The Summer of 2018 is the one we will remember for the rest of our lives.
It’s the one where we had continuously scorching hot sunshine. The one where we had barbecues every single day and didn’t get bored. A Summer where I took my children to a different beach every weekend in the UK: from the seaside in Cornwall to the shores of mid Wales, beaches that looked more like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean than our own country. Heat so ferocious it fuelled fires that burned for days on the Moors and Winter Hill.
It’s been the Summer that you longingly hope for year upon year but doesn’t come to fruition. For this year, those balmy nights and hazy days, tropical temperatures graced the shores of Great Britain, the Jorginho deal was ‘close’ every day – and England reached the semi finals of the World Cup. Did I actually just type that? Yes you heard it right. England were part of the final four in the biggest tournament in world football. Football may not have come home, but it united a nation bathed in sunshine and for that we should all be grateful.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
I was looking forward to the World Cup this Summer just to provide me with my football fix before pre-season with City started. I hadn’t been heavily invested in international football for many years. I love watching the World Cup and the Euros when they roll around; mainly to use it as an excuse to scout upcoming talent that I’d love to see playing for City – but the tide has turned that much at the Etihad that most of the really impressive players on show already played in sky blue.
The last time I was really patriotic, and I mean jumping around like a maniac in an England shirt with a flag, was 2002. It’s been a while since I’ve really cared about the national team, although it goes without saying that I keep an eye out to see how City players fare for their respective countries. I guess all those years of hurt really did take their toll on me and I just lost interest in England. How neglectful/glory fan of me!
But going into Russia 2018, the mood seemed different with England. There was little to no expectation from anybody towards the Young Lions. It’s a different generation; a squad that carries no baggage is a squad with a different mentality, with a psychological edge. Free from the shackles that have tied others down for years, able to perform with a new found energy and confidence. It’s been a joy to see, a delight for all and a surprise for the nation.
Throughout the countries, it’s been a relatively mixed bag from the City players there. Germany – Joachim Low made the stupendous mistake of leaving Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane out of his squad – tumbling out at the group stage. Why you would leave such a talent behind is beyond comprehension, particularly as it was his pace, drive and energy that they so severely lacked. Argentina – Sergio Aguero scoring twice but frustratingly benched twice – again, he can only do his job when he’s on the pitch, something Jorge Campaoli failed to acknowledge, allowing his rift with Aguero to affect his team’s performance. Nicolas Otamendi didn’t have his best few games, with a couple of typically hot-headed moments, leaving last season’s form largely in the dressing room at the Etihad (let’s hope he finds it there on his return).
Bernardo Silva had some moments of brilliance for Portugal and has done his case with Pep no harm, as did David Silva for Spain. Both put in displays we’re used to seeing from them week in, week out, but ultimately exited at the quarter finals. Ederson didn’t get to play but Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus both featured for Brazil: the latter displaying his usual hustle and energy upfront but failing to score any goals. Then there was Belgium, with Vincent Kompany rested for a couple of games after his recent injury, but brought into the side and played well. Kevin De Bruyne – the GOAT –played an absolute blinder and scored similar too –but ultimately their efforts weren’t enough to see Belgium progress into the final after getting beat by France in the semis.
But England. Oh, England.
SEND US VICTORIOUS
They didn’t quite do that. But boy did they give it a really good go. I didn’t expect to be gushing over both England and City this year. What a football year 2018 has been.
‘Not in my lifetime’ is a phrase branded about quite frivolously – and tongue in cheek because of Fergie – by some, but City winning two trophies, breaking a load of records and England getting to the semi finals of the World Cup whilst being managed by a player who missed THE penalty in the Euro 1996 semi final shoot-out sounds like a fable mocked up in your local boozer late on a Friday night. These things don’t happen, ever.
I’m a big fan of the documentary ‘One Night in Turin’, which charts England’s journey through Italia ’90. The late Sir Bobby Robson, so hideously mocked by the press at the time, took his team of England players off to the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Nothing was expected of them: they’d been chewed up and spat out by the red tops, with rising star Paul Gascoigne becoming the tabloid’s next target for his late-night boozy antics and jack-the-lad juvenile, jovial behaviour.
But what happened to them was nothing short of sensational. They reached the semi finals that year – knocked out on penalties to West Germany, Chris Waddle blazing his penalty over the crossbar. But they united the country, gave England hope when fans and critics had wrote them off before a ball was kicked. They came home heroes – and rightly so.
This almost mirrors what has happened to England 28 years later. Many of the players in the current national squad weren’t even born when Italia ’90 was played out. When they left the country to head to Russia, there was no great fanfare, no bustling crowds sending them on their way. Many people didn’t know what to make as Gareth Southgate as manager; he’d picked a young squad – The Young Lions. There weren’t too many survivors from a previous era of hurt and upset. People wrote them off: ‘too young’, ‘not enough experience’, ‘won’t get out of the group with that lot’.
