130 Second Champions – The Technicolour of football

Written by Uche Abugu

Money makes the world go round they say, but big money has metamorphosed football, from a caterpillar to a blooming butterfly – Manchester City are building football’s first global corporation, which will further change the game, in ways that will make it unrecognizable soon!
They are upsetting the apple-cart of the established order by investing humongous amounts of money into football- their strategy; to have two or three clubs in each continent, in key strategic markets. This approach by City Football Group, is to integrate and make generic their football, its marketing, trainings et al, across all their subsidiaries. Ambitious and scary –they want to win at both football and business.

We must note that Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), owns City Football Group and controls 87%, while the remaining 13% is owned by China Media Capital (CMC) Consortium (bought for $3bn). “We’re already thinking ahead and looking at the global landscape of football in a few years, and how to harness its enormous potentials, said a smiling khaldoon Al Mubarak. Girona FC, Yokohama F. Marinos, Melbourne City FC, New York City FC and Club Atlético Torque of Uruguay are all in their books. It’s no coincidence that Uruguay is there, as they are the biggest per-capita exporter of professional footballers in the world. Well, this is not a lecture in economics, but surely for all the plans and investments, this dynasty as every that has existed, was truly birthed on this faithful day. A journey worth re-living-“these little stories are what make this such a passionate sport”.

Football as we know it, is a game of variable rewards, (away goals with a loss or draws can be considered a victory) from a default state of zeros, there are no guarantees. No assurances, but for all the uncertainty and unpredictability that characterizes the beautiful game, (the only sport with the tag “beautiful”) nothing comes close to what happened in the English Premier League on Saturday, the 13th of May, 2012.

Once upon a time, East of Manchester, a blue moon arose- commandeered by a football thoroughbred, Roberto Mancini. It was a fantastic team by all standards, which had style and substance in equal measure. Lethal Sergio Kun Aguero, the smooth, silky operator in David Silva, backed up by their charismatic captain Vincent Kompany, (represented the meeting point of the new and old City) and driven by their effervescent midfield colossus, Yaya Toure.
When Manchester City won the Premier League in 2012, Sheikh Mansour was widely accused of “buying the title”, but the question for every football head is – did they really?

Quintessential, this journey truly was-

Manchester City started the 2011/12 season strongly, first 12 in14 was won, forty-eight (48) scored, thirteen (13) conceded; swashbuckling. Undefeated in the early exchanges, the “Cityzens” sat pretty on top of the pile, over the second-placed, eternal city rivals, Manchester United with 5 points. A topsy-turvy season, finally hit a crescendo in April.

The loss to Arsenal on April 8th, 2012, put City eight points behind Manchester United, (league leaders) with six games left to end the season. Against all the odds, Man United lost to Wigan Athletic, and their lead was cut to five points. And as if that wasn’t enough, they dropped points further in their next encounter. With a 4–2 lead at Goodison Park, they inexplicably conceded in the 83rd and 85th minutes, to share the spoils against a tenacious Everton side, one point a piece, two precious points lost.

The supposed title decider came swiftly and on 30th April, 2012, the ‘red devils’ marched to the Etihad stadium, hoping to snuff out any real hopes City had left regarding clinching the title. Manchester City who had been trailing their neighbours by a wider margin, came into this match just three points off. Therein was a flicker of hope- a victory and they would be top once again. Yet somehow, as we’ve seen many times, Manchester City beat Manchester United by a lone goal and moved level on points with United, but ahead due to a superior goal difference. Now we had only two games remaining for the curtains to come down on a fabulous season, but nothing prepared us for the roller-coaster that we witnessed.

Manchester City made it two wins in as many games with a 0-2 away win away St. James’s park- in abc, all City needed to win their first premier league title since 1968”; forty four years, and vanquish crosstown perennial rival, Manchester United, who by the way was playing away from home to the black cats (Sunderland)—was a victory over Queens Park Rangers, who were in the relegation scrap, fighting for their premier league survival. Given the home and away numbers for both teams (Man City home- P18 W17 D1, while QPR’s away record-P18 W3 D2 L13), you’d have said, “affirmatively a walk in the park for the Cityzens”.

