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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019

Man City already one of the best Premier League teams ever, but are their achievements tainted?

Pep Guardiola’s side have been criticised for their ignorance of Financial Fair Play rules.

Man City players celebrate at the Emirates during their win over United.
Man City players celebrate at the Emirates during their win over United.
Image: Nick Potts

MANCHESTER CITY ARE already one of the greatest teams in Premier League history.

A case could be made for that claim on last season alone, as they broke countless records.

Their historic achievements in 2017-18 included most consecutive league wins (18), most Premier League points (100), most goals scored (106), most wins achieved in a single season (32), largest winning margin (19), largest goal difference (+79) and most away games won in a season (16).

They dropped points in just six of their 38 matches and lost only twice in the league over the course of the campaign.

Perhaps more impressive than the effectiveness of the football they play is the aesthetic pleasure it provides die-hard fans and neutrals alike.

There have arguably been better English teams — you could make a case for the United ’99 side, Arsenal’s Invincibles, and Chelsea in Mourinho’s first spell as being superior on the basis of what they achieved.

Yet it is difficult to remember a team who have been both as dominant as City and as beautiful to watch.

On Sunday, they thoroughly outclassed last year’s runners-up, Jose Mourinho’s Man United, while going top of the table as a result. And worryingly for their rivals, they seemingly did not play anywhere near their best over the course of the 90 minutes.

The win was sealed by a glorious goal that involved 44 passes, before being masterfully finished by Germany international Ilkay Gundogan. It is easy to forget that just a few years ago, there was widespread scepticism as to whether the style favoured by Pep Guardiola and others was suited to English football.

The Catalan coach spoke afterwards about a “fear” inhibiting City for part of the game, and there was a palpable nervousness about the side on occasion, but their Etihad triumph was unquestionably deserved. According to the BBC, the hosts had 65% possession and dominated territory for the most part — United, by contrast, scored from their only shot on target.

There are a couple of very strong teams in the Premier League — the fact that a United side who overcame Juventus midweek are eighth suggests as much.

The elite are arguably stronger than ever — it is the first time in English top-flight history that three teams (City, Liverpool and Chelsea) have been unbeaten after 12 games.

And yet despite the significant level of competition, it is not far fetched to imagine City running away with the title ultimately, for the second consecutive season.

What Guardiola and his group of players have achieved is extraordinary, and yet it is hard to fully embrace this team for anyone with knowledge of how they reached this point.

The Der Spiegel allegations during the week are the latest negative publicity that the club have received, and while attacking the media outlet for publishing the leaks, perhaps tellingly, they did not deny any of the explosive claims in the reporting.

Their apparent arrogance in disregarding Financial Fair Play rules is one of the reasons that make it hard for anyone who really cares about the game to love this great footballing side.

The fact that they were barely punished for breaking the rules in the first place — they were fined a meagre £17 million in 2014 — showed how seriously the authorities were taking their bad behaviour.

The latest reports portray an arrogant club who feel as if they are untouchable — and all evidence so far suggests they are correct in this supposed assumption.

And all those criticisms come without delving into the deeper concerns about where City’s money is coming from.

Yet singling out the reigning Premier League champions would be harsh. The dubious manner in which they have acquired such unprecedented success seems to be part of a wider trend in football, in which greed is good and accountability is rare.

The numerous scandals relating to various Fifa officials being found guilty of corruption, among other egregious actions, were the exception rather than the rule, in terms of strict punishments being enforced. There is also Barcelona’s strong links to Qatar — a country with an abysmal human rights record. Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness, a man who admitted defrauding German tax authorities of millions of euros and was jailed in 2014, recently taking the moral high ground against journalists who had the temerity to criticise his team. PSG and their similarly dubious financial practices. The list goes on. 

What exacerbates the problem is that sections of the media are to some degree complicit in these issues.

While libel laws understandably prevent totally frank discussions, the fact that the Der Spiegel reports are scarcely mentioned in the TV coverage suggests the close links between these broadcasters and the clubs may be harming their objectivity.

Fans are right to admire City and others for their incredible skill, but to love them requires blissful ignorance.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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