Opinion: 5 things Manchester City need to change if they are to win the Champions League

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 10.36.33

Humans are habitual, they get a sense of pride and fulfilment by collecting things. Often, they are tangible items, things of little monetary value, yet of huge sentimental value. For most people, their hobby could be collecting antiques or empty bottles. I am not one of those people, as my biggest passion is in sport. Every gig or football match I attend, I keep the ticket stub safe and attach sentimental value to them, knowing that one day a decade or two down the line I will look back and remember everything about that night, with tickets from big City games or concerts of my favourite artists springing to mind.

Some collections are finite, many are not. A sticker book for example, you get a feeling of fulfilment once you have got every sticker – as a kid, you would spend your break at school trading sticker books and be in a never-ending search for the all allusive shiny sticker to complete your sticker book (usually some forgotten iconic player such as Ivan Campo, but that’s just my experience).

Yet, often, collections aren’t tangible. For me, I have a collection of Manchester City memories, but this collection is metaphorically similar to the sticker books of primary school days. It is missing one sticker.

I am only 21, I can’t brag that I was with City for three decades through the poor times. I wasn’t at York away and I was only two years old when Paul Dickov scored that goal in ’99. I have been lucky to see majorly good things at my club City and have mainly happy memories watching them win trophies at the Etihad, or on a sunny day at Wembley.

But yet, something is missing. One piece of my collection is missing: the Champions League.

I have been treated to watching some of the greats of the Premier League era strut their stuff at the Etihad, under the tutelages of the iconic Roberto Mancini and then Manuel ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ Pellegrini, through to the best manager in world football, Josep Guardiola.

The FA Cup and the League Cup have been ticked off my list, too. One thing is left to conquer: the Champions League. Then I could say with pride: “I have seen City win everything there is to win in England” (N.B. the Europa League/UEFA Cup of old and Community Shield are rendered somewhat irrelevant in my mind, although I have ‘ticked off’ the latter twice).

Evidently, City winning the Champions League would bring a sense of fulfilment to me. If I could get a ticket to the final, I am sure it would be remembered in the best days of my life. I am also certain that if City were to do it, it would be in peak ‘typical City’ fashion, probably scoring a last minute winner via a goal scored by the most unlikely source: let’s say for arguments sake it would be Kyle Walker who accidentally got in the way of Aguero’s shot and deflected it in off his backside.

If City are to do it and win the jugular, so to speak, Pep Guardiola seems the man to do it. Yet, in his first two seasons in Manchester, it hasn’t gone too well. In 2017, it was the free-flowing Monaco who played City off the park in the principality, whereas in 2018 it was Klopp’s Liverpool who got one over on City yet again.

The ghosts of Anfield and the Stade Louis II may haunt Pep Guardiola and although he puts on a brave face and adopts the attitude that the Premier League is much more important, the Catalan coach will hurt inside and have nightmares about his Champions League shortfalls in Manchester.

So, enough of the boring personal analogies and more of the football, what do Manchester City have to do to win the Champions League? Here, I have listed five things that Guardiola’s men must do (or change) to win Europe’s elite competition:

1. Believe

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 11.20.57.png

“The only difference guys, between Real Madrid, Barcelona and us is that they are f*cking believers.”

“To climb the highest mountain guys is not about this, it’s about this”, Guardiola said as he pointed to his footballing brain.

These words from Guardiola stuck with me. They were said prior to the Liverpool defeat over two legs in the Champions League last season. City’s coach lauded over his team, saying on the field they were the best in the world, but one thing is holding them back: belief.

It is the singular word that I cited when previewing City’s European season for Breaking the Linesand is also the word that I used when describing City’s spineless performances against Liverpool and Manchester United in that catastrophic week that saw them lose the Manchester Derby and then be knocked out of the Champions League.

That day in the loss to United I used the word ‘winners’. It may be slightly different to ‘belief’ but the essence is the same.

When you look at Real Madrid, you see natural born winners: Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Cristiano— not anymore, but at the time, you almost knew they would win the Champions League because of this plethora of leaders who have ‘been there, done that’ and have the experience to conquer Europe again.

It is the sort of player that if a game is not going their way, they can turn it in the favour of their team (more on that in part 4).

On the pitch, I have every belief that City are the best team in the world with the best coach at the helm. But do they have the belief?

Do they believe in themselves to think not just “we can have a chance at the Champions League this season”, but “we will win the Champions League this season”. They have belief in the Premier League, they filmed the infamous Etisalat advert where they are referred to as Champions in February.

