A team of uncommon men

Nelinho

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952
This cannot be a team of common men... Because common men go nowhere... You have to be uncommon…”.

Lines from a script (and a film) inspired by a legendary victory against a superior team, half a century ago -and the sport in question is not football. They come back again and again in my head during the last 18 months or so. I honestly cannot find words more appropriate to describe the reality of Manchester City FC under Josep Guardiola. It was like they were written for his creation. Himself, his players, his team…

A summary of Guardiola’s tenure – The City addiction

I have reached a point where I actually live my life through City now. Perhaps I hadn’t realized it, perhaps I wasn’t willing to admit it, but deep down I think that was the case from the very beginning. Not sure how “healthy” or “normal” this thing is, and I don’t know how to “fix” it. Not sure I want to anyway. But what exactly defines normality in this team? In all honesty, in Guardiola’s world it’s the extreme that becomes the norm:
  • The Centurions of 2017-18 displayed one of the finest football practices the world has ever seen, setting new standards, breaking all kinds of records, literally destroying the PL. Nothing common about that team…
  • The Formidables of 2018-19? Definitely uncommon, defining the benchmark of sacrifice -that is what I thought at the time anyway. Facing unbelievable injury problems (which would have broken any other team), having lost contact with the leading team on the table, City had a mountain to climb. Defeatism becomes the most probable status under such circumstances, ordinary people simply give up. But Pep is anything but ordinary. The quality of his work combined with the die hard mentality cemented within the squad, transformed into an unbeatable force. Led by a magnificent Bernardo (and followed by Eddie, Eric, Raz and Sergio in terms of influence and consistency, the order is debatable), the team will deliver a monumental victory vs Liverpool at home (where they were playing for two results, we had no option but to win otherwise it would be over), definitely the key moment of the season, transmitting doubts within their squad, destabilizing their whole camp. And in the process, 3 days following the shocking, unlucky exit from the CL, City will find the physical and mental strength to beat the same team (again), securing the 3 points -and never looking back after that: At the end of the season all domestic trophies were already part of the club’s history.
  • Which leads us to the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns respectively. As I said earlier, I used to believe that the Formidables achievement was out of this world. How little did I know…
18 months, I wrote above. That’s like 1,5 seasons. Before we get there, let’s go back at the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign for a moment. That autumn and early winter of 2020. You have to be totally ignorant failing (or unwilling) to understand the problems we were bound to face during that period -and there was nobody to blame. Educated to play in a certain way, the team struggled, it was inevitable. Players who were used to operate under high intensity, naturally “failed” doing so. It was impossible to remain indifferent, to not feel for the boys, for me at least it was. I mean they wanted to, they wanted to so badly, yet it was beyond their will, their bodies simply would not (could not) respond to the football practice they were familiar with. After all, it’s nature. You can’t beat nature, can you? That’s what I thought, you cannot. Once again, I was wrong…

You see, after winning at SB on January 3, 2021, this psychological attachment thing started growing and growing exponentially, getting “worse and worse” by the day, to the point of becoming totally beyond my control, truly unbearable. That victory was the turning point of that season. Suddenly there was hope of something really special on the horizon, something merely unfathomable, of an achievement the community of football had never experienced again in the entire history of the sport. Without even mentioning our limitations in terms of personnel, you had a team that had practically started the new season as soon as the previous one had ended. Zero rest. As I’ve already said, a team that naturally struggled in the beginning, operating under circumstances its players were not familiar with. Dropping points. Which had a very serious impact in terms of morale, doubts and frustration were mounting. And City had already a long distance to cover so as to get close to the top of the table…

Guardiola had to adapt -which he did. Players had to learn and respond quickly -which they did. We entered a game by game process. Ignoring the table. Winning, gaining confidence, little by little. And at the same time, game by game getting more and more familiar with the updated strategy. Zero room for mistakes, focus and composure were key during that period. Yet the whole situation was by definition unstable, everything seemed fragile, balances were so delicate. Every single match meant City would have to deal with the disadvantage in terms of energy levels -and, as usual, the team would challenge for every existing trophy, making things worse. In an ongoing process, Pep had to convince his players that they could indeed do the impossible. What seemed like a vague dream (perhaps even a “blasphemy”?) could indeed become reality, as long as they kept their faith in the new approach. Designed so as to effectively deal with all our limitations. Emphasizing on CONTROL (one of the key concepts). And “investing” in a combination of resilience and intelligence. Mark my words, the world has never ever before witnessed such tactical excellence, such effort and determination -my estimation is that we will never live such an experience again. History was literally written in front of our eyes, we were privileged to be there watching it as it unfolded…

