Sunday, 8 September 2013

My Blue faith and the antidote of the Premier League

I come from the northern English city of Manchester, a city of soccer, music and rain. For all of my 32 years as a Mancunian, I have supported Manchester City FC.
I was born into a family of “Blues” — as City fans are more commonly known. If I had opted to support any other team, my father would have never forgiven me. From an early age he told me my blood ran Blue.
“Through thick and thin, you’ll always be a City fan,” he said. Needless to say, it was set in stone.
Supporting City was never easy. The team regularly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, never won anything, ploughed the depths of the lower divisions and even stared into the precipice of extinction. But to me, none of that mattered. It was a case of “once a Blue always a Blue”, as City fans say.
Come rain or shine, win or lose, I would forever belong to the Blue side of Manchester. I will tell my children exactly the same thing. For them, as it was for me, there will be no other option.
This summer, Indonesia welcomed City’s Premier League rivals — Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea — to Jakarta. This is a real coup for the Soccer Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and Indonesia’s soccer-crazy fans.
When two bomb blasts led to Manchester United cancelling its pre-season trip to Jakarta in 2009, many of this country’s soccer-loving fans must have thought they would never see the days when the Theo Walcott’s, Steven Gerrard’s and Frank Lampard’s of this world would grace the turf of Bung Karno Stadium. But today, the dream is real.
I have always been intrigued by Indonesians’ support of English soccer clubs. When I watch City matches with the club’s Indonesian fan base in Jakarta, I ask them: Why do you support City and not your local team? I always hear the same answers. First, Indonesian soccer just doesn’t cut the mustard when compared to the excitement and speed of the English game.
Second, it is just too caught up in politics and corruption, with the domestic leagues being a mess for so long that many fans could not care less if their local team won the latest incarnation of the Indonesian league.
So rather than frequenting the local stadiums of Bung Karno or Lebak Bulus, they choose to sit in cafés, in the early hours of the morning if need be, to support the teams of their choice on the other side of the world.
At first, this was an alien concept to me. Where I grew up, you just did not “choose” teams. You simply got whatever team you were given and if it was trash, then so be it.
But slowly, as I joined Indonesian City fans in Jakarta to watch more matches and learned more about the chaos of Indonesian soccer, I began to understand — albeit a little — why they adopted City, and perhaps why others cheered on United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.
It is so easy to become depressed about Indonesian soccer. Aside from the domestic league situation, even when Indonesians have the chance to come together to support their national team, they have little to shout about.
Indonesia has never qualified for the World Cup in over 50 years of trying and is currently bottom of its qualifying group for the 2015 Asian Cup, with zero points. Recently, a so-called Indonesian “Dream Team” was on the receiving end of a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal. That sounds more like a nightmare to me.
The Premier League — and the visits of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea — provides an antidote to this endless malaise, a shot in the arm to those fans sick of waiting for something interesting to happen, like a half-decent Indonesian player to emerge, or a strong domestic league to take shape.
Supporting a Premier League team, on the other hand, allows fans a short cut to success and when the trophies do come, the results are exhilarating. I have seen this first hand.
I was in a café in Jakarta with my fellow Indonesian Blues when City snatched the Premier League title from United in the dying seconds of the 2012 season.
As City lifted the trophy, I looked around the café and asked myself — as adopted fans, are they enjoying this like I am? The answer was yes. The language of the Premier League had travelled millions of miles east and had been effortlessly translated into the milieu of this Indonesian café.
They knew what had just happened; their passion was there for all to see, with the café rocking just like the Etihad Stadium in Manchester. There, in a nutshell, was why my friends had turned to City. We felt like kings, champions of the best league in the world. For them, no Indonesian team could come close.
And so, as the new season is with us, this Mancunian will once again sit in a Jakarta café in the early hours of the morning with his City brethren from Indonesia.
We will again don our City shirts, which are, incidentally, made in Indonesia. We will sing songs about our dislike of Manchester United and together, we will consume the Premier League’s global product. We will watch large TV screens as the action on the pitch unfolds and the sounds of crowd roar down from the terraces, onto the pitch and then are pumped into our venue through loudspeakers.
We will enjoy the antidote of the Premier League, which serves to banish the endless soccer woes of this soccer-loving nation.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Farewell, man of good fortune

And so Roberto Mancini has been sacked as the manager of Manchester City.