I’m not saying they should do a Germany of Russia 2018 and book their hotel for the final in advance, which would be in Madrid for the final at the Wanda Metropolitano, but City players need to believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League.

If City do that, they can win it.

2. Resilience

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 17.26.01

Again, referring to that defeat at Anfield, as well as that demolishing at the Stade Louis II in Monaco, City showed they have little resilience in big games.

“But, City had a great defensive record in the league last season and Otamendi got into the team of the year”, I hear you say.

This is not an assassination of City’s defence. They have a great back four with some of the best talents in the world, including two marauding full backs and a quartet of central defenders who all bring something different to the table.

Resilience in these terms isn’t a question of how many goals a team can prevent, it is how they react to a goal being scored.

When City go one goal behind, you can almost physically see the morale drop – the body language becomes languid, the chins drop, players start pointing the finger about.

At the annual loss at Anfield, City always start well and are usually as good as their opponent, if not the better team, but when Liverpool go one goal up, the heads collectively drop and it is almost that defeat is accepted at that moment.

City have so far lacked the ability to proverbially say: “Right, five minutes, let’s get our heads and compose ourselves, then go from there.”

It was this that cost them in Monaco, Liverpool and multiple league games in Pep’s tenure, especially in the 2016/17 season. It is not a coincidence that often when City go 1-0 down, they go 2-0 down shortly after.

It is a fundamental flaw of the team that needs fixing, one that I am sure Guardiola is working on to put right. Things in football don’t go your way all season, there will be moments when you struggle on the pitch.

City’s resilience in this way has cost them in the past two seasons, and is an issue they must fix.

3. The fans

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 17.39.27.png

14th September, 2011: Manchester City v Napoli. It is Manchester City’s first ever Champions League match. The stadium is packed with fans, with many missing out on tickets for one of the biggest nights in the clubs history. People get to the ground abnormally early, going against their usual match day routine because it’s a huge night and they want to be in to soak up the atmosphere.

Unfortunately for City, they were knocked out at the group stages that season, with Bayern Munich rampant and a Napoli side led by Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik dominant. But, this wasn’t seen as a disaster at the time, after all it was City’s debut season.

A few managers and Premier League titles later, City are one of the best teams in the world. The fans do not match that. Where has the attitude that you should feel honoured to be in the Champions League gone? Where has the anticipation of these cold nights in Manchester where you can see mist descending in the South Stand gone?

Champions League group stage matches are now on the same level as a home cup tie with lower league opposition, with the club’s methods of getting people through the doors failing, evidently.

The attendance at the home fixture to Lyon this week was 41,000 – it’s an issue for another discussion but it highlights the overriding problem: City fans have a disconnection with the Champions League and only turn up when it’s the business end of the competition, or when the big boys such as Barca and Bayern play at the Etihad.

One can’t help but wonder whether the attitude of the fans trickles down on to the pitch, whether the blasé, ‘can’t be bothered with this competition attitude’ affected the players in the Lyon defeat.

Whether it be prices, travel, work commitments, weather or whatever else, many City fans think it is better to stay at home on many European nights.

When thinking about this, I asked the fan base what the best atmosphere they have experienced at the Etihad was. The results were interesting, but one answer came up time and time again.

The Aguero goal? No. The Manchester Derby where City virtually won the league? No.

In fact, it was City’s Europa League quarter-final second-leg tie with German outfit Hamburg. City did not qualify that night, but the atmosphere has stuck with fans for the ten years after.

The whole ground was behind the team and it reflected on the pitch. The great Elano hit the woodwork more than once, and the collective “Ooooh!” from the crowd left ears ringing around the stadium for minutes to follow.

The 1894 Group do a great job of creating an atmosphere in the South Stand, and the flags and banners for some Champions League nights has been admirable in recent years.

However, should City really progress and be serious about the Champions League, the mindset of the fans must change and they must try and will City over the line as they tried to do in the second leg to Liverpool last season, or in the triumph against Paris St-Germain in 2016.

Whether this starts with moving on from booing the Champions League anthem and focusing more on their own team, I am not sure, but with a rocking Etihad Stadium (like we know it can be, but 9 times out of 10 isn’t), City can really go far in this competition.

4. Keep De Bruyne fit

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 18.07.21.png

Now, obviously, this is out of the control of Manchester City FC, but… if City are to win the Champions League, they need their star man fit, just as Real Madrid needed Ronaldo to help them to their record three-on-the-bounce.

Kevin De Bruyne is more than City’s best player, he is a leader. Maybe not in the conventional sense, like a Vincent Kompany or a traditional captain barking orders and encouragement to his players. However, De Bruyne is a leader in the fact he leads by example football wise.

