Are Manchester City’s titles tainted by Abu Dhabi ownership?

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 4.12.42 PMI was having a spirited debate with a friend about our respective football clubs and he said City’s titles are “tainted by middle eastern oil.” I immediately knew this was an extremely loaded statement given what is going on in the world. It is extremely inappropriate to dismiss the Arab/Muslim City ownership as being dodgy foreigners who follow a religion we don’t understand, a culture we object to and a band of people hell bent on destroying western civilization while promoting their own way of life.

Of course none of this is true and only a small percentage of Islamo-fascists believe this. I don’t know why people have a problem with middle eastern oil when all of us fly on airplanes as often as possible and drive the latest cars. They have a commodity that everyone wants and they are rightfully supplying it. Also, this suspicion of what Arabs are doing with their money is uncalled for, when European, American and Asian Billionaires are busy parking their money in distant tax havens away from the prying eyes of their home governments. It seems like Arabs are taking their Billions and investing it in their own countries – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar but also abroad buying soft power like football teams.

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Abu Dhabi has social problems – it has a ruling family like all Arab countries, it has draconian laws when compared to western countries: very little freedom of speech, no political opposition, human rights abuses of activists, exploitation of migrant workers, but the question is to what degree is Sheikh Mansour responsible for this? He is a member of the ruling elite and he runs the Abu Dhabi United Group – a holding company – which is partly owned by the Chinese – who own City Football Group. He is a deputy prime minister but does not have a direct line to the throne. No one is sure other than the ruling elite how much power the Sheikh wields in making social policy in Abu Dhabi or he could be insulated and only directed to manage the investment arm of the UAE, we don’t know.

But can we discount the fact all major football clubs are owned by Billionaires? And even if the said Billionaire should invest a paltry sum in some questionable investment in Africa or another corrupt developing part of the world where people are being exploited should that Club’s fans also feel guilty? Should what the team is doing on the field be tainted? I don’t think so – I don’t think Chelsea fans should feel guilty about Roman’s money, or Liverpool fans of John Henry’s funds or Arsenal of Kroenke’s many holdings worldwide.

I can understand the frustration of rival fans when one team starts to dominate all competitions – we’ve all been there before, football is ultimately cyclical – no one team dominates forever, especially not in England. With money being spent freely any big club can hire a great manager and buy young promising players like City have done.

And for you rival fans tired of City sweeping trophies for the last 2 seasons – every time you put gallon of gas in your car think – I’m helping Manchester City buy a new striker!

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Pep Guardiola: Is he the very best?

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After City won the domestic treble, captured the Premier League back to back, racked up 198 points in 2 seasons and thrashed Watford 6-0 in the FA Cup there has been a lot of grousing and accusations in the British press of how City are dominant because they have access to unlimited funds and have purchased talent at every position. No one seems to appreciate or acknowledge that Guardiola’s well-honed football philosophy and intense practice sessions of possession, quick passing and pressing improves his players radically. Pep takes young, talented, promising players and transforms them into great players. Rival fans and ‘objective’ journalists seem hard to admit Guardiola has been one of the very best football managers since he took over at Barca, the best manager of his generation and one of the greatest, innovative footballing minds of the sport as I will argue below.

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Pep was appointed coach of Barcelona in May 2008. The previous 2 seasons under Frank Rijkaard Barcelona had won exactly ONE trophy – the equivalent of the Charity Shield in England: The Spanish Super Cup an exhibition game to start the season. This was a team loaded with talent: Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Puyol, Yaya Toure, Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal, Xavi, Iniesta and a certain player named Lionel Messi, and yet in the previous 2 seasons they had won effectively nothing.

The moment Pep took over – and this was Pep’s first major managerial job – he announced that Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o would not be part of his plans going forward – these were among the 3 biggest, most popular stars on the Barca team. Ronaldinho was only 28, Deco was 30.

