Significant Praise is Due for Pep & City

Both the 2010s and the 2020s (already!) have been incredible decades for Manchester City with phenomenal success coming City’s way. Thanks to the astute management and coaching by Pep Guardiola and his staff, together with some extremely talented players, the Blues have been able to celebrate trophy successes on a regular basis. Pep deserves significant praise for what he has achieved and with the potential that City could win the Premier League next weekend it’s time to think back and consider what has been achieved in recent years.

Before I go on (I’ll explain more later) but it is important to spell out that while some in the media keep telling us that the League is less competitive now than ever before, it’s worth pausing to consider that in only the last 3 complete seasons we’ve had 2/3rds the number of title winners they had in the entire decade of the 2000s and half what they had in the 80s and 90s decades too! But, apparently, it’s less competitive now. Think about that as you read what follows please. Thanks.

These are incredibly special times and City fans are truly grateful. The Blues have a Champions League semi final 2nd leg on Wednesday; the prospect of a League title on Sunday and also have the FA Cup final to look forward to. If that’s anything like City’s first trip to the new Wembley in 2011 that will be a special day. No City fan I know are complacent or take anything for granted though and that’s important. As fans it’s important to act like the players and retain an hunger for further glory. City’s brilliant 1960s/70s coach Malcolm Allison once told me to ‘celebrate every success as if it’s your first’ because it’s important to retain the drive and determination.

It’s worth pausing at this stage in the season to reflect on the last decade or so to fully appreciate what the club has achieved. I’ve been doing a few decade comparisons recently, looking at dominant clubs each decade and the competitive nature of English football. I’ve taken each decade (starting with the first complete season, such as 1960-61 through to 1969-70), and looked at the successful teams of that era.

During season 2010-11 through to the end of 2019-20 City managed to win an incredible total of 11 major trophies – a phenomenal figure, especially when compared with the nearest rivals Chelsea who won seven major trophies during that time. No doubt critics will say ‘ah, but there’s less competition’ but that’s absolutely not true, certainly not in terms of our major domestic competitions. It keeps being drummed into us that there’s less competition but that’s really downplaying the achievements of those teams that have challenged.

Between 2010-11 and 2019-20 there were five different Premier League winners. That’s more top flight champions than in each of the previous three decades and the same as in the period 1970-71 to 1979-80 when many people talk of a relatively open title race. How many times do we hear people say ‘back in the 70s and 80s anyone could win the title.’ Well, that may have appeared true at the time but the truth is that only a small group of clubs actually did win it. Even in the 1930s there were only four different champions (Arsenal, Everton, Sunderland & City), although that was only nine complete seasons due to war.

The total number of different champions in each decade since the start of the 1960s is:

1960-61 to 1969-70: 7 (Spurs, Ipswich, Everton, Liverpool, United, City & Leeds)

1970-71 to 1979-80: 5 (Arsenal, Derby, Liverpool, Leeds & Nottm Forest)

1980-81 to 1989-90: 4 (Aston Villa, Liverpool, Everton & Arsenal)

1990-91 to 1999-00: 4 (Arsenal, Leeds, United & Blackburn)

2000-01 to 2009-10: 3 (United, Arsenal & Chelsea)

2010-11 to 2019-20: 5 (United, City, Chelsea, Leicester & Liverpool))

Most fans who were around in the 1990s and 2000s will remember that in both those decades the League seemed totally out of the grasp of most of clubs and that it was only because of the investment in Blackburn (1990s) and Chelsea (2000s) that the duopoly of Arsenal and United was broken. Similarly, the investment in City from 2008 allowed the Blues to challenge again and, to be frank, the same is true for Leicester though clearly on a smaller scale (remember Leicester’s own Financial Fair Play issues – Worth thinking about their example and those of Blackburn, City & Chelsea, plus of course United decades ago, Huddersfield in the 20s and many other clubs which prove that investment is often needed to help increase competition?).

Investing in squads obviously increases the chance of trophy success but it takes an awful lot more than simply buying players to generate major success and to sustain it for a decade or more. As a stark reminder those fans old enough will remember the late 1970s and early 80s when the former West Ham players Malcolm Allison and then John Bond had spells in charge at Maine Road. Both flamboyant characters were hugely talented coaches and they spent a lot of money during their time managing the Blues. But Allison’s side was described as the most expensive team ever assembled when it was embarrassed at Fourth Division Halifax while Bond’s side was unable to mount a serious challenge for the title (though he did manage to get to the FA Cup final with mostly Allison’s team in 1981).

There are plenty of examples, including this season, of teams that have spent an awful lot of money but have failed to achieve the success expected. Money helps but it doesn’t guarantee success.

Talented coaches challenge traditional thinking. They bring in fresh ideas and force rivals to adapt and re-evaluate their own way of doing things. They lift ordinary players into trophy winners and they take supremely talented players to the next level, making them all-time legends who can compete at the very highest levels of European and world football.