When the rest of the players are having an off day, Kevin De Bruyne is always the one to step it up and up his game to another level, which rubs off on the other players.

He is also often the player to score the goals in the tough games, earning him the ‘big game player’ tag.

Without De Bruyne, especially in the away games and tough home ties, City look void of ideas, lacking a driving force with a brain from midfield.

Should City progress further than ever in this competition, they need this leadership figure on the pitch.

5. Adaptability

Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 19.28.36

“I only believe in Plan A. Plan B is to get Plan A to work” – Marcelo Bielsa.

The Argentinian coach El Loco is one of Guardiola’s inspirations in coaching and the Catalan certainly adopts some of the ideologies of the revolutionary coach who is now at Leeds United. 

It is a view that is admirable. You very rarely see Guardiola sub on a 6 foot 5 target man if chasing a goal (not that he has any to do so, anyway), nor do you see him put on an extra defender in midfield, unless it is to run down the clock in the 93rd minute.

But, is it a view that is flawed?

As a Manchester City supporter, we often purr over the attacking and exciting football we are treated to at the Etihad, whilst criticising the somewhat ‘boring’ defensive performances we see over the city, but sometimes in big away Champions League ties, could Guardiola slightly alter?

It wouldn’t be drastic. It would not be a Mourinho of Chelsea and play David Luiz alongside Nemanja Matic and Ramires in a stubborn midfield. It would be more of a ‘let’s not commit every single man forward when we go forward and be more conservative’.

Guardiola has a plethora of options up his sleeve to adapt his attacking setup to break down stubborn sides such as those who ‘park the bus’ and sit in deep at the Etihad – he can switch formations in game with ease, as we saw in the win over Arsenal at the Emirates earlier this season, but can Guardiola learn to adapt his sides to be more solid at the back?

Pellegrini’s City couldn’t win the Champions League because of Pellegrini’s stubbornness to change from his 4-4-2 (a midfield duo of Toure and Fernandinho at the Bernabeu, nightmares).

Guardiola should learn these lessons and slightly alter his team in big away fixtures in the latter stages of this competition.

Despite the loss to Lyon, Manchester City have a real chance of winning this seasons Champions League, with a number of factors in their favour.

Last season, for one reason or another, City fell short in the Champions League. Despite this, they are ready to win Europe’s elite competition and if they put a few minor faults right, they are worthy favourites.

Also, if you read this you may think it is dramatically overreacting: it is. That’s what Manchester City fans do, they will never change. No matter how good City get, the fan base will always go into games expecting to lose: after all, City are the club who beat Barcelona and drew to Middlesbrough in the same week.

On a personal note, the Champions League is still a distant dream, but when I have my realistic head on, I know that Manchester City are worthy favourites. If they put these few things right, City can (will?) win it. 

Reasons behind Leroy Sané’s omission: interview for Focus Online (translated)

Lewis Steele had a chat with German outlet Focus Online to discuss Leroy Sané and the reasons for his omission from the Manchester City squad. Here is the translated version of the feature that was published on Focus Online

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 17.20.14

Only 30 minutes in four games: That’s the record of Leroy Sané in the new Premier League season. We asked two reporters in Manchester why Sané has such a tough time with coach Pep Guardiola. They accuse the German national player of lacking attitude, weak training achievements and questionable lifestyle.

Last season, Leroy Sané was named best young player in the Premier League. The German national player thrilled at Manchester City with his dribbles, goals and assists – and contributed significantly to the championship title in England.

This year, the 22-year-old winger comes in four games only 30 minutes of play. Last Saturday, the low point: At the home game against Newcastle United Sané sits only in the stands.

“Leroy knew he could have shown more, we trainers are also educators and teachers.” This criticism of Sané comes not from Pep Guardiola, the current coach of Sané in Manchester, but by Norbert Elgert, his youth coach on Schalke.

After Sané had lethargically trotted over the place three years ago in a U-19 game, Elgert took him after 32 minutes from the field. “That was an important experience, and at the time I thought I did not have to do that much because I already made it to the first team,” Sané later said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

In the three years after this memo Sané took a meteoric development. The striker is now one of the dazzling stars of the Premier League. But still whispered behind held hands, the winger has a recruitment and training problem. At the championship Sané was struck by alcohol consumption

Did the 22-year-old’s early success go to hell? Lewis Steele from the Internet portal “City Watch” says: “In the Manchester City area, you hear again and again that Sané is still very childlike.” Steele continues: “After the team became champions, there was a big party with alcohol and some people say that Sané has had too many drinks again and that he still lacks the maturity of a professional.”