He was labelled a man of “good fortune” by his contemporaries in Italy, because both as a player and manager he won trophies almost everywhere he went. He continued that tradition at City, thereby cementing his place in the history of the club forever.

The fans will probably not get a chance to thank him collectively for all that he was done for the Blue side of Manchester, and it is a shame that it had to end like this, with defeat in the FA Cup Final, followed by his sniping against the club’s staff for not doing more to quell rumours that he was about to lose his job. Mancini is someone who hates losing, so his departure was probably always going to be acrimonious. 

The debate will rage on over whether his sacking was right and over whether City are turning into Chelsea. I'm shocked, but then again I'm not, such is the nature of football, and such is the history of this club.

On the pitch this season, we have not been good enough and Mancini must carry the can for that. He tried to introduce a new tactical system – it didn’t work. He had a second chance at the Champions League – but we failed to get out of the group again. The defence of the title has been a non-defence – that’s unacceptable. Then there was the sense that the camp was never a happy one. This is where the waters get murky and we can only know so much. Calling out his players in public has probably been a mistake. 

Then again, look at the mitigating factors. We have had unlucky draws in the Champions League. Mancini didn't get any of his primary summer transfer targets. In terms of man management, you look at the way Mancini took the pressure off the players at the end of last season, beating Ferguson at his own mind games, then you look at his management of the Carlos Tevez affair – reintegrating a player from an outcast to a key member of the title winning team in weeks, and you realise the charge that Mancini could not man manage is not completely true. In fact, in some cases, he was an excellent man manager.

And so once again, we find ourselves turning to the issue of time, consistency and stability. Consistency on its own doesn’t bring success, you need to marry it with talent and the right character. Mancini appeared authoritarian, with a ruthless streak, not suffering fools gladly, very similar to Ferguson. An ideal combination, one might think. But his weakness has come at the wrong time. If we’d secured another league title, or if we’d reached the latter knockout rounds of the Champions League, combined with winning the FA Cup, it would have bought him more time so that when he did have a bad patch later on, he would have had a better chance of surviving it. The fact remains that we have a very strong squad and we’ve achieved nothing this season. 

The question is whether or not Mancini could have turned it around next season. Of course, that's always the question in these situations. I would have given him another season, but I don’t know the full picture behind the scenes. Maybe he upset too many people in the end.

That said, what a tenure Mancini’s has been. He probably did what Mark Hughes could never have done, delivering three trophies in four years. Hughes’ sacking was hard to take at the time but Mancini has vindicated the owners’ judgement. Hopefully they will choose well again.

Winning the FA Cup in 2011 to end the 35-year hoo-doo. Ripping down that banner at Old Trafford. Demolishing teams last season, Spurs 5-1 away, United 6-1 away. It was pure poetry. Nobody could touch us. We were the best team in the league by a country mile and we almost threw it all away, but we didn’t, and in the end, that’s what counts. 

Then, when all hope was lost, snatching the Premier League title from United at the very last second, doing to them what they had done to so many other teams for so many years and seeing the despair and uncertainty creep onto their faces for a change – Bobby Manc, let me say this to you – through all those years of winning nothing, through all the pain of getting relegated to the old Division 3, through all the suffering of getting beat by the likes of Lincoln City, Wycombe Wanderers and York City – that moment made it all worth it, and I – as I’m sure will many other City fans - will be forever grateful to you for that.

Thank you Roberto Mancini. To me, you will always be up there with the best. You made me believe in Manchester City.

Enigmatic City

City were always going to get beat in one of these finals sooner or later, but the way in which we surrendered against Wigan at Wembley on Saturday, losing 1-0 in the FA Cup Final, only left me with a feeling of bewilderment.

This defeat was the icing on the cake of City’s enigmatic season, a season that promised so much but has now delivered nothing but failure and – it seems – discontent between the club’s management and administration staff.

Preparation for the final was hardly ideal with rumours of Roberto Mancini’s dismissal and his imminent replacement with Manuel Pellegrini. Mancini is now gone and that development will be addressed another day, but how much impact did this uncertainty have on City’s lethargic performance?

Players are meant to be professionals these days, but to what extent they could have insulated themselves from the rumours swirling around their boss? It cannot have helped.

What was not in doubt was City’s lacklustre display. We laboured, we created chances, with a bit more luck in the first half we would have been 1-0 to the good.

