Farewell Sir Alex – a City ‘tribute’

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As inspirational Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany so eloquently and respectfully posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning: “Sir Alex, one of the best managers of all time. After 26 years of success in the game, we all owe him a tribute.”

Well said Vinnie, here is mine…

With Manchester United officially confirming Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement at the end of the season – a mile down the road you could hear the laughter emanating from the blue half of the city. Whilst United fans lament the decision taken by undoubtedly the greatest manager English football has ever seen, Manchester City fans are starting to party – and rightly so. Did someone say jelly and ice cream?

Over the past 26 years we have had to endure the dominance of our bitter rivals with Sir Alex at the helm. We’ve seen 14 managers come and go in the time that the 71-year-old Scot has been in charge over the road. Now he’s the one that’s finally going.

When Sir Alex took charge of Manchester United back in 1986, City were managed by former Oldham player Jimmy Frizzell. He was out the door by May the following year having relegated us. We saw Mel Machin replace him, win promotion and beat United 5-1 in what was described as the lowest point of Sir Alex’s career…up until the shenanigans of last season’s 6-1 victory at Old Trafford. Following Machin there was Howard Kendall, Peter Reid, Brian Horton, Alan Ball, Steve Coppell, Frank Clark, Joe Royle, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Mark Hughes. Unless City do something crazy and sack Roberto Mancini, the Italian will be the only manager Sir Alex won’t have seen off in 26 years.

The announcement of Sir Alex’s retirement came as a surprise to many though perhaps it really shouldn’t. There have been signs for a while that the inevitable end to his tenure was fast approaching. Not just because it would have happened last season if not for little Sergio Aguero. Not just because he’s a 71-year-old with a pacemaker and due a hip operation. But because when Ashley Williams booted the ball at the back of Robin van Persie’s head earlier this season, Sir Alex claimed it could have “killed” his star striker. He was starting to lose the plot.

For the last few seasons there has been an enjoyable war between the two Manchester clubs. With both finally competing for the same trophies, Sir Alex’s self-proclaimed “noisy neighbours” were knocking on his door culminating in last season’s epic final day of the season. And although the mind games between Sir Alex and Roberto Mancini might end, they’ll presumably be taken up once David Moyes is announced as United’s new manager.

Most City fans look at the side that has proficiently beaten us to the Premier League this season and wonder how it happened. But deep down we know why. Sir Alex Ferguson consistently managed to squeeze the best out of his team – regardless of how good or bad they were. Sure, he built a good team at Old Trafford these last two years but it’s nowhere near his best side, yet their results have been nothing short of impressive. That’s the Sir Alex factor, and that’s why we’re happy he’s going.

It is the end of an era at Old Trafford. There will be a lot of United fans – and football fans in general – who will not be able to recall a time when Sir Alex wasn’t perched in his seat at the Theatre of Dreams or fervently gesticulating at the officials from the touchline. One can only imagine Ryan Giggs turning up to training next season looking like a lost puppy. Sir Alex is the only club manager Ryan Giggs has ever known – and he made his debut 22 years ago.

The final game of the season for United against West Brom will see Sir Alex take charge of his 1500th (and final!) game as Manchester United manager. In his 26 years in charge he has won 38 trophies – including 13 league titles, two Champions League trophies and five FA Cups. It’s remarkable really. That’s why we’re rejoicing. There won’t ever be a manager like him again. And there probably won’t ever be a dynasty at a club like his at Old Trafford. That’s why he deserves respect even if, like the vast majority of City fans, you didn’t particularly like him.

Despite his bitter jibes and rambling rants about referees in the modern game, football will miss the red-faced Scot.

Farewell Sir Alex. Enjoy your retirement.

Everton 2-0 Manchester City

Manchester City may have left Goodison Park with a feeling of injustice but the problems lay deeper than a refereeing error. Sure, Marouane Fellaini’s handball should have been awarded as a penalty and should City have scored they may have gone on to win the game – or at least gain a point. The situation, however, is hypothetical and in reality the Blues got exactly what they deserved.

Everton had a point to prove although they never need firing up to play Manchester City. A shambolic defeat in the FA Cup last week against Wigan ended all hopes of a trophy, in a competition deemed as winnable, as David Moyes approaches the end of his 11th year in charge of the club.

For City though, sitting 15 points behind Manchester United, it was a chance to show that they had what it takes to claw the title back. They didn’t. City fans often sing about fighting ‘til the end, following the heroics of last season, but the 11 boys masquerading as men at Goodison Park showed no sign of that famous spirit.

The cliché of modern Premier League football is whether a player can ‘perform on a rainy day in Stoke?’ It should be changed to can they ‘perform on a rainy day in Merseyside?’ It is clear Manchester City cannot.

Roberto Mancini’s future is in doubt and there are many who remain unconvinced that he will be at the helm next season. All is not lost for the Blues, who have the FA Cup semi-final to look forward to in four weeks time. Indeed, if it is City’s name on the trophy as it was two seasons ago then a second placed finish and the FA Cup may spare the Italian.

