Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We Have To Drop The Knee Jerk Reactions...

It is worth remembering that when the draw was made for our Champions League group Napoli were seeded 4th, the powers that be at UEFA had deemed they were one of the weakest 8 teams in the competition.  Villareal who currently sit bottom in the group with 0 points were seeded 2nd, this was never going to be an ordinary group, and although the term 'group of death' is sometimes thrown about unnecessarily, it was definitely appropriate in our case.

We currently sit on 7 points with one game to play with Napoli one point ahead in 2nd.  The simple facts are this, if we beat Bayern Munich in their final game, and they fail to beat Villareal in Spain we will qualify, that however seems to be somewhat of a pipe dream.  The way Napoli attack, and considering the lifeless fight the Spanish team put up against us, it is more or less impossible to imagine anything other than a victory for the Italian team meaning whatever we manage against Bayern is inconsequential.  

Victory over Munich would leave us on 10 points, and should Napoli get the win they need we would finish in 3rd and become the first team in the history of the competition to fail to escape the group stage with that points hall.  When we began this process Roberto Mancini himself stated that 10 points was our aim and that it would be enough to see us progress.  That underlines that our European campaign has been in no way a disaster, we can stand back and say that to only take a point at home to Napoli was disappointing, and that our performance in Munich was poor, but should we get victory in our final game I think we can be fairly satisfied with our work overall.

There were a few things wrong last night, I don't think Mancini got it right in the full back region again and he also left his substitutions until too late in the day but ultimately we were beaten by a team who played better than we did, the Italians were superb.

We have not been as dreadful in the Champions League as the reaction from some fans would have you believe, and in fact my biggest frustration last night and this morning was because of the negativity from the clubs supporters as opposed to the actual result.  I would never criticise City fans, they have been loyal through thick and thin, but the knee jerk reactions from some last night was not good to see.  I wrote at the start of the season about the importance of keeping our feet on the ground, but that is hard to do when you are enjoying the high quality of football we have been playing this season, but it remains extremely important.

We do not have a divine right to win every game, we used to criticise Manchester United fans for possessing that attitude and now we are demonstrating it ourselves.  In the last 10 years we have come a long way, the changes have been exciting and thrilling, and this is just the start, but let's not forget where we are coming from.  So we are probably out of the Champions League at the first hurdle, is it such a big deal? Of course it isn't.

If you just take our league form into account, the expectation level amongst some supporters is too high, I have seen comments such as "Oh well, out of the Champions League, but now we will go and batter Liverpool", now, we might beat Liverpool comfortably, but I highly doubt it, and I would take a point.  Some may call it negativity, I choose to call it realism.  We have been superb this term, but there is going to be bumps in the road, there will be a rocky spell, there is a chance we won't win the league, after-all it is only November, will I mind if we finish 2nd? Maybe for a short time, but it won't last, we will have finished as runners up in the Premier League, if you were offered that at the start of the season you would have taken it happily!

Some City fans expect us to win the league now, they say the only acceptable end to the season after crashing out of the Champions League is to win the domestic title.  I cannot understand that mindset, I admire the confidence and positivity, but I also worry that our explosive start to the season has created waves of false confidence to spread amongst our supporters.  If we lose to Liverpool on Sunday, will people be saying we've blown it and that we are having a poor season, will the few numpties calling for Mancini to go pipe up again?  I hope not, but I suspect there will be a whole new wave of knee jerk over the top reactions.

To use the old adage, Rome wasn't built in a day, we are making great progress, and playing some fantastic football, would finishing second and not winning a trophy be the worst thing?  It obviously wouldn't, lets not get greedy and expect it all to fall into place right away, lets just enjoy the ride, we know where we are going and there is no hurry to get there!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Zabs and AJ Sign on For A Few More Years

In recent weeks the press machine has been in over drive linking Adam Johnson with more clubs than ever, quite what these rumours were based on remains somewhat of a mystery, especially when you consider that it now appears that during that period negotiations were well under way over a new contract.

When Johnson got the hook 25mins into the Champions League game with Villareal pundits all over the country attempted to conjure a crisis, the insubordination of Carlos Tevez had lit the touch paper and according to the papers the end was nigh at City, Johnson being removed was supposed to be the next stage of a spiral into turmoil.  Team spirit was questioned and once again as supporters we had to read the same old rubbish about being a collection of talented individuals as opposed to a team.  I think the celebrations that ensued after the 93rd minute winner against Villareal coupled with the scenes of delight and team celebration in the derby put those rumours to bed.