But the chances we did have always seemed against the run of play. We were dominated by Wigan for large parts of the game, overrun in midfield, appeared tired throughout the team and of course, as we always have this season, lacking the goal scoring touch upfront.

And then there was the lack of tempo. We have had a lot of possession this season, but when we win the ball back we have been far too ponderous. We gave Wigan too much time to regroup. We have some of the best passers in England, but sometimes we are not direct enough, not ruthless enough, too intricate.

It is the end of the season and everyone is going to be tired. This is when it comes down to motivation and determination – which are within both Mancini’s sphere and the sphere of the leading players in the squad – our leaders on the field. Mancini indicated the players did not run enough, but it is too difficult to say why they did not run, whether because they did not want to go the extra mile for Mancini, whether they had been out thought tactically, or whether they simply did not have the legs.

Then again, this was an FA Cup Final. At the very least, the players should have wanted to win it for themselves and for the fans, but we just did not turn up.

Full credit to Wigan, a very good performance that kept the romance of the cup intact. They deserved the FA Cup and I hope they stay in the Premier League.

For City though, it is just another reminder of what might have been, and the unfulfilled potential that continues to vex the fans and board alike. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Nothing ever lasts forever

Wednesday was probably not a normal day in Manchester, but it was a normal day in Jakarta. 

I was sat in a heaving traffic jam, going nowhere as usual, when a motorcycle crawled past on my left with what looked like half a family on board. Scrunched in between his father and older brother there was a boy, wearing a Manchester United shirt with the name “Chicarito” on the back. I wondered if the boy knew about the day’s tumultuous events at his adopted club. Did he know that the most successful British manager had announced his retirement? Did he even know who Alex Ferguson was at all?

The key reason why a team from Newton Heath, Manchester has been able to connect with a boy in a city on the other side of the world lies in one man – Alex Ferguson. United were successful before Ferguson, but the projection of their success across the globe, which coincided perfectly with Sky TV and the popularity of the Premier League, has known no bounds under Ferguson.

Constant success is what fans in other countries covet and that’s why so many have nailed their colours to United’s mast. Whichever way you look at it, the root driver behind that success has been Ferguson. 

Without him, there would have been no such consistency at the club. That’s not to say United would not have won things, but they probably would not have enjoyed success to the extent they have. Without Ferguson, probably no penchant for staging comeback after comeback. Without Ferguson, probably no surpassing of Liverpool as the team to have won the most English league titles. Without Ferguson, probably no 1999 treble, which I think did so much to endear United to potential fans across the world.

In the Matt Busby era United won a few league titles, a couple of FA Cups and a European Cup. But Ferguson has long surpassed that and has taken the club from a very good level to a great level.

All of this has happened to the dismay of United’s rivals, especially Liverpool and, of course, Manchester City.

Perhaps City fans have had it the worst. As City plummeted down the leagues of England, Ferguson’s United kept on winning the top honours. Then, when City finally did win something  - albeit the Division 3 playoff final against Gillingham, United went and won the Champions League against Bayern Munich, as if to remind City fans that really, they’d won nothing at all.

Some might question why I have devoted a post to Ferguson on this blog, but in truth, as a City fan, you cannot ignore Ferguson. He has been a pillar of our discontent for many a year, a figure that we have all railed against at some point or another, a force from within Old Trafford that many of us have defined ourselves against. The archenemy, disliked even more than the players who pulled on red shirts. The Red Devil himself.
City fans have lived in Ferguson’s shadow for so long that they even concocted a song for him to cheer themselves up in the darker moments. I can hear it now, echoing off the walls of the pubs around the Etihad Stadium, amid the laughter on the dark afternoons when all other hope seemed lost:

“We’re having a party when Fergie dies, we’re having a party when Fergie dies, jelly and ice cream when Fergie dies, jelly and ice cream when Fergie dies, karaoke when Fergie dies, karaoke when Fergie dies,” and so on.

Some might call that a very dark kind of humour, but the song also reveals a grudging respect – the acknowledgement that City fans would only ever win when Ferguson was no longer at the helm of Old Trafford.

This is only partly true of course, given that last year City won the Premier League crown for the first time, and the way it was won, snatched from under the nose of Ferguson, could not have been sweeter. Of course, the Scot has had the last laugh, opting to leave just after he has delivered another title, but at least City did put a dent in his silverware collection with last year’s title, and at least City fans tasted victory at the direct expense of Ferguson before he went quietly into the night. 

