We’re a strange, old bunch, us football fans, City fans included. One week, the feeling around the terraces is that of crippling pessimism. Our new £30m striker isn’t firing, our manager is hopeless, our ‘matchday experience’ is made for corporate suits, the price of lager is too much. One week, we are the most hard-done by bunch in the world. The following week, blinding optimism. This striker is a revelation, the manager really ‘gets it’, the club does it all for the fans, get another beer in. I’m not having a go, we’re all the same. Football fans are fickle. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, you feel like chucking your season ticket at the manager’s head (some have actually done it).
So, where do City fans currently rank on the pessimism vs optimism scale? It’s probably fair to say that the feeling around the club right now is that of positivity. We have arguably the best manager in the world at the helm and we are signing young, exciting talents left, right and centre. Things are great, really, they are. I’m not writing this to argue otherwise, but merely to explain why I think that optimism is becoming delusion at City.
I touched on it in a piece following City’s 3-2 defeat to Arsenal, a lot of Blues have unrealistic expectations of this season because they are not weighing up the here and now. I have absolutely no doubt that when Pep Guardiola departs the club, we will be in a far better state than we are now, perhaps even a better state than we’ve ever been in. But, are people appreciating the time it takes to transform a side on the back of two pretty backward years with Manuel Pellegrini? I think so.
This side is ageing, it’s stagnating, corroding, whatever term you want to use to describe what is happening to some of the older players in this squad – it’s all the same. The likes of Yaya Touré, Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta are no longer big hitters, they are reaching the back end of careers that have been extremely fruitful with City, this has been increasingly apparent in the last 12 months. Though many Blues find it very difficult to swallow, Pablo Zabaleta’s time as a starter is either over, or extremely close to being over. His superior at the moment is Bacary Sagna, who is a very capable defender. However, is either man an ideal fit in Pep’s new City? No. On the other side of defence, you have the previously mentioned Kolarov, who I’m fairly certain most Blues lost all faith a while back. His superior? Gaël Clichy. Again, is Gaël the ideal man to start in a Pep side? Probably not.
The club have prioritised other business this summer, and as a result of that, those four full-backs are likely to be our starters for the upcoming season. It takes time to replace near enough an entire team, though some still expect to walk the league whilst Zabaleta hobbles after the newest of pacey left-wingers.
In between the sticks, we have Joe Hart. I love Joe, he’s made a meaningful and genuine connection with the fans during his time here. However, it’s time to start getting used to the idea that Hart’s chances of being Pep’s starting goalkeeper even 12 months from now are slim. Many find the idea of dropping Hart astounding. It shouldn’t astound you, not if you truly want Pep to work the same kind of magic he worked at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Since I can remember, Hart’s distribution has been criticised by a majority of those in Blue seats at the Etihad. Why now, are those same fans demanding he remain in goal when the manager that all of us wanted requires a goalkeeper whose distribution is top notch? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Building a side that is capable of the things that Pep will desire will take more than a summer, the job isn’t even half complete. Unfortunately, one glance on social media and you will see that the majority of City fans believe the hype, long before it is justified by silverware. People are laughing at our neighbours, who have done some excellent business over the summer, suggesting that they have no chance of ousting the mighty Pep. Chelsea are disregarded. Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, all overlooked. There is a very real expectation from many of our own that City will trounce the opposition this year and be parading titles come May, I’m not so sure.
Maybe it’s time to lower expectations of this season slightly and come back to reality. It wouldn’t surprise me in any way if City went without a trophy this year, and I’d be more than pleasantly surprised if we managed more than one. I feel that many will disagree with me, but the holes are there for all to see.
We only have to look at some of the pre-season performances to see that the squad isn’t necessarily ready to play ‘Pep’s way’. That is bound to cost City, because to build a side that plays that kind of football requires trial by fire. It’ll produce calamitous mistakes, it’ll cost us goals, it’ll lose us points. My fear is, with the expectations so high on Pep, will he be afforded the luxury of time to complete his task? Especially with many a Blue presuming that the Premier League trophy will be in our possession in 9 months time. For the first time since his arrival, I actually feel that what many City fans are expecting this season is bordering on the delusional, with no appreciation of the time and toil it takes to form a winning side. It’s time for a reality check.
Pep’s tenure isn’t about this season. It’s about the future. It might not seem ideal to undergo a period of transition, but that’s what is going to happen. Let’s wind in the over-confidence, which is starting to make us sound like our counterparts, and let the process breathe. Because if Pep is given a chance to succeed, it could signal a change in footballing philosophy, that could see City catapulted from being a very capable domestic side to a power house in England and Europe alike.