In Pep’s first season at Barcelona, Barca won the the Treble: The League, The Cup and The Champion’s League – this was the first time in the history of Spain that it had ever been done. Even the great Real Madrid sides of the 1950’s who won the first 5 European Cups in a row had not achieved this feat. Lionel Messi who had scored a total of 16 goals the previous season under Rijkaard, scored 38 goals in Pep’s first season. He went on to score 47, 53 and 73 goals in the remaining 3 seasons he played under Pep. And if you do not remember or did not witness the brilliant, dazzling football Barcelona played for the next 4 seasons where they won 14 trophies then you seriously missed out on watching the greatest team of all time play the most beautiful football in the history of this game. The 2010-2011 Barca team under Pep was considered to be the best team of all time by Sir Alex Ferguson whose team lost 3-1 to Pep’s in the Champions League final.

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Messi was a raw talent under Rijkaard – under Guardiola the player we now know as the greatest of all time came to life. Allowed to play as a free man starting on the right, Messi had the freedom to go anywhere on the pitch. And that he did: Forming dynamic triangles and zipping short passes with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta, La Pulga – the flea – terrorized defenses in Spain and abroad and won the Balon d’or every season he played under Pep.

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Sergio Busquets was a 20 year old Barca B team player Pep promoted to the first team to replace the indomitable Yaya Toure, Gerard Pique was only 21. Busquets went on to become the best Defensive Midfielder in the world and 11 years later he still is the first name in the midfield for Barca and Spain – he also won 1 World Cup and 2 Euros basically playing the Pep method of possession, short passing and pressing for Spain. The World Cup winning squad for Spain had 7 Barcelona players in the starting lineup and it is no coincidence La Roja’s international dominance coincides with Barca’s dominance between 2008 and 2012 when Pep was at the helm.  And lest we forget how brilliant Xavi, Iniesta and Dani Alves amongst others were under Pep – easily in the top 5 of the very best in their positions and they were not at that level before Pep arrived at Barca.

After 4 seasons of the most intense pressure at one of the biggest clubs in the world Pep was burned out and needed to take a break. After one year off, he signed for Bayern. His first year, Bayern won 4 trophies, he won the league every season he was in Munich. But he did not win the Champions League, and critics always seem to bring this up but Bayern reached the semi finals all 3 seasons. Playing consistently winning football for 9 months and winning the league is harder to do than win a knockout tournament where a red card, a penalty, a bad call by the referee, a freak goal can knock a team out. And to prove that you do not have to win the Champions League to be acknowledged as a great manager – Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest of all time won only 2 Champions League titles while winning the league 13 times, and Zinedine Zidane has won 3 Champions League trophies but is hardly considered a great manager.

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Manchester City were lying in wait for Guardiola, even hiring 2 of Barcelona’s Spanish executives and Pep’s close friends to run the front office before Pep arrived. The ambitious City project with a new stadium, a new training facility was tailor made for Guardiola’s brand of football, if only Pep had the right players.

When Pep arrived in 2016 City had an ageing team: Zabaleta, Fernando, Yaya, Demichelis, Sagna, Kolarov, Clichy were not up to par to play the Pep way and in the first season the flaws in the team were exposed. City finished 3rd in the league and were knocked out early in the Champions League. Reinforcements were badly needed and Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano and Pep slowly started buying young talented players who were not finished products yet: Leroy Sane for 37MM, Gundogan for 20MM, Gabriel Jesus 27MM, John Stones 47.5MM, Zinchenko 1.5MM, Bernardo Silva 43MM, Ederson 35MM, Benjamin Mendy 49MM, Laporte 57MM, Kyle Walker 45MM and Mahrez for 60MM. You notice a pattern here? There are no superstar purchases like Ibra or Pogba or Coutinho or Alexis or Cristiano. Most of the players the casual football fan had never heard of before they came to City and turned into a promising player. Bernardo was a young player from the Ligue 1 who has turned into one of the world’s very best and is a future Balon d’or winner in this writer’s opinion. Aymeric Laporte is the second best central defender in the league. Leroy Sane is probably the best left-winger in the world. Ederson is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. Zinchenko a solid left back who could walk into any team. Raheem Sterling has turned into a world class player under Pep and should I say anything about Kevin DeBruyne the Chelsea washout, the one year Wolfsburg player who is a top 5 player in the world now. These players did not magically become great players on a great team – they are developing daily under an innovative football obsessive who sleeps and breathes football: the brilliant Pep Guardiola who learned under Johan Cruyff who learned under Rinus Michels – the architect of Total Football.