Johnson we were told though still remained an outcast, he was left out of the squad for the derby, and he supposedly refused to board the bus after the Wolves league cup game (a ridiculous claim that literally seemed to be based on nothing), one day he was going to Liverpool, then Chelsea, he was unhappy and on the way out despite Roberto Mancini stating on numerous occasions he was going nowhere, the end for Johnson at City was coming....except it wasn't, it was just another example of the media picking up on nothing, or dare I say, trying to destabilise the ship?

Confirmation has come today that the England wideman has signed a new 4 year deal that will see him remain at the club until 2016.  I am particularly pleased with this news, I sort of fall in the middle ground with Johnson, there seem to be some supporters who think he is brilliant and some that think he will amount to nothing.  I personally think he has all the potential to be one of the best wingers in Europe, if not the world, but he has to apply himself more.  Mancini knows all about that particular position and if Johnson is prepared to listen to his manager and learn from him I think he can make the most of his ability. If however he is not prepared to take on board that advice and work on the defensive side of his game I can see him wasting the talent that he has.

It may not be as high profile, but the news that Pablo Zabaleta has extended his contract is something that I am just as pleased about.  It is strange that a player who only appears in every third game could be so loved by the City faithful, but Zabs is just one of those players.  As supporters we love someone that always gives everything they have to the cause, and the sentiment is encapsulated by the Argentine, he isn't the most technically gifted player but he never stops fighting.  His versatility is also a massive asset and to have him tied down until 2015 is fantastic.  It may seem strange but he is now one of our longest serving players, and I genuinely believe he could become a legend if he continues as he currently is.

It is good to see that contracts are now being sorted out, I still fear for the future of Nigel De Jong, if nothing is tied up by the end of the season I suspect he will be shown the door.  The suggestion is that he rejected our last offer and there has been no movement since, he is hardly looking content with life, and you do wonder if he may have shot himself in the foot by choosing Kia Joorabchian to represent him.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sunday Rumour Mill & Internationals Roundup

Well its an international break, yawn, so not a massive amount going on to be honest, England somehow beat Spain yesterday without touching the ball more than about 12 times, is this incisiveness or just luck? I personally can't make up my mind on that one.  Of note to City supporters were solid performances from Joe Hart, James Milner and Gareth Barry when he came on, but perhaps most pleasingly was a superb game from Joleon Lescott who other than one mistake, read the game perfectly and managed the Spanish attacks very well, he has clearly learnt a huge amount under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini.  David Silva played the first half and was replaced at half time, he was reasonably assured without being overly breath taking, to be honest I was just pleased to see him withdrawn as to not risk injury.

Away from England, Sergio Aguero suffered a recurrence of the injury he first had against Blackburn, it doesn't look like being too serious and he is now unlikely to feature for Argentina at all on this break, hopefully he will return to Manchester soon.  Edin Dzeko didn't have the best time with Bosnia only drawing 0-0 at home to Portugal, they play the reverse leg on Tuesday night and I can't see them getting much. Things weren't much better for Aleksandar Kolarov who saw red when he was playing for Serbia, Stefan Savic also had an unenjoyable evening as Montenegro lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic in their World Cup qualifier it really was a mixed bag for the City boys.  

One of the real bright sparks though was Super Mario hitting his first goal for Italy in their 2-0 victory over Poland, it was a bit of a stunner and can be seen here.

Away from international football and onto more important matters there are a few City stories doing the rounds today, I suppose it would be best to get Carlos Tevez out of the way first.  As we all know he has fled back to Argentina to see his family, a strange notion since his advisers claimed his family were settled happily in England about 10 days ago, but oh well!  It is The People covering this one today so I suggest you take all of this with a pretty large dollop of salt.  They reckon that the Argentine will remain in his home land and risk being sued rather than return to Manchester.  I am fast losing interest in this story, the sooner he is out of the club the better, the paper reckon that Inter Milan are readying a £30million bid in January, my fingers are crossed, good riddance Carlos!

