Man City Club Focus – Why failure to qualify for final-16 must not set alarm bells ringing at the Etihad Stadium

It speaks volumes for the culture of instant gratification which has been cultivated within football that failure to qualify from Group A would be seen as leaving a noticeable blemish on the 2011/12 season for Manchester City.

That this is the first Manchester City team which has looked remotely likely to challenge for the English league title since 1976/77 would not matter. The intoxicating brilliance with which they have annihilated almost all domestic opponents thus far would, momentarily, be rendered irrelevant. In an industry where – for better or worse – money demands immediate success, failure to reach the final-16 phase of the Champions League would inevitably darken what has hitherto been a wonderful start to the season

Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour alluded to the arising discontent following the team’s defeat to Napoli, leaving the Citizens on the brink of dropping into the Europa League. “Sometimes I meet City supporters who are critical of the work of the manager,” he admitted. These are criticisms of the Italian which, you suspect, are to be exacerbated should the worst happen.

Such brooding criticism is, at best, a despicable symptom of the spoilt impatience of the modern football fan. At worst, it is downright crass; ignorant of the scintillating football the team are in the midst of playing. The very idea that, as Sheikh Mansour’s comments intimate, some supporters refute the work that Mancini has done on the basis of the team’s Champions League performances is astounding.

Sad enough a commentary on modern football it is that Andre Vilas-Boas has, fuelled in equal parts by an overindulged fan-base and the vultures in the media, spent the majority of his brief tenure at Chelsea fighting for his managerial life, it is frankly astonishing that any murmuring of disapproval can be detected at the Etihad Stadium at all.

Fortunately the owner’s comments seem to allude to a select few. No Premier League club has escaped the encroachment of 24/7 media coverage of football and the constant compulsion for news, speculation of any sort, which rachets up tension and caresses even the most outlandish of rumours into a believable, newsworthy event. The riches poured into the club have also naturally raised expectation levels exponentially. Success is craved. Preferably today.

However, Manchester City’s is a following steeped in the stoic tradition of Maine Road. These are a group of fans whose very self-identity is premised on the club’s propensity to self destruct. Disappointment and broken dreams are woven into the very fabric of what it means to be a member of the Kippax. The distant, yet enchanting hope that one day the spell of misery and disappointment will be broken is what persuaded the support to follow the team through the Division Two abyss just thirteen years ago. Just as destruction and desolation are intrinsically a part of City, so too improbable success define the club with victory over Bayern Munich and a favourable result at Napoli’s expense.

Qualification, Roberto Mancini admitted following the surrender in Naples, is only “30 percent likely”. However, with the fixture fast approaching, you hope that, should the worst come to pass, City do not succumb to the tawdry excesses of modern football. With their excellent start to the Premier League season, the team have earned the trust of the fans. This must not be broken by the dashing of one short lived dream. Should qualification not be achieved, it must not be used as a stick to beat the coach with. Nor must it be a harbinger of immediate doom in the Premier League. Rather, it would just delay a shot at European glory one year. Qualification, on the other hand: well, that would be truly special.

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