Asharq Al-awsat English https://aawsat.com/english Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper http://feedly.com/icon.svg

Message of Defiance Dominates as City Fans Chant for Guardiola and Sheikh Mansour

Message of Defiance Dominates as City Fans Chant for Guardiola and Sheikh Mansour

Sunday, 23 February, 2020 - 07:00
A Manchester City fan holds up a sign before the match against West Ham. (Reuters)
London - Richard Jolly

There was probably more menace in the message from the chief executive than the chorus from the stands, even if Ferran Soriano’s language contained fewer expletives. But the shared message was one of defiance.


Sandwiched by two examples of Gabriel Jesus’s curious reluctance to shoot when he had only the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to beat came a new addition to the City songbook. “F*** you Uefa, we’ll see you in court,” were the lyrics and who, a few years ago, thought they would be singing about the court of arbitration for sport rather than Sergio Agüero or Kevin De Bruyne, that they would be watching one of the most successful sides in English history and chanting about the connotations of allegedly inflated commercial revenues?


In a sense, they were correct. As Soriano said emphatically earlier on Wednesday, City will appeal against their two-year ban from the Champions League. The court of public opinion at the Etihad Stadium would not have found in favor of European football’s governing body. One banner behind the goal where Rodri struck proclaimed “Uefa mafia”. Another homemade effort read “Uefa scam”. Some, perhaps, would have selected a different vowel in the second word. A third said “Uefa cartel”, which isn’t a noun often found on placards at football grounds.


There was something of a siege mentality and perhaps City’s strategy has helped to generate that. And yet this was not a cauldron of hate. The loudest chants were more upbeat affairs. “We’ve got Guardiola,” for instance, which was sung lustily. Pep Guardiola, that improbable successor to Brian Horton and Alan Ball, is set to stay for a fifth season, with or without the carrot of Champions League football.


There was “City, the best team in the world”, a sentiment they used to voice in the knowledge it was preposterous. There was “we’re not really here”, which dates back two decades, sung when their peers were Macclesfield, not Real Madrid, and York, not Juventus, and reflects the surreal nature of City’s recent history. Many were there watching mediocrity and glory and, whether or not their trophies were tainted, will be there again.


Above all there were the salutes to Pablo Zabaleta, the West Ham substitute who was making his final appearance on the ground he graced for nine years. Signed a few weeks before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover, his brand of wholehearted commitment made him a City cult hero. The Argentinian has lost the power that allowed him to hurtle up and down the right flank but not his place in supporters’ affections. He exited the Etihad Stadium with arms aloft, acknowledging the appreciation. A last goodbye to Zabaleta energized more fans than any bitterness towards anyone else.


The difference in the decibel level was instructive. There were clearly some, even if it is impossible to prove how many, who joined in the chants in support of their club, their manager and their returning favorite, but not those against Uefa. It is probably simplistic to talk of the vocal minority and the silent majority but no fanbase is homogeneous. There are the realists and the extremists, those who seem philosophical and those who feel persecuted. There are those who want to know more and those who made their opinion apparent.


More than once, they sang the name of Mansour, the man who bankrolled their rise; suspiciously, Uefa feels. The songs about the Glazers and Mike Ashley do not tend to be flattering but City’s fans are altogether fonder of their owner. Soriano, one of his key lieutenants, had claimed Uefa’s allegations are false. There were times, though, when he looked bored on Wednesday night in a match lacking in intensity and, at times, atmosphere, amid a sense that the destinies of these clubs will be decided on other days; in City’s case, in a different environment.


There was vitriol but also, as Moonchester defeated Hammerhead in a race between the mascots, frivolity and normality. The mood before kick-off was of quiet contemplation. A ground sometimes derided as the “Emptihad” had more empty seats than usual, though that could have been because those who bought tickets for the original game were unable to attend a rearranged fixture. Storm Ciara had forced a postponement 10 days earlier. Storm Uefa may yet do more lasting damage to City.


The Guardian Sport


Editor Picks

Multimedia