Manchester City’s real magic ingredient? An absence of stupidity | Manchester City

Swearing tends to strive for perfection: sharper lines, sharper numbers, greater certainties. It’s a process that football, with its profound variables, its notes of chaos and inspiration, has resisted surprisingly well, at least until now.

When the Manchester City and Chelsea players step out at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon, there will be the usual sense of glamor of the event: the stunning TV graphics, the presenter’s urgency, the sense of something of scale planetary in train.

With reason. For the 2021-22 Premier League, this is one of the key points in the series arc. The former plays the latter, the title winners against the European champions, a meeting of two of the three most valuable teams in world football. This is the product here, the sales pitch, the heart of the world’s eyeball supremacy.

Zoom out, however, and one thing is missing: a real sense of sporting danger. No doubt the action itself will be of very high quality. Digital channels will buzz with game-day ephemera. But as Super Saturdays burn, this is pretty cold stuff.

It’s a confusing point to make, in part because of the unprecedented level of talent on display. And also for the fundamental sensory pleasure of watching this champion City team in action, its alluring designs, its architectural beauty, its simple sporting virtues, the collectivism, the selfless energy, the way the players are trained and improved. In September, City went to Stamford Bridge and appeared to be going through a different kind of gravity, a high-end choke reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s Best Barcelona Team of the Century in 2009-11.

Five months on those tender hopes of a real Premier League title race were kicked off by the current run of 11 wins and 33 goals scored from autumn to winter. City were already 10 points clear at the start of January, a season cut and trimmed, heading for a fourth title in five years. And maybe it’s time to say it. We have already seen domination. But this is something new.

It’s not just about numbers. But the numbers are startling. At the moment, City are on course to reach 96 points. In 2017-18, they racked up a century, followed by 98 the following season. Prior to 2018, no other team in the history of top-flight English football, even allowing 42 games a season, had ever matched these totals before. Last season was a Covid-related compromise, but City still finished 12 points clear of second place.

A bit of background: Before the Premier League, anything in the 70s was a potential high. Even during Manchester United’s imperial phase in the 1990s, they were winning the league with, among other things, 82 points, 75 points, 79 points, 84 points, before rising into the 80s during Cristiano Ronaldo’s push years. It took 120 years and mad pre-FFP transfer madness at Chelsea to set a new mark of 95 points in 2004-05. City could now pass this for the third time in five years.

Manchester United celebrate their 1999 title, won with 79 points. Their precedent was achieved with 75. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

No one has ever won like this before in English club football. No English team has come so close to stripping the variables, to reducing the great unsolvable equation, 11 to the power of 11 times 90 minutes, to a sort of inevitability. Not just in terms of purpose and points, but in tone and texture, the sense of something without edges or knots or hints of tension. How did it happen? And are you okay?

It is necessary to talk about money at this point. This financial chasm between the top and the bottom has been widening for a quarter of a century. Scoring record points seems like a logical extension, whoever leads the way.

But there is something else here. It is a champion club belonging to a country. Not by the usual gallery of crooks, egoists, dividend junkies and shameless self-publicists, but by an entity without any of these constraints. And yes, having unlimited financial resources at your disposal is not everything. But that’s a lot of things.

It should be noted that City are still under investigation by the Premier League for alleged breaches of financial rules, which they strongly deny. There are now rules to regulate sponsorship deals between related parties, to try to ensure that they are for value and not just an endless flowing money pipe.

It is certainly a happy coincidence that many independent entities based in the Emirates have been attracted to the City brand. No doubt Etihad Airways, Etisalat telecoms, Expo Dubai, Emirates Palace, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Healthpoint Abu Dhabi, Masdar of Abu Dhabi, Noon of Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Board are all delighted with their investment speculative in this sky blue suitor.

A statue of former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany outside the Etihad Stadium.
A statue of former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany outside the Etihad Stadium. Photography: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images

Some would argue that Financial Fair Play is itself an injustice and a tool to promote the status quo, that it presents a rather odd idea of ​​what is good (the Glazer family vampiric ownership model) and bad (the regeneration in East Manchester). Since this week, City have exceeded Manchester United’s annual trading income in any case, a return on all that seed capital. Isn’t that how businesses are supposed to work?

But really, it’s not about the money. Clubs have always spent large sums. Success does not always follow. United have spent a billion pounds on players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Barcelona exhausted themselves in a glassy, ​​drooling state of amazement. How does it work anyway?

It seems that the real cheat code, the real magic ingredient is something else: an absence of stupidity. It is an industry plagued by incompetence, greed and competing interests. How about removing those clogs in the machine? What are the long-term effects of belonging to another type of entity, without the daily frills, the doomed short-termism of the established model?

It turns out that clarity of purpose, extreme competence, and government-backed stability — plus (oh yeah) endless fund guarantee — is a pretty potent alternative.

United offer the most obvious contrast, a club with the same resources, but a club equally beset by confused desires, torn between siphoning off commercial revenue and maintaining the pretense that their arm on the pitch, their client interface at the trophy hunting, is really the core business. The city has no such internal dance. And of course, the unified and totally focused nation-state avatar wins this game every time.

The same goes for a club like Liverpool, where no matter how good the first XI, the ability to challenge City will be undermined by larger scale interests. The fund must be used, the costs capped. How does a club like Arsenal, hostage to selfishness, nepotism, shareholder needs, manage to put themselves on the same stage?

Jack Grealish, a £100million player Manchester City can afford to buy and then basically lose on the back of the couch.
Jack Grealish, a £100million player Manchester City can afford to buy and then basically lose on the back of the couch. Photography: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

And it’s really the government-backed sense of certainty that trumps the old panicked model. Planning, recruitment, contracts: all of this can be seen with clarity. City can afford to buy and then basically lose a £100m player to the couch, without having to worry about opportunity cost, resale value, marketing optics. Chelsea also exists on this scale. This month alone, Roman Abramovich’s loans to the club topped £1.5billion, loans he will never have to repay (to himself). When you have this unprecedented stability, when losses are always covered, then your planning makes sense, your model works.

Perhaps Paris Saint-Germain offers a counterexample, another state-run club that, for all its pomp, seems riddled with inefficiencies. But what is the real plan at PSG? To generate buzz? To employ Neymar as a public relations spokesperson? Camping in Paris during the World Cup years? Be visible and glamorous? If so, mission accomplished.

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With City, the defining note is extreme, unfettered skill. How sensible to just aim for the Catalan model of how to win. To create a system where the manager is the star, to fill your squad with top quality players in the £40-70m range, to make the system the king of the coaching school.

And while it’s all surprisingly efficient, with something of the winning machine in the way City have reduced the league season to an irresistible formula, perhaps the only tattered note is Guardiola’s own tendency to blink. eyes in the big European matches, the selfishness that hides behind the big tactical blow.

For the neutral, this unchecked box provides a captivating minor chord in this brilliantly crafted and captivating football entity. And right now it looks like the most irresistible club team English football has ever seen, the sport boiled down to a fine point – high-end and cold-eyed – operating in its own patch of clear blue sky.

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