Simon Bajkowski is a sports journalist at the “Manchester Evening News”. For the British, it was “no surprise” that Guardiola stroked the Germans at home against Newcastle completely out of the squad.

Bajkowski reports: “We talked to Guardiola during the preparatory trip to the US He said back then that Sané would have to improve his game without a ball, and between the lines you hear again and again: ‘Sané has to work harder’.”

In the Amazon series “All or Nothing”, for which Manchester City was accompanied during the past season, Guardiola assures that he always defends his players in public and supports them privately.

As the English reporters now repeatedly ask for the German after the game against Newcastle, Guardiola is becoming more sensitive. Finally, he answers the question of whether he is satisfied with Sané’s training performance and attitude with a thin-lipped: “Yes”.

“Guardiola punished Sané to send a signal to the team” Manchester City’s state-of-the-art training ground is foreclosed like a high-security complex. There are almost no public training sessions in England.

Nevertheless, Lewis Steele from the club-related portal “City Watch” reported: “Guardiola punished Sané to send the team a signal: Who is lazy, flies out.”

A flaw that may have cost him participation in the World Cup. Sané shines on the court often with his carefreeness and self-confidence, which is called in England only “swagger”. Offside the place he is still accused of arrogance and lack of attitude again and again.

“Manchester Evening News” reporter Bajkowski, who traveled with the club through the US, recalls: “It was sad to hear that Sané got up early every morning to watch the World Cup.” Löw has called Sané despite the form low now in the DFB squad. The ex-Schalke, who made his Germany debut in Paris three years ago against France, will be highly motivated. And that’s a good sign for him.

 

Opinion: Pep Guardiola’s all time XI

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 14.14.02

Pep Guardiola is the man at the forefront of the Manchester City side that is quite literally tearing up the record books and re-writing them.

The Catalan is seen by a large majority of football fans as the best coach in world football, having brought success to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.

You could be the best manager in the world, but you need good players to carry out your ideas on the pitch, like a craftsman needs good tools to succeed in a job.

Guardiola has never been short of that – he has always had the best players in the world to help his successes. But, who are the best?

At Barcelona, Guardiola built a team that is recognized as one of the best club sides of all time, and possibly the greatest of recent history. Building on a rich footballing philosophy passed down from Johan Cruyff and reconstructed by Guardiola and co, Barcelona had some of the best players in the world with a talented pool of homegrown players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Valdes.

Following winning two Champions League titles, Pep decided he had taken Barcelona as far as he could, as well as got bored of the politics of the club, so left. A year later, he joined Bayern Munich, where he monopolized the Bundesliga, winning seven trophies in three years.

In early 2016, Manchester City appointed Guardiola as their boss. Since then, he has won two trophies in two years, including a 100 point haul in the Premier League, breaking all sorts of records in the process.

If there were to be a hypothetical ‘Best XI’ of all the players Guardiola has managed, who would make it? Would any of Guardiola’s current crop at City make it?

Let’s find out…

Pep’s tried and trusted 4-1-4-1 formation is his most used setup, so that is what we have chose for our fantasy XI.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer  

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 14.09.21

This wasn’t the straightforward decision it may seem from the outset – Victor Valdes is very underrated in popular media for one reason or another. However, Neuer would surely get the nod in a Guardiola XI. When the Catalan coach arrived in England in 2016 one of the biggest headlines was that he wanted away with Joe Hart, instead to buy a ‘Guardiola goalkeeper’: a ‘keeper as adequate with his feet as he is with his hands.

The 2014 World Cup winner is just that. Whilst one of the best shot stoppers we have seen this century, arguably the best goalkeeper of the past decade or so, he is perfectly capable with the ball at his feet and has popularized the ‘sweeper keeper’ role that is so prominent on the continent now.

City’s current number one, Ederson, surely looks up to Neuer as an inspirational figure he can learn from.

Manuel Neuer represents a no brainer decision for the goalkeeper spot, being potentially the most complete ‘keeper of the past decade or so.

Right Back – Dani Alves  

Dani Alves, now of PSG, represents potentially the best right back of this generation, embodying all the needed characteristics of the ‘modern full back’.

The money Guardiola spent on full backs in 2017 was no coincidence, as full backs are central to his system. He likes fast, attacking full backs that are comfortable to tuck inside and play as auxiliary midfielders to pack the middle when ordered to do so.