Credit where credit is due, the Scot has seen off challenges from Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and now City for the league, but now more challenges are emerging. Grasping victory today is so much harder then doing it five, 10 years ago. A decade ago no-one could have foreseen City becoming the force they have. Having already tasted the Premier League title, with formidable resources, City are now regrouping. Then you have the Blues of London – add Mourinho to the mix and Chelsea will also be resurgent. Everywhere you look, on every front, challenges, and all the while a man at the centre of it all, the determination still burning in his eyes but also the realisation that there is only so many challenges one can meet. 

A Liverpudlian band once sang “Nothing ever lasts forever”. Perhaps those words have been at the front of Ferguson’s mind for a while. The timing of his departure will have mattered much to him. Better to go now, still at the top, than to become mired in the next phase of English football where re-establishing dominance could be harder than ever.

It is not only the ability to win consistently that separates the good from the great, but the ability to recognise the right time to leave. Pep Guardiola did it at Barcelona – arguably with less fronts to fight on and with better players. Now Ferguson has done it at United.

And so the old enemy has gone. But will City fans, in a strange kind of way, harken back to the days when they had a clear target to rail at? Maybe, but I sense most would prefer to face a United team without Ferguson, rather than one with him at the helm. Most would rather forget this era. Most will miss ol’ Baconface like a hole in the head.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

There's more than one Blue Moon

Around 8,000 miles to the east of Manchester, a Blue Moon is also now rising over Indonesia, and at the center of that rise is group of young, City-supporting Indonesians who have established a network of branches across the country. They are Indonesia's very own Citizens.

In the West, little is known about Indonesia, the fourth most populated country in the world. Home to 240 million people, it contains the world’s largest Muslim population, spread across roughly 17,000 islands and speaking 300 different languages.

Much like City, Indonesia is a story waiting to be told. With a massive consumer base, Indonesia – like City - has for years been a sleeping giant. That potential is now being realised, with Indonesia already the largest economy in Southeast Asia. After navigating a stormy transition to democracy at the turn of the 21st century, the country is resurgent, just as City have risen from the depths to the summit of English football.

But it is Indonesia’s thirst for football that's of interest here. Many Indonesians don't support their local teams because of the quality of local football (there's not much to shout about) but perhaps more so because of the grim future prospects of the game here. It  suffers from corruption and chronic infighting. There's been two top tier leagues for the last few years because clubs can't agree on the terms of a single league. Money - and who gets what piece of which pie - has a big role to play, but on the pitch, the national team has suffered, with many players being banned from the national team as they are deemed to be playing in the wrong domestic league. It's chaotic, a situation that would cause serious social unrest if it ever happened in England.

Indonesia's thirst for the beautiful game is largely directed at England, and Indonesians look upon English teams and English fans with envy. When compared to their own national game, for Indonesians, the Premier League is a brilliant spectacle. The quality of football on show is there for everyone to see, but when that is combined with the blistering pace and the noise of the crowd transmitted into cafes across the country, the attraction proves irresistable, a lure that becomes even more potent when they find themselves part of something, wearing the shirt of their adopted team, chanting their heads off with friends in a cafe - the closest you can get to actually standing (or sitting) in the stands at the game itself.

For the more business minded, Indonesia is also a market waiting to be seized. Predictably, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have already established fan bases here. United even have a glitzy Red Café in Jakarta.

But City’s grassroots presence is growing, and if the club hasn't already, it would do well to take note. Through their new website at (which is still going through some technical teething problems!) the network of Indonesian supporter branches across the country are linking up, pooling their support, and getting organized. The group has 31,000 followers on Twitter (@INA_Citizens) - a mere drop in a population of 240 million - but its a start.

And what the branches may lack in numbers, they more than make up for in their desire to support City. On match days, they turn up at the venue in full gear (I even saw a City shirt from the dark days of Ged Brannan and Jamie Pollock), they know 90 percent of the City songs, and when the singing does finally grind to a halt during half time and after the game, the Oasis tunes (Wonderwall, Roll with it, et al) are blasted out, followed by quiz questions, live bands and the ritual group photos. 