That is why that January felt like ages, it literally meant years of my life. It may seem odd to some people, but I swear when we did travel to Liverpool I was fairly confident. Despite our history in that stadium, I knew Guardiola was determined to destroy the myth of Anfield for good. It was not just about winning, it was about humiliating Klopp’s side at their very backyard. That was the mindset of the team that day. The question is, how would City arrive at that particular matchday. I intend to discuss that match (and Guardiola’s plan) in the process, but for the moment we need to focus on the importance of the previous matches. Understanding how critical that particular sequence of matches was: Brighton – Palace – Aston Villa (3 matches in the space of 1 week, all at home), WBA (A) – Sheffield (H) – Burnley (A) (another 3 matches in the space of 1 week). Must win matches all of them. So as to cement momentum, reestablish our position in the league, demoralize opponents. The team suffered, it really really did, every match was a unique challenge, still delivered 6 consecutive wins (following the one at SB). And that is why I had written in another post that Bernardo’s goal vs Villa at home in the final 10 minutes was one of the most important, if not THE most important goal of the 2020-21 campaign. Keeping that streak intact. Because when we finally visited Anfield (07/02/2021), the psychology of the team was nowhere near the one 2 months ago. Which showed in the proceedings of that match. Despite missing a penalty at 0-0, despite Liverpool equalizing against the run of play, the home team had literally no chance. No chance AT ALL. A massive performance, a brilliant tactical plan (which evolved during the match), a statement of a victory. With the world of the PL realizing that City were back again, meaning business. Basically realizing that the title was ours. Again. And City’s orgasmic 4th goal? Phil is a good kid, hopefully the boy will forgive my interpretation, but I see it as a ”fuck you” on behalf of Philip Walter Foden of Manchester (representing everything this club stands -or should stand- for and its people) to the bullying culture that shithole of a stadium represents…

And in the end, having experienced hell itself, Pep, his boys, us fans, we all saw the light. You see, when you get it right with the strategy you adopt, problems are (or could be) solved, even the most difficult ones. And the world, as complex as it is, starts making sense. Normality is restored -and the sun will always rise again. To express it poetically, it’s like Nicole’s voice over from the ending of A. Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” (for those who have watched it): “The clouds… The clouds … And then, the sun…”. Make no mistake about it though. It was never easy…

The responsibility of City’s hierarchy

So what, who gives a fuck, some people will probably ask -and they would be absolutely correct. How a fan feels about the team he / she supports, or how he / she handles the pressure, is not important. Yes, it’s personal (actually it can’t get more personal), still I’m sharing it for two reasons:
  • Obviously I am not the only City fan feeling that way. And perhaps it may seem normal for older, traditional fans, but the genuine passion I witness in new fans is something I find really interesting. Guardiola’s football is highly attractive, following his team becomes an addiction for certain people in the process…
  • If that is the way I, a simple fan, live the City experience, I would expect, nope, wrong words, I actually would DEMAND from people getting high wages running the club to be committed 24x7 in doing their job. During the last couple of months personally I could hardly concentrate on my work (sometimes I didn’t even sleep well), I simply could not get the reality of the team out my mind. It wasn’t nerves, it was anger. And it was mounting by the hour…
I wonder how people like our DoF or our CEO, for instance, have been experiencing City’s last 2 months. Were they sleeping well, like with a clear conscience? How comfortable were they watching the team suffering out there? With the players knackered. And the manager (their “friend”?) operating as a magician so as to deal with that injury crisis…

I wrote once that City sometimes gives the impression of a club leveling competition off with its policy. A comment which was met with irony by some folks. I can imagine them burst into laughter watching us missing those sitters vs Lyon, for example. Or how about vs Madrid this season, home AND away? How can a club at City’s level be neglecting the most important attribute in football, finishing, for so long? You see, you don’t score, you cannot win. You do score easily, then you are often able to hide significant weaknesses and get away with it, even if your opponent is better than you. On the other hand, if you are obliged to spend too much energy so as to score and win, MORE ENERGY THAN YOU SHOULD HAVE SPENT, you are bound to pay the price in the matches ahead, lacking freshness…