Alves is everything Guardiola wants in a full back. Signed from Sevilla in 2008, the Brazilian revolutionized wing back play at club level in a similar way his Brazilian counterparts Cafu and Roberto Carlos did at international football at the 2002 World Cup.

Just as we see with Walker and Mendy now at City, Alves was given responsibility as a buccaneering right-back in name but a winger in style, often playing higher than the midfielders as he helped to break down stubborn outfits.

Centre Back – Gerard Pique

Oft cited as a teachers pet of Guardiola’s school of thought, Gerard Pique is probably the biggest individual success story for Pep.

Brought back to his boyhood club just as Guardiola took charge, Gerard Pique developed a formidable pairing with Carles Puyol at the heart of the Barcelona defence and blossomed into one of the best defenders in the world.

Leaving Manchester United after making just 12 appearances in four years, Guardiola nurtured Pique from a benchwarmer at Old Trafford to a pivotal part of the team who won the ‘sixtuple’ at Barcelona, as well as international triumphs with Spain.

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 14.11.35

Centre Back – Carles Puyol (C)

 The captain of all of Barcelona’s success is a guaranteed feature in this side. The centre-back, known for his iconic long curls, spent all of his career at Barcelona, after graduating from La Masia.

Puyol gets the nod over Jerome Boateng, who was unlucky to miss out, because he was a mainstay in Pep Guardiola’s side that won everything there was to win at club level, not to mention his triumphs with Spain.

Now retired, Puyol managed nearly 600 appearances for Barcelona and will be remembered for his innate leadership traits, as well as his clever style of defending, which overcome the fact he wasn’t the typical defender in the physical sense. 

Left Back – Philipp Lahm

Mr. Versatility himself was another easy decision in this team. In truth, he could have slotted in at right back, defensive midfield or even centre back, if needed. That’s how he was as a player too, the dream player for all coaches.

Guardiola saw Lahm as his most important player, probably as he does Fernandinho at City. He trained the reliable full back to one of the best defensive midfield players in the world, in the role Guardiola calls ‘El Pivote’.

Pep added a new dimension to the already accomplished game of Lahm, helping him captain his country to World Cup glory in 2014, whilst also leading Bayern to domestic success.

His leadership, versatility and tactical nous will make Lahm go down as one of footballs finest.

Defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets

Dubbed the Octopus of Badia, Sergio Busquets is potentially the most cool defensive midfielder football will ever see. After a year together at Barcelona B, Guardiola promoted Busquets to the first team and no one has questioned that decision since.

For the decade to follow, Busquets has been Barca’s midfield lynch-pin and one of the first names on the team sheet every week.

In a position where the energetic midfield destroyer Fernandinho was a possibility, Busquets gets the nod for the way he manipulates the pitch in a unique manner: he is not quick, but he has one of the best brains in world football, and can pick a pass to the forwards, in an effortless style. His passes are weighted to perfection, almost giving the receiver telepathic instructions of which way to turn with their first touch, due to the crisp nature of the pass from Barca’s brains.

 Central midfielder – Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian midfield maestro has been unplayable since he settled into his deeper lying role under Guardiola and was the star man that drove City to the title, registering man of the match performances against each of the other top six sides.

De Bruyne roams around the pitch picking passes and has the most assists in the league since joining City. His shooting range is phenomenal, as are his venomous crosses, making him City’s most devastating asset.

Central midfielder – Xavi

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 14.13.22 

Potentially the best midfielder of the generation, Xavi Hernandez is Pep-Ball to a T. The reliable and consistent mover of the ball won a staggering 31 trophies in his career, most notably eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, a World Cup and two European Championships.

He was the man that made the greatest club side of the century tick, as well as a mainstay in the great Spain team that won three tournaments on the bounce.

Assisting Messi for a total of 31 goals, Xavi was the heartbeat of Pep’s fast football that caught the hearts of many football purists around the world, making him a no brainer in this fantasy eleven.

Winger – Lionel Messi

If you ever needed an example for a dictionary definition of ‘no brainer’, here we have one. Lionel Messi slotted into this team without so much as a seconds thought.

Guardiola is often cited as the man who developed Messi to what he is today, teaching him new aspects of his game whilst admitting Messi helped him shape his managerial career.

Whether it be as a false nine, or in the case of this team a winger, Messi is the best player in the world and the best player I have ever seen.

Pre-Guardiola, Messi had devastating running traits and the ability to manipulate the ball and the opponent, but Pep added the end product to his game, turning Messi into the most prolific forward of all time, hitting unprecedented heights.

