Finally, I have had the time to open my laptop and string a few sentences together about our little old City. Having two children means that, most of the time, everything is chaos. By the time they’re in bed at night I’m fit for nothing and my head is on nursery rhyme, jingle, electronic sounds from toys, overload. More often than not, finding the time to write these days is desperately rare (I’ve had to come to my Mum’s while she looks after my youngest so I can type this all up right now), but I’m determined to keep contributing and giving my thoughts and opinions on everything to do with the Blues , as long as Dave and Sue will have me.
Having stepped out of my comfort zone and gone from writing to contributing on the now-defunct City Watch Podcast (!), I’m now a regular panel member for Ian Cheeseman’s Forever Blue podcast. Podcasts are a funny thing: I was so nervous the first time I ever did one and always thought I’d make a laughing stock of myself. But it turns out people do sometimes actually agree with some of the things I say. Which is very surreal. You’re never going to please everybody all the time, but as long as you stay honest, most people will respect you for that, whether they agree with you or not.
It can be quite daunting though if your opinion is different to other panel members on the podcast. I remember last season when we did a podcast and discussed the Champions League draw. We were talking about which teams we didn’t want – and I was the only person to say Liverpool. I got mocked a bit by the panel, but I gave my reasons – and then look what happened. We drew them and they ended up knocking us out. It doesn’t always go like that, but a few people remembered that and I gained a bit of respect for it.
It’s really difficult putting yourself out there like that though. You’ve got to be able to grow a thicker sin, accept that everybody is entitled to their opinion and that different viewpoints aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Ian always told me, as long as you can back your opinion up, you will always have respect and credibility for that. I’ve been asked to do a couple of other City podcasts, but for now I just want to stick to contributing to Forever Blue. Ian is a good friend, he has shown me incredibly loyalty, and for that I’ll always be grateful. Plus I have next to no spare time right now, so I have to be selective about the things that I do when it comes to broadcasting and writing.
We also had Andy Morrison on the podcast recently: I’m planning a special article for King of the Kippax based on his interview, so that’s one to look out for. His story, on a human level, is both equally devastating as it is fascinating, and it was surreal to be able to ask him some questions after Ian had conducted the main interview. I’ve interviewed dozens of players, but that was very special.
I’ve also contributed on BBC Radio 5 Live quite a lot recently; I tend to be talking all things City on their breakfast show with Nicky Campbell and Rachel Burden. I’ve just recorded an interview too with The Anfield Wrap for their main paid subscription show. Yet I still don’t feel overly confident speaking on these platforms – I’ve still not decided if it’s something I’ll continue to pursue, writing is definitely my comfort zone, but I am enjoying it and it allows me to spend what little spare time I have talking about City – and what’s not to love about that?
IT’S A FUNNY OLD GAME
It’s always made me laugh how fickle football fans can be. I remember when Zinchenko was linked with a move to Wolves in the Summer. When he decided to stay, many Blues mocked him for it on social media.
‘What’s the point – he’ll never get game time now Mendy’s back. Where his ambition to play first team football?’
Some said he wasn’t ambitious enough. Some said he was greedy, happy to take a wage without getting enough game time. But a minority, myself included, were glad he decided to stay and saw a future for him at the club.
Fast forward to now and Zinchenko has just been voted City’s Player of the Month for February – no mean feat considering the form of Bernardo and Sterling, along with Aguero’s two hat tricks. But it’s thoroughly deserved for the Ukrainian: after the 6-0 drubbing of Chelsea, the 22 year old has been unplayable.
His attitude is commendable, he’s obviously a much liked squad member, his confidence has soared, but crucially, both his technical ability and physicality have much improved. It’s obvious to see that he’s been working on his strength: you only have to look to the Chelsea game at Wembley for proof of that, having dealt with the threat of Pedro and Willian quite comfortably. Game after game he’s been solid: he’s a dream left-back for Pep because his natural position is actually more of a winger/attacker, so his pace and trickery serves him well when turning defence into attack for City. There’s talk of a new deal being lined up for him – it’s no less than he deserves – and if/when Mendy ever gets fit again, the Frenchman has to know that he’s got one hell of a fight on his hands to gain his place back in the starting line up.
