For once, I’m not really sure where to begin. As a writer, you become used to using superlatives and adjectives to add to your story, as a fan I can’t quite believe I’m using them to describe my football team.
For last month, I took great pleasure in writing about City’s unbeaten run. How I couldn’t believe that we’d made it to the end of September with our impeccable record intact. I now can’t believe it’s been another full month and the run has continued. October has been and gone and City are not only still unbeaten, but have already qualified for the next round of the Champions League.
No, you’re not dreaming. This is how the beautiful game is supposed to be played. This is Manchester City, circa 2017. This is City, under Pep Guardiola.
I think the penny finally dropped after we beat Napoli 4-2. To go there in the middle of a gruelling run of games, in an intimidating atmosphere against a strong side and dominate the best part of the match, sent out the strongest of messages. If you hadn’t been taking us seriously so far, it’s time you did.
For the best part, pundits and journalists have been starting to give us the praise that’s so rightly due. So they should: City are playing the kind of football most teams can only dream of. Pep Guardiola’s brand of football has arrived: it’s his squad and he now has the players capable of delivering the football we’ve seen previously from Pep at Barcelona and Bayern.
In my first article from this season, I said that the time was now for Pep to prove himself. A lot of people knew just how capable he was of delivering his style of football given the right tools for the job – the tools are in place and the master craftsman is at work, much to the bewilderment and delight of City fans.
It’s a privilege to watch and it’s hard to believe that this is our football team. The team spirit is there for all to see: the players want to work for each other, the work ethic is commendable and the football is mesmerising. There’s no weak link – and players who may have had question marks lingering over their heads are now thriving in the form of their lives.
John Stones for example. Many thought the £47.5 million price tag we paid for him was excessive, but the price takes into account potential, and it’s that potential that he’s now fulfilling. That price is now beginning to look like value for money. If he carries on in this form, we could be looking at our captain for this season.
It’s a similar situation with Raheem Sterling. The 22 year old has been slaughtered in the press and amongst opposition fans, who criticised his £49 million price tag and were adamant he’d never fulfil the potential he has shown.
‘All pace, no end product,’ they mocked.
At the time of going to press (before the Arsenal game), Sterling has scored seven goals so far this season. Level with Aguero and one behind Harry Kane, he’s also racked up two assists. It’s about time people recognised that Sterling is a key member of the City squad – he acknowledges rightfully that Pep plays squad rotation and he has to be part of that, but his hard work is paying off – that’s always the best way to prove people wrong and he’s doing it so well.
It’s interesting too that the goals are being more spread out across the team. Take the defence for example. Conceded 10, but scored seven and assisted with eight goals. It’s further proof if needed that Pep’s total football is coming to fruition and proving great dividends across the field. It’s a collective effort, where attack is the best form of defence and Ederson aims for as high a pass completion rate as Silva or Stones. Sane and De Bruyne have both been nothing short of sensational. Picking a Player of the Month is almost impossible, it’s that much of a collective effort.
Quite a lot of opposition fans have told me how lucky I am this past couple of weeks. Things can change in the blink of an eye, and we know as Blues never to count our chickens or take anything for granted. But this time it feels different. It feels like we are watching and witnessing something really special at the moment. This is a new defining golden era at the club.
The players we have are young, exciting and are just as excited to be a part of the history they are making. It’s passion, pace, tenacity, hard work and bloody good football all rolled into one. It’s intelligent: the kind of football you can’t take your eyes off for a second or you’ll miss a superb goal, an inch-perfect pass or a blistering counter attack. It’s a special time and long may it continue.
On a side note, we’ve been linked with Alexis Sanchez and – perhaps more unbelievably – Lionel Messi. But (and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this), where would they fit in? Who would you drop at the moment to make room for them? Messi is Messi, and he comes along, somebody will certainly have to make way, but the strength in depth is that good right now, that every player is just as important.
A big shout too goes to Fabian Delph. As I mentioned last month, he could’ve gone in the Summer, but he didn’t. He stayed and fought for his place: Mendy’s injury meant we needed an adequate replacement and left back and Delph has proved adaptable enough to fill in better than anybody could’ve possibly hoped for. He has put in some stellar performances of late and looked more than comfortable in the Champions League, earning him the nickname, Delphino. The praise is more than due and another middle finger to his haters and doubters.
Don’t you just love it when City keep proving people wrong. Long may it continue.
NEVER FELT MORE LIKE SINGING THE BLUES
I think one of my favourite moments from October is when the score from the Huddersfield-United game echoed around the South Stand during the Burnley game.
‘No wayyyyyyy, Huddersfield are winning 2-0? You’ve got to be joking right? As if!’
It was true. We ended up beating Burnley in a comfortable 3-0 win and they got beat by Huddersfield 2-1. Now, I’m usually not that fan who watches everything United does to compare and contrast, but I do like having a moment in the sun when it comes round.
Why? Because my high school days were riddled with the torment of supporting City in the constant shadow of United. I was constantly ribbed, bullied and teased by Peter Reid’s/Brian Horton’s/Alan Ball’s/Asa Hartford’s/Frank Clark’s/Steve Coppell’s/Joe Royle’s failure at City. When I walked into the form room after they beat us 5-0 (that Kanchelskis hat trick), the lads were baying for blood. None of them had gone to a game at Old Trafford of course, but as I walked in with my City coat on, the chant went up. GGMU. It lasted all day, but the ridicule lasted until I left high school in June 1998.