Striker – Sergio Aguero

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 14.12.49

When Guardiola arrived in England, question marks were asked of Sergio Aguero. Can Aguero function in Pep’s system? Will Pep sign a new striker to replace him? Will Jesus keep him out of the team?

Manchester City’s record goal scorer has answered those questions, and then some. The Argentine striker now has a higher strike rate than Robert Lewandowski when Pep was at Bayern, and David Villa at Barca.

Having undergone a knee operation at the tail end of last season, Aguero looks as sharp as ever and will have his sights set on more records as he climbs up the list of Premier League all time top scorers.

Winger – Franck Ribery

Regarded by many as the greatest non-German to represent the red of Bayern Munich, Franck Ribery was unstoppable when fully fit and in form at Bayern.

In 2013, the French star finished third in the Ballon d’or rankings, claiming later that he felt he deserved to win ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. That season, Ribery took all the Bundesliga awards, as a team and individually, with Ribery citing politics as the reason Ronaldo tipped him to the illustrious award despite winning no trophies that season.

Under Pep, Ribery often played the ‘false nine’ role made famous by Lionel Messi. Due to this multifunctional characteristic, Ribery gets the nod over his Bayern teammate Arjen Robben, who also excelled under Pep.

Opinion: Manchester United’s worries lie deeper than what we see on the pitch

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 16.17.08

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were on the receiving end of a damning defeat in their first away trip of the season as Brighton gained a deserved win in front of a joyous crowd at the AMEX Stadium last Sunday.

As could be expected, the inquest into the manner of the defeat started in no time after the final whistle, with a lot of fingers pointed at the players and in particular the manager: Jose Mourinho.

Another man to take the brunt of the blame was executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is the man at the forefront of Manchester United’s transfer exploits. Woodward, who took the role in 2013, has been vastly criticized this summer for failing to sign a central defender, an evident weak link which Brighton exploited brilliantly at the weekend.

However, the worries lie deeper than Woodward not agreeing to put his hand in his pocket and pay over the odds for Toby Alderweireld of Spurs or England and Leicester’s surprise sensation Harry Maguire.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left the helm, £700million has been spent by three managers and United, the team that once was feared by every other, have never realistically looked close to a league title.

In the Moyes and Van Gaal era, excuses were made. When Jose Mourinho put pen to paper on a deal, it was supposed to be different. In January of this year, Mourinho signed a new deal, just days after announcing the signing of Alexis Sanchez.

The timing of that new deal seemed bizarre at the time, but even more so now. Noisy neighbours Manchester City finished a whopping, maybe even embarrassing, nineteen points ahead of the once powerhouse of English football.

Something somewhere had to change. Investments had to be made to close the gap on City, but they just didn’t come. Fred is a wise signing but aside from that, it was a disastrous window for United and Mourinho.

So where does the fault lie? Is it with Mourinho for failing to get his ideas across? Should the players take the blame for not carrying out the managers orders? Is Ed Woodward out of his depth?

One possibility is that the whole model of managerial supremacy is flawed in modern football.

If you are a fan of football in the wider sense, you may have seen the Amazon Prime documentary extraordinaire titled ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’. You don’t have to know much about the game to acknowledge quite quickly that United’s neighbours are a better run club, top to bottom.

In the scenes that showed the transfer of Aymeric Laporte being completed, Pep Guardiola does not feature, apart from to greet the player at his unveiling.

This is one area that the two Manchester clubs differ, or more so how Manchester United differ from many of the European elite clubs. The model of The Red Devilshas been that the manager is the forefront of ins and outs at Old Trafford.

In 1945, Matt Busby was granted complete control over the footballing activities of the club. In the biography of one of United’s most iconic men, the biographer wrote:

Most managers were foreman draughtsmen, seeing their players once or twice a week. Busby was the first to establish indisputably that he and not the directors were in control of all team affairs, at a time when directors were all-powerful and to stand up to them was unprecedented

Sir Matt Busby was the first United manager to assert said dominance and control, but not the last. Sir Alex Ferguson also had the role of bringing the whole thing together, and evidently it worked. Under Ferguson, United broke all sorts of records, winning league after league in the process.

But, since Ferguson, the strategy has been completely wrong. At first the idea was simple: find the next Ferguson. Quite literally, United did their best to imitate Ferguson, by signing up fellow Scotsman David Moyes. He failed, as did Louis Van Gaal, and now Jose Mourinho looks no better.

So, is it time for a re-think? To go back on a strategy or model that has served well for over half a century? Would a director of football like we see with Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City be beneficial?

Jose Mourinho would think so, saying after United’s opening day victory over Leicester: “I think football is changing and managers should be called head coaches”.

