Thursday 22 February 2018

COMMENT: Man City's identity crisis is a product of Manuel Pellegrini doing the bare minimum

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

Mark Ogden

It did not take long for the jokes to start on social media as Manuel Pellegrini delivered his farewell speech as Manchester City manager to a virtually empty Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

There were the usual gags about there being nothing unusual about the unoccupied blue seats, prompting The Sun to label it the ‘Emptyhad’ on Monday’s back page, but perhaps the most succinct, and appropriate, description of Pellegrini’s post-match ordeal was the tweet which read, simply, ‘Lapathy.’

Pellegrini’s address to the crowd, which preceded one of the most half-hearted ‘laps of appreciation’ you are ever likely to witness, was the definition of apathy.

The City supporters, nine-tenths of whom scarpered as the boos rang out at the final whistle of the 2-2 draw with Arsenal, could not be bothered, the players seemingly could not be bothered and Pellegrini, who had been given the opportunity to forego the chance to say goodbye, appeared to regard the whole episode as akin to thanking his colleagues for a £50 voucher for the garden centre handed over to mark his departure.

For some supporters, the regular sight of just a small handful of players acknowledging the City contingent at the end of away games was reason enough for them to head to the pub rather than applaud those who had repeatedly snubbed them.

It was a joyless quarter of an hour, not helped by the absence of the Capital One Cup on the squad’s end of season lap of honour, but perhaps that was another example of the identity crisis which City are now suffering and which could yet prove an unexpected issue for Pep Guardiola to address when he arrives from Bayern Munich in July.

Having waited 35 years to win a trophy until the drought broke with the 2011 FA Cup, is the Capital One Cup now no longer important enough for City to show off to their supporters?

Whatever the explanation – City fans can view the trophy in the club shop should they wish to do so – it does not reflect well on a club, which even those who work for it now believe has lost its heart and soul.

One long-serving employee remarked, following the Champions League semi-final defeat against Real Madrid, that City has now become a ‘club full of twats’ – a reference to those slick and trendy bright young things who now walk through the reception area of the City Football Academy as though extras on The West Wing, dashing from one meeting to another, regarding the Manchester City brand as nothing more than an impressive addition to their CV.

Ask them their views on Pablo Zabaleta, and you would hope they would speak glowingly of the Argentine defender’s qualities on and off the pitch, rather than confuse him for a celebrity chef.

Those with City at their core regard many of the new faces as simply passing through.

There is little warmth for chief executive Ferran Soriano, the former Barcelona director, who lacks the personal touch of his predecessor Garry Cook and there is a sense that, from Soriano, through to Pellegrini and a good number of his players, City is just a stopping off point en route to something else.

Several of the star players require regular persuasion to attend off-field events, be they media or community commitments, with the view that too much is asked of the likes of Joe Hart, Kevin De Bruyne and Zabaleta, who will say ‘yes’ when some of their team-mates have remembered a last minute appointment or apparent airport dash to collect a family member.

They say attitude reflects leadership, so Pellegrini’s approach of doing the bare minimum of what is required contractually appears to have seeped into the dressing-room and, judging by recent performances and results, it has gone beyond merely saying ‘no’ to a request for thirty minutes of the players’ time.

Pellegrini’s prickly demeanour, combined with Soriano’s cold approach, has also done little to generate a sense of the collective at City and, again, Guardiola has a job on his hands to rebuild morale on and off the pitch when he arrives.

City possess none of the ‘band of brothers’ mentality that has driven Leicester City to the title and it is difficult to envisage the players standing among the club’s supporters at a game, as the likes of Phil Jones, Michael Carrick and Marcos Rojo have done this season across town when not available to play for United.

The fans have noticed, and felt, the disconnect, which explains the mass walk-out at the end of the Arsenal game.

Ian Cheeseman, BBC Radio Manchester’s long-standing City reporter, asked Pellegrini directly at his pre-match press conference last week whether he and his players actually cared whether the club could finish the job of securing a top four finish and Champions League qualification over the final two games of the season.

Pellegrini’s response was typically diplomatic, while not really answering the question, insisting only that it was ‘very important to finish in the best way.’

It was a response which lacked any kind of emotion or conviction, just another example of saying or doing the bare minimum.

There has been too much of that at City and not enough heart.

Guardiola needs to find a way to make everybody care again at the Etihad if he really is the man to take City the highest level.

Independent News Service

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