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So a criticism of Pep Guardiola that he buys great players and had Messi to win him all the trophies is not only false but very lazy analysis. Guardiola has proved over and over he transforms good players into great players, creates awesome teams, wins stacks of trophies and with time will go on to become the greatest, most decorated football manager of all time.

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a quick observation after City win 2018/2019 Premier League title over Liverpool:

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Liverpool were such a great team in 2018/19 that it’s a pity that there is only one other team in the world playing better football than them and they happen to play in the same league. Without a doubt LFC are the best attacking team in the world, they also arguably have 3 of the best defenders in their position. But the difference between LFC & City this season: when City needed a result especially after Liverpool dropped 8 points in 2019 – City reached deep and got the wins needed, whereas LFC dropping points after losing to City was fatal to their campaign. Luck & randomness are a huge factor in football, and both teams benefited amply from it all season – although I could argue one team benefited more than the other – but for the team that is really prepared, the team that have group discipline, the team that know how to beat less skillful teams, the team that have players who have been in this situation before, more than likely that is the team to take care of business and close it out at the end. Experience is a huge factor when nerves are rattled and City’s experience in the last 2 months of the season was a major factor to retain the Premier League again.

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Marcelo ‘El Loco’ Bielsa is a genius!

If you follow English football closely, by now, you surely know about the spy-gate scandal involving Leeds and Derby County where a member of Leeds FC staff was stopped by police outside the Derby training ground with a pair of binoculars. On this incident being published in the papers, the Leeds manager – the 63 year old Argentinian Marcelo Bielsa took full responsibility for his actions saying “I’m the only one responsible for it…I’ve been using this kind of practice since the World Cup qualifiers with Argentina. This is not unlawful, we’ve done it publicly…” One can imagine the outrage as the British sporting press ran with the story and turned it into a major controversy regarding sportsmanship, ethics and legality issues especially as Leeds comfortably beat Derby 2-0 the next day. The Football Association opened an investigation and talking heads in the press are calling for Leeds to be docked points.

With this controversy swirling in the background – Bielsa called an unscheduled press conference yesterday at the Leeds training ground. There were whispers Bielsa had decided to call it quits after only 4 months in English football – that his position was untenable given he confessed to sending a spy to watch his opponents train before a match. But what happens as the press conference starts? Bielsa speaking exclusively in Spanish for over an hour using his translator gives a powerpoint presentation of his preparation for the Derby match. It is nothing short of a coaching masterclass. It was well known before the press conference that Bielsa was scrupulous in his preparation, but for him to display the amount of work he and his staff do to study every opponent before a match was still amazing: Bielsa and his staff had watched EVERY Derby County match this season and last – a staggering 51 matches, it took them 4 hours to watch and analyze ONE match, he had statistics and data of every Derby County player and what positions they had played in every game, he knew every formation Derby County had ever used in all of their 51 matches and the exact percentage of the times they played in their favorite formation. He further states he has observed all 23 teams in the league practice and he has compiled similar data on all of them. Bielsa further goes on to say, for their next match they face Stoke but since Stoke have a new manager and has only coached them for 3 matches, Bielsa and his staff watched 26 matches of the team the new manager was in charge of before Stoke. Holy mother of god, can you say indefatigable?!?

