Manchester City fans need to realise patience is a virtue


I might have over exaggerated the situation a little, but isn’t that what everyone does?

Here’s what Adam Johnson actually said, speaking to The Sun after the Manchester Derby: “Every footballer has to think about it when the time comes. It is still early but I definitely would consider it. It is disappointing when you are not playing from the start in games like [the Manchester Derby]. I was itching to get on. I was dying to play from the start not just come on.

The manager has to make decisions but I was gutted to be left out. With the players we have it will be a rotation but I am full of confidence and I just want to be playing. I have got to train and get on with it, nothing is going to change. I have to keep the right frame of mind and get in the team because I want to play for the national team as well.

Of course, there’s not really much in what he’s said that suggests he’s making an ultimatum to Roberto Mancini. Yet that doesn’t stop The Sun running with ‘Adam Johnson’s Manchester City Quit Hint’. After checking The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Independent and The Guardian, the story was reported in pretty much the same way. And, after checking The Daily Express, I’ve come to the conclusion that Diana might have died…

The fact that Johnson understands that he needs to work hard in training and insists that he will do that is glossed over (after all, it’s not actually the quotes that people will remember). The quotes where he says that are buried near the bottom of the story, while the report centres around the implication that he might need to leave City in search of first team football sometime in the future.

That could be in two years’ time if he is still playing in dribs and drabs or in ten years’ time when there is younger talent available to whoever is in charge of the club (“Every footballer has to think about it when the time comes”). There’s no ‘play-me-or-I-will-leave’ threat there: he’s just confirmed that he’s unhappy at starting most games from the bench. In fact, it reads more like he’s looking forward to getting on the pitch for City, not looking at which clubs he can move to.

Since this article has appeared in The Sun, I’ve heard City fans talking about Johnson “spitting his dummy out” or “making thinly veiled threats” or “running to the tabloids”. Of course, none of which are likely to be true. Saying something is disappointing is not to spit one’s dummy out, for one thing, while affirming a desire to play regularly isn’t a thinly veiled threat. And it would seem most likely that The Sun approached City (or England) for an interview with Johnson and posed the question ‘would you consider leaving if you needed to get first team football?’

It’s cracking journalism: it’s turned a dull story that, without that question and subsequent quote, would barely be touched, into a story that every City fan has an opinion about. And, of course, The Sun has a few more pound coins in the bank account. And then the other papers got in on the act by using the quotes along with the words ‘speaking to The Sun, Adam Johnson said…’

I understand the frustration of the fans. Coming off the back of two disappointing goalless draws and reading that one of the club’s prospects for the future isn’t happy at not starting matches isn’t the ideal opening to the week. That being said, however, there are positives to be taken with City’s ‘dip in form’ (plus it’s good to know that one of the players wants to play for the club instead of sitting on the bench every week – yet that’s a bad thing?).

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For a start, having conceded two silly goals against Wolves, two soft goals against Blackpool and having a man sent off (and subsequently shipping three goals) against Arsenal isn’t a great way for a defence to be performing, especially if that defence belongs to a team looking to challenge for honours sometime in the future. City have actually conceded 10 league goals all season and eight of them came in October over a period of four matches.

It would seem that Roberto Mancini has gone back to basics: the foundation of any good team is a solid defence and, with Birmingham being City’s seventh Premier League clean sheet (from a possible 13) this season, City are showing they have just that. In fact, Joe Hart hasn’t had a meaningful save to make in the last three matches, and no team that leaks goals for fun will do well in the long term.

And despite the recent leakage, only Chelsea have conceded fewer goals this season.

That being said, it would be wrong of me to sit here with a desire for crisps or chocolate (in a house that is deprived of both of those snacks) and make excuses for City not beating Birmingham. On paper, the squads aren’t even near each other in quality. It’s that very reason I think many City fans – and perhaps even one or two City players – expected to turn up last weekend and win. Birmingham, to their credit, had other ideas and restricted City to half-chances and long range efforts.

Watching an inherently defensive performance isn’t a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but, given the choice between attractive, free-flowing football and another season without success and occasionally dull, but mostly effective and efficient performances with success, can we, as City fans, honestly say we’d prefer not to win something? I’ve been starved of any success for my team for all of my lifetime: it’s a very difficult choice.

City played no differently against United and Birmingham than they did against Chelsea earlier in the season. Except they failed to score, obviously. Thinking back to the Chelsea game, I can barely remember a chance for either side, other than Tevez’s goal and Ivanovic’s header. Yet that winning goal is the dividing line between many fans (myself included, in all fairness) saying that it was a good performance instead of a disappointing one.

I agree that Roberto Mancini needs to find the correct balance between defence and attack and that, at this moment, he is currently more focussed on keeping the opposition out than he is sticking the ball in the net. But, as silly as this may sound, the performances aren’t too far away from what’s needed to be classed as ‘free-flowing’ and ‘entertaining’. The possession football City have been playing has been good; it just needs to be a bit quicker.

The reason, I think, that City are currently struggling to open teams up is because they are allowing their opposition too much time to get back into position. Moving the ball quicker doesn’t give them that time and allows gaps to be exploited, resulting in more chances and, potentially, more goals. Add that to the current defence and you’re no longer talking about a manager who’s on the verge of losing his job, but a manager who’s on the verge of revolutionising a club that’s been a laughing stock for years.

Speaking of which, to the fans who are disillusioned with the current state of affairs: a laughing stock is not what City are. That was a title reserved for being beaten by York City to sink to the lowest point in the club’s history. Neither is this a crisis or disaster: that is needing to beat Stoke and pray that one of QPR, Portsmouth or Port Vale lose.

This is just a blip.

The frustration is that any side looking to win the league (or, indeed, finish fourth or above) doesn’t fail to win that match at home to Birmingham. Manchester United don’t drop points at home to West Brom, or Chelsea don’t lose to Sunderland at the Bridge, or Arsenal aren’t beaten at The Emirates by West Brom or Newcastle…

Ah, no, hang on…

The truth is, City will drop points in matches they should win. They’ll also do it at infuriating times in the season: last weekend was, in essence, a ‘good’ time (if that’s possible) to fail to win, given that Chelsea lost, Manchester United drew, and, from the teams around City, only Arsenal won. City were always going to stay in fourth by not winning, but, on the bright side, they’re not as far behind the rest as they could have been.

So, City aren’t currently playing like Real Madrid or Barcelona and they aren’t winning every game by three or four goals. But is anyone in the Premier League doing that?

Besides, as fans of the club, we’re in it for the long haul. We have to be – it’s the very nature of being a fan of one club; whatever they do, wherever they go, however they play, we support them.

There are sure signs of improvement at City.

We just need to be a little patient.