What do the above mentioned gentlemen have to say to people like Kevin or Bernardo, for example? Players who have consistently worked their asses off, making us all proud with their commitment. Having scored 4 (I repeat, FOUR) goals vs Real at the Etihad, only to witness the team conceding, in the manner it did. I said it after the match, I am not going to blame Oleks for failing to mark one of the best strikers ever (in Benzema). And as much as there is indeed a case regarding Dinho’s naivety given his experience (in Vinicius’s goal), a man who has somehow made a negative reputation regarding “dark arts” (I mean, fuck me), that is as far as I am willing to go: Ferna shouldn’t even be on the pitch. We are supposed to be able to compete with the best in the world, have I understood that right? I think I have. Fine. Ask yourselves if Real Madrid would ever be in the position of fielding people like Oleks or Ferna as fullbacks in a CL semi (or even a final, regarding the former one). How can this be even possible for a club with a global business activity, a global strategy, a global scouting network? Does that second Madrid goal exist with a player like P. Porro on the pitch, for example? How much would the latter … cost to City? By the way, did I say Real Madrid? How about Chelsea? How about Leicester? Should I go on? No problem. How about Southampton? How about fucking Burnley who were relegated? I mean, they did lose Lowton in the process due to injury, didn’t they? Still, they did have an alternative in Roberts -who did a decent job as his replacement…

Finally, what would have happened if the team “failed” in the last matchday? A rhetorical question to which we all know the answer, don’t we? The following one is the one that matters though: Was this development deterministic? Like, inevitable? The answer is a firm, categorical NO. And for people claiming that being hit even in areas well covered, like central defense, is nothing but bad luck, think again. Actually, do not think. I suggest you speak with professional trainers, then come back and inform this forum regarding the circumstances under which the probability of injuries (muscular or not) increases. Perhaps you will then reconsider by expressing it more accurately. Instead of “bad luck”, calling it what it actually was: The worst case scenario in a highly complicated situation…

We were in the third season of the pandemic era, were we not? With lots of international football activity last summer. It becomes an accumulated thing, players were clearly fucked, so were the clubs paying their wages. People having watched European football this season (other leagues, European competitions) will confirm what should be considered as a common theme throughout Europe: Fitness levels were significantly lower everywhere -sometimes they actually seemed shockingly low.

Regarding the above mentioned problem, I will repeat myself once again, City probably tops the list. On top of that:
  • Guardiola’s football is highly demanding (physically – mentally).
  • The PL is the most complicated, most competitive league in the world (by the way, with 3, not 5, subs allowed, until last season).
I mean no disrespect, congratulations to Bayern, PSG, and Real for winning their respective leagues, but can there be any comparison with the reality of the PL? It’s ridiculous to even consider it. You take a look at their resources, another one at their rivals, it’s not much of an achievement, is it? There is, however, a comparison they cannot avoid: City had better stats in all departments from all champions of the top 5 European leagues (more points, more goals scored, less goals conceded, better GD). Let me repeat that: Despite the significantly higher level of difficulty of the environment they operate in (which is not debatable), Pep’s team produced better results from all of Real Madrid, Milan, Bayern and PSG. It’s incredible. To be fair, Bayern, having played less games (the Budesliga is an 18-clubs league), was somewhat close in terms of GF -and that’s about it…

Despite the above mentioned facts, it also remains a fact that City, instead of strengthening, actually weakened their squad. Losing Mendy for good before the beginning of the season, Feran in winter. Zero measures taken in both cases. Plus another season chasing all existing trophies without a striker. Plus another season competing at the highest possible level with Fernadinho as Rodri’s replacement. Do you really need Guardiola to confirm that Rodrigo has been overplayed? He’s on the record saying it already from last season, this season was the same. Did this situation have an influence in his performance? Absolutely. The boy has overachieved, yes, but when you watch him misjudging actions like the one vs Newcastle leading to Wilson’s one on one, to Villa’s second goal and many others, do me a favor and remember: That’s not Rodri. It’s Rodri exhausted…

This is going on for too long -and it’s gone too far. Every problem we have faced since the beginning of the 2016-17 season (actually before even that) could have been predicted and taken care of at the correct timing, not afterwards. Which means, decision makers deserve all the credit for bringing players such as Ilkay, Bernardo etc. But they get zero credit for transfers such as the ones of Kyle, Ruben etc: They arrived 1 year late. And their absence did make a hell of a difference, did cost the team. And so on…

I will defend Guardiola to death, simply because the man deserves it, it’s the least I can do. But as much as I respect his code of honor, hopefully he will forgive me but I feel I owe zero obligation towards his friends, be it Arteta, Begiristein or Soriano. I said a few things about one of them 6 years ago in my first ever post in this forum. Never came back to that, felt there was no point. I was 100% sure then, I am 1000% sure today. There is one thing I missed though. It is not just him, it goes higher. The thing is, they are not my friends. They are professionals, making fortunes working for City -and they are the owner’s eyes and ears in the football industry. They will be evaluated accordingly…