Gundogan is another player who has really impressed me recently. When Fernandinho got injured, a lot of people obviously panicked. After City failed to sign another defensive midfielder to be able to rotate in when Fernandinho is rested/injured, alarm bells were ringing. But Gundogan really has come into his own of late. We’re seeing the Borussia Dortmund Gundogan at last, the player City paid £20 million for, and that price is looking more and more like a bargain. The Champions League second leg against Schalke is the best I’ve seen him play for us so far. The way he was linking play, quashing their moves forward and some of his passes were phenomenal. He’s an intelligent footballer, one that perhaps (with no disrespect meant), only supporters of a certain ilk can truly appreciate. He’s relishing his game time and we can’t take him for granted.
Fernandinho has long been established as a key player in this side and his role and contribution cannot be underestimated. City have offered new deal to Gundogan and he is yet to sign – at the age of 28, he has a decision to make. Does he stay and fight with all his might for a place in the first team, knowing that a fit Fernandinho will always be favoured in that position? Knowing that if he plays elsewhere in midfield, his fight is just as tough being surrounded by superb midfielders? Or does he look for a new challenge, at a pinnacle point in his career, knowing that he could secure guaranteed game time and be a first team starter elsewhere? It’s a really tough decision for him to make and I understand the time he needs to take to do that, even if the foot-stamping fans don’t. I would love him to stay – and he may just be the answer to our defensive midfielder problem, without us having to make an extra signings. But it’s been a certain percentage of fans who have belittled his ability, mocked his contributions and sneered at him for a long period of his time at the club. It’s a shame it’s only now that fans are starting to wake up to his capabilities at City. It might just be too little, too late – and who could blame him for that?
But good news on the new deal front has been the imperious Bernardo Silva signing a contract extension, taking his stay at City up to 2025. There’s no doubt he’s a front runner for Player of the Season – nobody puts in the work rate and miles like Bernardo does. He runs himself into the ground twice a week for us, his trickery dazzles and his first touch is the best I’ve ever seen from any player – and that’s no exaggeration. He’s been undroppable for Pep all season and has established himself as a firm fan favourite: he’s the type of player you just delight at being able to watch play for your football club. He has everything: charisma, bottle, flair, technique, scoring ability, fight and he will run for longer than Forrest Gump ever did. He’s quite possibly a representation of the kind of player we as fans would aspire to be if we could ever be lucky enough to grace the pitch at the Etihad – he has those attributes that endears himself so dearly to the City fans – with his own ABBA ‘Voulez Vous’ song to go with him. It takes some doing to become ‘top Silva’ when you’ve playing alongside David, but based on current form, few could argue that he’s well on his way to securing just as memorable as legacy as his Spanish teammate. Based on form so far this season, for me, it’ll be between him and Sterling for Player of the Season.
RAHEEM THE GREAT
I want to take a minute though to talk about Sterling, although he serves so much longer. I’m happy to admit that I was one of the doubters when he joined us from Liverpool. I wrongly judged him – possibly on reputation alone. I don’t think I’d been brainwashed by the media, although sadly, many have been, but I’d just seen a few things about him that had made me think ‘what a d**k’. I thought his price tag was massively inflated and largely based on potential. But when he signed for City, as is the case when any boy in blue, we get behind the player and support him regardless. Last season I thought Sterling was incredible – 18 goals and countless assists – with some of those goals crucial. Match-winning goals. The last minute goal at Bournemouth tore the roof off the place.
But this season, remarkably, he’s improved even further. Ever since that incident at Stamford Bridge with the Chelsea fan, it seems like a weight has been lifted off Sterling’s shoulders. He seems more confident, more assured, more humble, more determined. It’s a sad indictment of the world we live in that it takes something like that for the media to reassess their viewpoint on him. For years, there has been a huge smear campaign against Sterling, one that he has now rightly called the press out on. He alleged that the media’s vilification of him and other players is all down to the colour of their skin. Fair play and a standing ovation from me for the 24 year old to use his platform to say that and to make certain members of the press think about their actions and the consequences they can have.
