FINALLY, Pep Guardiola has offered clarity on the Champions League collapse. Heaven knows, everyone else has tried. The Manchester City manager has either overthought or underthought or bought too many artists or not enough strikers.
In the end, the Spaniard’s explanation proved far simpler.
Manchester City are Millwall. And no one likes them …
No one likes them, no one likes them,
No one likes them, they don’t care!
They are City, super City
They are City from the Emirates!
Yes, those lyrics are paraphrased from the self-pitying classic heard at The Den of Millwall and, yes, those melodramatic exclamation marks are earned.
It turns out, we were wrong. We regularly acknowledged City's lofty achievements and assumed we were witnessing greatness.
But, no, we were actually watching an exercise in self-loathing, a gathering of plaintive violins to rival a symphony orchestra. Manchester City are all alone with their principles as we, the people, crave their comeuppance.
According to Guardiola, the people want the Red roundheads to topple the foppish cavaliers of the Emirates and bring an imagined, righteous justice back to the English Premier League. Or maybe we all have a soft spot for The Beatles and Scouse accents.
Either way, the manager’s fascinating outburst, coming shortly after the 5-0 victory over Newcastle United, was a monologue so tone-deaf and daft, it belonged on a pantomime stage. (And what a theatrical performance that would be. Picture a choir of angelic kids in City jerseys, standing between gushing oil wells and singing, “No One Likes Us” as plastic Champions League trophies slowly sink beneath the gloopy, black gold.)
Guardiola had barely turned up the Stradivarius before continuing his concerto about his unloved club. To summarise, neutrals want Liverpool to win the English Premier League more than City. (Possibly. We’ll come back to this.) Guardiola suggested the unrequited love affair between City and the universe may be due to the Reds’ superior fanbase (yes), their storied past (yes again) and Liverpool’s success in Europe (correct again.)
So far, so obvious, if a little whiny, sounding rather like the BTS boys wondering why they do not yet share the generation-spanning, worldwide adulation of Paul McCartney. These things take time, lads. Such reverence is passed from parent to child, through the decades, in acknowledgement of a sustained period of excellence.
Ah, but is it? In the era of instant gratification, where histories are literally deleted on a daily basis to reboot, reset and start afresh, who’s got time for musty legacies? Not Guardiola. Liverpool had a history in Europe, he pointed out, but not in the English Premier League, not with only one title in 30 years.
And there it was, the ultimate teenage putdown. It’s a wonder Guardiola didn’t flick his fingers and seek high fives from his hoodie-wearing posse whilst giggling over the soothing balm that Jurgen Klopp would require after such a sick burn.
The Manchester City manager really had slipped into prepubescent mode at that point, getting his teenage kicks from dismissing doe-eyed sentimentalists who cling to a past before the EPL’s existence. There was no life before the EPL, nothing but microscopic organisms in moustaches and tight shorts.
Time began in 1992, ground zero for football. The Beautiful Game exists in the present, an impatient reality where the Reds have a single league title.
Well, where to even begin with this?
First, this post-EPL, short-termism is the shared groupthink of club owners who thought the European Super League was a terrific, financial proposition and were genuinely aghast by the vitriolic backlash from “legacy fans”.
Second, such fanbase loyalty to any club is an emotional and literal barrier to anyone seeking to destroy the game from within for entirely selfish purposes (see above.)
Third, Guardiola’s observation comes across as remarkably crass and petty. He knows that Liverpool’s global popularity was built on 19 league titles, across more than a century, sustaining the kind of domestic success seen at clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, success that attracted Guardiola to both clubs.
And fourth, it’s a pertinent reminder to anyone with a few billion burning a hole in their back pocket and eager to lift one’s reputation that instant adulation is no easier to achieve than sudden character rehabilitation, particularly in this fragile geopolitical climate.
Some things, thankfully, still need to be earned.
And Guardiola’s City still haven’t earned the right to win the Champions League, a deeply wounding realisation that perhaps stirred the unprovoked dig at Liverpool.
City were winning domestic competitions on a semi-regular basis before Guardiola’s arrival. The Champions League was – and remains – the elusive Holy Grail.
Guardiola might be keen to shift this narrative, to underline his Premier League success and compare it favourably to Liverpool’s solitary title, anything to avoid the European elephant in the room (and the six in the Reds’ trophy cabinet.)
The finger-wagging at rivals to perhaps divert attention has the whiff of a guilty party in a classroom. “Yeah, teacher, I didn’t buy a striker to put away one of the nine shots on target in the first 90 minutes in Madrid and my rigid philosophy seems to collapse in the frenetic, final moments of key games, but that Klopp has only got one league title!”
And yet, strangely, Guardiola’s doleful speech was reassuring.
Manchester City should win the league and will be praised accordingly. But greater numbers are more likely to want to witness a Liverpool quadruple because it's historic and history still matters. Legacy counts.
Manchester City should win the league and will be praised accordingly. But greater numbers are more likely to want to witness a Liverpool quadruple because it's historic and history still matters.
Even though elite football tries to prove otherwise, it’s comforting to note that not everything can be bought.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
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