But performances like the one at Everton will not help his cause and tactical changes that could have made a difference were enforced far too late. It was evident from the opening ten minutes that Edin Dzeko was set to be little more than a passenger for the Blues. Worryingly he was not the only one. When Steven Pienaar was correctly sent off for two yellow cards, City should have taken the game to Everton. Real Madrid managed to do just that against Manchester United at Old Trafford two weeks ago, but the Blues were incapable.

Despite a 15 point deficit on neighbours United, some City fans remain optimistic that they can retain their title, looking back to last season as inspiration. It won’t happen. They can’t witness performances like the one at Everton and then re-watch Sergio Aguero’s goal against QPR and expect lightning to strike twice. The season is over and the best thing the Blues can hope for is the FA Cup and second place.

Over the course of 38 games last season, City deserved to win the title. They were the better side for the majority of the campaign and made history. This year they have not and that is why the trophy is returning to Old Trafford.

Soap-opera City need another ‘miracle’

If ever there were to be a prize awarded to a club for “doing things the hard way” it would almost inevitably be handed to soap-opera club Manchester City.

They are a side that leave it until the last five minutes to take a play-off final to extra time and then penalties. They are a side that leave it until the last three minutes of the season to clinch their first ever Premier League title.

They are Manchester City, and they do it the hard way.

Defeat in the final minutes to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA – the home of Dutch champions Ajax – has left Manchester City with an almost impossible task of qualifying for the second round of the Champions League.  Manager Roberto Mancini has described their plight as in dire need of a ‘miracle’. Manchester City are in the mire, and they only have themselves to blame.

Expectations have soared to a whole new level following Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner against QPR last season that sent Manchester City fans into absolute ecstasy. They were going to spend further in the summer, strengthen a squad that was already brimming with talent and steamroll their way to the top like the juggernaut they want to become.

Manchester City players look shell-shocked as Ajax cruise to victory

Reality struck. Financial Fair Play rules – whether they will ever be introduced or not is a different debate – prevented City from splashing the Sheikh’s cash on the “top names” Mancini wanted. The likes of Daniele De Rossi opted to stay at Roma, rather than join City. Things didn’t go exactly as Mancini wanted, leaving him frustrated.

Despite a subdued transfer window, City remain unbeaten in the Premier League but even whilst it is not their main priority this season, their Champions League form has been particularly woeful.

It is testament to the quality of their opposition in the Champions League that Joe Hart has been the Blues’ best player over the three games played. The England international has established himself as one of the very best around over the course of the campaign and his sensational form has kept City alive in the competition.

Against Real Madrid, City put up a good effort. Taking the lead twice and relying on Hart they were doing well until a tactical change saw them change to three at the back. It was a change that played into the hands of Madrid, allowing them to push on and win the game. Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space and the rest, as they say, is history.

At the Etihad Stadium, there was optimism. After all, City had gone to the Bernabeu and were five minutes away from getting a famous result. The Blues would surely be able to rise to the challenge of Borussia Dortmund. They weren’t.

Having taken a point from their three games so far in the group stages, City are clinging on by the skin of their teeth. They’re in that position because they deserve to be there. The performances haven’t been good enough to qualify for the second round. Their performances haven’t even been good enough for them to be worthy of qualifying for the Europa League. And the only man you sympathise with is Hart, because if there is one player deserving to go further on in the competition it is him. Nobody else has performed.

Three wins from three could see them claw their way through. It’s unlikely, but if any club can do it you’d put your money on it being City.

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Wenger hails ‘remarkable’ end to season

Arsene Wenger today praised his side’s character following their strong performances in the second half of the season that could see them seal third place in the Premier League with a victory over West Brom on Sunday.

If they do finish third it would be an achievement that seemed unlikely given their early season form Wenger conceded: ‘Three months ago, everybody would be happy to go into the final game with this [league position].’

‘Ask our opponents, who were 10 or 15 points in front of us, the Premier League is difficult. We came from a deep position in the league but, if you look at where we are today, it’s remarkable.’

Arsenal travel to West Brom needing three points and Wenger is expecting a difficult encounter, dismissing suggestions that his opponents will lack motivation in what will be Roy Hodgson’s last game in charge at the Hawthorns, and that his side are inexperienced.

‘I expect [West Brom] to play at their best. They’re well organised, they play 4-4-2 very well and we’ll adjust our performance to that, to face an opponent who are focused and motivated. It’s a massive game but I feel that we are focused, switched on and I’m confident we will do well. We have known final days like this, where we’ve played for championships or qualifying for the Champions League. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us, one we want to take. If we have more of the ball than West Brom, we’ll have more chances to win the game.’

There was praise, too, for Hodgson who will next week name his England squad for the European Championships. ‘He has stabilised West Brom in the last two seasons, they had 47 points last year, and they have that again this year.’

When asked if rivals Tottenham, who are just a point behind Arsenal, had an easier game on Sunday Wenger disagreed: ‘Fulham are a good team. [It is] a derby we cannot predict, there are no easy matches in this league.’

Reflecting on this campaign, which has been voted the best Premier League season ever, Wenger agreed: ‘[It has been] an interesting season, very unpredictable. Every game was difficult. The differences between the teams have become smaller, so the quality is maybe higher.’