Why does Sterling get booed by the opposition fans at every ground we visit? Why, doing the World Cup, was he the only player in the starting line up that got booed in the pub I was in, in the middle of Manchester? Because his faux reputation precedes him: people have been wrongly brainwashed by the media to believe that Sterling is a flashy, trashy, cocky footballer. The constant snake emojis used towards him – he’s a money-grabber. He only moved to City for the money. NO – he’s a young man with ambition and with the talent and skill to back that up. He took the winning penalty in the shoot-out at Wembley to win us the Carabao Cup – the place he was born. That took balls of steel. He nailed it. Many could and would falter under such pressure – he didn’t. He’s already won many trophies at City and contributed massively towards those, proving that he made the right decision for his career.
He continues to learn, to thrive, to excel, to grow and, most importantly, command respect. Respect is no less than he deserves. It takes watching him every week to really appreciate how important a player he has become at City. He’s a joy to watch. His hat-trick against Watford and his captaincy against Schalke only strengths how crucial a part he plays for us – and it’s about time other fans took notice of not only how talented a player he really is, but how genuine a man he has become. It’s tragic that it’s only since he’s called out the media, that his charity work has been highlighted. That other tales of good will gestures have been raised. Raheem is the finest example I could point to for my two young sons – he’s a superb role model, make no mistake of that – and there can be no greater karma and legacy against the naysayers than that. Safe to say now that I’m one of his biggest fans and I look forward to seeing him progress even further.
When City had a pretty much disastrous December, many wrote them off in the race for the Premier League title. But Liverpool have since wobbled, and we have continued to keep our winning run going, so now (at the time of writing), and with Spurs tailing off predictably, we are neck and neck for the League. It’s almost too close to bear.
We’re now flying towards the business end of the season, where every aspect of both sides is constantly being scrutinised and analysed. The fixtures left are the main talking point, with City being painted as having the tougher run-in. I don’t think there’s really that much really in it. Playing a team threatened with relegation can be a much tougher ask than playing one of the so-called ‘bigger’ teams. We as City fans know the importance of trying to survive a relegation fight, and you’ll give blood, sweat and tears in order to try to maintain your place in the Premier League. You raise your game beyond anything you’ve known, so the role that these teams could play can never be underestimated. We’ve both got to play teams down there, so it’ll be intriguing to see if any of them can derail a title charge. I’m looking at Palace away, United away and even Burnley away as being our toughest tests. Cardiff and Newcastle away for them shouldn’t be easy, plus they’ve got Chelsea at home.
The Champions League quarter final draw has just been made and those games will play their part too. Ajax v Juventus, Porto v Liverpool, Spurs v City and Barca v United are how the final eight teams will shape up. I wanted Porto, Ajax or Spurs so I’m pretty made up with that. Spurs are never to be underestimated, but they’re arguably the less media-hyped English club of the three, if we would’ve drawn Liverpool/United, the run-up to the fixtures would’ve been unbearable. Ajax or Juventus in the semi final should we progress is also relatively kind, so could we actually be heading to Madrid in June? UEFA will want their poster boy Ronaldo to feature in the final, but it’s going to be one hell of a couple of months.
The only difference really between us and Liverpool’s fixtures is that we’re still in the FA Cup (at the time of writing, before the semi final). Having just got home from Swansea, I’m still not really sure how we still are in the Cup. A first half of chaos, going 2-0 down, to then somehow miraculously come back and win the game 3-2, with no extra time needed, I’m still in a bit of shock about how it all panned out. The amount of beers I drank that day didn’t help the memory, but I do remember the turning point being Pep bringing the subs on: Zinchenko, Sterling and Aguero made all the difference. The goals may have been dubious to say the least, but in a season where Liverpool have enjoyed more than their fair rub of the green with decisions to keep them in the title race, I’ll take that all day long. I almost felt sorry for Swansea: once upon a time that was us. They gave it a really good go and on another day would be heading to Wembley, but there’s no denying the quality in Bernardo’s goal that started the comeback, even if the penalty and final Aguero goal had question marks over them.
