Everyone hates Man City right about now, don’t they? Well, aside from the City fans that is, but deep down, they’re wondering what happened to their club. The club with fight and spirit that went all the way down to Division 2 (in old money) and still attracted a full house to Maine Road, and the club that bounced back again. I wonder what those fans, the fans I saw when I went to watch City against Burnley (don’t ask me why) during those dark days, make of their beloved club now.
Because we, as football fans, have good reason to distrust and dislike Manchester City at the moment. As an Everton fan, I’ve had a front row seat. After having watched Joleon Lescott join us from Wolves, establish himself first as a first team player at Everton, then as one of the League’s most consistent defenders and a great goal threat to boot, then to rise to an England international. Then City came calling with all the class of Pete Docherty, and I watched Lescott sink into mediocrity, and Lescott watched the World Cup from home, before being told he could leave Eastlands.
You see, it’s not just the transfer market that City are currently in the progress of wrecking. Nor is it just the idea of player loyalty, the way that they’re perpetuating the already inherent problem of greed in the modern footballer. Or the fact that a club is doing its utmost to buy their way to success and thereby relegating the quality of football and of spirit to a secondary importance, though they are doing all of these things.
What City are also doing is ruining the careers of players. Lescott has taken giant strides backwards since he left for supposedly greener pastures. The same could be said of players like Adebayor and Santa Cruz. These big name players joined the Man City revolution and yet they’ve fallen by the wayside because in football there is always a bigger name, and City’s owners are never satisfied. The only thing greener at City than at Everton, Arsenal or Blackburn, is the currency.
Then you consider players like Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha and Michael Johnson. These are young players who were earning rave reviews a few seasons ago playing for City. We were marvelling at the talent that was emerging from City’s youth system and looking forward to a generation of young English players who could make the step up over the next few years, to breathe some much-needed fresh impetus into the national team. South Africa proved that such impetus is still required, but City’s youngsters are no nearer to providing it.
Joe Hart is the latest example. After a phenomenal season on loan at Birmingham City last season Hart was England’s number one in the eyes of the entire country except the one man that mattered. However, despite being a top class ‘keeper in his own right, Hart looks like he may well end up sitting on City’s bench and watching Shay Given keep goal for the Eastlands outfit this season, because why should Mancini suddenly change his mind about Given whom he preferred last season?
Which means that if he isn’t prepared to sanction another loan move for Joe Hart, England’s brightest goalkeeping prospect may find his progress stunted – just like his replacement at Birmingham, Ben Foster, found at City’s Manchester rivals. Of course, this problem is in no way exclusive to Man City, young talent the country-wide is being cast aside in favour of foreign options, but as in every other respect, City are doing it bigger and better than anyone else.
Nor is it entirely their fault. After all, the above players who joined Man City knew exactly what they were doing. By signing on the dotted line they knew they were becoming mercenaries, selling themselves to the highest bidder and hoping to buy their way to success. If they looked deep down inside themselves they’d have known they were taking a risk, that it might not be the right mover career-wise, but great piles of cash has a way of distorting rational perception.
And here’s the real source of the problem. Such wealth is quite simply unethical. Footballers have been paid too much for years, we knew that already. But while there remained some semblance of loyalty, some illusion that they appreciated what they were getting and were at the same time interested in playing for the club and the fans, that they understood the passion that was required, we were willing to put up with it.
But by trying to usurp the already inflated wage structures of the Premier League in their quest to find a just-add-cash recipe for instant success, Man City crossed a line and exacerbated the problem tenfold. Footballers now make no pretence about being concerned for their club and respecting their fans. All of that business, however tenuous and however false has gone out of the window now. The riches on offer now are so great that when they get a sniff these young guys abandon all pretence and dignity.
The truth is, we were willing to accept a little self-delusion. We knew that mostly our players weren’t playing for the crest they wore on their shirt, but if they at least pretended like they were that was OK, and they often even ended up caring by accident. Now though, we’ve been made to see through any such delusion, and it is transparently obvious that every footballer – bar one or two, who are very, very few and far between – is little more than a mercenary.
Why do we resent that so much? Because it makes us feel foolish. Because we care so damn much about our clubs, it pains us to see these spoilt, talented little bastards treating them like shit. We would give everything we have to be out there wearing our clubs shirt, fighting for every ball, and to see how little it means to the people who actually have that privilege cuts us deep.
That’s why everyone hates Man City. And that’s why the real Man City fan, deep down, probably hates what their club has become even more than we do. The 40,000 other people who were at Maine Road watching the Div 2 clash between City and Burnley a few years ago, are you truly happy at what has become of your club? Will success, which may very well come, have been at too high a cost? Please let me know, because if it were my beloved Everton… well, I don’t think it would be my beloved Everton any longer.