Some might call them glory hunters, but they will say they are adopted Mancunians, in love with their adopted club just as much as the next fan. 

What is certain is that they are evidence of City's progress over the last five years. Success in the modern game is not the same as success in the 1960/70s. Today, success comes with a price: Manchester no longer has the monopoly on where else the Blue Moon chooses to rise.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A season lost in the mind?

One prominent theory as to why the Blues haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season seems to centre on us not sufficiently strengthening the squad.

There’s probably an element of truth in this, but I think the overarching reason why City haven’t got out of third gear this season is that we’ve not been up for it mentally.

We’ve not been ready for the mental task of retaining the league title. Some say the first league title is always the hardest, because you are going into the unknown and trying to do something you’ve not done before, but for City this season, there’s been no question that retention has been the harder task.

A look at our neighbours and the outstanding difference this season appears to be Robin van Persie. Of course that’s true – the lad has gone and bagged 19 goals in league, so that can’t hurt anyone’s title ambitions. But it is only part of the picture. The bigger part of that picture is about performances, or lack there of, from our existing squad. 

We started the season with four top rate strikers, probably the best in the league, but none of them – save perhaps flashes form Sergio Aguero – have really been at the top of their game. Four strikers of the quality we had represented incredible depth. If an inform Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli had not put us on top of the league at this point in the season, we certainly would not be 12 points behind the leaders.

There is the view that things always need to be freshened up a little for the new season, just to keep the established pros on their guard. The argument goes that - yes - we have freshened up the squad, but not with the right level of quality, so the strongest starting eleven is pretty much the same as it was last season. Teams have become accustomed to the way we play and have adjusted accordingly. New blood of the quality to improve the squad would have given the opposition something different to think about, etc. 

But can we really make a proper judgement on the quality of our new signings? It is Javi Garcia’s first season in the Premier League and no doubt he has struggled, but there is no way he should be discarded as an inferior signing just yet. We miss Nigel de Jong’s qualities, but I was always under the impression that Garcia was brought in because he could offer us more than de Jong – a combative midfield presence allied with a bit of deep midfield creative play – and a threat from set pieces. Garcia needs another season at least until he can be judged.

As for the others, Maicon, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell have hardly played due to injury or – especially in Sinclair’s case – not being selected. Between them they have something like eight Premier League starts. It’s hardly fair to brand them lower grade replacements either.

And then of course we come to Matija Nastasic, who has been anything but a disappointment. We await his development with great interest.

The fact is, all the way through the squad, there's players who haven't been performing. Joe Hart hasn’t, Samir Nasri hasn’t, Yaya Toure hasn’t. By his own dazzling heights, neither has the magnificent David Silva, but this I think is more due to the fact that the onus is always on the magician to pick the lock when the going gets tough because no one else is stepping up to the plate. When we look back at the campaign, it will be the draws that we will curse: Southampton, QPR, West Ham, Arsenal; not to mention the defeat against Sunderland. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more down the line this season.

With the league now 95 percent lost, perhaps we could freshen up our squad - late in games - with some our youth players (if indeed that have been registered) to get Premier League experience. Although the striker has just come back from injury, John Guidetti is the obvious choice. Its not as if the 20-year-old is wet behind the ears, having bagged 20 goals in 23 appearances for Feyenoord last season. Who knows what would have happened this season if he’d stayed free of injury? The other two players are Denis Suarez and Marco Lopes, the latter of which has already featured in the FA Cup against Watford, scoring a goal. Introducing youth needs to be measured of course – if we cant have first then it must be second. A loss to Chelsea this weekend doesn’t really bear thinking about.

However, the focus on our youth needs to intensify. Since the likes of Micah Richards and Stephen Ireland, it feels like we’ve been waiting years for someone to come through the academy. The academy has of course produced some good players – solid Premier League players I would say – but by and large there has been nothing on the scale of what West Ham and Manchester United have produced in recent years. Any hopes surrounding the return the greatest product of our academy – Michael Johnson – have now been snuffed out for good. 

Nobody knows what the future holds in terms of Financial “Fair” Play, but we do know that the Premier League is moving toward it in some fashion through restricting losses. That of course is the other dimension to our “second rate” signings this summer. If we’d have broke the bank on signing another raft of top rate talent, how much deeper would we have mired ourselves in the UEFA regulations that are on their way?

