El Cashico – a game for the age

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

HOW apt that as a cur­tain­raiser to El Cla­sico on Satur­day night, the filthy rich Premier League stages El Cashico! Or, if you pre­fer, the Oil and Ga­sico.

Ei­ther way, Manch­ester City vs Chelsea is a clash that con­spic­u­ously lacks the po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and foot­ball his­tory that en­sures Barcelona vs Real Madrid res­onates around the world. Even so, we should get used to the idea that the ‘fight of the fos­sil fu­els’ is one of THE fix­tures of the cur­rent era.

As crit­ics are quick to point out, it “ain’t got no histry” at all and it lacks the grav­i­tas of Manch­ester United and Liver­pool, the trib­al­ism of Spurs vs Arse­nal and the re­li­gious un­der­cur­rent of Celtic and Rangers.

Even this week’s EFL Cup match be­tween Liver­pool and Leeds car­ried more echoes, al­beit dis­tant, of a gen­uine ri­valry be­tween gi­ants than to­mor­row’s early kick-off be­tween the game’s nou­veau riche.

Yes, they may both be at the gold tap stage of their development and owe ev­ery­thing to their lot­tery-like wins in the game of own­er­ship, but one area where there are in­creas­ing par­al­lels to the Span­ish clas­sic is on the pitch.

There’s no Messi or Ron­aldo but a glit­ter­ing sup­port­ing cast and, give or take a com­plaint from Liver­pool and Arse­nal, they are just about the best in Eng­land on cur­rent form.

But with well over a bil­lion quid spent on each, you could ar­gue that they should be. In fact, you could ar­gue they should have done bet­ter.

Both have won tro­phies and had their mo­ments of what we might call “flaunt­ing it”, but nei­ther has come close to the en­dur­ing dominance that both Liver­pool and United have en­joyed in the past. That only reaf­firms the view that there is still more to foot­ball hege­mony than the size of your bank balance.

The afore­men­tioned clubs also had sev­eral decades’ start on both blue out­fits as es­tab­lished sport­ing in­sti­tu­tions whose names, tra­di­tions and lev­els of sup­port would take some over­haul­ing.

They still haven’t been. Be­sides, when they were taken over both Chelsea and City were closer to the knacker’s yard than Euro­pean glory.

Where there is a real dif­fer­ence be­tween them is in style – or, rather, the goals and modus operandi of their re­spec­tive sugar dad­dies. Ro­man Abramovich, in the words of then Arse­nal direc­tor David Dein, “parked his tanks on our lawn and started fir­ing £50 notes at us”.

It was a scat­ter­gun ap­proach with both play­ers and man­agers, but once Jose Mour­inho was in com­mand, the Rus­sian’s rou­bles trans­formed Chelsea into cham­pi­ons and a for­mi­da­ble force in Europe.

Pa­tience, how­ever, was not a no­tice­able virtue and years of tur­moil fol­lowed. Man­ager after big-name man­ager came and went but tro­phies would some­how still be won al­though more in spite of rather than be­cause of any co­her­ent plan.

Chelsea were sim­ply the ul­ti­mate toy-cum­fash­ion ac­ces­sory of one of the rich­est men in the world who did what he wanted with them.

The po­lar op­po­site was Sheikh Man­sour and the Abu Dhabi United Goup (ADUG) whose ob­jec­tive was to put their emi­rate on the map.

More me­thod­i­cal, pa­tient and, yes, am­bi­tious than Abramovich, they have used City as a ve­hi­cle for a global en­ter­prise that ul­ti­mately is sup­posed to yield a profit.

Suc­cess has taken longer but they have laid foun­da­tions that ought to en­sure it lasts. They have changed the club root and branch but not with­out con­sult­ing the fans on ev­ery as­pect.

They have built the world’s best train­ing fa­cil­ity-cum-cam­pus, re­gen­er­ated a derelict chunk of east Manch­ester around the sta­dium and bought stel­lar names.

Manch­ester City are also the mother ship of the City Foot­ball Group that has af­fil­i­ates in New York, Mel­bourne and Yoko­hama. And their plan is not just to beat Manch­ester United but Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The cap­ture of Pep Guardi­ola is a key step along the way and the Cata­lan has al­ready made his pres­ence felt.

The Bat­tle of the Blues is in many eyes a po­ten­tial ti­tle de­cider and for once City have had a week to pre­pare. Chelsea, who have been en­joy­ing this lux­ury all sea­son, ar­rive hav­ing had their met­tle tested by Spurs but they will have gained con­fi­dence from their abil­ity to adapt to match sit­u­a­tions.

An­to­nio Conte is a man­ager who can think on his feet just like Guardi­ola and their tac­ti­cal clash will be one of the more fas­ci­nat­ing as­pects of this ex­pen­sive col­li­sion. City have weak­nesses in de­fence which Diego Costa and Eden Haz­ard are sure to ex­ploit.

But City’s Kun Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and Ra­heem Ster­ling with David Silva and Ilkay Gun­do­gan pulling the strings can be un­stop­pable.

The home side also have Yaya Toure back in the fold and per­haps a greater depth in the squad – the likes of Leroy Sane, Nolito and Kelechi Iheana­cho of­fer­ing re­serve fire­power.

Chelsea’s three-man back line may find it­self tested more se­verely than be­fore al­though Haz­ard and Costa could cause a bit of havoc in City’s rear­guard.

Who­ever comes out on top, th­ese two clubs are here for the long term. Both sets of own­ers have made ex­pen­sive mis­takes but are show­ing signs of hav­ing learned lessons.

The bat­tle on the pitch looks a mouth­wa­ter­ing prospect but could be­come a reg­u­lar feast.

The clubs may be Johnny-come-latelys to the top ta­ble and it is tak­ing time for their global fol­low­ings to grow, but if their ri­valry is not one for the ages, it is one for THIS age – both on and off the field.

Barca and Real have been warned.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.