Man City fans need to ask themselves a serious question after Champions League disaster – Alex Brotherton
Why do we watch football? In the days following Manchester City’s gut-wrenching exit from the Champions League, it’s a question City fans have no doubt asked themselves.
Everything seemed to perfectly fall into place for City to banish the demons of last season’s Champions League final defeat. Pep Guardiola’s players showed a rarely seen tough side to overcome the assault of Atletico Madrid, before sticking four goals past Real Madrid in the first leg with a relentless attacking display.
While far from their best at the Bernabeu, for 89 minutes it looked like City had done enough. And then it all fell apart. A mad 80 seconds left City stunned, unable to react as Madrid went on to score a third and leave them empty-handed.
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As is to be expected, such a remarkable capitulation demanded an immediate inquest. How did it happen? Is Guardiola a failure? Why have City still not won the Champions League despite billions of pounds of investment?
Under the weight of those questions, it all seems rather pointless. If City end this season without a trophy – a real possibility if they fail to win their remaining four Premier League games – then what was the point of it all?
For some, the trauma of Wednesday may have prompted somewhat of an existential crisis; that’s a good thing. It would be disingenuous to suggest that City should not be expected to win at least one trophy every season, or even that they can be excused for not winning the Champions League by now.
Since taking over the club in 2008, Sheikh Mansour, the Abu Dhabi United Group and City’s myriad of sponsors and commercial partners have given the club unbelievable resources. Some of the best players on the planet, and arguably its best coach, have been hired, creating a complex, fine-tuned machine of a team that plays some of the best football in the world.
All these things mean that City are in a much better position to win silverware than 99 per cent of clubs out there. But at the heart of it, football is a game of emotions, watched and played by human beings. No one started supporting their team because they splashed £40m on a new midfielder. Glory-hunters exist, but few die-hard fans plumped for their club solely because they win trophies all the time. Football fandom is so much more complex than that.
You support a team because your mum or dad does. You pick a team because your mates do, or because you want to be different. You follow a team from your home city because you want to go to games in-person. You watch teams on tv because you admire their style of play, or because you love a certain player.
As happened with other clubs, City fans have reached a point where it’s necessary to take a step back and ask those awkward existential questions.
City have again failed to win the Champions League. They might not win it next season, five years after that, 10 or even ever. Does that make the players, who have thrilled us all season with exquisite football, failures? Would failing to win a trophy this season render the previous nine months of football meaningless? Do we forget about the moments of joy, the brilliant goals, the away days, the highs and the lows just because there wasn’t a trophy waiting at the end of it all?
Football is all about the human experience. Without community, emotion and enjoyment, there really is no point. However, you can have all of those things without silverware.
Reflecting on City’s Champions League exit, Guardiola summed it up perfectly. “Sheikh Mansour didn’t buy Man City and invest in the facilities to live these last years to just win the Champions League. They did it to be there in all competitions and compete.”
So, why do we watch football? If your answer is to just win trophies, then maybe this isn’t the sport for you.
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