D-day, and the stage was set, temperature rising! Les Chapman, the equipment manager at Etihad said, “we had T-shirts with “Champions ’12’ inscribed on the back, but we hid them, just in case it didn’t happen.

At the blast of the whistle, it began: Sunderland V Man. United and Man. City V QPR

Manchester United’s talisman and all time record goal scorer, Wayne Rooney broke the deadlock on the 20th minute mark against the black cats; unmarked from a Phil Jones cross, he calmly nodded United in front. Meanwhile, back in Manchester, Pablo Zabaleta scored in the first half (39th minute) to give a one goal lead to City. However, in the 40th minute at Bet 365 stadium, just before City scored, Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers equalized against the ‘’potters”- Stoke City, through Mark Davies. It only took them an additional four minutes to take the lead via Kevin Davies. Advantage the ‘trotters’, because as it stood, QPR was relegated.

After the break, with all to play for in the second half, things got crazy. With the news that filtered out of Bet 365 stadium, its implications, and the voice of Mark Hughes reverberating in the ears of Djibril Cissé, he managed to control a flick from Joeleon Lescott, whizzed past City’s backline and whipped a volley past Joe Hart-48th minutes on the clock, proceedings was level. Joey Barton in his usual shenanigans; maybe the enormity of the occasion and a rush of blood to the head, let fly an elbow on Carlos Tévez; bang! Red card. Numerical advantage City!

Manchester City fans couldn’t believe it- is the god of soccer a “citizen” today?

QPR, with the worst away record in the league, a man down and against the run of play scored; a scintillating dive-header by Jamie Mackie in the 66th minute put them 1-2 in front. QPR is tearing the Man City scripts to shreds, with United reciprocating in kind by maintaining their 1–0 lead; prognosis- Manchester City needs to find two goals in less than 26 minutes.
Are they going to bottle this, right in front of their home fans? was the question on the lips of the entire football world. Nail biting, nerve shattering and feet shaking uncontrollably, the match continued with nothing of note, other than QPR “parking the bus”. Regulation time was up- 90 minutes and it seemingly was almost over. The United game finished four minutes earlier, with the final whistle hitting the airwaves and Manchester City still 2–1 down. United had won; and the championship.

Champions? Yes, BUT the match at Etihad wasn’t finished yet, palpable atmosphere.

They say, the only predictable thing in football is the unpredictability- 90th minute, corner kick- the bulky and barrel-chested Nedum Onuoha, was given the assignment to mark Dzeko for the entirety of match. Edin Dzeko for all his prowess in front of goal, found it difficult to get rid of him for 89 minutes, but this time, quick movement, gained a yard to lose Nedum, he jumped 2 feet higher than everyone and met the corner kick…

Goal!!!! 2-2

HOPE! DREAMS!! Everyone started to believe again…

The tie was now on a knife’s edge, but for the 22 players on the pitch, it was now either a hero or zero, touch the high heavens or the sea bed, make history or HIS-STORY. Meanwhile, in the tunnel area of the stadium of light, was a bee-hive of activities, they had started assembling the presentation stand and the trophy, because duplicate trophies were on hand in Manchester and at Sunderland on this day.

To make matters worse for City, as Nigel De Jong picked up the ball from the back of the net, running towards the center line for a quick re-start, news filtered through to the QPR’s technical bench, that they were safe from relegation, because the final result had come in from Stoke- a 77th-minute Jonathan Walters goal earned Stoke a 2-2 draw to relegate Bolton Wanderers to the Championship and keep QPR up. Twists and turns! A QPR defeat would have condemned them to relegation if Bolton Wanderers had beaten Stoke City, to think Bolton led 2-1 at some stage will make your heart race.  All QPR needed now, was to defend for and with their lives for just the remaining 5 additional minutes only- An eternity, it’s make or break!

