The times, a romantic young dreamer once sang, they are a-changin’. To those who knew of football before 1992, for the people for whom football means Bovril and terraces rather than Balance Sheets and Transfer Windows, Manchester City were English football’s fools; the idiot savants whose innate appetite for destruction was matched only by their propensity to conjure moments of sheer promiscuity on the terraces. A measure of eccentricity, a healthy dose of farce and a touch of surreality, Manchester City embodied all that was treasured, and is quite rightly nostalgically romanticised, in football of a bygone age.
A relaxing stroll to defeating Queens Park Rangers 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium would once have invoked paroxysms of excitement within the City support. The composure demonstrated in possession, the patience in waiting for an opportunity to open up and the clinical nature with which the chances were dispatched would once have coaxed dreams of trophies and promises of beautiful football to follow. It was a performance which would once have nourished the romantic City supporter’s soul.
Football as an entity was once aware of its imperfections. Fans grew to innately appreciate their team’s idiosyncrasies. As Robin Williams’ Sean told Matt Damon’s Will in Good Will Hunting, it was those peccadilloes that one grew to appreciate. Like the intimacy between a husband and wife, they defined the relationship between football fan and club. For a club as wonderfully theatrical as Manchester City, this appreciation of the club’s fallibilities was especially intense. If at times supporting City felt like being in love with a woman of the night, at others it felt like a first date with Audrey Hepburn. The heightened emotions experienced as a result epitomised the nature of being a fan.
With great riches, however, comes great responsibility. If money begets success, then it too demands something more. Total domination and control are implored. Mistakes are to be eradicated. It was to this which Roberto Mancini attested in the aftermath of City’s defeat of the London club. Both as an attacking and defensive unit, the Italian saw reasons for concern.
His argument may very well be justified. After all, his cosmopolitan squad of international elites spent most of the summer playing football around the world for their national teams. The absence of cohesion he laments must surely be pinpointed at that.
Yet doesn’t this striving for perfection rid football of the joy, its sense of fun and the unexpected? Surely there is a thrilling romance in watching your team attempt in spite of itself to throw away every advantage bestowed to it, before delivering with one implausible kick of the right boot a moment which will live in legend forever? As with the old, so too with the modern, as City look to be modelling themselves as a swaggering, all-conquering force. Nevertheless, it does not stop the process being more than a little disorientating.
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