With Watford, Brighton and Wolves all left in the FA Cup, it was Brighton who were paired to face us. But here’s the dilemma I have – and I’ll be really honest. I love going to Wembley. I’ve been 11 times now watching City, I still can’t believe I’m writing that, 11 times, and they’ll be people who have been more because I’ve had to miss a couple. But it’s now getting to the point where I’m having to potentially choose which games I can go to because I can’t afford it all. It’s not just the ticket with Wembley – it’s the travel cost, the food and drink. When we went down for the Carabao Cup final, we did it there and back in a day and only got home at 1am. I know people who got back later. But my boyfriend, Adam, has to be up for work at 3am and he couldn’t book the day off because he had run out of holidays. Doing it there and back in a day, especially with Vincent, is such a big ask, but cost and holiday-wise, we didn’t have any other options.
Now we’re playing Brighton, and I know you can never take anything for granted, the potential of being in the FA Cup Final is looking realistic. We’ve reached the Champions League Quarter Final. So we may need money for two more finals there. I know people say not to count chickens, but these are things financially that we need to consider, coupled with the cost of everyday life anyway (rent, bills, food, my children), it’s getting to the stage where we have to make decisions and we may not be able to afford both the semi final and the final too. Why they play the FA Cup semi finals at Wembley anyway is beyond me, but it doesn’t really help me out when I’m trying to find the funds to be able to afford everything and being stretched to the limit like every other blue. The price you pay for success!
The media are starting to make a bit more of a noise about the fact that the ‘quadruple’ is still on for us, funny that they’re realistically the only people talking about it. City fans know better than that – I don’t think any one of us is thinking that we will do it. But, it’s almost April. We have won the Community Shield (yes I know, doesn’t count) and the Carabao Cup. We’re in the FA Cup Semi Final, the Champions League quarter final and well and truly in the hunt for the Premier League title. Is it a good or a bad thing when it comes to Liverpool that we are still spinning so many plates? Just looking at our fixtures in April makes me feel tired. Eight (possibly nine if Cardiff gets re-arranged for that month too) huge games in three different competitions and the pressure is well and truly on to win them all. People talk about player fatigue, but what about us fans? It’s knackering just trying to keep up with it all!
This is do or die: it’s crunch time. Last season when we romped the League, we came up against a really big week in April – and lost all three games. We all remember it, but we wish we didn’t. At that point, Liverpool knocked us out of the Champions League and United, well, they just delayed us winning the League until they got beat by West Brom at home. No real damage done in that respect! Hopefully the players have taken that experience on board and can now look back on it as character building. If we have a week like that in April this time round, with how close the League is and Liverpool not really showing too many signs of relenting, it could be a different story.
But the big plus for City is that we’ve been here before and done it – three times in seven years. We have the experience of coming from behind to win the League, twice. When it comes to the crunch, it’s a test of who wants it more, who is stronger, both physically and mentally, who is more motivated for it. Anything could happen between now and May to affect both teams involved – a surprise suspension or a shock injury could have a detrimental effect on either side. There are so many contributing factors, so many twists and turns to come.
I would love to win it all; I don’t think you’ll find a football fan who wouldn’t want to see their team lift every trophy and enjoy all the successes it brings with it. For me, the Premier League is the one to win. It’s the toughest, with the most games to play over a longer period. The FA Cup has always held a special place in my heart - even that awful day when Wigan beat us to win it hasn’t taken away my love for the competition. I’ve never really taken to the Champions League, which probably sounds ridiculous, but for some reason I’ve struggled with it, no more helped with UEFA and their ridiculous Financial Fair Play fiascos. But for many teams, it’s considered essential to win it to really be held in high esteem and be regarded as amongst the elite in European football. I don’t believe we’ll have a greater chance of winning it than this season – but will something have to be sacrificed elsewhere in order to do that? Can we really sustain the momentum and winning streak to power through until May? I’ve got butterflies just thinking about it. But nobody does it better than Manchester City, do they? The drama of the Carabao Cup final shoot-out, the recent comebacks at Schalke and Swansea and recovering ground in the League to still be challenging for the title shows just how special this team is and what we’re capable of. It could be a very different story that I’m telling come next month, but for now let’s just enjoy the what ifs. Makes me feel sad for the rest…