The truth and football songs have not always shared the same bed. Despite repeated declarations to the contrary, we are really here. The invisible man has no fans as far as I’m aware, although there may be some weird annual convention in the American mid west where the song would be much more apt.
I suspect Mario Balotelli would be comprehensively thrashed at the oche by any competent pub arrowsmith. And, despite the fact that the song has been sung for at least thirty years, City have rarely even been even the best team in Manchester throughout this period, let alone the land. As for the world, they never even knew we existed.
But now, suddenly, at least half of that song has become true and it isn’t inconceivable that the whole song could become a simple statement of fact soon. City are from Manchester, Mancini did come from Italy and City are indeed the best team in the land.
There have been many significant events in our metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
The emergence of young talent like Richards and Barton kept us in the league. Riots in Thailand pushed Thaksin to one side. Hughes’s sacking led to the appointment of Roberto Mancini. Silva’s signing proved a masterstroke.
But the biggest step the club has had to take in recent years is the one being taken now: from top four pretenders to title challengers. As Liverpool, Spurs and even Everton will tell you, that is a huge bridge to cross. Obviously City’s finances have been the key to the door, but as every self-proclaimed football expert from the barstool to the TV studio have been harrumphing for three years, money doesn’t guarantee success.
On United’s “journey” (I never thought I’d use that hackneyed, American cliché, but in their case it somehow seems apt), they had the Mark Robins equaliser at Forest, the European trophy in 1991, the near miss to Leeds in 1992 and the signing of Eric Cantona.
All are now seen as pivotal moments, pieces of the jigsaw falling into place; the moments when good luck held hands with good judgement. I believe the final pieces of City’s own jigsaw fell into place over spring and early summer of this year. These are my milestones, my turning points, which led to City’s current standing as the best team in the land.
Kolo fails a drug test
For the majority of Mancini’s tenure City’s first choice centre half pairing was Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure. Kompany had emerged as a top-drawer centre half but Toure was, whilst at times stylish on the ball, poor in the air and positionally questionable.
For 18 months City had looked weak defending set pieces, and teams took points by bombarding aerial balls into the box. I would say it was this weakness which cost City success the season before, after Spurs won at Eastlands and Stoke knocked City out of the cup, both using this tactic.
By default, after Toure’s shock ban for drug use in March, the pairing of choice became Kompany on the right alongside the left-footed Joleon Lescott. Suddenly the defence looked balanced and strong in the air. Teams stopped out-muscling City and there was a rock to build a team on.
Ya Ya goes forward
Ya Ya Toure is the most contradictory footballer I have ever known. Fast on a run, yet slow in tight spaces. Strong on the ball, yet weak in the tackle. Athletic when moving, exhausted when stopped. And for the first half of his first season at City, he was an absolute conundrum.
Sitting in “the hole”, he provided odd bursts of magic, but in the main he slowed down City’s play by taking time on the ball, knocking it back to the centre halves or fullbacks. This produced painfully slow build-up play, which allowed the opposition to get organised, and plug the gaps which Tevez and Silva needed to play in.
Suddenly in spring Ya Ya decided to start running at people. And he frightened defences to death. It may have been coaching, confidence or both but City’s forward play was transformed.
The enemy put to the sword
Never, ever underestimate how much the FA Cup semi final win against Man United meant to the whole club. Whilst it would seem logical to include the eventual cup win as a huge milestone, this was the true turning point, even more than that glorious May day.
Based on the solidity of the defence, and Yaya’s new-found positivity, United were beaten, and deservedly, by collective will and passion. Lots of ghosts were exorcised that day, after a succession of narrow derby defeats. The momentum from that day still carries the whole club forward.
Carlos gets homesick
As recently as the summer, Manchester City without Carlos Tevez seemed a depressing prospect. He was the club’s talisman, it’s engine, it’s goals and it’s heart. But in retrospect, his brilliance also brought it’s own restrictions.
Put simply, Tevez is a player who plays at his own pace. His game is to receive the ball and look to open a defence through a clever run, usually culminating in a shot. He is not, and never will be, a “one-touch” player or a team player.
Like Robinho before him, he slows the move down and whilst he gets some wonderful solo goals, he quite often loses possession and momentum. If it wasn’t for his determination to leave the club there can be no doubt that City would still be building a team around him.
There would also be no Sergio Aguero. The new City is all about breaking at pace, through one touch football, pass and move. This would not be there with Tevez in the team instead of Aguero. And David Silva would not have blossomed into the best player in the league.
Of course these events did not happen in isolation, and there are many more factors which have come into play, and things which have not yet come to pass. Success in Europe may pivot on that last-minute winner. The league title may pivot on the Demolition Derby.
City’s house may prove to be built of glass, and the ghosts of cock-ups past are always around the corner. But regardless of what happens for the rest of this season, I believe these four events represented small steps for Man, but giant leaps for Man City.