Manchester City “has come a long way, baby”

Two wins from two matches, Manchester City look like title contenders.

What is it Carlos? Have you become self-aware or is your agent near?

August 2008 marked year zero for Manchester City. The old identity was razed, while the hope that tradition can be reinjected into the pursuit of global domination—side effects include nausea, diarrhea, migraine, anger, befuddlement, and in some cases, infantilism. Without notable figures like Sven-Göran Eriksson and Noel Gallagher to confirm a history, the takeover of the club by Abu Dhabi United Group might have marked the club’s founding instead.

In these three years, City has steadily climbed the table, finishing tenth, fifth, and third. The ascent from nameless mid-table club to title-contending quasi-galacticos is the result of bottomless wealth clearing the path before it, as well as on occasion astute management.

Manchester City, the nouveau riche arriviste. If still a poor Mancusian’s Manchester United, if still lacking the sophistication and tradition of the elite clubs, if rough-edged from the ostentatious display of wealth and clumsy mastery of protocol and manners, then they can now at least command descriptions in French. Samir Nasri can help translate.

Last season’s success was characterized by a bulk of performances that fall into the category of getting the job done. Doesn’t sound so bad, but it’s a characterization no elite club wants. At the same time, it’s a trait no club can be successful without. Trophy-winning clubs rely on this type of performance and, when necessary, can point to these games as significant psychological moments where the experience of grit and grind, perseverance, collective execution, and resilience forge the proper temperament. If any club last season found greater success with getting the job done it was Manchester United. So what if their pragmatism was an indication that this was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s weaker, if not least creative, title-winning squads.

Grinding out results emerges during the immediate circumstances of the match. Mancini on the other hand, appeared to have built this into his system as part of an overdetermined conservatism. The obsessive hording of defenders, the preference for three holding midfielders, the influence of the Italian game, and numerous public statements provide evidence. In response to criticism of his negative approach in the 0—0 draw at the Emirates last season, he said, “I prefer boos in the end and to go home with one point rather than with three goals in our net. The home crowd call us boring? It’s not important for me…This is football.” 

This conservatism is justifiable as a compensation for a squad’s inferiority, for the small struggling team trying to avoid relegation. City may feel inferior to its neighbor, but after spending half a billion pounds on players, fans and neutrals expecting to see entertaining football were right to call Mancini’s approach criminal. How dare he cultivate something so dull and arduous. The wealthy have no right to ignore aesthetics, not when it’s a luxury for others. Despite the abrasive love-hate relationship between Mancini and Carlos Tevez, it was the Argentine who contributed much of the creativity and saved City from being almost as dull as Liverpool.

Tevez was the embodiment of the 2010-2011 version of City. He exemplified not only the relentlessly hard working club ethos, but also the entertainment and class that City was striving to obtain.

At the weekend, watching City score three against Bolton, Tevez looked dumbfounded, as if he couldn’t figure out how he found himself on the bench as a man with no club in need of his exceptional services. He has been upstaged and dethroned by the younger, flashier Argentine Sergio Agüero, whose impressive start defines the City of this season—the lumbering, ill-fitted, and dull City has shown so far to be slick, fluid, and cohesive.

Poor Carlito, if only he had his own cartoon figure to soften the blow.

9/4/11

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