An American perspective on the Champions League draw
I watched Manchester City for the first time when I was about 14 years old. I played soccer (I know, soccer) here in America, and wanted to watch European games because I had always heard it was better than the joke MLS. Somehow, I came across a montage of the “greatest comebacks in English history” on some crappy VHS and saw the footage of the '99 game against Gillingham (this was a couple years after the game). I remember seeing the fans, the celebrations on the field, and that stuck with me... I wanted to watch this team, which was now in the Premier league. I liked the plucky young team who loved stealing 3 points off their trophy-stacking neighbors. But there seemed a bright future as well. I was excited about the likes of Micah Richards, Daniel Sturridge, Michael Johnson and Superman Stevie Ireland.. the future looked blue. We had Nicolas Anelka, and I thought, how lucky are we to have such a classy, talented striker.
Many of my friends were Barcelona fans, some hunting glory, others just in awe of beautiful soccer. And it was hard not to cast some envious glances, with the likes of Ronaldinho, a young Messi, possibly the best midfielders ever in their prime gracing the field, collecting their pick of trophies. It seemed like watching a different sport. It was another experience altogether from watching my team, these guys were playing a different game. And they did it all from within, they produced their talent.
Fast forward a few years and some billionaire I've never heard of has decided to buy my team. Everything seemed exciting, but it almost felt like going in the deep end for the first time without floaties. Robinho, our superstar, was coming to be our crown jewel, and it all seemed good. But there are so many takeovers that have gone wrong, it felt almost like a dream that could end at any moment. We become public enemy number one, with hyper scrutiny on every one of our club's dollars spent.
The next year, we schedule Barcelona in a summer friendly, and it's the long-forgotten Martin Petrov who scores the winner. It's a good sarcastic joke, “We beat Barcelona!”, but we all know the nature of summer friendlies. And with the likes of Richard Dunne and Tal Ben Haim playing for us, and Messi and Yaya Toure making brief cameos for them, it still appeared we were playing two different games. A controversial manager sacking and another year finishing outside the Champions league and that was proven true.
Since then has been a whirlwind of watching Yaya smash it in to win the FA Cup, losing years later in the finals to Wigan, Aguero clinching it in stoppage time, Tevez playing golf, the 6-1, and an endless loop of nightmare Sunderland away matches. But now it's 2013. We've grown stronger than our neighbors, we play the most beautiful soccer we've ever played, and our attack is now truly something to be feared. As one commentator said, “The Etihad has been more than a fortress, it's been a torture chamber.” But it's more than that. I look around the stadium and see a project set to be one of the best coaching and learning facilities in the world. We can now (hopefully) start creating world-class players from within, just like Barcelona did. Little did I know way back when I was in grade school how blue the future actually was. Forget Nicolas Anelka. Now I look at the field and see #16, a legitimate top 5 players in the world, and I can't believe how lucky we are to have such a classy, talented striker.
Do I think Manchester City should be favored? Maybe not – Barcelona have Messi and Neymar and their midfield is still absolute class. But I don't care about 1 seeds or 2 seeds, I don't want to play Olympiakos or Galatasaray. This is what we wanted all along: to see our club playing the very best. And now it's here, for the first time, the Champions League knockout stages, and Barcelona is bringing their A game to the Etihad. They are superb, but the way our team creates chances, who knows, maybe we can score some goals. Maybe we can win, maybe we will lose. It's exciting, it's scary, just like going into the deep end without floaties. All I ask is they play like they know what this means to me. And I have a feeling, it means a lot to people like Vincent Kompany, Zabaleta, and all you blues who haven't been here before either.
Either way, I'll be the one screaming my head off. Come on you blues.