Sport Soccer

Monday 5 December 2016

'Comedy club' can have last laugh

Published 16/05/2011 | 05:00

Just how much do a set of supporters have to endure before they aren't begrudged winning something? How about the embarrassment of keeping the ball in the corner in the dying minutes of the final game of the season because you think a draw is enough to stay up when, in reality, it turns out it sends you down.

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Or maybe dominating one of the lesser lights of the Premier League at home to the extent that they don't manage one shot on goal and still contriving to draw 1-1 because Richard Dunne has scored yet another own goal.

Or maybe you could follow the team into the final game of the season at the Riverside expecting another boring end-of-season match only to find the team scoring a consolation with three minutes to go that means they only lose 8-1, the sort of number that had to be spelt out on the vidiprinter on 'Grandstand' in case people thought there was some mistake.

While all this is going on, the other club in the city have won two Champions Leagues and 12 Premier Leagues although, for all that, they will never know how much joy a last-minute equaliser in a play-off final against Gillingham can bring.

And yet on Saturday, when Manchester City won the FA Cup, there was resentment among neutral supporters, as though this was a club adding to the monotony of monopoly on the game's trophies rather than winning its first piece of silverware in 35 years.

Even the City supporters were getting in on the act, with reports from London tube stations that the die-hards were chanting "where were you when we were s***" to those whose replica kits were still shiny.

Like a rock band that suddenly becomes popular and loses its appeal with those who have been there from the start, there's always annoyance against such blow-ins, but when City were enduring the embarrassment of having their local league derbies against Macclesfield in the 1998/'99 season, there were still thousands in Maine Road for what was a masochistic experience.

For most seasons in the Premier League, there have been complaints about its predictability, yet once a new face appears, the challengers have to cope with a bizarre begrudgery.

Chelsea went through it when Roman Abramovich took over and, for a while, it was nice to have new voices on the scene with a club that nobody had any real animosity towards because, as regards winning trophies, they were largely irrelevant. But once they started to make themselves noisy neighbours, the backlash was severe.

The most pious arguments came from those who reckoned that their money was skewing the playing field, but while Manchester United's domination of the Premier League has been backboned by players who grew up around the club, the ability of Alex Ferguson to be able to break the British transfer record several times has been a huge factor in their longevity.

Then there's the notion of City's negativity which, apparently, is another reason why they shouldn't be liked. Being Italian and working alongside a media that likes nothing better than a good stereotype, Roberto Mancini will probably never shake off the catenaccio tag that has been attached to his style of play.

Yet the same people who were labelling Jose Mourinho as a genius for his ability to shut down the fluent Barcelona machine in his time at Inter were lining up to castigate Mancini for adopting a similar approach earlier this season when his team went to the Emirates.

Admittedly -- much as they'd like to believe otherwise -- Arsenal aren't a patch on Barca, but with two wins from their final two games, Mancini's approach is likely to be vindicated by this time next week with an automatic Champions League place to add to the FA Cup.

They'd have to give up watching the free-flowing football, but there's no doubt Arsenal supporters would swap for such a bounty.

Until now, City haven't been able to offer Champions League football and have had to be content with pilfering the best players from teams around them. It's easy to be critical of paying £70-odd million for the combined talents of Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and James Milner but, if they are such mediocre players, Mancini deserves praise moulding them into a team capable of success rather than specialising in shooting themselves in the foot.

To non-City supporters the entertainment value of the Premier League has certainly been reduced now that they are moving away from the comedy club of the past few decades to one that might realistically challenge the old order. For supporters who have, through necessity, developed their talent for black humour, they might have the last laugh.

Irish Independent

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