Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Anger and defeat in Munich

A disappointing and dark night, beaten by the better team and squabbling amongst ourselves, surrounded by a red mist that that we could not ultimately find a way out of. I think we all need to calm down a bit, analyse this defeat, and move on quickly. If we do not, the knockout stages of this competition will soon be out of reach, if they aren’t already.

Playing in a fantastic stadium against a formidable team – what a night it could have been. Instead, the club is now collectively discovering that the Champions League can be a cruel, hard place. Trailing 2-0 in the second half, Mancini tried to sure things up by substituting Edin Dzeko and bringing on Nigel de Jong, but it only made things worse. If we are not careful, we are going to get burned in this group. We played well against Napoli, we played well in parts against Bayern, but this is a competition of fine lines. Miss a chance here, make a small mistake there, fall on the wrong side of the line, and you quickly become surplus to requirements. Added to this, the result has now become a sideshow. We all know why.

The behavior of Carlos Tevez was unacceptable. A player on hundreds of thousands of pounds, probably the highest earner at the club and he refuses to come onto the pitch. I’ve never seen anything like this before. His excuses fly in the face of all that Tevez has become, all that he has built his image up to be: a great player, someone who works tirelessly for the team, a former captain of the club who leads by example, never gives up fighting, never gives up trying to find a way to win. And the excuse: “I didn’t feel right to play, so I didn’t."

Then today came the inevitable statement. First, an apology:

"I would like to apologise to all Manchester City fans, with whom I have always had a strong relationship, for any misunderstanding that occurred in Munich."

Then, a subtle reminder of what he has given the club:

"They [the fans] understand that when I am on the pitch I have always given my best for the club.”

And finally, the back track:

"In Munich on Tuesday I had warmed up and was ready to play. This is not the right time to get into specific details as to why this did not happen. But I wish to state that I never refused to play. There was some confusion on the bench and I believe my position may have been misunderstood. Going forward I am ready to play when required and to fulfil my obligations."

So we’ve gone from a statement last night where he was saying he did not feel ready to play to a statement today saying that he was ready to play. Which one are we to believe?

A message to Carlos Tevez
Carlos, you are one of the best players this club has ever seen. Last season we wouldn’t have won the FA Cup, wouldn’t have finished third in the Premier League without you. But that still doesn’t give you the right to insult the City fans (yes, the ones who paid good money to watch you week in week out last season and the ones who made it to Munich last night to see your no show) with a statement like this. 

We may have been blind enough to support this club on its schizophrenic journey from the Premier League to the old Division Three to the Champions League, but we are certainly no mugs. If you really want the fans to understand, then let’s have the detail on just what was said last night on the bench. You can’t hide behind the ‘this is not the right time to get into specific details’ phrase. It’s just excuses. You’ve already embarrassed the club and disrespected the fans for not wanting to play in Europe. Don’t insult them further with contradicting statements that make no sense. So lets have the truth.

Why did the toys come out of the pram?
It could be Tevez’s actions represent his disgruntlement at the captaincy being taken off him, perhaps his frustration at how he has become somewhat of a bit part player as Aguero and Dzeko have increasingly staked their claim. Tevez might feel that Mancini has no right dropping him, given the fact that he was joint top scorer in the Premier League last season. On being informed that Mancini sees no future for him at the club, Tevez's comments betray and element of this: “I was top goalscorer here last season, I always act professionally so it is up to him [Mancini]."

It could be of course that Tevez’s actions represent an attempt to make his presence at the club unbearable.  The idea that in refusing to play, the club’s hierarchy and the fans will want nothing to do with him, so he speeds up the process for a move – but this time agitating in a much more destructive way. In effect Tevez' actions could be part of a plan to up the ante against the club and see how far it will go before resorting to selling him.

Even if this is the case, it begs the question: what club would want to take on this type of player? In addition to the baggage that already came with Tevez – massive wages, massive transfer fee, the controversy that has followed him at pretty much every club he has been at – here is player who has been given everything at Manchester City and has now even refused to take the field of play. Would Corinthians, Madrid or Inter want to take such an expensive risk?

Mancini has rightly said that for him Tevez is finished, and whilst we do want to sell Tevez at the right time and for the right price, we must also be aware that of how corrosive this situation might become and the effect it might have on the rest of the squad. The decision will ultimately lie with Khaldoon but sometimes, you just have to cut your losses. If Tevez is to be involved again, the club will have to deploy a media strategy of the highest order to win the fans back. Even then, that probably won’t be enough. You can just imagine the reaction at Eastlands as Tevez warms up, approaching the South Stand – the place from which the atmosphere of the whole ground is often generated.

Mancini and defeat itself
A bad tempered night at the Allianz didn’t end with Tevez either. Dzeko showed his displeasure at being substituted in the 55th minute but gesturing a sarcastic thumbs up. Well sorry Edin but that’s not acceptable either. Mancini has rightly said that he will bench the Bosnian during the next game no matter what happens. And then to cap things off, linked to the Tevez incident Mancini was reported to have an altercation with Pablo Zabaleta, the Italian thinking that Zabaleta had said something in defence of his countryman. To Mancini’s credit he quickly admitted that he had made a mistake and had put it right with our dependable utility man.

The Tevez incident, combined of course with the nature of loss against what must now be one of the favorites for the competition clearly fuelled a series of angry responses from Mancini towards Dzeko and Zabaleta. The Italian must also be aware of having to eat his own hat a little, given the confidence he seemed to hold after the Napoligame that we would defeat Bayern in their own back yard: "We will do better in Munich. We will be calm, more than tonight and we can win there. They are a fantastic side but we have a team that can win anywhere."

I back Mancini with his reactions against Tevez and Dzeko. In my opinion, the manager has got to be king – he needs to keep on stamping his authority on the squad and telling players what they can and can’t do – but the Zabaleta incident shows how things can get out of control in the heat of the moment. The Italian needs to check himself here.

All of this clouds the fact that we were second best on the night and that Bayern deserved their victory – full credit to them. They will look upon this result as proof of their now 10 game unbeaten run not being a flash in the pan. I thought we would certainly put an end to Bayern’s 9 games without conceding a goal, but sadly that wasn’t to be either. Before the game Ribery spoke of how Bayern were getting close to Barcelona  – now of course they’ll start to truly believe that. To be fair to them they achieved this victory without the threat of Arjen Robben. Impressive stuff.

Bayern also had an old Blue within their ranks. Daniel Van Buyten was signed on loan by Kevin Keegan many moons ago. Since then he's racked up 120-odd appearances for Bayern, but when the commanding centre back cast his gaze on the City team sheet I bet he didn’t recognise a single name. We have metamorphosised since then, but not yet to the point where we can put away a top European team in their back yard. Tevez was not the main reason why we lost this game. The distraction caused by his refusal probably dented our efforts to get back into it, but it was the 11 players on the pitch that were the problem. At the end of the day we have the players to do the damage, but we came up short. We were 2-0 down at half time, both opposition goals scored from rebounds after a promising first 30 minutes. Dzeko missed an early chance. Tevez had nothing to do with these things.

It means now that anything less than a win against Villareal and we will crash out of the competition at the first hurdle. And if that happens at this stage it will hurt – for the fans, the players, Mancini and Khaldoon. It will also leave a bad taste in the mouth.

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