You see, it’s not just about the transfer strategy. Identifying mistakes in that area is the easiest part. It’s deeper. How about discussing how the hierarchy understands the concept of protecting the team / club, on / off the pitch? The media propaganda. The officiating. And so on. Are we going to forget that City were attacked, almost lynched, a couple of hours before a fucking KO CL match by Liverpool’s mob? Absolutely not, as far as I am concerned. I will also not forget the influence of that experience in the team’s performance or the performance of the ref in the match that followed. A disgraceful situation tolerated by official City. Why, I will never understand…

9 times out of 10, the average fan will seek scapegoats among managers and players. They are visible, right in front of his eyes. On the spotlight, therefore easy targets. Very rarely will fans explore the responsibility of decision makers. People whose decisions or non decisions determine the fate of the “protagonists” (managers – players). Unfortunately, knowledge is a rare commodity in the football industry: The reason why parasites will always have a good chance to survive avoiding accountability. Anyway, I guess I’m not the only one who has been “censoring” his words in this forum, am I? Let’s say, “for the greater good”? Not contributing to negativity? Every fucking time I’ve done this in my life, I’ve regretted it. No impact, nothing changes. Enough is enough. There are so many people eager to point the finger at the manager or a given player at any given opportunity. And if there is no opportunity, they will invent one. You want to play the blame game? Fine. Let’s do it seriously…

Identifying topics for this thread (or other threads)

Furthermore, how about discussing methodically, in an organized manner, some of the BS the mainstream media have been consistently throwing towards City’s direction all these years? Let’s see:

It’s all about money

Of course.
  • It’s the lack of money that prevented United from reaching a CL spot, right? I mean, they did invest and strengthen their squad, no? 140m spent (30,7m received). In the beginning of the season, there were pundits making a case of them as possible champions. United will finish 6th, with a GD=0…
  • It’s the lack of money that prevented Arsenal from reaching a CL spot, right? 167,42m spent (31,40m received). Arsenal will finish 5th -and this was Arteta’s third season. No further comment…
And so on, and so on, and so on…

* All figures above in € (source: transfermarkt.com)

It’s all about the quality of the players

Yeah. Apparently City are the only team in the world possessing good, very good, excellent players, take your pick.
  • In the beginning of the season, there were people in the media rooting for Chelsea, some of them were willing to even take bets. Tuchlel’s team didn’t even come close. Was it about the lack of good players? Was it perhaps about losing Chilwell and Reece in the process? Tuchel himself would have never made that argument -and personally I would be delighted with people such as M. Alonso and Azpi as their replacements. I’m sorry, Chelsea (having spent 118m, received 119,95m) had everything to compete, every fucking thing, but they needed more, much more in their game. It's ugly, I know, it’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth…
  • It’s the lack of good players that almost got Everton relegated, right?
  • Brentford had a comfortable season, finishing above clubs such as Aston Villa, Southampton, Everton, Leeds etc. Was it because they had better players than their rivals? Really? Anybody interested in making a case out of that? Anybody at all?
  • Inter lost the scudetto in Italy. Why? Because Milan had a superior roster? Seriously? I can make a case on the exact opposite direction. Very easily. The simple truth is:
a. Stefano Pioli’s team was hardly impressive.​
b. Simone Inzaghi failed. And he failed spectacularly…​

By the way, talking about quality of players as a factor, I’m sure we are all aware of the best line-ups of the 2021-22 season in the PL, as proposed by several institutions. You will find 5, even 6 Liverpool players in them. Assuming they are right in their judgement, what does that tell you? Pretty embarrassing, isn’t it?

And so on, and so on, and so on…

It’s all about squad depth

To laugh or cry? What depth, you cunts? Are you addressing cretins? How fucking difficult is it to open a site in the internet and explore rivals’ human resources? Take a look at Liverpool’s squad. Take a look at Chelsea’s squad. How many times this season were we obliged to use youngsters so as to fill the bench? With 2, 3, 4, even 5 kids? We had to wait until the final week of the season, right before the Villa match, for Pep to publicly admit that the squad “…was not much”, something along these lines. But that was well known from the beginning, was it not? Taking or not measures so as to deal with that problem (of course you need to identify it as a problem first) is not his fucking call though, is it? Last time I checked, he doesn’t run the club, does he? I mean, he is not City’s Ferguson, is he? We are indeed paying a DoF, we are indeed paying a CEO, are we not?

