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TalkingTikiTaka talks to… @City_Watch

After many years of hearing or seeing very little of the blue side of Manchester, it seems there’s not a day that goes by where Manchester City don’t feature in the daily news. And at the top of the pile to thankfully to keep fans of the noisy neighbours up to speed with the latest ongoings at the club is @City_Watch and we were delighted to catch up with them in order to talk about all things Manchester as well reminisce about the 2014/15 season and what the future holds for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

TalkingTikiTaka talks… Manchester City

1) As cliché as it may seem with fans of opposing sides suggesting City fans should think solely on the present and look to the future rather than dwell on the past, but it really wasn’t long ago since the likes of Rolando Bianchi & Bernardo Corradi were frightening the opposition’s defence. Has falling within a group elite sides become normality for you now or do you sometimes have to pinch yourself and ask are you really here?

I think most of us pinch ourselves! Having gone through what we did made the recent success even more rewarding. If you’re born into success, can you ever truly appreciate it compared to seeing years of mediocrity and frequent heartbreak then winning trophies? You could see the outpouring of emotion and passion with the huge pitch invasions after both title wins. Our fan base has been labelled with many stereotypes since the investment arrived, most of which are completely false, but those of us who have done the journey appreciate every good moment.

2) In what has been a whirlwind past decade for the club with expectations notching up a level year by year, clearly there have been some instrumental figures away at the club away from the investors that have had a big part to play with regards to where the club are at today. If you had to choose three people (anybody) who have shaped the modern-day Manchester City, who would you pay tribute to and why?

John Wardle
Our former chairman who saved us twice by paying staff and player wages when we were in financial trouble. A City fan through and through, we might not be where we were without him. He was also part of the move to the City of Manchester Stadium, which allowed us to increase ticket revenue.

Paul Dickov
City were in serious danger had he not scored the famous injury time goal against Gillingham in the Second Division play-off final. He wouldn’t even be considered as a potential signing for the club today, but if not for that goal we may have sunk into oblivion. No matter how much we win or how many superstars we buy, Dickov will always be remembered as a legend.

Sheikh Mansour
The most obvious one is our current owner who has poured investment into the club and so far, asked for very little in return. He and his appointed men tore out a dated infrastructure and rebuilt City into a modern juggernaut. His ownership has been the victim of slanderous, often racist criticism from many, but for us City fans and for the community it has been great. We have a vibrant football club with a brilliant future, a state-of-the-art academy has just opened with our youth teams starting to mop up trophies, and many jobs have been created in the community.

3) Inevitably the Premier League success of May 2012 will live long in the memory of fans not just in the blue half of Manchester but wider fans of the top tier in English football, but in hindsight how did Manuel Pellegrini’s title win differ to that of Roberto Mancini’s for you as a fan, not solely due to the manner in which the title was won but also the difference between winning the league for the first time and then building on that success two seasons later?

The first was far more special and even our FA Cup win in 2011 was more special than the second league title, because both victories were momentous. The FA Cup win ended a 35 year trophy drought and winning our first league title in 44 years, especially in the manner it was done, was truly epic. Our second title win was still amazing and saw another pitch invasion, but it wasn’t quite as momentous as the first. The second was done with more breathing space despite being another final day job, so was never going to top the Aguero moment that will still be shown 100 years from now.

4) Obviously it was Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea who ran out, arguably, worthy winners of the Premier League this time round with Manchester City just about making it over the finish line as runners up in second place. If you had to pinpoint one area, moment or aspect which separated the men from the boys and prevented City from emulating the success of the previous campaign, what would it be and do you think Manchester City could have won the league without its impact?

Our problem, just like our previous failure to defend the title, started before the season even kicked off. The transfer window. Unlike in the summer of 2012, when we had a disastrous window, we were hamstrung by FFP last summer so there were some excuses. But with £50m net spend allowed, I still feel we could have invested better than we did. Time and time again standing still after a title win has proven to be fatal. Even the giants of European football like Bayern and Barcelona tend to bring in a big name or two after mopping up trophies to reinvigorate the squad and keep it fresh. I think our transfer strategy has let us down badly or we could have possibly won four titles on the bounce.

5) Whether it be the future of Yaya Toure, a ‘heartbroken’ and unsettled Stevan Jovetic or just simply the lack of homegrown players given the departure of several players this Summer; articles regarding Manchester City largely centre around transfer talk and rumours. Therefore rather than base our questions on a number individual players and a barrage of possible incomings and outgoins we’d like to address three major talking points which often feature in the press:

Yaya Toure: Does he have a future at the club and simply will he stay or will he go? Should he leave, where is his likely destination and who would you like to replace the Ivorian?