Whilst Jose Mourinho, Ed Woodward and the players should rightly shoulder the blame for the embarrassing performance on the south coast last weekend, the questions should be asked of the structure of the football club.

The Brighton defeat brought out and showed the problems to the football world, but in truth the cracks were starting to show all summer off the pitch.

A sporting director would bring stability and off the pitch leadership that United have lacked in abundance in the post-Ferguson era.

The search will be rigorous, but if Woodward gets it right, the burden on himself and Mourinho will be decreased, and the club can start to move in the right direction again.

Roma’s Monchi is a name that has been rumored many times – the gritty negotiator and talent spotter, once of Sevilla, could be exactly what United need to put behind them the players and managers that have flopped since being brought in post-Ferguson.

It is early days in the league and it is far from disastrous from United, but with a sporting director at the helm, things could have been a lot different as Mourinho’s men look to close the gap on their bitter rivals, Manchester City.

The role of the sporting director may involve setting a new identity, a new ‘United way’: the general approach the club will take with signings.

Manchester City’s approach is to sign young talents with the right mindset, often not buying from the ‘top of the market’ as in the best in their position, but younger prospects who they see a plan to make them the best in their position.

The direction of Manchester United as a club has been flawed in the years following Ferguson’s departure. On the pitch it has been drab, boring at times to watch, but the problems lie much deeper than that, with inadequacies off the pitch leading to failures in the transfer market.

Appointing a sporting director will be the first step to putting this right, as United look to close the gap on their rivals and reinstall a ‘United identity’ which will bring them back to the helm of English football.

‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ Premiere Review

IMG_2863

Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ premiered on Wednesday night at the Printworks cinema in Manchester. For those who are unaware, the docuseries is a new fly-on-the-wall eight episode special charting the historic campaign that saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City smash records that have stood for decades.

Gabby Logan welcomed the lucky, excited crowd at the premiere, as she interviewed club captain Vincent Kompany about the new series. Kompany spoke on behalf of the whole team, saying how happy he is that this series will give memories to hold on to and cherish, as well as proof for his children and grandchildren of how special 2017/18 really was.

I was in attendance at the Premiere and after the excitement of watching the opening episode was able to record a few of my thoughts and personal highlights of the show, without giving too much away for those who don’t want their viewing to be ruined.

When rumours started around this time last summer that Amazon were going to be filming for said series, I was a little excited, yet had no massive realistic hopes for it. I’ve seen similar docuseries’ before that give a good insight, but tend to be a bit boring, such as previous attempts at Liverpool and also Manchester City, the year after the takeover.

I was wrong. If the opening episode is anything to go by, it is revolutionary, giving the most in depth look into the behind the scenes day-to-day activities of a Premier League club. In a time where football fans feel as distant as ever from their clubs and players, All or Nothing brings it back to life, making the viewer feel like they know the players and staff personally, and know their way around the whole training facilities.

Vincent Kompany joked that if the production team shot the documentary in the previous season (16/17), there would be ‘less than five’ people in attendance at the Premiere.

Although I’m sure it would have still been a packed auditorium filled with excitement for the unique insight into Manchester City, Vinnie was kind of right. It would’ve been great, but the fact it was last season makes it so much better.

In one of the trailers, Kevin De Bruyne was asked to describe his manager Pep Guardiola. In one word, the Belgian star utterly said: “detail”.

Detail is also the best single word to describe the documentary: it is about the fine details that us as fans don’t get to see – a glance at the inner workings of a super club.

To see first hand into the mind of Guardiola and his coaching team, to witness the unseen reactions to some of the defining moments of last season, to get a look at some of the behind the scenes stuff such as the players bonding on the training campus – the fact it was the record breaking season made it all that bit sweeter.

 IMG_9387

Obviously, playing the lead role was a certain Pep Guardiola. If you have watched the trailers or walked around Manchester and seen the billboards, you will know he is a very animated character, so as long as you know that, there are no spoilers to follow.

“I am going to tell you something that is absolutely true: I don’t have all the answers. Often, when I don’t know something, I act in front of the players as if I do”.

Guardiola hammered home this truth in the first few minutes of the opening episode, which set the scene and tone for the rest of the series to come: he is the father figure of all the players, but also a friend, brother, teacher and sometimes a student, forever adapting and learning.

I’m sure if you are a fan of a football club you will wonder what happens in the hours leading up to and after a big match. Watch this documentary and you will know.

When I said Guardiola adopts the role of teacher, I meant it literally. A couple of days prior to a match, he would sit the players down in a lecture theatre which he stands at the front with a tactics board and some pens.

