In Praise of the Unsung Heroes
What makes for a cup and championship winning team? What makes the difference in delivering success?
The current Manchester City squad is often referred to as a team of 'superstars`. When it suits the Media hacks they are quick to highlight the cost of the 'project` initiated by Sheikh Mansour and quicker to point to the wages paid to the players. Their ever sharp computer search engines are always on high alert scanning the internet for the next Mario Balotelli 'antic` (like getting a haircut or sitting down on the substitute bench) - after all it is cheaper and easier than doing some real journalism and actually getting out and talking to people, earning their trust and doing some solid research.
The FA Cup win in 2011, the priceless demolition of the rags in their own backyard last season and the failure of City to choke (much to the chagrin of many in the 4th Estate) on that unforgettable day in May 2012 to deliver the title and erase the pain of 44 years led many of the nay-sayers and anti-City brigade to seek the easy refuge of "well you`d expect them to win with the amount they`ve spent". These are the same people who, when City suffers a setback, then demonstrate admirable mental gymnastics in order to resort to the other 'safe port` of "well, what do you expect from a bunch of overpaid egotistical mercenaries? You can`t just throw money at a team and expect them to gel".
They will often highlight the magical touch and vision of David Silva; the marauding strength of Yaya Toure; the composure and finishing of Sergio Aguero; the leadership and commitment of Vincent Kompany; the saves of Joe Hart or the industry of the re-integrated Carlos Tevez as the foundation for the club`s success. It is indeed true that these players have the quality to deliver the results. The goals provided by the strikers are critical; the saves of Joe Hart immensely crucial; the vision of Nasri or Silva essential. But they rarely draw attention to the work of those whom I call the 'quiet men` of the team. The 'water carriers` if you wish: The Unsung Heroes.
Into this category I would put Gareth Barry, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and, coming up stealthily under the radar, the young defender Matija Nastasic. Before he left for pastures new I would have also included Nigel de Jong. Their work is often unseen, usually unspectacular and rarely featured in the highlights of a game. For me it remains a vital part of the formula which has delivered the successes of the recent seasons and which continues to form the canvas upon which the work of the artists can be painted.
Gareth Barry - doing the unglamorous 'dirty job` in front of the defence, tidying up, regaining or keeping possession and giving the ball to those who create.
Gael Clichy - Good touch and composure, working tirelessly to support the forwards, making runs down the touchline which force opposing players to track back and therefore create space for others to work in or exploit (and not once complaining when his run is ignored), making timely interventions to prevent goals (two against Spurs last week).
Pablo Zabaleta - The Blue Lion Heart. His fearless tackling, unselfish breaks forward and never-say-die attitude are a joy to behold for City fans and delivers part of that undefinable quality which can drive other players on when the chips are down. I was so pleased for him when he scored against QPR last May;
Matija Nastasic, the young defender from Serbia, whose almost arrival and progress are in such stark contrast to that of Stefan Savic and whose growing confidence, touch and composure may, perhaps, be allowing Vincent Kompany the breathing space to show the form which made him the best defender in the PL last season by a country mile.
These are some of my picks for the Unsung Heroes in the City squad that I wished to acknowledge. The players whose contribution is unspectacular, whose presence, role, attitude and professionalism can sometimes be taken for granted but who, in my opinion, form a crucial part of the fabric which is being using to create a delightful tapestry that is being fashioned at the club and which is growing more beautiful to behold by the week. We couldn't do it without Hart's saves, Aguero's composed finishes or Silva's delightful artistry, Yaya's powering runs from deep, etc. but I am also absolutely convinced that we couldn't do it without the foundation that these 'water carriers' provide. I would also add the drive and passion of the manager; the commitment of the coaching & medical staff and the background work of all the support departments from those making travel arrangements run smoothly to those providing the meals tailored to player's preferences but that is perhaps the subject of a separate post.
The list is not mean to be exhaustive - please feel free to add your own suggestions.
all times East Manchester
We 21 Nov 19h45 Real Madrid, The Etihad, CL
Su 25 Nov 16h00 Chelsea, Stamford Bridge, PL
We 28 Nov 20h00 Wigan, DW Stadium, PL
Sa 01Dec 15h00 Everton, The Etihad, PL
Tu 04Dec 19h45 B Dortmund, Signal Iduna Park, CL
Su 09Dec 13h30 The rags, The Etihad, PL
Sa 15Dec 12h45 Newcastle, St James' Park, PL
Sa 22Dec 15h00 Reading, The Etihad, PL
We 26Dec 15h00 Sunderland, Stadium of Light, PL
Sa 29Dec 15h00 Norwich, Carrow Road, PL