Sooner or later, FFP is going to bite, so our player development is the key to our future success. The sooner we start giving more youngsters opportunities in the first team, the better.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dark Blue

It started in defeat, it ended in defeat, and there was nothing to shout about in between. That’s the short, gloomy story of City’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign.

It’s difficult to draw any positives, other than the fact that the squad has gained more of the much-vaunted “European experience” that some quarters say is so essential in these kinds of situations.

Last year, one result ended up killing us – it was the 1-1 draw at home to Napoli. If we have won that, we’d have been into the knockout stages at the first time of asking. This year, three draws at home effectively gave us no chance, but by the time we came to the last of those home fixtures – against Real Madrid – the momentum was already lost.

And it had all started so well.

Travelling to Madrid for our very first match of Group D was no easy task, but by the 86th minute we were 2-1 up and heading for a historic victory. Five minutes later it had all gone wrong, a trademark Cristiano Ronaldo strike putting us to the sword, and we went home empty handed.  Looking back, that result was our Napoli result this time around, and we never recovered.

We could have put things back on track two weeks later, at home to Borussia Dortmund, but we came away with a point.  Then came the hammer blow. With the next two games coming first away and then home against Ajax, I think a lot of fans expected us to get things back on track with six points. Instead – once again - we only managed one, and things came apart.

But it’s one thing looking at the results and another to look at the performances – this is the real concern. Things were always going to be tough against Real, but we capitulated in the Bernabeu. We were played off the park at the Etihad against Dortmund. We lost a winning position away at Ajax, and then had to come from 2-0 down at home against the Dutch team to salvage a point. You can’t be going 2-0 down at home against the weakest team of the group and expect much in return.

There was a lot of debate surrounding the final game against Dortmund. Some fans wanted us to go for the win, snatch third spot in Group D and then qualify for the Europa League. Others wanted us to lose, finish bottom of the group and thus not qualify for a competition they saw as second grade, a distraction to our league and FA cup push.

Of course, the latter got their wish, and along with it came the record of being the lowest-ever Champions League group points total returned by an English club. That’s not a record I’m proud of.

A run to the latter stages of the Europa League would have also increased our UEFA coefficient, which in the long term will spare us the fortune of being lumped with a group as hard as the ones we’ve had to endure. Now we won’t have the chance to do that, and will instead likely have to face Group of Death part three next year.

We have of course also been unlucky with the draw in both years. I’m not an expert on UEFA coefficients, but this year, the likes of Malaga ranking (66th) and Montpellier’s (97th) are well below City’s (19th), and yet because of the luck of the draw, they got distinctly easier groups that City did. Drawing Dortmund in Pot 4 was the killer.  We could have had Cluj, instead we got the German champions. The margin of error in the Champions League is slim at best, but for us – this year - it was minute.

But we can whine on about draws all we want. For the money that has been lavished on this squad, for the facilities they have, for the player care department that pampers to their every need, there is no excuse – this Champions League has gone badly wrong for us.

Given our recent history, some will say we should be grateful to be in the Champions League at all. But that's a loser's view. We weren't there to make up the numbers.

One thing’s for sure – this early exit won’t have been in the 10-year plan of Mansour and Khaldoon. They invest in progress, not regression. And so for this club not to be involved in European football is surely unacceptable for the men from Abu Dhabi, the men who usually win, whatever they turn their hand to.

So now all eyes turn to the men in Manchester, who are tasked with winning. Inevitably, questions will be asked of them and of their leader, Roberto Mancini. The Champions League monkey on his back just got a whole lot bigger. Remaining in the Europa would have lessened the media/fan focus that is now going be brought with full force on City’s every move on the domestic front.

Silverware is managerial oxygen at the Etihad these days, and Mancini’s options are getting blocked off. He needs to keep winning – its as simple as that.

I’ve written before about Mancini’s days of judgment nearing. Those first set of judgments – a top four finish, winning a cup, and then winning the league – he passed with flying colours. But football waits for no man and now further judgments are on their way.

The team is at a defining point of their season. They’ve come nowhere near reaching the heights of last year and at times have looked a bit labored and out of ideas when the magic of David Silva is not around.

The wreckage of the Champions League lies around them, but somehow, the English Champions must put that ordeal behind them, find strength in adversity, and steal themselves for the task that now lies ahead.

Just look down the road – isn’t that what champions do?