BS after BS after BS, lie after lie after lie. And a public opinion brainwashed by tons of shit. The lack of depth (plus fatigue, these two are correlated) cost us the CL, and nearly cost us the league. What bothers me the most is that in the end it seemed like a close challenge. It shouldn’t have been. I don’t want to take anything away from Liverpool, but the final outcome of the season (finishing just 1 point behind us) flatters them -and they know it. Check interviews of their players, you’ll understand what I mean. “Trent” and others, even Robertson talked about “…deserved champions”…

Given the opportunity: For the idiots criticizing Guardiola for rotating in the FA Cup semi (which was the only, I repeat, THE ONLY RATIONAL OPTION, otherwise we could have lost everything), take a look at Klopp’s lineup vs Southampton. Take a quick look. What do you see? That’s matchday 37. There is still hope for Liverpool. But there is also a CL final ahead. A massive rotation (all, I repeat, ALL their key players are missing, only Henderson appeared as a sub), and a radical decision by Klopp, revealing how desperate their situation was. Then go and watch their performance vs Wolves (a match they deserved to have lost). Then go and watch again their performance vs Madrid. Am I clear enough or do I have to spell it out? Freshness remained a dream -and Herr Klopp achieved fuck all. It was too late, both ships had sailed. And in the end, they were left with two Cups, both won on penalties…

Back on topic: Eric was playing injured in the end. He is a decent man, he spoke afterwards about it (explaining why he wasn’t joining the national team), but our fans should have already known. As he leaves the pitch, escorted by security guards, there is an expression of pain on his face. John? Probably the same, definitely unfit. He could just monitor Digne’s move during Villa’s 1st goal, he couldn’t run. But we had to use him. People such as Bernardo, Kevin, Rodri, Joao etc, nearly died on the pitch…

Why was this necessary? Do we want to kill our players? Like, burn them? One of the reasons (but not the only one) behind losing the 2019-20 title is associated with the amazing effort “invested” during the previous season. Let’s have that in mind for the season that is about to start next month. Let’s also have in mind that 21 yo Erling, arriving 2 years late, will be in the spotlight. Under huge pressure. While people like Kevin, Ilkay etc will be 1 year older…

This piece -and the ones that will follow- is primarily for the man that made our lives better all these years with his creation -I feel I owe. Also paying tribute to those boys out there that never stopped fighting for the City cause under unbelievable circumstances -again, I feel I owe. Finally for all those people that kept their faith in them, never stopped supporting them. Loyal, decent, humble, hard working people, that is how I see them. I honestly have no words for our away support, for example. I wish I could be with them, unfortunately that is not possible, I live far away. But some day we will meet…

I cannot promise to feed this thread regularly, I’ll do the best I can. But the intention is indeed to discuss Pep’s strategy during the last couple of years. Elaborate on his supremacy. I do intent to provide examples in particular matches, make comparisons etc. But don’t expect me to mention stats and trophies, that’s easy, every fucking idiot has access to that kind of information. Guardiola’s brilliance goes way beyond that…

A moment to live in eternity

So, Guardiola did it again. In what was supposed to be “the tightest challenge”, with like 3 or 4 candidates. Again, what this man and those boys have delivered these last two seasons is beyond human measures. There is no precedent for these achievements, taking into account the circumstances and our limitations. Achievements bound to be discussed and to serve as glorious references long after we are all gone. Still, we did have to win in the final matchday…

I wonder how superstitious people have been experiencing these last few weeks. If our injury crisis and our low energy levels were not enough, we also had to deal with totally unexpected stuff, like Riyad’s sorrow coming back from that fucking Cameroon match. Another indication of how complicated, how chaotic modern football can be. Pep kept his faith in him, but the man never recovered. A player who has been crucial for the team during the last two seasons is the player that will miss that sitter vs Liverpool in the dying moments of that match, a match City could and should have won putting an end to the title race. And he will waste that penalty vs WH uncharacteristically for his class. A poor attempt, I mean the whole stadium, millions of spectators from TV sets, never mind Fabianski himself, knew exactly the angle he was aiming at. At the same time, Liverpool kept securing the points in bizarre ways. It was like Gods of football had conspired against City…

