It was spring 96′ when the infamous words ‘I would love it if we beat them’ left Kevin Keegan’s determined yet nerve-racked mouth. That year Newcastle had amassed a 12-point lead of Manchester United, with the league championship seemingly headed to St James’ Park. But it didn’t – and it will always remain a mystery how ‘the entertainers’ had fell by the wayside watching a resilient Alex Ferguson squad grind out result after result. It truly was heartbreak in black and white.
Fast forward the best part of 15 years, and the scene is the Etihad Stadium. Swap the black and white stripes with sky blue and the story is almost the same. Manchester City started the season like a house on fire, disposing teams with ultimate ease and a footballing swagger that had led some to say the title race was over in October. A 5-point lead in the early season with City showing no signs of letting up led many to believe this was their season.
But when had a disadvantage ever ruled United out of a title race?
It’s now mid way through April, with City almost imploding – with rumours of dressing room bust-ups, being outplayed by seemingly inferior opposition, and ultimately not getting the results. United by contrast, are doing what they do best. Winning (despite the odd blip). Mr Tevez’s return has somewhat stemmed the impending collapse, but a swallow doesn’t make a summer in that these recent victories shouldn’t cover what has been a dramatic fall from grace.
A lot is similar to the story of 96′. But one similarity is in the personnel at the clubs’ disposal. Back then; Newcastle had a centre forward by the name of Faustino Asprilla. A mercurial Columbian who seemingly had the world at his feet, signed for £7million. But his inclusion disrupted a usual fluency of play, and a side that were previously winning games in comfort, had to now accommodate a player that just didn’t fit. Square pegs round holes.
Asprilla was then sold to Parma and his career diminished into nothingness, being one of those players that ‘could have been’. Since, he has been involved in shootings in his own country, and been affiliated with Columbian pornography. Yes, pornography.
Skip back to the present, and we have another attention-whore, in the shape of Mario Balotelli. Last week, Roberto Mancini was quoted in saying that if Balotelli could curb his behaviour; he could be one of the best players on the globe. ‘If’ – a measly word with two letters withholds so much power in that sentence, and opinion is (and backed by this weekends events), he is a liability to Manchester City’s failings this season. A catalogue of errors (including throwing darts at a youth player, and setting his house on fire via indoor fireworks) have led to Mancini saying he will probably sell him in the summer, this coming after his idiotic actions in the match at Arsenal. Although recent results have slightly altered the final picture, albeit not by much, the underlying issue is still the same. City had it in the bag. And blew it.
The truth is Alex Ferguson would have never taken the risk with him in the first place – the first sign of mis-behaviour he would have been sold. (see Carlos Tevez). That might be why City aren’t going to win the league. They will one day, but the similarities to the class of 96′ are almost seamless. Faltering players, with the success getting to their head in the pressure-cooker scenario that is the Premier League title race. Keegan couldn’t handle it, and Mancini is showing signs of following suit.
So close, yet so far. Déjà vu anyone?
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