Yaya will stay. Inter made a serious push to sign him and were so confident they expected him to hand in a transfer request. For some reason, allegedly a plea from Sheikh Mansour or Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Yaya has decided to stay. Yaya obviously has a limited shelf life and many see Pogba as his ideal replacement. City are trying hard to sign Pogba and he has many similar characteristics to Yaya, but at this point he lacks the ability to run a game with his passing and that may need to be addressed with another signing in future even if the club does land Pogba.

Homegrown players: Will the departure of James Milner and Frank Lampard prove to difficult to recover from next season and is there a crisis with regards to homegrown talent coming through the club? Also looking further afield, if you had to choose two/three homegrown talents recruited that you’d like to see donning the Sky Blue jersey next season, who would it be and why?

This ‘crisis’ is being exaggerated by the press. Let’s not forget there is no rule stating you have to name any homegrown players. You could name 0 in the Premier League but be restricted to 17 non-homegrown and unlimited U21s. Given Pellegrini’s fondness of a 21-man squad, City could manage with as few as 4 homegrown players in the Premier League if necessary, but we will probably have more than that. City want to sign Sterling, that much is known, but have also made it clear they will not be held to ransom by clubs. For example, Everton have repeatedly asked £50m for Ross Barkley and no one can convince me he is worth anything near that amount.

If I was to choose a few homegrown players for City, I’d go with Sterling, Wilshere and Ramsey. Obviously the two from Arsenal are difficult, probably impossible, but City should not sacrifice quality to pad a squad with homegrown names. We made that mistake with players like Sinclair, who simply weren’t good enough. City’s hard work at youth level in upgrading it from a set-up built for a mid-table team to one suitable for an elite team, is also about to bear fruit. Players like Jason Denayer and Marcos Lopes already look like they could contribute something, despite being teenagers. This would reduce the need to overspend on players from other clubs and Denayer, especially after his performance for Belgium against France, genuinely looks like he could be ready to step up.

The age of the squad: A criticism often banded about regarding Manchester City is the average age of the squad as a whole and in particular, the number of individuals who have continued to feature week in, week out for Manchester City since the FA Cup victory in 2011. Does there need to be a squad overhaul need to be undertook in order to decrease the average age of the squad and which of the old guard as it seems would you keep & similarly, part with?

The age of the squad isn’t as important as made out and you only need to go back a few days for proof. Juventus’ average squad age is very old and they reached the Champions League final. A few years ago Mourinho’s ageing Inter team won the competition! The problem has been related more to motivation and complacency than age. What City does need, regardless of the average age, is regeneration. The main group of players have been together a long time and it has all grown a little stale. This goes back to the failure to sign big names after winning the league. The signings we have made have not all been bad, Fernandinho for example has been excellent. But it’s the marquee signings that seem to lift the club as a whole and help keep the hunger levels high.

David Silva, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta are the veterans most important to the club and others are more expendable. There is a strong argument that City should have let Yaya go, with his best years behind him, but that isn’t going to happen now and he can still offer a lot if his weaknesses are protected (something Pellegrini has not done very well). Kompany was poor last season but he has done so much for the club that he deserves the chance to regain his best form.

6) Whilst the age of the squad has often come under great scrutiny, so has manager Manuel Pellegrini. The never say die attitude of the previous campaign seemed to slump midway through the previous campaign with many suggesting not just his management style but also his style of play and tactics were less than charming and somewhat outdated. Firstly do you think he is the right man for the job leading Manchester City into another season and who really is good enough to replace the Chilean at the helm of the club?

You’ll have a hard time finding a classier and more dignified coach in the Premier League than Pellegrini. And he’s not just a nice guy, but also a very good coach and proved that when he won a double in his first year in English football. I don’t believe he is the man to see us to our full potential as a club though, and City chiefs probably agree considering their dogged pursuit of Pep Guardiola.

There are better managers out there than Pellegrini but looking at the big picture, I have no problem with him staying another year if the club really has an agreement from Guardiola to take over next summer. If that is actually happening, it would be pointless to risk stability with a one-year interim boss than letting Pellegrini see out his 3-year deal.

7) With the Premier League, FA Cup & League Cup all achieved by Manchester City in the past five years, the one trophy which continues to evade the club is the Champions League with Pellegrini’s side falling short yet again this time to the eventual winners of the competition, FC Barcelona. As a fan who has witnessed City both in and out of the Champions League, what is your honest view of the clubs participation in the tournament? Is there an over-priority to do well in it or does the club need to do more to cut it with the best in Europe?

