunning football, this feeling of relative positivity may also have been exacerbated by Mourinho’s stuttering Manchester United vintage just across the border in Hazard County. The Mirror in particular have got their teeth into United and seem to have relinquished their death grip on City at the same time.
Or maybe it’s all cyclical and these things come with the territory. Reach the top of the Big Tree and you gain the attention of everyone and his/her dog, for good or for bad. History shows us that, even Liverpool at the height of their powers in 1981, having disposed of Real Madrid to win their third European Cup in Paris, were not exempt from criticism, as Leslie Vernon proved in World Soccer magazine.
The Reds are enjoying an obvious renaissance under a widely appreciated coach who has kept good attacking traditions to the forefront. Hardly a surprise that there is general approval in the press, even if some have swallowed slightly too many happy pills and others put a gloss on stories that don't require buffing up. Simon Curtis
Thursday, August 30, 2018
DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 2
In the second of a series of season-long articles on aspects of the race for the 2018-19 title, Liverpool fan and Guardian writer Sachin Nakrani and City fan and ESPN writer Simon Curtis offer their own views on aspects of each other's teams. Honest, partisan, thought-provoking opinion on the other side by the other side.
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