And it became worse vs Villa. Under normal circumstances, Gerrard’s plan would have hardly presented any problems. He did what he had usually been doing with that “pyramid” formation of his. The tactical comments Pep made after the game reflect his thinking process towards Gerrard’s approach. It’s how Villa practically “invite” you to attack them. For study purposes, a classic example here is their defeat at home vs Chelsea. SG was absent, I think, due to Covid, but I’m sure he was watching -and I guess he could have intervened through his cell phone. The problem of his team was obvious from the first minutes (actually before ref’s first whistle, if you ask me), did absolutely nothing about it. Similar story, even worse, vs Spurs at home…

The thing is, this was not an ordinary match. We had a team knackered out there. With our problems, the title on the line etc, nervousness is inevitable, it’s human nature. Overhit passes, lack of movement between the lines, and so on. Villa scores (with Joao having fallen asleep), in the process Coutinho, out of all people, scores the second, capitalizing on a series of mistakes (and overreacting in his celebrations for some reason). The Gerrard – Coutinho combo working for Liverpool? People in the stands at Anfield get mental, begging for the winning goal. Liverpool were never ahead of City during the 90’, by the way. And as I said above, only Gods of football can explain how they survived vs Wolves…

But suddenly everything changes exponentially. In the space of less than 6 minutes City will score 3 and finish the game. United fans go mental in the social media. Everton fans, with their team having conceded 5, are celebrating at the Emirates. At SB Chelsea fans are singing the SG song, “Come on City”, “Murderers” etc. Harsh, I know, but it seems there are people in England not willing to forget. And on top of that, you have the Wolves fans singing “You nearly won the league…” at Anfield. Almost perfect…

The quadruple narrative comes to an end. How the fuck it was even invented, I will never know. A week later, following Salah’s statement about “revenge”, Liverpool will also fail in the CL final (a final they reached through a relatively easy path). A poor game in terms of quality from both sides, very low energy levels (again from both sides). With Liverpool once again being exposed from the right of their defensive line…

Now what? Well, “It was Courtois, MOM”. And … “Liverpool were so unfortunate”. I am sure the same people in the media could not hold their tears, could not fucking sleep after watching Riyad and Jack missing those chances vs Madrid, right?

Now what? Well, new narratives. “The only team that has come so close winning the quadruple” (!). People still making a case about “The best team ever” (!!!!!!!!!). We are definitely living in a dream world. The best team ever? Is it even the best team their club has ever produced? Anybody interested in a poll? How about asking older Liverpool fans if they rate Klopp’s side above Liverpool’s great teams of the past. I know I wouldn’t…

Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. Klopp is a hypocrite, but I have no doubts about his talent. And being familiar with his work at Dortmund, I can confirm he has indeed evolved as a manager. But (and that’s a very serious but):
  • Without intensity his side can become ordinary.
  • Without intensity City won 2 in a row.
Let’s have that in mind when we discuss Guardiola's supremacy. As I said, the trophies he’s won? That’s easy. They’re there for everyone to see, a CV that speaks for itself. But there is more, much much more. Guardiola’s work is far more sophisticated than what a lot of people believe…

And now what? Well, we had organized a parade, you know, why miss the opportunity? So the parade is on. Excuse me? A parade? A fucking parade? Celebrating what exactly? I know what Jerry Seinfeld would say. Anybody familiar with that joke of his regarding silver medal in the Olympics? Well, it seems Jerry would rather finish last, instead of second, so as to avoid the irony: “Congratulations, you … almost won. Of all the losers you came in … first of that group. You’re … the number one loser. No one lost ahead of you”. I am sorry, I cannot resist. I don’t want to sound provocative, but I’ve had enough of this shit…

Let me see if I have understood this correctly:
  • Liverpool finishes 2nd in the league. By the way, at some point they did have the 3 top scorers in Salah, Jota and Mane. Still, City will go on scoring 99 goals against Liverpool’s 94, without a genuine striker (yet it bothers me that we finished with the same GA: 26).
  • Liverpool will fail to deliver a single victory against all top 4 PL clubs. Officials saved them twice with City, they were playing 11 vs 10 with Chelsea at home (second half), they had a 2 goals lead at SB. And they were lucky to not lose vs Spurs at home.
  • Liverpool will win two Cups, both on penalties, without scoring a single goal.
  • Liverpool will lose in the CL final, again without scoring a single goal.
Am I missing something? I don’t think I am. But they still went on with their parade. Again, genuine question: Celebrating what the fuck exactly? I mean, who are these people? What planet did they come from?