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I have known about Marcelo Bielsa since 2011 when he coached the fantastic Athletic Bilbao team that beat Manchester United twice in the Europa League. I had read sparingly that he was a football obsessive, a student of the game and a master tactician. It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola called him the “best coach in the world” in 2017, I really got interested in the man they call El Loco (Madman) Bielsa. Jorge Sampoli, Diego Simeone, Pocchetino and Guardiola have been heavily influenced by him, he favors a revolutionary attacking 3-3-1-3 formation where he uses only 2 midfielders: one to hold and the other to attack. His wingbacks tuck in, coming into the middle of the pitch – a tactic Guardiola ‘borrows.’ After a match in la liga where Pep’s Barcelona beat Bielsa’s Bilbao 3-0, Bielsa gave Guardiola all the data he had collected on Barcelona, Pep was amazed by the sheer volume of it saying, “you know Barcelona better than me.”

Bielsa did not need to spy on Derby County to beat them, he and his staff had done over 300 hours of total analysis for the match, but yet he felt that he needed that slight edge to make sure nothing was left out. This short of preparation is something most people know nothing about, but as one reads more and more about the greats in every field one realizes, this the level of practice, studying and preparation that is needed to be at an elite level to rise above the good and the ordinary. Bielsa should not get into trouble for this episode, instead he should be celebrated for his dedication and marveled for his industriousness.

 

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4 points! Where will it be dropped?

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4 points separate Liverpool and City at the top of the premier league table. 4 points! with 17 matches and 51 points to play for. The title is still Liverpool’s to lose: 2 drawn matches by the Reds would tie City and Liverpool on equal points, and a draw and a loss would put Liverpool in second place, 1 point behind City…, granted the Skyblues do not drop another point until the end of the season – meaning winning 18 straight in the premier league – which would tie the premier league record – a tall order – which also is not going to happen.

So what lies in store for both teams going forward? Where are the pitfalls, the traps? What matches are the fans of both teams looking ahead in the schedule and getting anxious about?

Liverpool still have to visit Old Trafford in late February, and have the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in March, and they entertain Spurs and Chelsea at Anfield respectively. City host Arsenal and Chelsea back to back in early February, and visit Manchester United in mid-March while hosting Spurs in late April.

The trip to Old Trafford for both teams poses the most problems in this writer’s opinion – a tricky fixture for both teams facing a rejuvenated United squad fighting for a Champion’s League place playing for pride against their two bitterest rivals. Manchester United would like nothing more than to either spoil Liverpool or City’s season with a convincing victory at Old Trafford while moving up the table. I see either one or both teams losing at Old Trafford and leaving with serious damage done to their season.

And lest we forget about Spurs who are only 2 points behind City in third place and Chelsea in fourth, 4 points off Tottenham. Spurs and Chelsea have everything to play for  and even a daunting task of visiting Anfield and the Etihad in the spring should have both the teams motivated to make a mark in their season. If Liverpool and City drop points as both teams are likely to do – then Spurs and Chelsea could easily move to the top – crazier things have happened, like Newcastle United blowing a 12 point lead with 13 matches remaining in 1996.

With 17 matches remaining and only 6 points separating the top three teams in the league – this season is more than likely going down to the wire, which means heartburn, ruined weekends and marital problems for all of us.

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Liverpool are going to win the League – Jan 1st, 2019.

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It is close to impossible for Manchester City to win the league now owing to the fact City cannot drop another point going forward. The Sky Blues literally have to win their next 18 Premier League matches in a row and then hope Liverpool who have been in scintillating form drop points.

The best-case scenario for City to rein in Liverpool is to beat them on Thursday, cut the deficit to 4 points and hope going forward Liverpool either:

  • Lose 2 (drop 6 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 1 (drop 5 points).
  • Tie 2 (drop 4 points).***
  • Tie 3 (drop 6 points).

