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A wretched week shows why Manchester City will never be as loved as Guardiola and the club want

The club’s reputation has been hugely damaged following an extraordinary seven days.

Pep Guardiola, reacting during the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester United.
Pep Guardiola, reacting during the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester United.
Image: Martin Rickett

WE’VE ALL ROMANTICISED the story of the genius artist who is under-appreciated in their own age, but it’s a lot more unseemly watching it unfold in real time. 

Raheem Sterling is the latest to complain about the lack of widespread love for Manchester City. “Especially in the last year where we have won the domestic quadruple including the league, to not have a player winning PFA Player of the Year kind of speaks for itself really”, Sterling said during an interview with Spanish newspaper AS. 

“So, this year Liverpool win the league and a Liverpool player will win the Player of the Year for sure. We win the league for five times and we were not treated with the same respect.”

Pep Guardiola has been tormented for years at the world’s failure to swoon at his work in England. Take for example last year’s FA Cup final, after which journalist Rob Harris asked Guardiola whether he had ever received off-books payment from City, in the context of rules surrounding Financial Fair Play (FFP.) 

“Honestly, do you think I deserve to have this type of question happen, on the day we won the treble?” replied a slack-jawed Pep, in true Don-Corleone-on-the-day-of-his-daughter’s-wedding style. 

Pep elaborated on this further last season, moaning that, “if Liverpool had won the Premier League it would have been an ‘incredible’ achievement. When City win it is, ‘oh, it’s OK. It’s an achievement’”.

A Man City fan broke into the press box during that FA Cup final  to echo that sentiment in earthier tones: “We’ve done the domestic fucking treble, nobody’s ever done that before, but you’ll all have Mo Salah on the back of the fucking papers tomorrow.”

Last season, it seems that City collected as many grievances as points.

It’s fair to say, then, that this has been a bad week for the club’s ambition to capture hearts and minds. City have been barred from Europe for breaching FFP rules, and their response has been belligerent, moaning that the rules aren’t fair and that the process was prejudicial.

“This is a case initiated by Uefa, prosecuted by Uefa and judged by Uefa” kvetched a club statement, to which the world met with an ‘urm, well yeah, of course it is.’ 

It’s Uefa’s competition and City signed up to their rules. For City to complain of Uefa enforcing the rules of their own competition is like a Love Island contestant saying their elimination from the island isn’t fair as Dancing With The Stars viewers haven’t yet been given their say. 

City’s militant, abrasive response has merely reinforced the wider image of the club as belonging to a spoiled, wealthy elite entirely divorced from the notion that they might not get their own way. 

manchester-city-v-west-ham-united-premier-league-etihad-stadium Man City CEO Ferran Soriano. Source: PA

Perhaps City will have their ban overturned at the Court of Arbitration for Sport – they might even win the European Cup this year – but this week went to show that the club won’t get the recognition they desire. 

It’s not just Pep, Sterling and the angry fan that want City to be loved: capturing the world’s affections is the point of City’s Abu Dhabi ‘project’, and their motivation for importing the Barcelona model. 

But for all the beauty of City’s football, football fans don’t just swoon for the aesthetic quality of play. Spain’s 2010 World Cup journey, for example, was scored to a thousand anguished debates as to whether their football was actually pretty dull. 

When it comes to snaffling affections, storyline is as important as the art. And in the case of the storyline, context is king. 

Sure, Guardiola’s Barcelona were loved for the quality of their play, but they were also loved for the fact the squad was packed with locally-produced players, whose diminutive stature was a fabulous rebuke to the muscular dogma of the game.

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And any good character needs a counterpart: the decadent, capital wealth of Real Madrid made for a useful loser in comparison to Guardiola’s Barcelona. 

This becomes a less lovable narrative when it is consciously photocopied elsewhere with hundreds of millions of euro that a medieval, repressive regime found down the back of their couch. 

They are also not helped that Liverpool have been their counterparts, given they have been striving to end a 30-year league famine beneath the remarkable figure of Jurgen Klopp. (That said, expect the good vibes toward Anfield to disperse pretty sharpish if they make a habit of winning trophies.) 

City may keep on winning trophies and serving up beautiful football, and they may win their appeal at the Court of Arbitration of Sport, but their use of wealth and brash, entitled attitude means they will never earn the affections they yearn for. In years to come, Guardiola may reflect that he joined the wrong club in Manchester. 

For now, Manchester City are facing another classic story that, most galling of all, was first sung on Merseyside: money can’t buy you love. 

Premier League fixtures (kick-off 3pm unless stated) 

Saturday 

Chelsea v Spurs (12.30pm) 

Crystal Palace v Newcastle 

Burnley v Bournemouth 

Sheffield United v Brighton 

Southampton v Aston Villa 

Leicester v Man City (5.30pm) 

Sunday 

Wolves v Norwich (2pm) 

Man United v Watford (2pm) 

Arsenal v Everton (4.30pm) 

Monday 

Liverpool v West Ham (8pm)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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