One day in May 2012 I texted a Manchester City fan friend. I asked him if he was nervous about the game. He told me, ‘No. This isn’t a TC team.’
The day was 13 May 2012 and the game was a home encounter with QPR on the final day of the season. Win and City would be champions – barring the most obscene of obscene swings in goal difference – lose or draw and they’d be at the mercy of Manchester United’s result away to Sunderland.
TC referred to Typical City, the alter ego of the blue side of Manchester for as long as they’ve been the blue side of Manchester. After all, this is a team that, to this day, is the only side to have been relegated whilst holding the title ‘champions’.
Of course, everyone knows what happened next. City went ahead in the game just after Manchester United did. The ground was a calm nervousness – a little anxious, knowing that anything could happen, but confident that their side was good enough.
But then things fell apart, City conceded two goals, everything went wrong until the final few minutes. Joey Barton was sent off and still couldn’t break down a side who were, at least until the end of the game, fighting for their lives.
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But City did come back. They did pull off a spectacular win in unlikely circumstances. They did leave their rivals stunned and stony-faced, Sir Alex Ferguson himself close to tears on the pitch at the Stadium of Light as the news filtered through.
United walked off that pitch after 90 minutes as champions only for it to be taken out of their grasp by outside forces after the final whistle.
Perhaps that should have been the moment that Typical City died. Buried under a pitch invasion of thousands of euphoric Blues. The eulogy in the form of a rendition of terrace chanting under the soft light of the now-risen Blue Moon.
But Typical City lives on. The Mr Hyde to City’s Dr Jekyll, Typical City may as well have been the inspiration for Stevenson’s book. Mr Hyde, the evil alter ego of Dr Jekyll originating from City’s original home of Hyde Park, where they played before moving to Maine Road.
Well, not really. But it’s as good a guess as any as to why City can be so thoroughly impressive one day and so utterly dismal another.
The win over QPR didn’t banish the demons as it should have done. It should have been the platform for City to go on and dominate English football.
To some extent they have – they’ve won everything there is to win domestically, been to two FA Cup finals, won the league twice and the League Cup too since the arrival of Roberto Mancini. Yet there’s still a chance that things will go horribly wrong for City in a way you just don’t think it would do for any other team.
It’s endearing. It’s beautiful in its own way. It’s why the fans are still happy with what success City do achieve instead of banging the drum and demanding the head of the manager. Pellegrini won’t feel the ire of the City fans unless he starts playing Joe Hart up front. He might make mistakes, and they might disagree with him, but they’re unlikely to hold up ‘Pellegrini Out’ banners unless something goes majestically wrong. And even then, they’re used to it!
So defeat at the weekend marked another Typical City moment. After Arsenal’s defeat, all City needed to do was go out and beat Liverpool.
There are excuses, of course, things to mitigate the defeat. City were depleted somewhat through injury. Without the leadership of Kompany, City didn’t deal with the merciless pressing and it was a massacre. Without a central defensive partnership that has experience playing together, City were nervous and cautious, they weren’t confident that they could keep Liverpool out, and that’s what let Liverpool in. Four times.
It was a limp display, and that’s typical enough of Typical City. In a league where everyone is dropping points, where there’s no obvious favourite, City should be stepping up and pulling away from the pack. After spending so much, after assembling such a wonderful team of pace and power and precision, City should be able to grind out the wins when it matters. But as usual, they are their own worst enemy.
These days, City’s personality disorder still exists, but it’s softer now. It’s as if they’ve finally found a medication that works. They’re not going to be relegated the season after winning the title, but they’re still likely to fail miserably.
The problem just won’t seem to go away, but it’s less acute and more manageable. It’s part of who City are. Would you really want it any other way?