If City and Liverpool tie on Thursday then it remains at 7 points, this deficit becomes super hard to make up, again City cannot drop even 1 point in the remaining 17 matches and Liverpool would have to:

  • Lose 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 1 (drop 8 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 2 (drop 7 points).***
  • Lose 1 & Tie 3 (drop 9 points).
  • Tie 4 (drop 8 points).

If Liverpool beat City on Thursday and open up a 10 point lead then you can crown Liverpool champions immediately, because the only way they don’t win the league is if Liverpool FC:

  • Lose 4 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 3 & Tie 1 (drop 11 points).
  • Lose 2 & Tie 2 (drop 10 points).***
  • Lose 2 & Tie 3 (drop 12 points).
  • Lose 1 & Tie 4 (drop 11 points)
  • Tie 6 (drop 12 points).

You get my drift. City are not going to win 18 straight matches, and Liverpool are not going to tie or lose many games.

*** If Liverpool & City should finish with equal number of points, I gave the advantage to Liverpool on goal differential. 

 

 

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Liverpool Blitz Arsenal; City are Back; United are Free.

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Blitzkrieg – German word for ‘Lightning-War’ is a form of warfare where an attacking force breaks the opponent’s line of defense using speed and surprise to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for them to respond to continuous waves of attack pummeling the opposition by overwhelming it in numbers. This past Saturday we witnessed Juergen Klopp’s Red Army Blitzkrieging through another hapless opponent who had no answer to the speed and strength of the marauding Liverpool army.

Arsenal are not a bad team, at one point going 22 straight matches without defeat. Unai Emery their new Basque coach has them organized, and Aubameyang their fleet footed striker is co-leading the league in goals scored. But this past matchday at Liverpool Arsenal were no match for the juggernaut that is Liverpool Football Club playing football at different speed than their opponents. Salah, Mane, Firmino, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold attack the opposition in waves, never relenting until the opposition are bloody and battered and eventually vanquished. Arsenal got the treatment the rest of the league have been getting lately from Liverpool who more than likely are headed to Premier League glory after 28 long years and breaking records set by Manchester City one season ago.

Manchester City got their act together and finally won a football match against mid table opposition for only the first time in 3 tries and second time in 5 matches. This drop in form, precipitated by injuries to key players came at a very unfortunate time for Pep’s boys who were on course to repeating as champions, toying with their opponents with their short passing game. But injuries happen and often times to key players and the cohesive unit that is a team becomes unbalanced having to fit new players into a system who are not accustomed to playing with one another – this ultimately leads to a lack of rhythm in the team which leads to bad results. Fingers crossed, MY City players stay healthy and get back to playing Pep’s football.

Manchester United have their swagger back winning 3 in a row after firing their ego-maniacal ultra defensive coach Jose Mourinho. Football is known as the beautiful game – attack, create chances, score goals, win games but no, Mourinho will do none of that – his only purpose is not to give up goals and then to score on a break if possible, this is the worst kind of football, it is ugly to watch and antithetical to everything what football should be. Win ugly…, no screw that! Win playing beautiful football like Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Juergen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Solskjaer has unshackled the United players and it genuinely seems like they are enjoying playing football again. Pogba one of the best in the world was often benched and asked to play as a holding midfielder under Mourinho – now he is getting forward playing in his natural position and creating chances, scoring goals and more importantly United are winning and the Old Trafford faithful are totally behind the team. United have won 3 in a row scoring 12 goals since the new manager’s appointment and confidence should be high in the Red Devil’s camp that they can sustain this winning streak and brand of football.

With 20 matchdays in the books Liverpool are the team to catch with a clear 7 point lead over second place City – a massive Battle of the Titans match looms this Thursday when Liverpool visit City at the Etihad, if Liverpool beat City and open up a 10 point lead, Liverpool should be 1-100 odds to win the league, but if City win and cut the lead down to 4 points, then its anyone’s to win. Bon Chance!

 

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