Neil Blackmon on the how little brother became all growns up.
Manchester City should glide past an injury-riddled Villarreal Wednesday in the Champion’s League. The success will pale in comparison to what was achieved across Manchester ten days ago.
On that Sunday, something completely out of the ordinary happened for City and perhaps in the world of high class, high profile, highly-paid sport.
Out of the ordinary doesn’t even begin to do it justice–try bizarre, nonsensical and revelatory all at brilliant once.
In two hours, a club turned the corner in an existential battle to redefine itself.
There were Manchester City, victorious and barely breaking a sweat–gliding–and celebrating a victory over rival Manchester United on their hated rival’s hallowed and fervently-protected pitch. The cynical Italian man who manages the Citizens couldn’t hold his emotion back, beaming in adulation being on the same pedestal–temporarily at least–as the other manager. Perhaps the first time in his entire career that Sir Alex Ferguson was considered “the other manager.” He was long gone from the main stage.
It would have been a glorious side-by-side sight, the Italian and the Scotsman who share completely opposite historical tales of English football success.
But, given that the Premier League is a global village these days, not much was lost except the lived experience, the real time sounds and smells. Not lost was the sense of occasion. A grand one indeed–one that bares illuminating again now that the buzz has died down and given way to perspective.
As City lingered on the pitch in the match’s aftermath, one couldn’t, with the obvious exception of United fans, feel affection for the team in the powdery blue.
So much has been made of Manchester City lately and their rise from parochial afterthought to plush pockets and prominence that the general sentiment was this was a side that without fail should be disliked—a noveau riche group that didn’t and wouldn’t know how to graciously behave and charm at a dinner party.
City Backlash (the “B” in caps appropriately) has been widespread and pervasive and, given two years or so of underachievement, perhaps warranted.
And yet here were a cadre of City fans, slotted into a corner cluster at Old Trafford, dancing and hugging and singing and yes, drinking in their powder blue shirts and coats and scarves.
They’d weathered Heathrow Airport style patdowns, sniffing dogs, metal detectors and segregated lines (United fans first, of course) on their way in but here they were, the last to leave, watching their team hug and shake hands and clap, arms raised to the heavens. The scoreboard read 6-1. It was a Massacre in Manchester, and what’s more, it was a powerful, fairy tale type beginning to a new chapter, a story, as City midfielder Yaya Toure put it last week to the Guardian’s Paul Wilson, “waiting to be written.”
And at once, it became easy to identify with that cluster, oblivious to the Etihad Airways-sponsored replica kits they were wearing that always seem to undulate with an underlying “Arsenal imposter”-like feel.
You can talk all you’d like about the tactics—about Sir Alex Ferguson’s refusal to shore up the back after American public enemy # 2 (Rafa Marquez will not be overtaken in 2011 by anyone) Jonny Evans was sent off in the 47th minute.
And it’s true- at one-nil, Ferguson was very un-Ferguson like.
He was outmanaged, from the team selection sheet to the poor choices he made when the game was still within reach, like failing to bring on Nemanja Vidic for Danny Welbeck or taking a shot sometimes brilliant, always enigmatic Anderson.
But this game won’t be remembered for tactics.
No, this game will be remembered as the moment Manchester City warped from a side with a generally cynical and negative perception globally into a genuinely likeable group; one you can’t help but
love, reluctantly, despite their the flauntings of their ownership, the petulance of their strikers or, their quirky, poorly-quoted manager and idiosyncrasies. It was a new chapter to a story that to this point, was more dark comedy and antihero than character and Capra.
Ten days ago, City tore up chapters already written. The team it easy to forget for a moment the Arab investors and their billions upon billions.
Fans of smaller sides–myself included–previously found it easy to not detest, but loathe City, to protest their rich owners and dumb luck.
Money can’t buy you love, so the Beatles sang, and it can’t buy you hardware either, so the small club “everyman” said. City were a collection of sprockets and carburetors, dissembled parts that could never make a whole–no matter the growth of David Silva, the steadiness of Vincent Kompany or that Nigel De Jong hasn’t been thrown out of a game in how long?
Chelsea fans can tell you how oil money and nouveau fans create a hated identity–and though John Terry helps perpetuate, largely “new Chelsea” is still on the opposite side when neutrals fans go rooting.
But City by all accounts should be nearing the absolute edges of the resentment universe; an object lesson in the risky excess of capitalism, the hatred it sometimes engenders, of the “Occupy Wall Street” sentiment and fear the growing gap between haves and have nots seems to represent. Every City failure was brilliant—vindication for the little guy.
That is, until they finally put together a a beautifully orchestrated team effort against United and until their long-maligned fans celebrated the blitzing of their Goliath.
As Micah Richards noted in the aftermath, the “noisy neighbors” had arrived.
easier extremely more palatable after that performance, to recognize that money can’t buy you love, but it can put you in a position to earn it yourself.
And the prose with which the story unfolded was grandiose.
There was, of course, Mario Balotelli, with his fleet of sports cars, fits of infancy about shortened playing time and distaste for the city of Manchester. Yet there he was, timing his run perfectly and combining with James Milner and David Silva (more on him later) in the build-up to City’s opener in the 22nd minute.
There was no more poetic beginning to what was about to ensure than the volatile Balotelli perfectly redirecting a cutback pass inside the post at in what seemed like slow motion. A build-up that crescendoed with the Italian forward proudly standing, Cantona-esque right where his brilliance occurred and lifting his jersey to display the phrase, “Why Always Me?”
A poetic statement from Balotelli that was just as brilliant as his touch.
There was Yaya Toure dictating play in the midfield. That’s the same Toure whose signing was berated as over-indulgence on a marginal player who was not responsible for Barcelona’s success when he was at the Camp Nou. Yet United did no talking in midfield thanks to Toure.
And then there were those that were conspicuous by their absence on the pitch.
In the symphonic thumping that City put on their neighbors, seven yellow cards and one red were issued. United amazingly having four cautions and one sending-off with City gathering the other three minors. And Nigel De Yong didn’t play a part in any of them (nor the match.)
And of course, Carlos Tevez deserves a mention here and this City victory seemed be like the closing of the movie the musical Damn Yankees, where the Washington Senators win the pennant by their Joe Boyd’s own might after breaking his pact with the devil. That United is owned by a damn Yankee and the Senators vanquish them sans the devil seems, once again, poetic.
City became the lovely and aspiring Senators on Sunday. And perhaps that’s the identity they’ll forge to become a global brand.
Certainly, the club’s history is much closer to that. Long treated as second-class citizens in even their own city, the Citizens lack a title since 1968. What’s more—clubs long gone from the Barclay’s Premier League pecking order have greater global support and fanfare—Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, West Ham United come immediately to mind. Some sides have luxurious stadiums and general love—City have neither of these and what’s worse, their stadium is a sterile, lifeless building that smells of stale beer. As Jamie Trecker pointed out in the build-up to last week’s match at Fox Soccer—City essentially have no history to speak of outside of simply being tolerated in their own city, although with a fair amount of disgust.
Sunday, October 23rd will forever be known as the reckoning in “a little brother finally winning a game of RISK and sending extra armies into places just because he can” sort of way. Or maybe it’s, look away United fans, Johan Cruyff at the Camp Nou after Franco and Real Madrid.
Or maybe Sunday was just in the revolving door and immediately out again for City and a slap-of-the-hand reminder that championships aren’t won in English Autumn, but on cold February afternoons at the Stadium of Light, or at bogey sides like Everton, or wherever.
But for now Manchester City is loved and and here’s the odd twist: Perhaps only raising a Championship trophy will re-instate the vilification of the little brother. Wouldn’t that be something.