 

Play resumed and what looked like pandemonium ensued. In the midst of it all, City riding a small crest of wave, after the equalizer managed to make forward inroads…if only the game allowed for 20 players, QPR would’ve been delighted.
Then, Mario Balotteli got the ball around the edge of QPR’s box, somehow managed to slide pass to Aguero. Nigerian born Taiye Taiwo (donning QPR’s jersey no 4), like a hyena smelling a kill,  jumped in and caught Aguero on his left standing foot- any other day Kun Aguero would have won an Oscar for the theatrical he would have displayed based on that tackle, but it was now or never, the 93rd min. With his thick veined plowman’s legs, a squat powerful torso and low center of gravity, he steadied himself a bit, moved half a yard to create an angle, and let loose a salvo, driven as hard as he’s ever done in his entire footballing career. CUT-

“Time stood still”- tick tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…

…remember when Manolas “the greek god” of AS Roma stepped in front of his marker to glance-head the corner kick, into Barcelona’s net and raised Roma from its ruin OR Roberto Baggio, pony tail dangling from left to right, as he came forward carrying the hopes of the Italian nation on his slender shoulders, set the ball on the penalty mark, stepped back and KaBOOM, and it went way over the woodwork…

ACTION!

With an inevitability, Kun Sergio Aguero’s shot hit the back of the net- 3-2 City! 94th minute-130 seconds after United’s match finished.
La Pelota no entra por azar – meaning “the ball doesn’t go in by chance”.

Kun Aguero let rip his shirt, Joe Hart in his customary short sleeve, dark green Etihad branded shirt, arms stretched like the wings of Boeing 747, completely bewildered, every sense of comprehension lost, ran wildly and wanted to fly. Fans were delirious, the men screaming, hands raised, pregnant women looked like their water just broke, kids cried, and held onto their parents tightly, thinking apocalypse is here, stewards in shiny lemon/orange bibs, were in two minds, celebrate or co-ordinate.

It was messy and absurd- nonsensical, but wonderful. Football is always changing, yet it never changes.

The vulnerability of not winning- perennial losers- the ghost of 44 years was finally exorcised- the rabbit hole was finally open- an immersion- completely wrapped up in the lore and the lure of the game-

Manchester City became numero UNO.

Frankly, if there was ever an algorithm in football, I dares say that was it, in all its glory. The pure emotion, all those years of nothing, of humiliation, getting slapped left, right and center by Manchester United, culminated into tears and a rapturous joy.

Flipping the channel back to Sunderland; angst, despair and dejection, Patrice Evra, hands akimbo stood bewildered, Phil Jones; bare-chested, wrapped his jersey around his neck like a muffler, (having swapped shirts with a Sunderland player), as he stared into oblivion, David DeGea raised his shirt to cover his mouth, muttering under his breathe in Spanish…the melancholy of losing out filled the air, as Sir Alex Ferguson was left bemused, with an after taste of defeat, similar to what he served Bayern Munich in 1999 UCL final.

 

Botched dreams, “what ifs”, “could haves” and “should haves”- running through their brain cells yet, Manchester United were champions- truly, for 130 seconds only. The noisy neighbours broke the sound decibel calibration and blew into smithereens their 20th title.
Across the blue side of Manchester, different yet the same – different backgrounds, colour, race, tribe and religion, yelled at and or tussled with each other in elation, the unbridled joy dispensed by a group of men, wearing similar coloured shirts- a sport with so many inane and insanely enjoyable moments.

“There is a little insanity involved in football, in the way it makes you think and feel,” but I must confess, we all became ‘Cityzens’ at that hour. As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve watched a lot more matches, and talked to more people in the game and read, but this without a shadow of doubt was the crème de la crème- the moment CFG’s dynasty was born.

Football has drawn its fascination and strength from moments like this, however it’s more than just a game- Indeed in the ranking of the ‘dramatics’, odds defying remarkable games; succinctly put- stranger things haven’t yet happened in neither on the pitch nor in fandom, since I met this beautiful game called football-

A fairy tale that surpassed the imagination of the world, which left us pondering when and if we’d ever see again anything like this.

A stuff of legends!

featured image credit Sky Sports