Kyle Walker would often sit with a cup of coffee watching Pep’s every word leave his mouth like the clever kids on the first day back at school, whilst Sergio Aguero seemed to mentally detach himself from the room as soon as the words “when the opposition attack…” left Pep’s mouth.

Without going into too much detail, the game the squad were preparing for were the home fixture with Liverpool in September.

“Guys, I am going to show how Liverpool will attack, with Salah and Mané”, Pep said.

The master manager laid down his masterplan to stop Salah and Mané, which I won’t spoil. I will spoil the fact that the plan worked. On the day, as we know, City won with flying colours in a result which paved the way for a breathtaking run of wins that virtually won City the title.

Pep also swears… a lot.

IMG_2232

I could ramble on forever about some of Pep’s rants pre and post match but the only observation I will leave you with is: he may be the manager, but in that dressing room he acts like a player. If the squad play well, he will celebrate with them as if he was a young kid, embracing every man in the dressing room from the winning goal scorer to the kit man.

But this documentary is not just highlights of matches from different angles, then a bit of celebrating in the tunnel, it goes far beyond that. It shows the ground staff who open the ground at 7am on match day, the day to day running of the training complex, as well as unique insights into board meetings.

For example, a lot of the first episode shows Benjamin Mendy’s arrival into Manchester and his subsequent ligament injury.

Sir Ben Kingsley, who is the narrator, seemed a big fan of the powerful French left back, as he set the narrative of the disaster that could have been when Mendy suffered the injury.

The players all raved about Mendy’s character, whilst he told the interviewer a story of a conversation he had with Guardiola on just his second day, in which he jokes that City is his squad and he will look after them.

Obviously, after just one month of the season, Mendy suffered a season threatening injury against Crystal Palace. The camera had unique, never seen before footage following Mendy’s journey to the specialist in Barcelona the next day.

The infamous Dr Ramon Cugat met Mendy and discussed his injury, whilst the camera panned in on Mendy’s face, where his expression lay absent.

This set the scene to meet the recovery staff, who will play a pivotal part of the series, as we get to be on the fly of the wall of the recovery rooms, including a ‘freeze chamber’ of -130 degrees, which is designed to help swelling and other impact injuries.

As you can imagine, the production team probably could take a back seat role in filming scenes of Mendy’s recovery, as it became more of a personal vlog of Mendy doing pieces to camera. They had footage of Mendy in his hospital bed as he watched games and had video calls with various City players, which I won’t spoil any further.

We got to see footage in boardroom esque settings, in which Txiki Begiristain, Khaldoon Al Mubarak and CEO Omar Berrada sat around a table identifying transfer targets and how the injury to Mendy impacted the thought processes of the City hierarchy.

Whilst Benjamin Mendy will proclaim himself the charismatic star of the show, the award has to go elsewhere: Brandon Ashton. Who?

Brandon Ashton is the kit man who joined the club at age sixteen, straight out of school, originally as a spare pair of hands for legendary club kit man, Les Chapman, or ‘Chappy’.

Ashton isn’t a qualified coach and probably knew very little about working in a professional club when he took the job in 2009, but now, he is the glue that brings together the players and the outside world.

We all know about some of the dressing room celebrations, so it is no surprise that there is footage of the players singing and dancing after big wins, but the surprising aspect that it is often Brandon Ashton at the centre of these joyous moments, sometimes stood on the medical table leading the chants of various City players, as if he was a fan in the pub after the match.

That last sentence is crucial: Ashton is a fan. He is living his dream working with the players, but he is absolutely vital to the team spirit. He is best mates with some of the players and some admit they often go to him just for a chat about things non football.

These sorts of chats about everything in the world, not just City, are one of my personal favourite things of the documentary: at the end of the day, the players are humans.

From the outside, it is hard to face that fact. We only know the players from what we see on the TV, with their interviews after games the only real chance to hear their thoughts, but even then they are briefed by press officers to say the same old generic stuff such as: “I’m just happy for the team, it’s just another three points but now we focus on next weekend”.

All or Nothing goes much beyond that and we see the raw emotions of the players, getting a first hand look into their every day life and stuff that is not shown on the broadcasts of games.

It gives football fans a unique understanding of the club, but also gives City fans in particular the feeling that they are part of something special.

From just the first episode, I feel like I have learnt a lot about the players and no longer see them as players, but people. The 25-man squad has an inseparable bond, with Guardiola at the helm as the father figure, but also a best mate to the players.

Overall, All or Nothing is a must watch for any fan of football.