I watched Man City demolish Manchester United at Old Trafford and I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t seen football like that since 2005 and honestly, I’ve never seen better football in my life than yesterday’s win by Man City.
In 2005, Arsenal were the reigning champs, having just come off their Invincibles season. They were known the world over for playing football “The Arsenal Way” which meant that in possession they could play “piggy in the middle” against opponents and just pass the ball around them. Not only technique but when Arsenal wanted to counter attack, the just climbed the ladder: Campbell to Vieira to Bergkamp to Henry. It wasn’t just the speed of Henry’s runs that made that happen, it was the speed that they moved the ball up the pitch. Bang, bang, bang, goal.
And they could defend. My could they defend. In 03/04 they allowed just 26 goals, the 2nd best defensive record of Arsene Wenger’s career. Wenger had pipped Sol Campbell from Tottenham with a record breaking contract offer and Campbell along with Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole and Bisan Lauren formed an amazing partnership at the back. They had the strength to win balls in the air, they were strong, they had speed, they had balance in going forward or staying back, and they were organized.
This was also the Arsenal team that won 13 games in a row: from February to May 2002. The 12th game in that series was against Man U at Old Trafford. They won 1-0 thanks to a Sylvain Wiltord goal in the 57th minute. And because of that goal, Arsenal won the League at Old Trafford. That 13 game winning streak prompted Arsene Wenger to predict that his team could go an entire season unbeaten.
Two years later they won the League at White Hart Lane. And went an entire season unbeaten.
The next year (04/05) Arsenal were still flying high. They were unbeaten in their last 49 games and went into their 50th League game away at Old Trafford. It was the ugliest game of football ever played. Man U took full advantage of referee Mike Riley, kicking Arsenal players (especially targeting Reyes), tackling from behind, and even denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity with a foul by Rio Ferdinand on Freddie Ljungberg (which went uncalled). United won the game thanks to a Wayne Rooney dive to win a penalty and after the match, tempers flared in the tunnels, Cesc Fabregas was later identified as the player who caused Sir Alex Ferguson to have a permanent pizzaface.
After that match Arsenal “put on maybe a little bit the handbrake”. They finished the season 2nd, behind upstart young manager Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side, who nearly went unbeaten themselves, losing just one game – a 1-0 away to Man City, the only goal was a penalty scored by former Arsenal forward Nicolas Anelka.
Wenger was the most respected manager in the world. Not only was he able to get his team playing remarkable football in the toughest league in the world, he was also a wizard at transfers, seeming to know exactly when to buy and sell for maximum profit. Wenger parlayed his encyclopedic knowledge of world footballers into a team of well paid but cheaply assembled superstars.
He was also well known for his ability to transform players. He took Lauren and transformed him from midfielder to right back, he took Toure and moved him into the center of defense, and most magically, he moved Thierry Henry from winger to striker, where Henry would break the Arsenal scoring record on his way to 229* goals for Arsenal.
Then along came the Checkbook Sam Allardyce, Jose Mourinho. He literally just bought any player linked to Arsenal by offering their clubs more money than Arsenal could. He also just tapped up and took players by offering them giant contracts. Then with his expensively assembled team of mercs, Mourinho played football the Allardyce way.
You’re just a rich Tony Pulis
You’re just a rich Tony Pulis
a rich Tony Puuuuulis
You’re just a rich Tony Pulis.
Mourinho has won at every team he’s ever managed. But the football he plays is so basic, so ugly, and his personality is so much like the football he plays that eventually everyone gets sick of him and he is forced to move on to another club. Known for his preparation, Mourinho hands out 2 inch thick binders on the opponents with specific instructions on how to neutralize their attack. He then gets up and gives a team talk that consists of 10 minutes where he just drags his fingernails on the chalkboard. And if the players don’t play to his exact standards he publicly humiliates them in his post-match interviews, “I told them to watch out for this, I don’t know why they didn’t do it.”
He’s also a caustic little turd of a man who likes to make a big show of everything he does. One year he pretended to be gracious in defeat, waiting for every Arsenal player to exit the medal award plinth after their win in the Charity Shield. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and tried to shake all their hands. The real point of that show was to give Wenger a big SIKE in public, Wenger was never going to shake Mourinho’s hand, he doesn’t shake hands with the Devil.
So, of course after Man City, managed by Pep Guardiola, put on a masterclass at Old Trafford winning 2-1 last night in the first Manchester Derby of the season, there were afters involving Jose Mourinho. The stories vary. His story is that he went to the opposition dressing room to ask them to stop celebrating so loud. The City story is that he stormed in there and accused Ederson of timewasting. I’ve been writing about Premier League football for almost 10 years and I can tell you which story I believe: both. Mourinho probably convinced himself that he was going in there to “teach them some class” – which is like have a thief teach you the value of ownership – and when Ederson told him to go flush himself he almost certainly erupted into the Mourinho that everyone has seen in public.
And as for City they are a better version of Arsenal 2000-2005. The League is far more competitive than it was in that era. There are now six teams vying for the Premier League title. Every team in the League can afford to buy a £50m player if they want. Most teams are managed by men who come from the highest echelons of football management: this is a tactically aware league, awash with money, with scouts all over the world, where every team has analysts and nutritionists, and very few teams play football from the 18th century. For City to be brushing those teams aside, winning 14 in a row and smashing Arsenal’s record in the process, is a huge feat. To win at Old Trafford, yet another huge feat. The top 6 teams lost 9 games at home last season, combined. Nine of 114 home matches. So, to beat a big club on their home ground is a huge deal.
Guardiola is often accused of being a checkbook manager and I get where that comes from, City have spent a billion dollars assembling that squad. The players he’s most ridiculed for buying are Stones, Mendy, and Walker, which cost £150m combined. It’s true: Guardiola has spent with almost no restrictions. But that’s because he could. If you have unlimited funds, why not just give Everton £50m for Stones? It makes negotiations easy. It gets the player you need and gets him into the club quickly so that you can get to work.
Fans seem to want Guardiola to manage Stoke City in order to prove his credentials. They decry the money he’s spent on players but fail to also recognize the work that he’s done to make that team into the remarkable side that they are now. He’s transformed players like Stones, Walker and Delph. Those players were good and had the basic physicality needed for the Premier League but they play like Barcelona players now. The same goes for virtually every player in his team. Yes, he bought them, but he also coached them into the team that they are now.
When it comes to spending, yes, City have spent ridiculous amounts of money – in the last four seasons City have spent £437m on transfers. But United have spent £372m on transfers. Both Mourinho and Guardiola have spent a fortune, but only Guardiola has his team playing football.
Fans want Guardiola to manage Stoke, but Mourinho has spent nearly the same amount of money on players at United and basically turned them into Stoke under Pulis. Mourinho is the real checkbook manager.
*No, Scott Dann cannot have that own goal that the PL said he scored on Henry’s return to Arsenal in 2012. Nope. He will always have scored 229 goals for me.