Ahead of Manchester City’s home fixture with Chelsea on Saturday evening, Football FanCast previewed the game in an exclusive interview with Shaun Goater, who was speaking on behalf of GentingBet.
Before Twitter’s inception and the development of a digital language that identifies every half decent footballer as “the G.O.A.T” – the greatest of all time for those not well versed in one of social media’s core idiosyncrasies – Shaun Goater reigned supreme in the blue half of Manchester.
Goater, the original G.O.A.T to Manchester City supporters, has gone down in club folklore as one of the greatest poachers in their history, but Chelsea never succumbed to the forward’s insatiable knack of finding the back of the net.
The Bermudan played four times for City against Chelsea, losing on all four occasions with an aggregate scoreline 15-3.
“How times have changed!” Goater says, reminiscing on a bygone era that is scarcely recognisable during the current period of domination for his former club.
“If we got a draw we’d pulled off a great result. That was a time when Chelsea were investing in some top class overseas players. Players of Marcel Desailly and Gianfranco Zola’s quality were at the club and we were certainly an underdog team. It will be interesting to see the comparison in the aggregate score over the last four games.”
Well, the aggregate scoreline over the last four Premier League encounters stands at 9-2 to the current champions mostly by virtue of a 6-0 drubbing at the Etihad last season – a fixture that served to encapsulate everything that was so fundamentally wrong with the temporary and tumultuous marriage between Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea.
With the two architects of the club’s respective 21st century revolutions, Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour, consistently injecting billions of pounds into their squads in largely successful attempts to stockpile silverware to the rafters, the game has come to be known as ‘El Cashico’.
It is a defamatory label for a pair of clubs whose aggressive spending strategies have earned them plenty of criticism from both ethical and footballing standpoints.
Equally, however, that the nickname derives from arguably the most captivating derby world football has to offer is an indication of their international relevance.
But perceptions towards Chelsea are changing. Frank Lampard is the architect behind a shift in policy that has seen the club pluck a multitude of talents from an organic conveyor belt that could only have been lurking in the depths of Stamford Bridge’s secret network of underground tunnels.
Only it hasn’t been hiding; it’s been there all along. The difference is that Lampard has been prepared to utilise it, whether in consequence of the transfer ban or not. Much has been made of the shift towards youth integration and Goater suggests that multiple factors are at work.
“It’s a little bit of both (the transfer ban and Lampard’s attitude). The reason for the quality of the Chelsea youth players is because of the investment. These are quality players that they have invested in – i.e buying them to come to the club and have them develop through the youth system. They were recruited as quality youngsters and they’re going on to be exactly what they anticipated. They weren’t getting the opportunity before but the embargo has forced Lampard’s hand to utilise it.”
Going back to a time when the two sides clashed at youth level, Goater recalled the glaring gulf in class on display.
“Jody Morris was managing the U18s against Man City and I remember a couple of games where I just thought City were outplayed and Morris was the one involved in the coaching setup.”
However, the disparity between the two youth setups that was once so transparent looks to be diminishing. With youngsters such as Phil Foden, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle emerging through the ranks at City, there is cause for optimism amongst the fanbase. But, from Goater’s perspective, the ever-patient supporters will need to test the limits of their virtue until the club have collected more trophies and firmly established themselves among the global elite.
“I think the difference with Chelsea is that they’ve had more silverware over the years. From City’s point of view it’s all about the consistency of winning trophies and once that stability comes, young players may get more time. But when you’re a world class team you can’t be sympathetic and you’ve got to be ruthless – that’s the difference.”
But therein lies the emerging debate: can you be a world class team and be sympathetic to youth? The Lampard revolution spearheaded by a trio of excellent prospects suggests the two concepts are far from mutually exclusive. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have all deservedly earned England recognition and vindicated the faith shown by Lampard, but it is the latter who has particularly caught Goater’s eye so far.
“Listen Tammy Abraham has been really good but Mason Mount has also been really good on the eye.
“Tomori as well looks one hell of a centre back. He looks like a typical modern day centre-back. You don’t get many inches out of him because he’s quick, he reads the game well, he’s decent on the ball and he doesn’t take risks.
“If he had a long pass in his game, if he could hit a diagonal like John Terry or Virgil van Dijk, then I think you’re talking about a £100m player. If he adds that to his armoury and becomes a bit more comfortable on the ball then all of a sudden you become a weapon at the back in possession. He’s ticking a lot of the main boxes.”
Amidst the rise of the aforementioned trio, it seems the football media and neutral supporters have deemed it pertinent to ask why Phil Foden is not receiving similar treatment at City, particularly with Pep Guardiola’s effusive public praise for the 18-year-old regularly making the headlines. And that question becomes all the more pressing to ask with David Silva’s departure looming on the horizon in 2020, prompting debate regarding the club’s succession plan.
“I think City will still look to get a quality player but Phil Foden will still get more minutes. My thinking and understanding from when I observe Pep is for players to come in and push the team, not be the same.
“I think that’s what is expected of Phil – to take the team to the next level. Whenever Phil has come on, he’s looked very confident, it looks as though he’s comfortable at this level.
“Everyone is saying he’s good enough so he should be in there. But I have this thought that Pep is asking a different question: can he take us to another level at this moment in time?”
Foden’s selection against both Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City during the title run-in towards the end of the previous campaign suggested Guardiola already believes Stockport’s answer to Andres Iniesta can indeed take the club to a higher level. Another start on Saturday evening would be an equally bold show of faith.
While Lampard continues to bolster his managerial credentials, the former Barcelona boss will be acutely aware of the challenge that lies ahead and it would certainly be a surprise to see Foden in the starting XI. The universally revered Catalonian boss has a reputation for going overboard with praise for his players in the public spotlight, but Lampard’s contrasting approach has earned him an admirer in Goater.
“When I listen to Frank, he always speaks a lot of sense. When I hear his post-match stuff and his pre-match conferences, for me it seems he is a perfect players’ manager. He doesn’t go over the top, he doesn’t talk craziness about my players are so much greater than they are. He’s level-headed with both his praise and his criticism. I like everything that is coming out of Chelsea with what Frank is doing and I wish him great success.”
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The Chelsea boss’ measured presence in the press room and on the touchline may have impressed the City legend, though he believes it’s too early for him to outsmart Pep on his own turf.
“Everyone studies Pep. The blueprint on how to beat City is you have to be brave to play one on one at the back. You have to possess quality and pace to counter against City’s dominant possession and Chelsea have that.
“They have the pace and quality to be able to counter when City have possession. It’s a difficult one but because of the position City are in and the fact quality teams don’t lose back to back, I’ll put this down as a 3-2 City win.”
With plenty of sub-plots to unpick, including Lampard’s first appearance at the Etihad since he signed off his surprise spell at City with a goal while wearing the captain’s armband in a 2-0 win over Southampton, ‘El Cashico’ promises to be a captivating spectacle.