But what people failed to stop and think about was that the England squad had winners in it. Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph all went to Moscow after that incredible season at City. Their confidence was sky high and they were playing some of the best football of their lives. The youth in the England squad also brought vitality, a fresh outlook, a new attitude, free from many of the shackles that have burdened and tied down so many in the past after the heroics of 1966.
Tunisia and Panama – nothing to be afraid of, with Belgium always destined to be the hardest game in the group. But nobody could’ve possibly predicted the 6-1 annihilation of Panama and this is where the excitement started for many. A Harry Kane hat trick and two goals from John Stones, a rampant England side recording their biggest win ever in the World Cup finals, the result set the country alight with a real buzz in the air. Maybe, just maybe, this time could be different. A kinder route to the final after the Belgium defeat did nothing to prevent the giddiness, a nation growing in cautious confidence, could this be the dawn of a new era? Could it be?
A quarter final against Sweden, the IKEA Vikings, and a solid 2-0 win sending England to their first semi finals for 28 years. We all now believed. Gareth Southgate and his squad had given us new hope and many people the best moments of their Summer. We’d watched the Panama win with our family during a barbecue on a scorching hot Sunday. We watched the Sweden win in a packed bar in Manchester, with everybody spilling out into Peter Street to celebrate with reckless abandon afterwards. Thankfully no stomping on ambulances here, just many chants of ‘football’s coming home’ with people dancing, jumping around and hugging each other in the blazing hot sunshine. It was a very surreal moment. Everybody so joyous, so happy, so together in their celebrations – what a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of, something so unexpected and truly wonderful.
Then came the semi final. A night where the country stood still. Roads were silent, with friends and family gathered around the nearest television screen to witness history in the making. The furthest England had progressed in a World Cup since 1990 – potentially 90 minutes away from a World Cup final.
The old football cliché ‘a tale of two halves’ is prevalent here. England sent into dreamland within the first five minutes with a Kieran Trippier free kick sailing into the top right of the net. The Three Lions coping well with anything Croatia had to offer and attacked with gusto. Sterling tormenting their defence time and time again; creating opportunities but failing to find that important second goal. But the second half England lacked that impetus and looked out of ideas and sluggish. Croatia capitalised on sloppy defending and, after extra time, we were out of the World Cup again.
That really hurt. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally invested in our national side, it had been so long. Like many, I allowed myself to be swept along in the hysteria, a feeling that felt so good, adding spontaneous delight and delirium to everybody’s Summer. I truly believed that we could do it. We were 22 minutes away from the World Cup Final. It felt like a real kick in the stomach. It was such a golden opportunity for a new generation to make their mark; so many big guns had disappointed and fallen flat on the big stage, whereas England had soared. The comedown was real. I hadn’t felt that disappointed over football for a long, long time. It was a bit of a reality check. I almost feel like, with getting that close, we will never get so close again. Next time, the expectation and pressure will be back. World Cup semi finalists – surely we can repeat that? I’m not so sure. The boys are young, but finishing in the final four means the weight of the world next time round.
But really, the boys do come home with full credit to them, with most of their reputations enhanced. Stones rediscovered that form he had before his injury at City, with many citing him as the next Bobby Moore, putting in some outstanding performances and scoring twice. Walker proving to be just as valuable and Sterling – well, if anything, this World Cup has just shown me how many people don’t truly understand football. So many people were quick to jump on social media to lambast Sterling for ‘missing so many chances’, without stopping to think about the fact that he created them in the first place. His pace and energy put the fear of God into the opposition, opened up space for others to run into. He is an attacking midfielder – he did his job with aplomb – the only game we lost was when he didn’t start, and every time he was subbed we looked worse off for it.
With One Night in Turin. the boys came home to crowds of thousands and an open top bus. I don’t believe that reception is really warranted this time round. Yes, they’ve done remarkably well and come so far, but there is still much work to be done. At the time of writing this, England still have to play Belgium in the play-off game for third place (what a nonsense game, surely nobody cares about who finished third after missing out on the final?), then the boys will be granted some much needed time off before coming back to City and preparing for the 2018/19 season defending the Premier League trophy. And breathe.
Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it’s happened. Some of those celebratory moments made my Summer what it was. My first World Cup with my two beautiful sons and my partner. It will never be forgotten. Very precious memories.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
It’s hard to put into words just quite what last season was like for us City fans. It was so much more than we could’ve all possibly hoped for, could’ve dreamed of. We left the opposition trailing in our wake, a gap so embarrassingly dominant it was almost like playing in our own League. There’s no arrogance; just a startling honesty that the standard of the football that we played was at least 19 points better than the closest team to us. Even now the dust has firmly settled, it’s hard to process the level of control we had and the standard of football we played – breathtaking, mesmeric and captivating fantasy football.
So, where do you go from smashing dozens of records and winning two trophies? Where do we go after such a record-breaking season? You move to defend your titles, win more and somehow still improve further.