It was depressing. But it’s something that will live with me forever. The image of that banner in the Stretford End and the sheer arrogance that their fans possessed during that time and still on the whole do. Most of them think they have a God given right to win trophies based on their past. Heaven forbid little City become actual contenders in the long run. How dare City play better football than us – go on, admit that it’s happening.
Just imagine paying to watch the football they play. Can we call it football? Mind numbing and monotonous. Unimaginative and uninspiring. We all know that Jose loves to play up to the anti-football card, but it’s become even more apparent when he’s playing it in the same league as Pep’s magnificent football. Boring, boring Jose.
Of course, they are our main threat in the title race this season. Rumours continue to swirl about Conte’s relationship with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, Wenger and Arsenal are typically destined for 4th spot, Liverpool have disappointed under Klopp but The Harry Kane Team™ do continue to impress under Poch. But it’s Jose and United who look to be our main competition for the trophy: it’s an interesting battle given the huge gulf in class both on and off the pitch.
It may seem petty, it may seem small time. But we really shouldn’t forget about The Banner™. I know I won’t.
RECORD BREAKING SERG
It was only a matter of time before Sergio Aguero broke Eric Brook’s goal-scoring record. He reached 178 goals for City in style during that 4-2 thriller against Napoli. It’s the most incredible achievement and we’ll hopefully see plenty more where that came from him in the months and seasons to come.
It’s a huge cliché, but when it comes to goals from Aguero, there’s one that stands up head and shoulders above the rest. That will go down in history forever, the one goal that we still can’t watch back without tearing up. 93:20. The goal that won us the League.
Around me in the East Stand, everybody had pretty much given up hope. It was a mixture of anger and, well, just people crying. Sobbing. It was Typical City™ to be in the driving seat and mess it up at home to a team battling for survival. But I had hope and was screaming like an absolute idiot.
‘Come on City!’ I cried. ‘We can still do this. Come on, let’s have some faith!’
Edin Dzeko’s goal put a bit of fire back into people’s bellies, but the majority still feared the worst. Too little, too late. No chance. This was still going to happen. We were still going to win the League.
Looking back, it was all a bit of a blur. I remember Balotelli receiving the ball in the midfield and passing it to Aguero. I think I had two thoughts at that point. A) he’s blasting it over or wide or B) this is it. The moment. Time stood still. It seemed like an age between him receiving the ball and hitting it goal bound. But the net bulged. That roar. That moment was adrenaline, ecstasy, relief, joy and what the hell had just happened?! What had we just witnessed?
We witnessed history in the best possible way. It’s still so hard to put into words and it will always stir emotions I didn’t know were possible. It’s feelings I doubt I will ever experience again. It’s so hard to explain – of course, the 47,000 who were there that day will be only too familiar with that sentiment. But that goal from Aguero was the goal. Some might say it was his career-defining goal.
That moment is the moment that everybody thinks about when you hear his name (some part of that is obviously down to Martin Tyler), but it’s impossible to put a price on just how important that goal was, how much it meant to everybody at the club and how much financially it was worth. There’s been 177 other goals, but none can ever compare to that.
Some have mentioned the possibility of a statue of a stand being named after the Argentine, and I think it’d be a fantastic gesture and only too deserved. Colin Bell played his part in the successes of the club, and many others have since, but none so much as Aguero. He’s a huge part of City’s history and that should be recognised.
The Sergio Aguero Stand, has a good ring to it, doesn’t it?
THE KOMPANY WE KEEP
For the first time ever, I’m beginning to see a future for City without Vincent Kompany.
It pains me so much to say it because I’m the biggest Komps fan – I even named my first born after him – but with Stones and Otamendi playing so well at the back, it’s the first time I’ve sat back and realised we don’t actually have to rely on Kompany anymore. The injuries have taken their toll and he doesn’t seem to be as active as he once was on social media about City. A lot of fans have been disappointed about his club vs. country stance and there have been hints that Pep hasn’t been too happy about it either.
I would love for him to get back to full fitness and fight for his place in the starting line-up, healthy competition is good. He’s even on the back of my home shirt this season. I’ve never had a bad word to say about the Belgian and this is no way criticism, we all know how unlucky he’s been throughout the past few years.
No matter what happens, he will always be such a monumental part of the story. He deserves our respect – I just hope if he does make a decision, he decides to stay at the club in some capacity. Like Zabs, it’d be wrong seeing him go elsewhere.
When I first started watching City, Brian Horton was our manager. Tony Coton was in goal, Peter Beagrie was on the wing and Uwe Rosler was upfront. Horton played open, attacking football, with varying degrees of success. But he gave it a shot and the results produced some thrillers – namely the 5-2 win over Spurs at Maine Road. He was attack-heavy but the football was lively, but success was stunted by injuries to key players.
I’ve always had great respect for Horton. He had a good football philosophy. I interviewed him at his house and he spoke so highly of City. He loved the club, still does. He tried to play football and sign creative players with severely limited resources, when a bitter power struggle was going on between Peter Swales and Francis Lee. He played with width, with an aggressive and powerful striker upfront, and creativity in midfield. He’s respected by the Blues who know their football – and who agree his exit was absolutely premature.
So what does that have to do with City circa 2017? I’m not comparing Horton to Pep, that would be silly. But maybe, just maybe, way back then, we had a taste of how things could be when we play football right. With the right resources, the right tactics, the right players, we can play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Open, attacking and inventive football. The beautiful game.
Roy Keane recently said in an interview that he fully expects City to mess it up because ‘it’s in our DNA’.
Can we really go the whole season unbeaten?
Do you need me to answer that?
(I hate agreeing with Keane. I’m off to wash the disgust off me!).