My honest view is that our approach to the Champions League has been appalling both on and off the pitch. I know the tough draws haven’t helped us, but City chiefs have failed to build a team well suited for the Champions League. Our team has worked well domestically, the trophies are proof of that, but in Europe we come across as slow, predictable and naive. The addition of energetic and hard pressing midfielders, for example, would have done wonders for us in Europe. Instead, our transfer policy has focused too much on limited workhorses like Javi Garcia and Fernando Reges.

Just look at Yaya Toure. He is a club legend, who has dominated the Premier League and scored some of our most important goals ever. In Europe? Underwhelming, regularly overrun by the hard working and high quality midfielders. This isn’t all Yaya’s fault, though. Tactically we have often been embarrassing in Europe and a player like Yaya, rather than being a frequent disappointment, may have been made a strength if playing in a system like Juventus’ where Pirlo is so well protected.

8) Financial Fair Play and it’s constraints struck down on the club last season with restrictions on spending and a reduction to the Champions League squad. Given the context and the impact it had on the club, what is your view on FFP and do you think it is good for the game? Should its measures be softened as recent calls have suggested or is it even enough to deter clubs from spending money they don’t have or earn back?

FFP is a protection racket engineered by the elite clubs of Europe to preserve their standing in the game and try to eliminate new threats. Investment is good and was no issue for decades then all of a sudden a few nouveau riche teams appear, and it becomes a problem. I fully understand the wish to protect clubs from owners bailing out and leaving them in trouble. There are ways of doing this using common sense and not restricting clubs from ascending up the ladder. Separate the wheat from the chaff by legally forcing new owners to agree to pay off all debts if they ever walk out on a club.

There are 15+ active lawsuits against Financial Fair Play at the moment, including one from the famous Bosman lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont. UEFA are starting to back down, knowing these rules are not legally watertight, by proposing a more relaxed version of FFP. I can only see one long-term outcome and that is the complete abolishment of FFP.

Let’s just look at City. It’s more than clear by now that Sheikh Mansour isn’t going to walk away and leave us in a mess. There is a long-term business plan and the club is now virtually self-sustainable, and yet we’re told that FFP protects us? What does it protect us from? It doesn’t protect us, it hinders us, and that is exactly what Gill, Rummenigge and others with their own selfish interests had in mind when they pressured UEFA into introducing FFP.

9) Many fans not just of Manchester City but also away from the blue side of Manchester questioned the decision to sanction the club given the off-the-field progression and regeneration of both the local area, the facilities both in the stadium and its surroundings, as well as its efforts to promote women’s football and boasting the brand new CFA Academy. Did you think FFP was a little unfair and with regards to the money spent externally, to those who maybe aren’t aware of the changes made what has been done to improve the club away from the action on the pitch and what impact has it really had?

Manchester City did nothing at all wrong and should never have been sanctioned. In fact, City worked hard to comply and were convinced they were until UEFA revised some rules, essentially moving the goal posts, causing City to fail and be hit with a ludicrous fine. That is another thing about FFP – if it is trying to protect clubs from financial ruin, why is it fining them millions? Is this logical?

No other Premier League club has recently done for the local community what City have. The work in what was a rundown part of Manchester has been incredible and still more is to come with City’s owners funding 6,000 new homes in east Manchester. City should be applauded, not persecuted, for the investment from the owners. There are examples of investment gone wrong in football clubs, but this is the very oppposite, a model of how to successfully invest in a club.

10) Without paying too much attention to individuals, two players of contrasting fortunes are Sergio Aguero and Eliaquim Mangala. Whilst the latter has been criticised for not matching up to his £32M price-tag, Sergio Aguero came out as the league’s top goalscorer yet still missed out on a place in the team of the season? What do you have to say about the two individuals? Has Mangala been scapegoated and do you fear a Sergio Aguero departure should the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or Bayern Munich show an interest in acquiring his services?

Sergio Aguero: Aguero is incredible and now one of the world’s best footballers. The only thing that has held back Aguero have been injuries and City finally seem to have sorted the muscle injuries out. I don’t fear an Aguero exit because City are not a selling club and there are virtually no examples of players being sold without the club’s blessing in recent years. Real Madrid have prodded and poked City for him since he joined the club and the outcome has always been the same.

Eliaquim Mangala: Mangala has not been as bad as made out by the press. He has had some absolute shockers, that is for sure, but every time he has a decent to good game the media have been strangely quiet unlike after one of his bad games. This has created a one-sided view of his season which wasn’t all that bad. The price tag, which he has not yet lived up to, works against him but that isn’t his fault and he has the tools to be a top defender. Mangala and Demichelis was City’s most stable and successful partnership of the 2014/15 season.

