Michael Fairclough sifts through the ashes of a forgettable season for the 20111/12 champions.
Runners-up in both the league and cup….does this constitute anything like a successful season?
The season as a whole has been a strange one. It doesn’t seem long ago that we were sat watching Stuart Pearce’s side draw 0-0 at home to Watford in the league. If you would have asked me then if finishing second in the two biggest domestic competitions the country has to offer made for a successful season, I would have assumed that you had been experimenting with large quantities of glue. Having said that, the worst thing we can do now is keep falling back on how things used to be. As much as it’s important to remember our past and where Manchester City have come from in such a short space of time, it is even more important to realise that we now have the most talented squad in the country and that team should have been more than capable of a better fight in the defence of our first Premier League title.
As for the FA Cup. Well. There was an almighty opportunity to add a third trophy in three years for Manchester City. It all seemed so simple. Turn up, step out on to the pitch and beat an opponent who were surely focussing more on retaining their Premier League status for another season rather than winning at Wembley? Not so simple. The night before the final was almost like the gods were trying to force us to remember that we were Manchester City, typical Manchester City. The manager who had overseen some of the greatest moments in the history of the club was subject to rumours of a dismissal. The atmosphere was a strange one in the stands that day. It wasn’t like any of the other Wembley trips that we had been lucky enough to experience recently. There was a lot of anger and a lot of bewilderment. The emotion of the fans looked like it had leaked on to the pitch. The team that had played magnificently throughout the competition were all over the place and Wigan took advantage and celebrated just like City did in 2011. Oh, it could have been so different.
Do you blame Mancini for City’s Champion’s League non-show?
It would be very easy to put the blame on the manager for a disappointing Champions League performance. As a team and as a club, the blame has got to be shared. It wasn’t the managers fault that a lead was let slip in the Bernabéu not once, but twice. And it wasn’t the managers fault that we were thrown into a rotten group for the second year running. As could be said for City in all competitions, the players that he had faith in, let him down. There has been a lot made of the decision to go three at the back and how corners were defended, in particular against Ajax. But these are professional footballers. Professional footballers who are paid to do what they are told by their boss and professional footballers who practice these things day in day out. How about looking at them and questioning how they did their jobs?
Europe aside, perhaps the biggest disappointment this term has been how far behind their Manchester rivals City have finished in terms of points. What’s been the main reasons for this?
It is absolutely vital to build on a successful season with more quality, because in the following year, you are there to be shot at and everyone wants to beat the champions. This has been City’s first time in a long time experiencing this and a lot of players won their first Premier League winners medal on that glorious day on May 13th 2012. Roberto Mancini had stressed it enough over the season, that the transfer dealings were poor. Matija Nastasic has been the exception to that. The Serb has been nothing short of magnificent and there is certainly a bright future for him at the top of the game. However, a 19 year old centre back is not enough. More competition for places was needed throughout and more attacking quality to provide the team with a different dimension. The football last year was spell binding but this year has proved to be more difficult as teams have worked us out and given that extra 10% for the carrot of beating the best team in the league. The team has been crying out for some attacking pace. A player who can take on a defender and threaten goal. Without doubt, this should be number one priority for the new manager.
City’s summer seasons hardly set the fans pulses racing. Have you seen anything in them to suggest they have a future at the Etihad?
As already mentioned, Matija Nastasic will have a big future at the club if he chooses to build his career here. A perfect understudy to Vincent Kompany and he has shown already that he is capable to handle the demands of the Premier League and the Champions League.
A lot of people were sceptical about Jack Rodwell when he signed for a relatively large fee because of his problems with injuries. He did have some problems over the course of the season, but credit to him for coming back to the team and working hard. He was arguably the best player on the pitch in the games against West Brom and Norwich and I for one think that the future looks bright for him.
Javi Garcia arrived with a bit of European pedigree having played in the Champions League for Benfica last season. The way he strolls about in midfield seems to me that his head is still on a beach relaxing somewhere in Portugal. He is not quick enough for the Premier League, it’s as simple as that. One particular game, a freezing cold Wigan away, was one of the worst performances I’ve seen by a City player in recent memory. Imagine a blind sloth swimming through soft treacle trying to find some space to complete a short pass. Javi’s game in a nutshell. I am waiting for him to prove me and many others wrong, and I really hope he does as he could be a valid squad member. Or a sloth.
Scott Sinclair. What to say about Scott Sinclair? His missus is a national annoyance? I can’t really comment on his ability as a footballer as he has never been given a real opportunity for one reason or another. Up there with Glauber Berti in terms of mystery.
And finally, Maicon. He was always going to be a squad player when he signed and he was never expected to root up trees. To his credit, he came on against Tottenham at home and changed the game in a right midfield role. He has still got some excellent technical ability but not the defender he once was.
Surely this summer can only get better?
Who has been the stand-out performer this term?
The season is best described by the fact that our two stand out players have been defenders. Player of the season, Pablo Zabaleta and young player of the season Matija Nastasic. Pablo Zabaleta leads by example week in, week out. There has never been an occasion where he has given anything less than 110% and this season he has peaked after enjoying a well deserved run in the first team and making that right back spot his own. Nastasic has been a revelation. An absolutely superb find by Roberto Mancini. Eyebrows were raised at the fee for a 19 year old but he has already been worth every penny. And to make things even sweeter, we managed to find someone to take Stefan Savic off our hands.
What’s been your favourite moment this season?
The Old Trafford derby was right up there this season. A bouncing away end and a victory in a game that the lot from Trafford thought they had won before a ball was kicked. And it was some goal to win the game. Other highlights include the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea and Edin Dzeko’s late brace at the Hawthorns.
What would you have done different if last August you’d been installed in the dug-out?
Kicked Brian Marwood’s door down and demanded that he brought me a world class forward player.
How would you sum up the season as a Manchester song? Blue Monday or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now?
I’m going to have to deny Morrissey this one on his birthday and give it to New Order, Blue Monday. Although it wasn’t great it’s not quite as bleak as the world appears to be through Moz’s eyes. Monday is the beginning of the week, just like Manchester City are still very much at the beginning of their new era. Or their New Order, if you like.
Is Mancini’s sacking one step back to take two forward or just a regression?
When the sacking was announced, I was as gutted as anyone. The man made sure that I witnessed the best football I had ever seen as a City fan and brought me things I could only dream about when my Dad brought me up as a Division Two blue. For that, I and thousands of others will always respect him. However, now the dust has settled, it is starting to look like it could be for the best in the long term. Something wasn’t quite right this season and ultimately Mancini has paid the price. I disagree with the character assassinations that are now conveniently being printed in the papers. So what if he wasn’t loved by everyone, he got the job done more often than not and helped a lot of players achieve great things. That said, what’s done is done and as much as what Roberto did will never be forgotten, we will now stand by the new manager.
It looks increasingly likely that Pellegrini will take control. Your thoughts and who would you prefer if anyone?
The more you read about Manuel Pellegrini, the more impressive he becomes. Those who know him best speak highly of the man himself and his management style. The thing that keeps popping up is his ability to get the most out of the resources available to him. This could be exactly what the players and the club needs. A refreshing change. And if he can improve on our record in the Champions League, then great. I can’t think of many other managers that I would want to see at the club. Pellegrini is my preference but you wouldn’t hear me grumble if Rafa Benitez got the job. A man who knows how to win football matches and knows how to win the big competitions. I’m glad that Txiki and Soriano don’t see eye to eye with Jose Mourinho as he is a egotistical time bomb waiting to self destruct. Let Chelsea have him.