Show City are not shoo-ins
IT IS an ugly business; it is a beautiful game. Just as football slithered deeper into a cesspit of corruption and sleaze, along comes a Champions League night to lift the spirits: most heartwarmingly at Celtic Park, a cauldron of magnificent hostility, that witnessed a six-goal thriller and one of its great European occasions.
As Sam Allardyce flew “abroad” to reflect on his own disgrace and the Daily Telegraph named other managers who liked to more than smell “the coffee”, Celtic vs City was a timely reminder that the game can still produce wonderful drama on the field.
And Celtic, the first British club to win the European Cup, not only made the surviving Lisbon Lions proud, by doing so they may have inadvertently breathed new life into the Premier League title race south of the border.
That a team stitched together for less than £20m could shake one assembled for £400m (with a lot more wasted) will have been noted by City’s rivals in England. On this evidence, the only similarity the Barcelona wannabes have with the Catalan kings is their taste in hideous away strips.
Elsewhere Bayern were beaten, Barca had to come from behind and, not to be outdone, Newcastle and Norwich produced an amazing finish in the Championship with the Toon scoring in the 95th and 96th minutes to win 4-3.
But it was on a wet and windy night in Glasgow, that City, for the first time this season, looked vulnerable, Pep somewhat less than invincible. Roared on by the best fans in Europe, Celtic took an early lead in each half to knock the billionaires from Manchester out of their elegant stride. It was hard to believe this same Brendan Rodgers team had lost to Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar.
City could have easily lost this but had enough about them to share the spoils. Although they were on top at the end, they would have been relieved to have survived where even Barcelona, with Lionel Messi in his pomp, have been beaten.
As Guardiola has repeatedly stated, City will take risks and he was certainly true to his word here. Playing a high line, with a makeshift central defence and a keeper who wants to play in midfield, the Premiership leaders looked more than dodgy at the back.
In midfield, with Ilkay Gundogan still Telegraph The Telegraph Daily struggling to get into games after a long layoff and Kevin de Bruyne missing, they seemed lightweight and reliant on Raheem Sterling who is looking like a man reborn.
In the last couple of weeks, one or two fissures have been appearing to suggest the league may not be quite the cakewalk for City that some people thought. Vincent Kompany is surely now in the last chance surgery which, even before last night, had Pep considering a move for Juventus’s Leonardo stamping out corruption from the game.
“Any substantive allegations will be investigated with the full force of the rules at our disposal, which are wide-ranging and well-developed,” they said.
“In addition, should we find any evidence of criminality we would inform and seek the support of the appropriate statutory authorities.”
Crouch’s remarks and the football authorities’ statement came after Alan Shearer, a former England captain, said English football had a problem with “greed”. – AFP Bonucci in January. He will have fierce competition from Chelsea whose need is perhaps even greater.
John Stones made a difference but Celtic’s Moussa Dembele was tiring by the time the £50m man came on. With Aleksandar Kolarov showing his limitations and Kompany possibly out of the equation, someone of Bonucci’s calibre looks essential if Guardiola’s men are to deliver as expected.
They give teams a chance and Celtic came close to taking theirs, even if there was a touch of fortune about two of their goals. And you had to wonder how City’s defence will fare against Liverpool, particularly, and even Arsenal who have the quick, incisive passers that are likely to slice through a high and uncertain line.
It does make for a tantalising prospect and one that is desperately needed as the game reels from daily disclosures of dirt and dysfunctional governing bodies. Big Sam had to go – as one who felt strongly that he was the ideal man, I hold my hand up on this one – he had many attributes but greed got the better of him.
Third-party ownership is a no-no and a recipe for chaos and corruption. Given half a chance, it would become 33rd party with small “investors” each owning a share in a player and being able to influence transfers and, dare it be said, even performances, if in cahoots with bent managers. Having the England manager aiding and abetting this would have been unthinkable, especially for an organisation like the FA.
Another rather different wrong that needs righting is that clubs like Celtic, Ajax and Benfica are forever cast into the qualifiers for Europe’s greatest club competition – simply because of “market forces”. City were the big boys here but they are Johnny-come-latelys in Europe whereas the Bhoys themselves have a distinguished history and, as we saw, phenomenal support.
Ajax have won the trophy four times, Benfica twice and Celtic once yet because their national leagues’ broadcasting rights are sold for peanuts, these great clubs are dumped in the minnows bin. It is another example of greed winning and another scandal the game needs to address.
But as we move into autumn braced for more shocking revelations, at least we have a title race to look forward to that could be more open than many realised. THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION HOWEVER, the Gunners are ready to fend off the FA by offering Wenger a new two-year contract.
FORMER FORMER England midfielder Owen Hargreaves, 35, says the players would benefit from the management of 38-year-old Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.
ARSENAL ARSENAL’S Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil, 27, is hoping for
a move back to Real Madrid. FORMER DERBY COUNTY want to talk to former player Gary Rowett, 42, about taking over as manager having suspended Nigel Pearson.
NEIL WARNOCK, TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR forward Son Heung-min, 24, who has scored three goals in the last two games, considered leaving the club in the summer after struggling to establish himself.
LEICESTER CITY (caricature),
is expected to make an approach for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, 66, with a view to him becoming the new England boss.
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate, 46, wants to be the next permanent England boss and is viewing his four matches in temporary charge as a chance to stake a claim for the job.
Manchester City’s midfielder Fernando (R) vies in the air with Celtic’s striker Moussa Dembele during their UEFA Champions League Group C match at Celtic Park stadium in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday. –
and Chelsea would be ready to bid for Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata, 23, if he asks to leave the Bernabeu. Steve Bruce, Harry Redknapp and former Rams boss Steve McClaren are all in the frame for the Championship club’s vacancy. striker Jamie Vardy 29, says he drank port the night before a game, then three cans of Red Bull and a double espresso on the day of the match last season, as the Foxes won the Premier League.