Should Arsenal clinch third place it will be a fitting way for assistant manager Pat Rice, who retires at the end of the season, to end his 44 year association with the club as both a player and a coach.

If Manchester City do not win the league this season only one man is to blame…

When the final whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday May 13th an inquest will begin, regardless of whether Manchester City will have been crowned champions or not. With seven games remaining and a five point gap between them and league leaders Manchester United it seems an unlikely task. The optimists in the blue half of Manchester will claim that with United still having to play their title rivals City at the Etihad Stadium as well as needing to visit Everton and Sunderland before the season finishes it is not all over. The more pessimistic blues will admit that the title seems likely to head back to Old Trafford.

If Manchester City do fail in their pursuit of the Premier League title then there can be only one man to blame. Roberto Mancini’s side seem to have fallen at the last hurdle and are stumbling towards the finish line. There is time to rectify it but it is now out of their hands and that is where the inquest will begin. Having dominated the league for the majority of the season and seen a healthy goal advantage slip away questions will be asked of Mancini by the City hierarchy. The recent slump has happened at the worst possible time and has left many questioning whether City had the nerve and experience to stay the distance.

It is not just the stuttering league form that has raised eyebrows in the boardroom however; Mancini’s handling of internal difficulties such as the Carlos Tévez situation and his persistence in standing by Mario Balotelli are also causing problems.

When the young Italian eventually matures he may become a world class player but at the moment his talent remains described as ‘potential’. He has shown glimpses of his incredible skill on a number of occasions this season yet his general demeanour both on and off the pitch overshadows that. Whether he is setting his house ablaze with fireworks or driving around Manchester city centre in his Bentley handing out £20 notes, the Blues’ enigmatic striker is certainly favoured by Mancini. It is this favouritism though which could cost Mancini his job. On the one hand it is admirable that the manager has such faith in Balotelli yet, on the other, it could be seen as blind loyalty and one which is not benefiting the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson called it “desperation” but City saw it as moving on and making the best out of a bad situation. Carlos Tévez’ return to Manchester has received a mixed reaction. Some are willing to accept his apology, draw a line in the sand and move on – after all he is a wonderful footballer. Others however, cannot accept his apology and do not want him near the club. It was a fine balancing act for Mancini, a chance to show that nobody, despite their immense talent, is bigger than the club. He got it wrong.

Roberto Mancini appears to be feeling the pressure as the title race hots up.

 

Back in November it was clear that Mancini did not want Tévez to play for him ever again. He had disgraced himself, embarrassed the club and the manager but more importantly shown a complete lack of respect to everybody associated to Manchester City by refusing to come on as a substitute. The response from the team was sensational Premier League form and a prolonged spell at the top of the table. The response from Tévez was a five month holiday in Argentina and a refusal to apologise. It could have been so much easier if he had apologised straight away. Having said that, knowing Tévez, it probably took him those five months to learn how to say the word ‘sorry’ in English.

Despite this City have improved once again under Mancini, and although it is likely they will finish trophy less it is another step in the right direction. He deserves another season to continue building a side which is capable of staying the distance and progressing further in Europe but it remains to be seen if he will get it. With Jose Mourinho’s name being touted as a possible replacement there may be another managerial change at the Etihad Stadium.

Although unlucky with the injury and suspension of club captain Vincent Kompany at key points during the title challenge, Mancini has to take the blame for the demise of City’s season. To have such a healthy league position at the half way stage and to now be trailing United by five points is inexcusable. At times this season Mancini has had a cool exterior, yet at others he seems to be feeling the pressure. His failure to shake Tony Pulis’ hand at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago and subsequent refusal to speak to the media was not only undignified and unsporting, but also a sign that he was maybe cracking up. After all, Stoke City played as expected. They were strong, aggressive and difficult to beat.

It has been apparent for weeks that City’s maestro David Silva is either carrying an injury, fatigued or has just hit a bad run of form yet Mancini’s persistence in playing him is highlighting a problem within his team. With Samir Nasri not hitting the heights that many expected him to, Silva has been the main playmaker and it is finally taking its toll on the Spanish wizard. The Blues’ over reliance on Silva being the creative force indicates that Mancini is still not satisfied with the squad he has. He lacks quality wingers to change his team’s style of play and the lack of width has been identified as a major problem in recent weeks. Despite the charging runs of the likes of Gael Clichy and Micah Richards, width is a concern especially following the disappointing performances of Adam Johnson and Nasri over the season. With rumours suggesting City are lining up a move for Eden Hazard, expect Johnson to be sold in the summer with Liverpool a possible destination. They have a habit of overpaying for players who flatter to deceive.

With millions having been ploughed into the club, the Abu Dhabi based owners are looking for a return on their investment. It remains to be seen if they have the patience to acknowledge that despite a potentially disappointing end to the season Mancini has improved the side. There will be departures and arrivals in the summer that much is clear, but whether Roberto Mancini will be one of the departures only the Sheikh knows.

Will Mancini be the manager next season? Do you want him to stay? Leave your comments below.