Back to the Villa match. I am not going to get into details, this is already a long post, perhaps on another occasion. Just a few comments:

Is there any point discussing Pep’s subs? Sterling’s is “programmed”, but the other two ones are associated with back-up plans, obviously explored meticulously before the match. Nevertheless their timing is indicative of Guardiola’s brilliance. A man who never panicked and decided the game with his moves. Discussing individuals? What do you want me to say about Ilkay, for example? Let the people who have been slating him at any given opportunity speak. The man entered the pitch ready, mentally prepared. And if we are willing to talk about individuals, only idiots can ignore Kevin, his role, his influence. I guess the kind of idiots who were wondering if (or even used to believe that) “City are better without De Bruyne”…

You see, in situations like this, people will look for leaders. Take Phil, for example. The boy is still young, has no such experience yet. Instrumental and aggressive on other occasions, this time, as much as he wanted to contribute in the team’s effort, he struggled in his decision making. Like others, he will seek inspiration in Kevin’s cold blood. The boy is clearly in a state of a shock watching the clarity in Kev’s move, as he finishes the game in style scoring THAT third goal at the Molineux…

Kevin will never give up. He simply cannot. Watch Pep’s reaction following Coutinho’s goal. And watch Kev’s reaction on the pitch at the same moment. His precision in City’s third goal is almost inhuman, a split second later that pass is gone. When we do score that goal, there are players close to passing out due to happiness (combined with relief and exhaustion). Rodrigo, for example, is down, lying on the ground. Kevin, calm, approaches him, helps him to stand up. Gestures to his teammates not to lose their heads, the game was not over yet. Him and Ilkay will stay composed till the end (amazingly, the latter even after that). Him, Ilkay and Phil will keep directing activity down to the left, with Gabby wasting like 4-5 minutes, killing the game. With people like him on the pitch, the rest, Joao, Rodri, Phil, Gabby, Oleks etc, will all step up and follow. Kevin will finally let his emotions explode only as he walks towards the tunnel, on his way to the dressing room…

All the above and other similar stuff are correct, but still cannot provide the “tool” to explain this phenomenal development. Kevin himself said afterwards that he cannot explain what had just happened. But he also said he knew it could be done. He knew we could do it. And that he felt proud...

What Guardiola has created is not a team anymore. It’s a mechanism. With an intelligence and soul beyond the ones of its individuals. Embodying the quality of his work combined with his iron will. I mean, does it really come down to the same question? Not sure it does: ”Do you believe in miracles?” Well, if you have the best manager that has ever walked on this planet, it’s hardly a miracle, is it? It becomes a realistic possibility…

As Pep said afterwards, it was about getting a goal. As soon as we scored the first, the platform to turn everything upside down was set. The team is so fucking well coached, that Pep’s work was bound to shine and do the rest. Like a mechanism…

We are talking about team chemistry (another key concept I am willing to explore in the future) of another level here. With players connecting blind. A chemistry reaching deep psychological grounds (how many times and from how many of our players have we heard the term “togetherness”, or the term “family”?). And a team resilient and educated in unlocking packed defenses with a variety of attacking plays…

What I am trying to say is, the boys are totally aware of what they can produce, AS A UNIT. They’ve done it numerous times all these years, finding solutions against a variety of tactical situations presented by their opponents. They have full confidence in the team they participate in. It’s only a matter of every member executing his part with precision…

Which means, the moment Ilkay scores, all doubts immediately disappear. So does fatigue, with players entering the zone, having total command of their bodies. And the mechanism, as an entity, will take care of things itself. You see, all goals are well known patterns:
  • 1st goal: Out of all people, Sterling, owning Digne, will deliver the cross of his life, inch perfect. Ilkay has scored the same goal vs Arsenal earlier this season, Gabby providing the assist. By the way, when you remember this goal, do me a favor and also remember Gabby with a smile. Not because of his assist mentioned just above. Gabby started the season excellently as a winger, with directness being a characteristic of his game. I can see signs of his influence in our attacking approach, also in the game of teammates of his (Riyad, for example). You should also remember our manager: Raz decided to become a “casualty” of Pep’s rotation policy last season (remember the Gladbach match, that is where it started, I think). He lost his head. It cost him, it also cost the team. We all lost, no excuses. The difference is, Guardiola is not Mourinho. He will never throw a player of his under the bus. Never. He loves his players. He left his door open -and it paid off…
  • 2nd goal: The same foot, the same technical type of shot, as in the match vs Arsenal at home. Obviously this one was way more difficult, given the importance of the match, the timing, as well as the angle (if I have to choose from all three goals, in my humble opinion, it’s Raheem’s cross in the first and Rodrigo’s second that made the difference). But when Oleks, in the finest moment of his City career, cuts inside, leaving Buendia for dead, Rodri is there waiting, at the position he is supposed to be…
  • 3rd goal: I’ve already commented on Kev’s pass. But after he wins that loose ball following Mings’s clearance, does he really have to look? Hardly. As I said, we connect blind. “Trust your teammate”. Ilkay will be there, attacking the far post, waiting. Kevin knew. Again, just a matter of precision in terms of application…
And Villa? Well, I lost it just for a few moments in Gundo’s goal. I do remember jumping like an idiot. That’s it, don’t remember yelling, for instance. Which I obviously did, as informed by my neighbor, a sweet old lady, the following day. She knows what’s going on, no surprises. But she said there were people walking in the street, looking up at my floor, smiling…

