Tough at the Top

This week saw two unexpected Champions League results, to say the least.  Two of the favourites were unceremoniously dumped out in the quarter-final stages to a crescendo of criticism and grumbling on the terraces.  Questions have been asked of players, debates raged about managers and the press has had a field day with CAPS LOCK IN OVERDRIVE!  However Manchester City should put their defeat into some perspective and view Barcelona’s post-Rome doom and gloom with some forewarning of what is to come, if they are to go and achieve even a fraction of the Catalan giant’s success.

For Manchester City to be disappointed with a stitch on league title and League Cup win as well as an appearance in the last eight of the Champions League shows how far they have come over the past decade.  And yet that yearning for major European success is already there for all to see.  Their acceleration to this stage however is a startling reminder of how modern football has become so short-sighted and lost all previous contexts.  And the question has to be asked, should they be disappointed with only winning two domestic honours this season?  Are at that stage already?

One need only glance across at the defeat of Barcelona to AS Roma on Tuesday night.  Kostas Manolas’s header on the 82nd minute ended their Champions League ambitions, the third time in succession they have fallen at this stage.  Los Cules’ season had been mirroring City’s; domestic dominance, a cup final in the bag and a straight forward run to the last eight, without breaking too much sweat or hamstrings.  And yet, their season now looks in tatters, tainted by capitulation to an away goals defeat to a side fourth in Serie A.  With Real sealing a semi final place last night, this only exacerbates the pressure on Ernesto Valverde’s side.  Yes they will the league and likely the cup; however they will not get the big one, and could well see their timeless foes lift the famous trophy for a thirteenth time.  Their 2015 success against Juventus would start to seem distant, almost of another era, but then three years is an eternity in football with ambition of this scale.

Madrid too offers a forewarning to City fans of what could be to come in their thirsty pursuit of glory.  The fascinating anguish of Real’s nearly great eighties side is an interesting example of immortality being a bridge too far.  The Quinta del Buitre was considered their greatest side in twenty years, lead by the prolific forward Emilo Butragueño.  This is a side that would be revered and sung about forever at any other football club, with the exception of Barcelona.  Five successive league titles to break Basque dominance, as well as two Uefa cups and domestic cups were boasted by this talent pool.  However their exploits in the European Cup would leave a lasting scar on this wonderful group.  Four successive semi-final defeats meant that the Vulture Squad missed out on eternal glory and have slipped to become a footnote in football history, outside of Real Madrid’s sphere of influence.  To quote the great Di Stefano; “They played well…they never win the European Cup.”

It’s nothing new to say that for Barca and Real, League and domestic cup success is not enough, they need the European Cup, it’s their life blood and any side, no matter how talented, that doesn’t bring that prize home could not be truly considered among their elite.

However for City, like Chelsea before them, they simply cannot claim to be there. Their history just doesn’t yet boast that level of dominance or variety of successful sides.  No doubt, a significant number of the fans would still be jumping for joy at their recent success, but that has not been the case for their owners.  Both Mancini and Pellegrini brought converted league and cup success but were jettisoned as the club’s ambitious owners seek the ultimate prize.  City seem on the cusp of greatness by their own relative standards, but in a world that contains the insatiable desires of Barca and Real, perhaps they may have to wait for European success. Perhaps this side could be their own Vulture Squad, if Pep led them to domestic dominance in the same way as Madrid’s eighties side, he’d be worthy of statues and songs.  For now though, they should lick their wounds after this week’s defeat, enjoy their success thus far and be grateful that they don’t hurt as much as Barcelona do as they watch their great rivals inch closer to Kiev.

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