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Modern-day Man City leave hapless predecessors in shade : From laughing stock to winning machine

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Published Time: 13.05.2024 - 14:40:55 Modified Time: 13.05.2024 - 14:40:55

Pep Guardiola has helped transform club once shot through with ineptitude into epitome of slick, smart success Getty Images/Stephanie Meek Twenty five years ago this month, even as the club down the road were registering English football’s first-ever Treble, Manchester City were engaged in the League One play-off final against Gillingham

Pep Guardiola has helped transform club once shot through with ineptitude into epitome of slick, smart success

: Getty Images/Stephanie Meek

Twenty five years ago this month, even as the club down the road were registering English football’s first-ever Treble, Manchester City were engaged in the League One play-off final against Gillingham. 

Almost precisely three years before that, on the last day of the season in May 1996 they had been relegated from the Premier League after their manager Alan Ball had instructed his team to play for a draw in the mistaken belief that a point was all that was required to stay up. 

In March 1972, meanwhile, as City sat four points clear at the top of the First Division, their manager Malcolm Allison paid out a then club record fee of £200,000 to sign Rodney Marsh from Queens Park Rangers. This, Allison insisted, was the final piece in a championship-winning jigsaw. By May 1972, with Marsh simply adding confusion to the front line, City ended up fourth.

But while 1999 and all that is now a chastening reminder of United’s decline, for City all those Theatre of Base Comedy moments of the past are a foreign country indeed. In May 2024, those times seem impossible to reconcile with a side heading smoothly and seamlessly to a fourth Premier League title on the bounce. 

Where once this was a club shot through with incompetence and ineptitude, now it is the epitome of slick, modern, smart success.

Sure, the vociferous away fans packed into the Putney End at Craven Cottage on Saturday lunchtime may have enjoyed themselves reprising the “we’re not really here” chant first sung, with self-conscious irony, in those long lost League One days. 

But what they were watching on the pitch was about as close to Ball hearing from the stands that Southampton were losing and telling his players to ease up as, well, Erik ten Hag’s United are to Sir Alex Ferguson’s.

: Getty Images/Stephanie Meek

Everything worked for City against Fulham. As their manager Pep Guardiola said, this is a team of individuals who seem to enjoy the pressure of a title race. Led by the imperious Rodri, a player who has not tasted defeat in any football match since Spain lost to Scotland in March, nobody in light blue looked remotely cowed by responsibility. 

From their goalkeeper, smothering Fulham’s only chance with ease, through a back four rarely troubled, through a brilliant midfield of grit, determination and skill, they are a team that appears to have every eventuality covered. So good are they, they could even afford an off day from their main finisher Erling Haaland.

That Guardiola has such weaponry at his disposal is a reflection of the excellence of the City recruitment system. Take Josko Gvardiol. Brought in as a full-back for the future, the Croatian was not cheap. But the £77.6 million City paid RB Leipzig for his services already looks a lot better value than the £200,000 forked out for Marsh half a century before. 

Far from being, as Marsh was all those years ago, intimidated by the scale of the task as City seek out another double, Gvardiol has hit the ground running, providing six goals to the title charge since March. He scored twice against Fulham: the first completing a Messi-like slalom in from the left wing, the second a poacher’s snipe at the far post.

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