Whilst Tevez is hardly a forgotten man (hopefully he soon will be) Nedum Onuoha certainly is.  I have never been entirely sure what Bobby as got against Neds but he clearly doesn't rate him, the only thing I can come up with is his attack on the manager on Soccer AM last Italian never forgets.  Whilst I don't think Onuoha is good enough for a team at the top of the table, I think he has enough to be a member of the squad.  It does sadden me slightly that his career at City never came to anything, he is a true blue, but the writing has been on the wall for a while.  According to the Manchester Evening News, QPR and West Brom are queuing up to resurrect his career with both sides linked to £3.5million moves.  It would appear a near certainty he will be on his way soon and I wish him all the best and hope he can find that form and ability he demonstrated early in his career.

Finally today we are dealing with reports of a player coming in, and an exciting one too.  The Metro are covering the clubs chase for German international Marco Reus.  The player has been in prolific scoring form in Germany for his club Borussia Monchengladbach and this has lead to a call up to the national side. He has scored 8 times in 10 appearances so far this season and there is thought to be keen interest in the player from Arsenal as well as City.  Mike Rigg, the clubs technical director spoke to German newspaper Bild saying:

"I know Marco, because I like him a lot...He is one of the most talented players you have in Germany and we have watched him very often.".

The Metro claim that Arsene Wenger has already been in contact with the players club after being tipped off by Jens Lehmann.  It is believed that because of a clause in the players contract he could be available next Summer for £15million, it has also been suggested that should Monchengladbach show willing to sell Bayern Munich will enter the race for his signature as well.  There is no certainty in this story, but he is a top prospect and just the sort of player that we should be linked with.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Don't Waste The International Break, Do Something Good!

It may perhaps seem strange to be writing this story during a weekend of Premier League action, but it is something that I feel pretty passionate about and I am urging you all to think ahead.

If you weren't already aware, next weekend is an international break, I am sorry to pass on that news to you, when I realised a few days ago I admit to uttering a couple of expletives, I cannot stand the breaks for national teams to play.  As an Englishman I acknowledge that I should have more interest in the England team, and during tournaments I do get involved, but like most football fans my attitude is very much club before country.

This particular break is worse than ever though, qualification for the European Championships is over so England will only be involved in a couple of friendlies, there are however play off games happening that might provide some entertainment.  So what can the 'thinking' football fan do next weekend for their fix?  Well personally I will be spending my Saturday afternoon at Bower Fold, the home of Stalybridge Celtic for a Conference North fixture between 'the Badgers' and Histon.

Clearly, first and foremost I am a Manchester City fan, and I have been since birth.  I was born and raised in the City, and moved to Stockport when I was a teenager, I began to watch the Hatters when City were away from home and that is something I have continued to do to the present day.  While Roberto Mancini and his team are down in London this Saturday afternoon to play QPR, I will be watching County taking on Hayes & Yeading as they try to turn around their ailing season.

During most international weekends there is still football being played in League 1 and below, right through the non-league system.  It is a fantastic time for football fans to go and support a smaller team, a club that are in desperate need of support and the money from a boosted crowd.  The upcoming break however see's League 1, 2, and the conference all given the weekend off as well, but the conference North and South are still in full swing and on Saturday 12th November I urge as many of you as possible to go and support one of these ailing clubs.

A common misconception is that the football being played further down the pyramid is of poorer quality and to be honest that couldn't be further from the truth, clearly the players are not as highly skilled but they are just as if not more passionate and it is easy to get swept along with the whole occasion.  Financially though things couldn't be more different, there is no oil money here, there is no Asian consortium considering an offer for Bath City or AFC Telford, clubs cut their cloths accordingly and people passing through the turnstiles are their life and soul.

The stumbling block to this whole idea is the money involved for the supporter, I do sometimes find it aggravating that a ticket to see Stockport County could set me back £20, it may be cheaper than the Premier League but it still seems strangely expensive.  I do sometimes wonder if it would make more economic sense to just charge £10 and pack these stadiums out, it would provide a better atmosphere and would perhaps persuade supporters to return next time their team is away from home.  I suppose the £20 tickets are a clear demonstration of how hard it is to make ends meet further down the football ladder.

I would like to end on somewhat of a plea though, if you can afford it, why not take yourself off to a game wherever it may be next Saturday, I genuinely believe you will be pleasantly surprised.  Whether it is League 1, or the Conference South there is still great football out there to be enjoyed even when the Premier League has shut up shop for a weekend of international football.  I am not one of these people that claim league 2 is where you find 'real' football, but I will always stand up for it and say if you love the game it shouldn't matter overly what level you are watching, the enjoyment will still be there for you, so get out there and support one of these cash strapped clubs when you get the opportunity!