I’m sick of the Champions League. Sick of it. Sick to the back teeth of it. Sick to the stomach with it. Sick as a parrot over it. Sick to death, sick to the hill, and sick as a dog with it. I’m sicker than a man with a stomach upset who’s eaten too many sweets and glugged a gallon of salt water. I’m just sick of it.
When you were a kid and you’d misbehaved, there was always an angry reaction from parents. When they were angry, it was easy to deal with. Your body shuts down and lets the shouty sweary words bounce off the thick skin and deflect around the room. You just wait until it’s over and then you move on. But the times when there was no anger and just the crushing disappointment that your parents couldn’t even muster up the energy to be annoyed by what you’d done… those times were worse.
“I’m not angry, I’m disappointed,” is a phrase that still twangs on the heartstrings of many an adult simply because it was what they dreaded hearing from their parents at a tender young age.
Well, guess what. Manchester City: I’m not angry. I’m disappointed.
Yet again another chance in the Champions League has gone begging and I’m at the stage when I can’t even get angry about it anymore. I was angry at the pathetic showing in 2012-13, when the club became the first English side never to get a win in the group stage. I was angry when the Blues showed too much respect to Barcelona. But this year I no longer have that passion to care enough to get angry.
And for why? Well, because it’s only the numbers of the seasons that change. We’re being fed the line that the club is learning in the Champions League every time they’re in it, but they’re making the same mistakes again and again: too much respect, too open defensively, throwing away leads late on, being susceptible to bad decisions by not seeing games out. It would be – on some level – forgivable if they were making new mistakes.
Again, post-match with CSKA Moscow, we’re focusing on the smokescreen of a cheat who dived to win a penalty, a referee who fell for it and awarded it, and a stadium that should have been empty containing a couple of hundred home fans. That’s the perfect distraction for the cold, hard truth: Manchester City just aren’t good enough at European football.
I’m tired of the excuses. We’ve had a tough group again. We’ve had a bad decision go against us. We were unlucky. The worst one has been said several times by players and the manager: There are no excuses.
It’s actually quite laughable. “There are no excuses,” is beginning to sound like the party line that needs to be towed. They’re now empty words, said to appease the fans into thinking that something is being done to correct the faults that caused another disappointing result, when in reality the evidence on the pitch is very much to the contrary. There is a worrying lack of good performances and results against the medium-to-top European sides and it’s a trend that is now impossible to ignore.
CSKA Moscow is a difficult place to go. It was below freezing. It was an allegedly empty stadium. They’re no pushovers, either. Yet, City are a better side – they proved themselves to be the best in England last year for goodness sake – and they couldn’t win. A dive and a dodgy penalty must take some of the blame, but a significantly bigger proportion HAS to fall on both the players and the manager. Leading 2-0 in that situation at half time and drawing is criminal.
City were on top. City had chances to add to their tally. And that they haven’t seen out the win isn’t good enough; they’re no longer the newbies to the competition. They’ve had experience. And under-performing is becoming a habit.
Can anyone, hand on heart, say they felt the Blues deserved to take maximum points from Tuesday evening’s match? The first half was good, but the second half was sloppy, slow and disorganised to the point where it was only the circumstances of the equaliser that wasn’t fair and not the equaliser itself.
This isn’t the team that underestimated how good Napoli were going to be in the opening game in the competition. This isn’t the team that were systematically shut down by an imperious Bayern Munich in Germany in 2011, after having started well but not scored. This isn’t the team that panicked when leading in the Bernabeu with three minutes to play and lost. This isn’t the team that couldn’t cope with the system the manager employed in a disastrous 11 minutes in the Netherlands. This isn’t even the team that allowed Bayern Munich to waltz through the middle of the pitch for an hour last season or gave them and Barcelona too much respect.
These are all faults that are nowhere near dealt with. Panic and a lapse of concentration set in against Bayern Munich. An open midfield wasn’t shut down against Roma. And now a great start wasn’t capitalised on in Moscow.
This isn’t a side that should be just happy to be there. “Look how far we’ve come,” is one of the most destructive attitudes to have, because it settles for mediocrity. We’re blessed to have been given this chance and here we are failing to learn lessons.
The truth is, the other teams that have been drawn with City have had difficult groups. Those that have qualified have just got on with it, while City have felt aggrieved at the draw and the officiating and this and that and the other. It doesn’t really wash; the other teams have calls go for and against them, too. They’ve just made sure of the win when they’ve had the opportunity and City haven’t.
Manuel Pellegrini said in his post-match interviews that there were still nine points to play for so the Blues aren’t out of the competition. That’s true, however I’ll be mightily surprised if the club takes more than four points from the remaining three matches based on the evidence provided in the Champions League so far this season.
I’m sick of the excuses, I’m sick of the smokescreens, and I’m sick of the club’s failure in the competition – and it has to be deemed a failure so far; City are far better than they’ve shown up to this point over the course of the last four campaigns, difficult groups or not. In terms of the top teams – Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona – City have won twice, drawn twice and lost seven times. And those two wins were effectively dead rubbers on both occasions.
Throw in the record against the marginally lesser teams – Ajax, Napoli and CSKA Moscow – and is doesn’t look much better. Against those teams, it’s won two, drawn three, lost two.
If by some miracle they’re able to turn around the form book and qualify from the group, then that needs to be the start of a change in mentality and a change in attitude to the top European competition. If – as is probably to be expected now – the club doesn’t get out of the group, then next season HAS to be different. No more excuses. No more “there are no excuses” post-match interviews after nothing’s changed.
The very fact that we have fans who are starting to feel apathetic towards the competition is alarming. And you can hardly blame them for feeling that way, either.
Written by David Mooney