Thursday, 25 October 2012

At What Point Does European Underperformance Outshine Domestic Prominence?

To say that our performance in this years Champions League was dismal would probably be selling it short, it was worse than that.  Last year was probably just as bad, our only 2 victories in the competition coming against a team that were relegated that same season. During this same period our domestic form has been superb, having said that many would argue it has still been subpar considering the amount of money lavished on our squad.

Why then the problems when it comes to European competition?  Some will point the fingers at the players, but for me that doesn't make a huge amount of sense, this isn't a one off, how can we play so well in the league and then so badly in Europe every time we take to the field, if this was a freak occurance maybe the playing staff could be blamed but we've been average at best in the elite competition for 2 years, the problem must lie else where.

What is the root of the problem then? In my mind there can only be one, and it comes from the top, the management.  Mancini may have succeeded domestically, but his record in Europe is not just questionable, it is downright poor.  His deficiencies in the competition predate his time in Manchester, he failed continually during his tenure with Inter Milan, on most occasions going out to teams that they should have beaten.  In fact with pretty much the same squad Jose Mourinho won the same competition at his first attempt after Mancini was dismissed for failing at the highest level.  In the immediate aftermath last night Paulo Baldini, the Italian football supremo was quoted as saying:

"When you lose as many (Champions League games) as he has with teams as good as Inter and City, it's not a hex, its bad management"

To be fair it is pretty hard to disagree with that view point, Mr Mancini has done a bad job when it has come to the top competition in Europe, so surely then I can't come back from this point, surely I should want him to receive his marching orders?  Well not exactly, as I just can't justify that decision in my mind, a man that has delivered as much as he has in recent years has a pretty strong bargaining position.  It is amazing how winning the FA Cup and ending our 33 year search for a trophy now seems so long ago, but our success in the Premier League last year has outshone even that, and we are again in a good strong position this time around.  

His tinkering however could threaten to damage all of the good work he has done, I don't walk around with my head in the clouds, at some point our owners are going to want to see European success at our club, I want that too, but whilst we continue to compete and look good domestically I can turn a blind eye to these issues for the time being, but that is the key part 'for the time being'.  

It should not be forgotten that we have been dumped in 2 horrific groups, however that does not change the fact that we should have been good enough to overcome Napoli last year and qualify in 2nd place, and we should have been closer to Dortmund this time around, the less said about the defeat in Amsterdam the better!

In my mind Mancini has already bought himself the rest of this campaign and the chance to start the next, it is a worry that he doesn't appear to be learning from his mistakes in Europe, and maybe things will be no better next year, but sacking someone on the back of a Championship winning season? We aren't Chelsea...but Pep Guardiola is circling.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Is Stadium Expansion REALLY a Necessity?

We've all heard them, the boring dull lines about empty seats at City.  Whether it be referring to the ground as the Emptihad or some other equally 'hilarious' and 'witty' retort, we have heard them all, but now the jokes are looking more and more irrelevant.  Last year we managed to sell out for more or less every home game in the Premier League, and for some of those we could probably have shifted a further 10,000 - 15,000 tickets.

This is a relatively new situation; although the stories and claims about attendances at City are well wide of the mark in years gone past we have seen our average attendance drop to around the 40,000 mark, which is still impressive compared to many teams in the top flight but it was well below the levels we are now reaching.

Our success in recent times has brought people back to the club, and regrettably we probably also attract a new breed of football fan as well, people that may not even have considered themselves City fans in the past are now coming to be part of it, and although we may not be overly enthusiastic about these 'new fans' they will play a vital role in us increasing our income and therefore getting closer to the figure we need to reach in order to meet the incoming financial fairplay guidelines.  There has therefore been a clamour for us to increase our capacity, and many have claimed it is vital to our development, I personally am not so sure.

Even though we continually sell out for league games, cup attendances have been pretty poor across the board and I think it is definitely something that needs looking at before we start worrying about increasing the capacity.  We all know that the League Cup is hardly an attractive prospect, but last season just 25,070 saw us in the 3rd round against Birmingham, even the first leg of the semi final against Liverpool failed to ignite the interest of some of our fans with just 36,017 spectators present.  This year hasn't really been any better with our dismal defeat at the hands of Aston Villa watched by just 28,015.

I suppose you could argue that these figures are typical of the League Cup, a competition which is hardly treated as a particularly high priority but these lower attendances spread to European competition as well.  Our first ever appearance in Europe's elite competition was watched by around 44,000, a few thousand short of capacity, these got even worse with 42,000 watching Villareal, we did however finish on somewhat of a high with 46,000 at our meeting with Bayern Munich, probably close to capacity when you consider the amount of seats unavailable on a European night.  Attendances in the Europa League were even lower with neither games with Porto or Sporting managing to break the 40,000 barrier.  With just 2 days to go before our meeting with Borussia Dortmund there are many tickets still available and on a night where we really need a good win that is unfortunate.

So what causes these lower attendances in the cup competitions?  Clearly the League Cup just isn't overly appealing, I also feel the clubs decision to charge between £17 and £22 for adult tickets last week was somewhat farcical.  If they had capped them at £10 we could have got the stadium much nearer to capacity and I feel that was a missed opportunity.  Why though do we struggle for European games?  I suppose the extra expense on top of season tickets may put some people off, but considering we have always dreamt of sitting at footballs top table it seems a shame that uptake isn't higher.  Some say that evening kick offs are more difficult for people that come with children, but that doesn't entirely wash with me, we aren't talking about a post 11 o' clock finish.

Whatever the reason is, I think it demonstrates that there is no urgent need for stadium expansion.  Interestingly we are still to hit capacity for the Sunderland game this coming weekend, previous home games in the league have sold out weeks before hand, whether this is an impact of our less than stellar performances so far this season isn't entirely clear but I suspect it is a big part of it.  In my mind there is nothing worse than watching a game in a stadium that is too big, where there are just as many empty seats as there are occupied ones.  It is clear that we could sell maybe 3 or 4 thousand more tickets for a standard league game but with European games and domestic cup games not managing to entirely captivate our support I don't see the need for an additional 15,000 seats at this stage in our development.

Clearly there will be a time when this may be a more pressing matter, if our recent success continues I am sure attendances and clamour for tickets will continue to increase, but until that happens I think we are much better hanging fire and enjoying what we already have.