Wednesday’s match between Arsenal and Manchester City might have been a regular festive season fixture, and maybe one whose result was music to the red side of Manchester, but it ended up reasserting an ugly side of the modern game. Even an amateur would not have failed to notice the fecund football on display by the men in blue, who played almost the entire match in a 9-0-1 formation (and that “one” player too ventured into the rival half only very occasionally).
Now I know am an Arsenal fan and obviously a bit frustrated, but I just need to bring out Mr Mancini’s post match comment to stress my point here. The blues manager said, “I prefer one point and being booed than no points and being applauded off the pitch.” Right then, so a scenario of being applauded off the pitch with ALL THREE POINTS never occurred to the Italian. It’s all very obvious that right from the start Man City came to the Emirates with a single goal – that of not letting the rivals score one over them. And that is a perfectly understandable strategy, only that this time, they went about doing this without intending to score one themselves.
Now all people who follow football (more precisely the EPL) know the story. Few years ago a certain Mr Murdoch managed to squeeze the weekend game into tiny bits and transmit them thousands of miles across, to lands where the beautiful game was just beginning to pick up. Soon people were singing “You’ll never walk alone” from the deserts of Africa to the bazaars of Indonesia. All well, but it was only a while before the corporate crocodiles came out of the water and begun swallowing clubs, in the process dragging them inside the ever flowing river of liquidity.
Ok so the puns apart Man City, like many other clubs were bought by a zillionaire who empowered the (un)lucky manager with more money then he actually needed. Now one would assume then for Mr Mancini to build an “Arselona” but sadly as before (with Chelsea and others), he only focussed on the shortest way to success – and that often meant “bully your way to the nearest trophy”. Isn’t it a funny coincidence that none of the so-called billionaire clubs are renowned for their eye-catching football (and I would include Real Madrid here). On the other hand more attractive clubs – Barcelona (first) and Arsenal – continue to be owned by the community (and not some Mr Money-in-the-banks) with more realistic aspirations.
But all of this was still acceptable till last weekend when it all descended to an altogether different low. Even before Mr Mancini’s comments, the sight of Gareth Barry crawling till the diagonally opposite touchline (for a supposed “injury”) when he was inches off the goal line, gave a different meaning to the term time-wasting. And I do not even need to explain what a statistic of ZERO shots on target speaks of a team.
Now I’ve seen quite a few dull draws in football, including Greece defending their way to European glory in 2004, but even in those games there was an effort – or atleast a semblance of it in all but the dullest – for the players to try and break the opposition defence and attempt to put the ball into the net (Greece did so atleast once in all games). Yes the Arsenal of old were often revered for their leak-proof defence, yet at the same time they were also feared for their incisive counter-attack. Where on wednesday then was that long, defence splitting pass; or the fast break that sent adrenaline rushing in your veins. Why was a par-excellence and tenacious striker like Tevez reduced to ambling near the half-line and occasionally chase balls lobbed towards Fabianski.
The answer may lie in the unreasonable pressure on Mr Mancini to produce results (read trophies). Money they say can’t buy happiness, but billionaire owners of football clubs seem to believe it certainly can buy success. Which may be partly true, but success is not fast food and needs to be cooked well for it to really taste sweet. But the pressure ensures Mr Mancini focuses more on eking out “strategic” results which bring him on top at the end of the season – even if at the cost of the game itself.
For all my critics (yes Arsenal have won NOTHING since 2005) and proponents of the “win dirty” philosophy, I don’t want every club to be Barcelona – that would kill variety. I am perfectly well with hard defending teams like Stoke and Birmingham, but please have attack atleast as your plan B. Take a shot at the goal, you never know you might get lucky as the ball ricochets off a defender, and you leave the pitch with all three points. And then Mr Mancini, it won’t matter if you are booed off it or applauded, cause you would have given the fans what they came for – 90 minutes of the beautiful game.