Signings-wise: at the time of writing, Jorginho (a name quite frankly that I am sick to the back teeth of hearing) looks to be heading to Chelsea because he would prefer to live in London than Manchester – his loss. But City have made their record signing with former Leicester man Riyad Mahrez signing for £60 million (that unveiling at the Etihad though with Moonchester and Moonbeam – talk about cringe). We were linked with him of course in January, but the midfielder has now made the move and, to be quite honest, yes, a fantastic player, but I’m scratching my head at where exactly Pep will play him. He already has the Bernardo/Sterling dilemma on the right and Sane has been flying on the left, which is Mahrez’s preferred position – not a bad headache to have, and I am excited to see what he’ll offer in a team he’ll no doubt thrive in when he gets the chance.
Angus Gunn leaving did disappoint me. I’ve seen the young goalkeeper progress so much since I used to work for the club and covered the EDS back when they played at Platt Lane and I really thought we’d move to keep them and have him as our reserve. But £10 million plus add-ons is a lot of money to turn down and I’ve no doubt he will go on to be England’s number one in the future when he thrives at Southampton. Zinchenko has also been linked with leaving, but for now he’s still at City. Pablo Maffeo has gone to VFB Stuttgart and I’ve probably missed others out, but for now that’s the main movement in the transfer window. Not a great deal, but we didn’t need to drastically strength. Most of the improvements were made last Summer, although a back up for Fernandinho would make me sleep better at night.
After our entirely PR-driven pre-season tour of the US (sorry, I just don’t pay any attention whatsoever to pre-season games, they serve no purpose apart from selling shirts and spreading the word in foreign countries for the club), it’s the Community Shield against (at the time of writing, managerless) Chelsea on the first weekend of August and then Arsenal at the Emirates for our opening game of the 2018/19 season. Talk about a baptism of fire. It’ll be an interesting start that’s for sure, with many players returning late after featuring in the World Cup, although at least Otamendi and Aguero will have had an extra long rest (sorry boys!).
There’s no reason we can’t go out there and defend our title with the same excitement as we provided last season. The main difference was the gulf in class between us and our rivals – and that difference as mentioned was 19 points. I am yet to see any evidence of any teams around us strengthening and improving to the tune of a 19 point difference. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think it will be as much as a walk in the park as it was last season by all means. But people realised that other squads needed to be added to in order to try and bridge the gap and I’m not sure that has really happened at all. I just worry about making a good start – hopefully all our players come back refreshed enough, ready to push on and achieve more dreams in blue.
SEA’S THE DAY
I usually spend the Summer more or less wishing the time away, but this time was different. As soon as the season finished, Adam and I were preparing to take Vincent and Noel Sergio down to Cornwall for 10 days for their annual holiday there. We absolutely love it down there: the week we go in May has been blessed with incredible weather now for the past two years of going and the place we stay, in Portreath, is beautiful. We’re lucky to be able to go out of season at the moment because the boys haven’t started school yet, so there were no crowds and quite often we find ourselves the only people on certain beaches.
The whole 10 days were spent bathed in magnificent unbroken sunshine, on a different glorious beach every day, with Vincent building sandcastles and Noel legging it into the sea and eating sand pies. Porthcurno, Marazion, Porthgwidden, Portminster, Portmeor, Kynance, Towan, Watergate, Fistral, Perranporth, Hayle and Gwithian. All ridiculously stunning, with golden sands and turquoise waters. Every evening we drank beer and Aperol spritz watching the breathtaking sunset over the sea in the hot tub. It was like a dream – and best of all, we didn’t even need our passport. Yes you need to be lucky to get the weather, but boy did we. It was quite possibly my favourite holiday and set the tone for our wonderful Summer.
So we’ve spent the Summer (sorry if you follow me on Instagram and are bored of seeing my seaside photos!) having as many days out as possible to enjoy the delightful sunshine we’ve been living under. I wasn’t here in 1976 and I’ve heard so much about it, so it’s been a joy to experience days and days of prolonged sunshine in our country and, along with the football, it’s really provided that feel good factor for most of us. We’ve discovered more of our beautiful UK coast, with trips to Barmouth and Abersoch in Wales, and many more days out at zoos and parks. We wanted to squeeze the zest and juice out of the weather and I definitely feel like we’ve done that – I’ve not had this good a tan since I last went on holiday to the Caribbean!
So as those long, hazy days roll by and the season approaches, I’ll be sad to wave goodbye to the heatwave that has gripped us so tightly recently. But normal service will resume in a matter of weeks – football may not be coming home, but City are coming back – and we all know what that means. More thrills, less spills, more of that incredulously unbelievable Pep Guardiola football we were so lucky to watch last season.
As always, I’ve no idea what to really expect with City. But I do know it won’t be boring. The pressure and expectation will be there and we’ve got to know how to cope with everybody wanting to beat us again. Déjà vu, c’est la vie.
But I’m really excited for it all, are you?