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Manchester City – a beautiful Premier League concept with an ugly footnote

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Manchester City had already won the Premier League and the Carabao Cup. And now, as Gabriel Jesus swept in Manchester City’s second goal against Watford in the 2019 FA Cup Final, after just 38 minutes, you knew it was pretty much game over.

So ruthlessly brilliant had been City’s form, the likelihood of an heroic Watford comeback was near-impossible. The City machine had been near-perfect for two full seasons, and with an unprecedented domestic treble on the horizon, they were clearly in no mood to let that change.

And so it proved, as they rattled six goals past the Hornets to record the joint-highest winning result in FA Cup Final history as 6-0 winners. Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City team sealed the domestic treble, to cap a remarkable and brilliant couple of years.

Beautiful, but dominant football

It has been truly incredible to watch City play; they are so good in possession, so incisive with the ball. Guardiola has drilled them to near-perfection, and the nature of the defeat of Watford was symbolic of their season; ruthless, clinical, efficient and relentless.

It was at times both scintillating to watch, and also incredibly scary for a fan of competitive football.

There was nothing “competitive” about this match. A cup final should not see six goals and 70% possession to one team, certainly not one featuring England’s 11th-best team. This felt like an old-fashioned third-round tie against a non-league team the way City toiled with Watford like a cat with a mouse.

Distorting the idea of “competition”

After the game, a journalist asked Guardiola a question relating to Financial Fair Play and his arrangements with the Abu Dhabi group running the club. His reaction was understandably one of anger; this after all was his crowning moment in English football, why ask this question now?

There’s a feeling among some journalists that now is absolutely the right time to raise the issue of fairness in the English game. A trouncing like that in a Cup final was uncomfortable to witness, and the investment fueling City’s success will rightly be questioned if a) it breaks the rules, and b) makes English football massively uncompetitive. That is now a real and genuine concern.

It’s been compared to “cheating on Football Manager”, or “playing Amateur on FIFA”, but this is no video game. This is happening in front of us in real life. Since City were purchased by the Abu Dhabi United group in 2008 – funded by the Abu Dhabi royal family – the investment in the club has been unparalleled in the game, and now over a decade later, it’s all coming to fruition.

An unhealthy dominance

The Premier League record of Manchester City over the past two season’s has been astounding. Some of the statistics and records that have been smashed by this team will likely never be seen again. The culmination of this into a clean sweep of domestic trophies feels like a tipping point in the game. Surely this level of financial investment and domestic dominance is neither healthy nor sustainable?

For decades, the English have sneered at the domestic monopolies in countries like France, Scotland, Germany and lately, Italy. Now England is very much on the verge of a very similar era of one-club dominance, and it’s a worry.

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Leaving rivals behind

City amassed 100 points in the 2017/18 season, and 98 points in 18/19. Out of 114 available! That is truly mind-boggling. It took Liverpool £177m of transfer investment and only losing once in an entire campaign to still finish second behind them, by one point.

Overall this made for an tight run-in, but then City went unbeaten for 14 straight matches to claim the title. It was sold as a spectacle, an exciting title “race”. But it turned into a jog to victory as City swatted aside all comers.

City will spend big again this summer, as Pep tweaks and refines and adds gloss to his gleaming winning machine. Sure, there are a couple of transfer headaches; Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho need repacing. But how Liverpool repeat their own heroic campaign and keep pace with City is anyone’s guess. You simply can’t see City getting weaker.

They’re one of the finest teams to ever grace the English game. But the City “project” and the speed of its success will always have a slightly hollow feeling. There is something fundamentally uncomfortable about a sovereign state bankrolling a football club. Sadly, Guardiola’s pioneering City team’s achievements will never feel as praiseworthy as they should.

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3 Comments

    • Hi Matt, thanks for swinging by!
      It’s City’s squad depth that really kills the competition dead, that’s when having such lavish funds really has an unfair advantage. Against Watford they brought on De Bruyne and Sané FROM THE BENCH. It’s just not fair! They couldn’t ever really have an injury crisis there, because there are so many good squad players in reserve.
      We can only hope that 2-3 other Premier League teams can invest equally wisely and try to catch up a bit. Spurs look capable, Liverpool of course, maybe United if they can scout the right players.

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© Mike Barclay at The Football Diary 2020