11) And as Frank Lampard marks the end of a Premier League era by finally completing his long-awaited move to Major League Soccer in the United States, it brings our attention to New York City FC as well as Melbourne City and the number of other clubs throughout the world that Manchester City work closely with. What is your view on such agreements and would you like to see the exchange of players both ways such as Lampard joining Manchester City or youngsters loaned to the MLS for example, in the future?

I think it is a great idea to send youngsters around the world for experience. City have already sent Shay Facey, an England U20 international defender, to play for NYCFC where he gets regular games. I don’t expect the Lampard scenario to repeat itself in future. City had an opportunity, with FFP sanctions limiting them in the market, to bring in a Premier League (and homegrown eligible) legend with something still to offer. Talk of David Villa joining City on loan has been dismissed so I doubt this sort of thing will happen regularly.

12) As we near towards the end, given the nature and impact of finances in football, Manchester City’s trip to Hamburg and their arrival back in Manchester a day before their FA Cup third round tie vs Middlesbrough proved controversial given their failure to progress against a side that on paper, they are more than capable of beating. Do you fear for the future of the game given the influence of money talking and the impact of off-the-field matters flooding onto the field of play or do you hope Manchester City, as well as other clubs, will learn from such a mistake?

The mid-season trip to Hamburg annoyed many City fans and it really was demonstrative of the way football has gone. Teams are now doing post-season tours too, such as City’s brief visit to North America days after the season ended. I have mixed feelings about it, because in the era of FFP you have to maximise your revenues as much as possible. This is another side effect of FFP along with clubs fleecing fans and having a ready-made excuse (FFP) to justify it.

With all that said, I’m not sure it was the sole reason for the defeat to Middlesbrough. We were very wasteful that day and had our chances, but perhaps had we prepared more specifically for that game instead of heading to the UAE, the result might have been different. I’d rather these mid-season friendlies didn’t happen but can understand it from an economic point of view.

13) Finally if you had to gaze into a crystal ball and predict what the future holds for Manchester City, what would constitute a successful season for Manuel Pellegrini’s side? Will he still be in the job this time next year and what are your hopes for both the Summer transfer window and the 2015/16 season?

Winning the title isn’t easy with so many teams spending, so a good title challenge, any domestic trophy, and some progress in Europe would make for a good season. What is important is that if we don’t win the league, we go down fighting, not meekly fall away like we have in our two title defences. My hopes for the summer transfer window are one or two big names and other signings of genuine quality to improve the team, not make up numbers. We’ve signed too many squad players in recent years and must focus on quality now. The main targets appear to be Pogba, De Bruyne and Sterling, but all are difficult deals to close so any alternatives to them must also be top players.

Pellegrini will almost definitely not be City coach in a year’s time when his 3-year deal expires. Even were he to win a double, if Pep Guardiola wants the job next summer it will be his. If he turns City down, the next candidate on the list will probably take the reigns.

The TalkingTikiTaka Quickfire Round (Manchester City):

One player from rivals Manchester United you would want to play for Manchester City: Angel Di Maria

One player you would WANT Manchester City to sign this Summer: Kevin De Bruyne

One player you think Manchester City WILL sign this Summer: Raheem Sterling

One Manchester City player you would happily drive to another club: Fernando

One Manchester City hot prospect to look out for next season: Jason Denayer

One Manchester City based Twitter account you would recommenced to follow & why: Other than my own @City_Watch? Try @ManCityPhotos.

The one game which summarised Manchester City’s 2014/15 season: Manchester City 2-2 Burnley

My three Manchester City wishes for next season:

1. A team free of complacency that gives 100% every week.
2. A team that finally sheds its Champions League tactical naivity and inferiority complex.
3. At least one product of the youth system to step up and get more than a handful of appearances.

The TalkingTikiTaka Quickfire Round (General):

My Premier League player and young player of the season were: Edin Hazard and Harry Kane

My Premier League manager of the season: Jose Mourinho

The best piece of transfer business during 2014/15 was: Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal

My match of the 2014/15 season has to be: Leicester City 5-3 Manchester United

My goal of the season was: Charlie Adam for Stoke against Chelsea.

Out of the three promoted sides, ______ will finish the highest: Bournemouth

The three teams relegated next season will be: Norwich, Watford and Leicester City

The best player and manager in the world right now are: Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola

Premier League, FA Cup & Champions League winners will be: Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid


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