Random Wandering–Manchester City’s Growing Pains

So Manchester City, current Champions of England, are out Europe.  Not just the Champions League but the Europa League as well.  Instead of progressing this season, it could be argued that the Citizens have regressed, finishing last in the proverbial Group of Death, and my initial response as a Manchester United fan is to laugh at their misfortune.  Despite several seasons of massive spending, City still cannot contend in the world’s premier club competition.  And then it hit me.  At 3 in the morning.  Maybe I was being a little too harsh.  United didn’t hit the ground running after claiming their first top division title for 26 years.  So I did a little research and here’s what I found.  I will let the facts speak for themselves.

United’s reentry into Europe came in the reformulated European Cup renamed the Champions League.  Knockout ties whittled down the participants to eight teams, with the top four progressing to another knockout round.  United dispatched of Kispest Honvéd before meeting Galatasary in the last preliminary round.  A 3-3 draw at Old Trafford saw the English Champions travel to Istanbul where they were met by the famous Welcome to Hell sign.  The Turks ground out a 0-0 result and knocked out the Red Devils.  Not the greatest start for the storied club.

The following season saw them go straight into the Group Stage after another format change.  Some better results were not enough to overcome a 4-0 thrashing at the Nou Camp and United were out again.  The 1995/96 campaign was even worse.  Runners-up to Blackburn in the league they entered the UEFA Cup and promptly lost to Rotor Volgograd, despite Peter Schmeichel scoring.

From there, the Red Devils found their feet, making the Champions League semi-finals in 96/97 and 97/98 losing to Borussia Dortmund and Monaco respectively.  Of course 1999 was the season of seasons as United won the treble, for their first European Cup title since 1968.

Looking at City,  I am using the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited in September 2008 as my starting point.  Due to a Fair Play entry, the Citizens competed in the UEFA Cup, reaching the quarters before falling to Hamburg.  A decent result but I really don’t count their participation because it was the summer of 2009 when the ADUG started flexing their financial muscle.

No European competition for the 09/10 season but a fifth place finish in the league earned them a place in the new Europa League.  Winning their group, they eventually went out to Kyiv in the round of 16.  Better but not great.  After finishing third in 10/11, the blue side of Manchester finally got a taste of Champions League football.  A tough group saw them finish third and but they failed to make the most of their second chance in the Europa League, losing to Sporting in the Round of 16.  But progress.

After a dramatic last day of the 11/12 campaign, Manchester City entered the Champions League as actual Champions but were promptly drawn into the Group of Death, featuring three other league champions—Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.  A stunning fight back from the Los Merengues saw the Citizens start off a bad foot and things never got any better.  After drawing at home with Dortmund, City suffered a paralyzing blow by losing to Ajax.  They could only manage a draw in the return match against the Dutch at the Etihad, a dire draw with Real Madrid and then lost to Dortmund to finish bottom of the group on three points.

I would consider 2012/13 a step backward for City.  Not being in the Europa League is not a big deal; in fact, it enhances their chances of retaining the title or possibly going for a Domestic Double.  Their performances in a very tough group were disappointing.  Between questionable buys over the summer and Mancini’s curious tactics, I’m not sure if this team will rebound.  They have the squad, of that there is no doubt, and they don’t even have the foreigner rule to deal with, which hamstrung Sir Alex for years.

Richard Jolly proposed ten reasons why Manchester City crashed out of Europe’s premier club competition.  He cited a lack of quality signings, a tough draw, a dramatic conclusion to the opening match away to Real Madrid, injuries, and poor defensive marking before moving on to issues with Mancini.  Jolly questioned the Italian’s tactical tinkering, player selections and failure to find the team’s balance in Europe.  This is the manager’s job and Mancini simply isn’t up to it.

And that’s not me—pouty, bitter, self-righteous United fan—saying this.  James Restall broke down Mancini’s European record over the last decade for the Telegraph.  Starting at his time at Fiorentina in 2001/02 to Lazio to Inter to City, his best performance was a 2004 UEFA Cup Semi against eventual winner Porto.  At Inter he eventually found the formula for progressing out of the Group Stage but could not get past the Quarter-Finals despite having a pretty stacked squad and very little in terms of domestic competition.  (Mourinho stepped in and won everything after Mancini resigned/got fired.)

So now what?  Following the United trajectory, the 12/13 European campaign would be the low point (a la 95/96) as the team starts to find success, needing a little luck to finally get over the line.  This indeed may be case but it won’t happen with the Scarfed One.  With Mourinho having one foot out the door at Real Madrid, his installment could be what drives the Citizens towards Manchester United-like success on all fronts.  Trouble is, history tells us that Mou only stays at a job for three years.  The Portuguese manager could get City to the Promised Land, only to leave in some sort of media/management/player shit show.  But if he could deliver . . .

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