by Daisy Cutter
Like most domestic gods and goddesses I’ve spent the past week making room in the freezer ahead of the forthcoming ‘big Christmas shop’. Last night gammon slices were reluctantly eaten – defrosted from an unappetising clump – while tonight it is leftover bolognaise that was poured into a Tupperware box when I briefly got my shit together around early autumn. All this to create space for a veritable bounty of festive food that will range from succulent poultry to party grub to my first ever purchase of a lobster. You grill it right?
Last evening, as I bettered the dumb-dumbs on Pointless, picked stringy gristle from my teeth and dreamed of the feasts that lay ahead I realised it is not a huge stretch to equate Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini to the former and potentially incoming messiah Pep Guardiola as the brie and cranberry filo tartlets.
City supporters are playing the waiting game right now, their taste-buds piqued, their mouths positively salivating at the thought of Pep potentially heading to the Etihad next summer and while it may be disrespectful to infer Pellegrini is a pale slab of gammon – this after all is a man who oversaw a title triumph in 2013/14 – such is his stubborn buffoonery as regards to his team selections and tactics that respect is becoming an ever-decreasing commodity around these parts.
Granted for much of the Chilean’s opening season he had the Blues playing the kind of football that reduced superlatives to mere words. Spurs were walloped twice, Arsenal were trounced 6-3 in a game that resembled pre-war footy on amphetamines, and until the Anfield nadir in April City had blasted 84 goals in 31 fixtures. It was a shooting spree from a gun that too often had the safety on under Mancini.
Unfortunately, as the past eighteen months have illustrated all too clearly, going out all guns blazing is the only approach Pellegini knows and it has become equally apparent that any success, any win, any fine performance occurs in spite of the ‘Engineer’ and not because of him.
So respect is at a minimum but that is not to say that the charming man isn’t also deserving of some sympathy. Because his insistence, nay obsession, with playing Yaya Toure in a midfield two resulting in City being hopelessly overrun at times in central areas; and his inability to forge a solid back-line; and his impotent substitutions that make no fucking sense and…I could go on, I really could, but ultimately they amount to only half of Manchester City’s travails.
The other half, naturally, falls to the duty of the players and it is here that the two times Premier League champions face problems that run far deeper than a personnel change in the technical area. Make no bones about it Manuel Pellegrini will be gone next August but Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Aleksander Kolorov, Yaya Toure, and David Silva will remain and whether it is Guardiola picking up the reins or A.N.Other there is a malady at the club that I can only see being improved but never cured.
To all you former Mancini inners, Mancini outers, Pellegrini inners, Pellegrini outers, and Guardiola groupies everywhere, here is the great unpalatable truth: Concentrate your attentions on who is in charge all you wish but City will never ascend to a sustained period of dominance – will never achieve what they are truly capable of achieving – with the aforementioned players prominent at the club.
Not with their collective flawed mentality. Not a chance.
This is quite a quandary when you consider these players are embedded in City’s post-takeover DNA and the problem is exacerbated further when you cede that they – Kolorov aside – are individually world class in ability.
With Hart in sticks, Kompany leading, Silva orchestrating and Yaya attempting to boss proceedings the Blues may well win the league this year – as they have done twice before – and they may even put together a Champions League campaign worthy of their talents but it will always be attained via the back roads, blowing hot and cold, with victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The past four years proves this empirically with a cycle of sensational spells – at times prolonged such as the first halves of 2011/12 and 2013/14 – followed inevitably by periods of abject complacency that are routinely then met with a blast of excellence. Repeat until it gets dull.
It is reactive, born from a mentality that’s a contradictory mix of arrogance and insecurity that is usually the reserve of a ‘big’ side battling relegation.
This campaign demonstrates this side’s pathetic psychology perfectly. After a disappointing 2014/15 (naturally, because they were the title holders with little to prove) and a whole summer of brooding you could have put your house on City coming out firing this term. Which they duly did dismantling Chelsea and Everton at Goodison and putting five opening straight wins together while conceding no goals. Only, unlike 2011/12 and 2013/14, this time there is no United ogre to finally slay or a Liverpool side pushing and pushing them. This time nobody but Leicester appears to have the plums to come out week in, week out and give their all.
So just a month in the media had already given the trophy to the blue half of Manchester and with West Ham coming to the Etihad you could have put your house on City, well, shooting themselves in the foot. Which they duly did and by and large they’ve been half-arsed firing blanks at their other toes ever since.
Why? Because they had a point to prove and they immediately proved it and with no formidable challenger (hello down there Chelsea) they are incapable of self-motivation beyond that. Because players who have won World Cups and Champions League medals elsewhere have an attitude and mentality that is utterly unacceptable.
For emphasis let’s take one last look at the evidence –
Both league titles should have been sewn up with games to spare but on each occasion complacency set in leading to a necessary late charge with fortune in their favour.
Both title winning seasons were followed by limp, coasting campaigns.
Following criticism from their second limp campaign City come out firing with a point to prove. Only this time there isn’t a challenger to drive them on so they quickly settle into the pack.
Think it’s a coincidence that for several seasons City endured a torrid time in the group stage of the Champions League before showing their mettle and escaping to victory? Think again. It was simply an extension of their league mentality.
So what does all this mean, this cocktail of arrogance, complacency and insecurity? It means simply that City’s key personnel – their spine and heartbeat – are not self-driven winners with the relentless hunger that self-driven winners have.
This has been proven time and insipid time again.
Here’s a comparison that won’t be appreciated but for two decades we witnessed this self-driven need for success exemplified just a few miles down the road.
In Schmeichel, Bruce, Keane, Ince, Robson, and Cantona Manchester United boasted big characters with an insatiable demand for win after win after win and an outright loathing of defeat. They had arrogance in spades but the right kind, the kind where if the opposition scored the collective thinking was ‘How fucking dare you? We’re going to make you pay for that and if you do ultimately triumph prepare to work your soul off to earn it today’. Not the arrogance of believing you only have to show up against supposedly inferior fare to be awarded the three points. Because, well, you’re Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure aren’t you. That’s enough.
Several of these players were later blended in with a group of talented kids who – lo and behold – also had that insatiable hunger for dominance and success throughout their long careers. Ferguson is often – rightfully – given a lot of credit for this but it shouldn’t be underestimated too just how much of a positive influence the old guard had in ensuring the all-conquering dynasty continued. The lessons in how to approach each and every game whether it be against Barnsley or Barcelona. The bar that must not be lowered even for a proverbial wet Wednesday in the Midlands.
What lessons are Sterling and Iheanacho learning from their old guard I wonder? An assumption that you’re the best without actually needing to show it. It’s only West Brom.
Such thinking won’t be said out loud. Of course it won’t. Neither will it be thought by any individual in a City shirt. At least not on the surface. But the attitude is unequivocally there and it’s an attitude that rubs off.
Referring to City’s mediocre showings this season Joe Hart said this week that the dragon must be poked in its cage. It shouldn’t NEED to be poked Joe. And it shouldn’t be caged.