I composed the letter below in response to Ken Early's disparaging article about Manchester City (The Irish Times, 20/01/2022), and sent it to Letters to the Editor. Needless to say, it wasn't published, so I present it here.
As a lifelong Manchester City supporter, I feel it is incumbent on me to react to the clear biases on show in Ken Early's article, 'Manchester City’s dominance a reminder the rich always get their way' (Monday, January 17th, 2022).
His assertion that ‘Guardiola’s style lacks excitement that club’s fans – and players – seek’ is utterly risible, and certainly does not apply to Manchester City fans, much less discerning neutrals. It is equalled only by this ludicrous observation: ‘Look at the joy Manchester United have given the world these last several years. Lurching from crisis to crisis, they continue to be more watchable than City’s vastly superior team.’ The truth is that Manchester United have for some time been a laughing stock. While there may be considerable schadenfreude to be derived by fans of other clubs in watching United’s steady decline into a comedic soap opera, they are surely not heading to Old Trafford to witness object lessons in how The Beautiful Game should be played. That takes place in East Manchester.
It really is unconscionable that so-called football writers will not keep abreast of the tactical evolution of the game. Early contends that ‘Most of us don’t watch football for technical quality or tactical intrigue’ – an appalling admission from a supposed pundit. His naïve nostalgia for ‘the long-range screamer – arguably the most thrilling sight in football’ is, as he well knows from the statistical analyses he refers to, misplaced. In any case, for an example of the occasional judicious deployment of same, I would direct him to Vincent Kompany’s stunner v Leicester (May 6, 2019), which kept Liverpool in second place and helped secure City’s defence of the title that season. Indeed, one need go no further back than last Saturday’s 1 – 0 defeat of Chelsea, and point to Kevin De Bruyne’s match-winning strike from outside the penalty area, for evidence that the ball is not always ‘walked into the net’. (Cf. also: Rodri v Everton 19/11/2022; and Cancelo v Newcastle 20/12/2022.) Early also attempts to bolster his bizarre argument that City's playing style is boring by comparing a City match which he considers to have been 'dull and featureless' with another City match which he considers to have been exciting. Boring and exciting at the same time? He cannot have it both ways. As for Early’s disingenuous implication that City players are wanting to leave the club because they are supposedly so bored of the system, the reasons are more likely to hinge on personal issues (e.g. homesickness) or the brinkmanship involved in contractual negotiations, rather than discontent with playing style (and winning trophies).
Of course, Early inevitably arrives at the usual source of carping for opposition fans: the money. The fact is that Manchester United’s transfer spend has exceeded that of City’s over the past five years – and look at the shambles they are. Money does not guarantee success, unless it is invested wisely, and the players it attracts are developed to their full potential. As for the accusations of ‘sportswashing’ and human rights abuses in UAE, I confess I fail to see how this is more reprehensible than the naked greed of the profit motive which drives the owners of other high-profile clubs, and which acts only as an advertisement for the ideology of neo-liberalism (to the detriment of those clubs). Great art has always depended on patronage. The Medici and Borgia families, including the Popes they produced, were not famed for having ‘clean hands’, but without them there would have been no Italian Renaissance.
Put simply: the Irish media are dictated to by those who engage with it, and in this country the majority of soccer fans who follow the English Premiership are supporters of either Manchester United or Liverpool. Through their bitter fandom of Manchester City’s nearest ‘rivals’, expressed via prejudiced, envious pot-shots, Early and his ilk provide clickbait catnip for these hordes, at the expense of the offence caused to longstanding City fans. To criticise City’s current dominance in the Premiership, formerly held by the clubs they espouse, is to display scant knowledge of how La Liga or the Bundesliga operate. Early’s Parthian shot is: ‘there is one thing City are good at making you feel, and that is the helplessness that comes from knowing that you live in a world where the richest will always get their way.’ The richest do not always get their way; but City’s deserved contemporary dominance makes me and other City fans feel great.