I couldn’t afford losing it before, so I am aware of their reaction. 1st goal, they feel doomed, I think. 2nd goal, they know it’s over. Terrible feeling. They can do nothing but just be there, watch us storming like a hurricane, experience the inevitable. The outcome is inescapable. Completely out of their hands. I mean, they are just there to watch, nothing else. Them and their fans, another wonderful set of people. Who are now silenced for good. And would travel back home wondering how the fuck that embarrassment was ever possible…

Once again, the team will go through hell before reaching the light. Never stopped believing and fighting, did everything they could, left their heart and soul on the pitch. Only to achieve what they absolutely deserved. When you see players on the ground after the final whistle, Bernardo’s face as he storms to the dressing room, Rodrigo lost in Estiarte’s arms, later in the dressing room in Pep’s arms (he just couldn’t let go, could he?), Pep crying, kissing his players, one by one, in the dressing room, and so on, what can I say? I read there is a lot of controversy regarding Shankly’s famous quote: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. If we are permitted to perceive it literally, regardless of what the man actually meant perhaps, I think it’s in moments like these that those words find their true meaning…

In his post match interview, Pep described his players as “legends”. He also said his opinion would not change, even we had “failed”. Trust me, he means it 100%. But do not expect him to further explain. He knows better than anyone, but he will keep this for himself and his staff. It’s for journalists, commentators, pundits, and us fans to acknowledge the importance and gravity of these achievements, identifying the circumstances under which City delivered. Even after the Arsenal away match, with City having played 3 matches in 6 days, winning them all, he barely mentioned fitness or energy levels as a factor. Following ref’s final whistle in that match, I remember our players could hardly celebrate, I mean some of them could hardly even stand at their feet and breathe, yet Guardiola was giving the impression of a manager not particularly satisfied by the team’s performance, it’s unbelievable! A pure voluntarist with such a strong will -and he needs protection from that. As I said, in his world it’s the extreme that becomes the norm. A situation the boys have accepted. However you are willing to describe a development such as in the match in question, phenomenal, epic or whatever, it will remain an understatement. This is indeed a team of uncommon men…

As for its architect himself, Josep Guardiola will go on, challenging for every existing trophy, as usual. Relying solely to the quality of his work and the mentality he has cemented to the team. With or without a striker (or a LB, or a RB, or a CB), he will never complain. The aim will always be for the team to succeed at the highest level despite limitations whatsoever. He will keep exploring solutions, even if they involve violating basic principles of the game. No hesitation, he will make it happen. And he will keep defending the City cause in the media, whether this task is in his job description or not -that is who he is…

As I wrote in another post, when he leaves, only then will some people perhaps realize two things:
  • One, under Pep this team was always, I repeat, ALWAYS, overachieving. Performing at a level way higher than the sum of its parts.
  • And two, everything he has achieved, he's done it alone. It was him and those boys out there. Where I will add, in a process enjoying very little help from his friends (or "friends"). If he still doesn't know that, I do. One day he will understand, you can bet your ass. But it will be too late -and, given his noble nature, will never talk about it anyway. Never...

It was long, I know, and I apologize. Thank you for your time!

PS. Having lifted the trophy, our captain makes a gesture to his manager, asking him to join. The latter points at his teammates. A few moments later the director of the show will capture the image of Pep and Kevin sitting at the back, behind the players, smiling. It tells you everything you need to know about this team, the atmosphere within it, its unity, its values. Also tells you everything you need to know about true leadership: You see, a true leader is fully aware of his role and his responsibility. Once he has fulfilled his mission, he feels complete. Doesn’t need anything else. He can now sit back and take pride and joy in watching the outcome of his work and its influence to others. Enjoy watching the boys and the fans being in heaven, celebrating…

I think our Kaz will enjoy this comment. After all it’s about her “blondie” too…
 

Two Gun Bob

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Life is a web spun of ghosts dreams and illusions.
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