The weekend containing the first of City’s two dreaded games approaches and, like a van tailgating a pensioner in a Micra, one can only assume that there’s likely to be some sort of horrid collision in the very near future. And now the pensioner has pressed the brakes and it’s going to take until tomorrow evening to find out which of Manchester City and Aston Villa are the van and Micra in another one of my needless analogies.
By the next time I write for this site, we’ll have a very clear idea about who needs to do what and when. If City beat Aston Villa this weekend, then the damaged City-esque van will be contemplating a head on collision with another road vehicle, this one more Tottenham shaped and more Hotspur fuelled. And I’ll either be in a state of euphoria or despair – because I don’t do any other setting, it would seem – with the final game of the season just to comment on.
And, by the same measure, should City not win against Aston Villa, then the wrangled Micra mess will have to try and hold itself together to survive the Tottenham related pileup.
After that sort of build up, we’re only every going to get two tight and horrible games, with neither side playing anything too dangerous for fear of losing the game. In fact, I suspect City’s next two games could be settled by the odd goal; a situation that, as a City fan with experience of having seen leads thrown away, does worry me somewhat. I’m quite exited about the prospect of finishing fourth, but dreading the next two matches with equal proportion.
One of the biggest talking points for City fans this week has been whether Joe Hart could be recalled from his loan at Birmingham and, once the approach was rejected, whether Gunnar Nielsen should play ahead of the emergency loan goalkeeper, Márton Fülöp. It’ll be interesting to see if Fülöp plays for two reasons – one, he has two umlauts in his name and I like geeky language things like that, and two, he’s Eastern European and, if City started Nielsen ahead of him, they could be called bigoted when Martin O’Neill doesn’t realise his radio microphone was still on.
Damn it, I’ve made a joke about a political figure in the run up to an election, so I fear, for balance, I’m going to have to take a moment out from discussing the exciting end of season and the tense goalkeeping situation at my supported club to make jokes about the other two main party leaders. Here goes:
David Cameron goes into a bar. He buys himself a drink and, while not committing to the exact change he’d like, he meets a black man, a Jewish woman, a homosexual, a disabled child, some conjoined twins, a leper, an immigrant and anyone else that could belong to a minority he might be able to reference later for anecdotal reasons.
Nick Clegg goes into a bar. He buys himself a pint and drinks it down, before a man comes over and asked how it was. “It wasn’t particularly good or particularly bad,” he replied, before remaining undecided on whether he should have another or not.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, goalkeepers.
Was anyone that surprised that Joe Hart wasn’t allowed to return to City? As a City fan, I hoped it would happen, given his performances for the whole of this season, but I knew from the off that it would be an unlikely occurrence, at best. Then again, people buy music by Lily Allen, so I suppose anything is possible.
Hart has been on a season-long loan and, as part of the Premier League’s rules with a season-long loan, City couldn’t include a recall option in the contract. So, while the argument that Hart is a City player was, technically, true, he is contracted to Birmingham until the end of the season and this week isn’t the end of the season. It would have needed permission from Birmingham and permission from the Premier League to break that contract and that permission was refused.
Why some City fans are getting so annoyed by that, I’m not sure. It’s not exactly like the Premier League are being deliberately anti-City or as if Birmingham are being particularly obtuse about the situation. Both parties are within their rights to deny City the recall and the Premier League decided to invoke that right.
I can understand why the Premier League would turn such a request down, too. As far as I’m aware, there has been no precedent set in recalling season-long Premier League loans until now. So, should the Premier League have allowed it and Hart helped City finish fourth, there could be potential legal issues from Tottenham, Aston Villa and Liverpool, similar to the whole Carlos Tevez, West Ham and Sheffield United mess of 2007.
And helped City to fourth is something Hart would have had the potential to do, had he returned. Having seen some of his performances for Birmingham, I suspect he’s a lot closer to Given’s standard than Mark Hughes thought at the start of the season; and with Given potentially injured for the start of next season – City will be playing some sort of European competition, so the season could be starting earlier and will contain plenty more games – Hart may well be keeping the Irishman out of the side.
I certainly think he should be going to the World Cup, this summer, at any rate.
The choice of Márton Fülöp as the emergency loan goalkeeper is a strange one, too. He’s not played a lot in the Premier League recently, so there is the potential that he is a bit rusty and, with a lot of fans having seen neither him nor Gunnar Nielsen play, nobody knows who would be the better choice to start. Nielsen looked comfortable and competent in the final 17 minutes with Arsenal, but it was hardly like he was put under any real pressure. And Mancini has form when it comes to putting inexperienced fringe players in for big games – with the more senior Nedum Onuoha fit for the Carling Cup games with Manchester United, he stuck with the inexperienced Dedryck Boyata, who had been playing fairly well at the time.
I suppose it could be the catalyst for the rest of the defence to tighten themselves up in order to help or protect the inexperienced player and help him through his first few games. Not that the defence has been that fragile recently, anyway; with 180 minutes against two of the best sides and most potent attacks in the country, it was only a marking error in the final seconds of one the games that allowed one of them in to score.
As for fourth spot… Who knows what will happen? I would say that it’s going to be fun finding out, but I suspect the finding out bit will be one of the most nerve-wracking, nail-biting and horrid experiences of my football-watching life. Hopefully, the City van won’t need too many repairs after tomorrow and can steam-roller through Wednesday evening in as best condition as possible.
Either way, I’ll see you for an evening of unrelenting joy or never-ending anguish, next week.