Pep Guardiola has achieved all of that and is absolutely the most talented coach working in English football today. He has brought his club sustained success while identifying and developing players to replace established City legends. Throughout his time at City he has kept the club focused and hungry for glory in a way that so few managers ever achieve. Alex Ferguson managed it at United but apart from him and, to a lesser extent, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal no manager has managed to achieve and sustain this at any English club for decades. Let’s not forget either that United borrowed heavily in the late 1980s to give Ferguson the funds to create the most expensive British squad ever assembled at the time. It took a few years and caused much friction with shareholders as the club borrowed more and more but ultimately it all paid off and the success that followed strengthened United’s position significantly – something that is happening at City, though City didn’t fund their success on borrowing, it was from investment (I still find it hard to accept that in any other business investment is good but in football it’s the enemy while borrowing & debt is something we should celebrate!).

In terms of finance, let’s pause to think of turnover and profitability. These have increased significantly for City since the investment in the club in 2008. Sponsorships have increased, attendances have increased, kit deals have increased etc. Some say that there’s something ‘dodgy’ about that. I don’t know the financial ins and outs of any club but I do know that when Alex Ferguson became manager of United there were United did not have the same level of sponsorship they had 15 years later. At United those first 15 years of Ferguson’s reign saw sponsorships increase, attendances increase, kit deals increase etc. exactly like the last 15 years at City. Trophy success, global TV audiences, capacity increases all lead to growth. A forensic financial expert would need to research this but it’s clear that these things happen when a team is successful. Each year we are told of the financial ‘bonus’ a lower tier club gets when it plays in the later stages of a major cup competition, or reaches the play offs. It’s not rocket science and those owners that invest in their clubs do so because they see a return or an increase in the value of their club…. Anyway, back to the competitive nature of football…

Looking at domestic cup competitions the 2010s also saw more different winners than the previous decade. During the seasons 2010-11 to 2019-20 there were eight clubs (Birmingham, Liverpool, Swansea, City, Chelsea, United, Wigan & Arsenal) who found success in the domestic cups as opposed to seven between 2000-01 and 2009-10 (Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Chelsea, United, Spurs, Arsenal & Portsmouth). Okay, so it’s only one extra club but it means that seven different clubs won major domestic trophies between 2001-09 and nine between 2010-11 to 2019-20 in total.

Whichever way you look at it the 2010s demonstrated a greater variety of English clubs finding major trophy success than the previous decade. We’re often being told that football is less competitive now than it was before but in terms of the game’s top domestic honours that’s not true. Obviously, there are disparities within football – most City fans experienced the negatives of that in the 1980s and 1990s – and those of us in Greater Manchester know only too well the plight of our neighbours Oldham, Rochdale and Bury. However, in terms of challenging for titles and domestic honours at the top of the pyramid the statistics prove that competition has been there throughout City’s modern era success. Every trophy has been a challenge and every success has been achieved through dedication and determination.

City fans have a lot to be thankful for and this last decade or so has been remarkable thanks to the endeavours of many, many people. Here’s a reminder of City’s major trophies during the last decade or so under each manager:

Roberto Mancini: Premier League (2012) & FA Cup (2011)

Manuel Pellegrini: Premier League (2014) & League Cup (2014 & 2016)

Pep Guardiola: Premier League (2018, 2019, 2021 & 2022), FA Cup (2019) & League Cup (2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021)

With a FA Cup final coming up, a mouth-watering Champions semi-final v Real Madrid and the rest of the League campaign to play, there’s a strong possibility the trophy honours can be added to soon.

Programme Article

I was quite pleased with my MCFC V WHU programme article the other night (3 May). The article challenged the perception that City’s triumphs in recent years are somehow less significant than others as City have ‘bought success’. I feel quite strongly about that, so the article compares past decades to see if the last decade or so has been more competitive at the top of the League. Subscribers can see the full article below but here’s a taster:

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Incoming: Pep

On this day (1 February) in 2016 after increasing speculation from the media Manchester City announced that Pep Guardiola would succeed Manuel Pellegrini as their manager in the summer. The BBC’s Phil McNulty said at the time: “The combination of the charismatic Catalan’s coaching brilliance and the financial backing he will receive makes this a partnership the rest of football world could come to fear.”

Here’s the BBC Report from that day:

Norwich Suffer

A flashback to a high scoring win for Manchester’s Blues on this day in 2013…

After the 2-1 last gasp defeat at Chelsea in their previous League game, manager Manuel Pellegrini took the decision to drop goalkeeper Joe Hart for this important match with Norwich. The decision brought much scrutiny City’s way but Hart’s replacement Pantilimon had little to do as the Blues thrashed Norwich 7-0.  The win lifted City to fourth in the League but more significantly demonstrated the fire power the Blues possessed and demonstrated to all that Pellegrini’s men were determined to mount a serious challenge for the title. Seven separate scorers – including an own goal – made this City’s largest top flight win since 1968. Afterwards Pellegrini was delighted that his side kept striving for more: “Normally a team 4-0 ahead finishes working.”

City had a 100% home record in the Premier League but away from home life was not so easy. At Sunderland in the next League game the Blues were unfortunate to lose 1-0. The BBC’s Sam Sheringham explained: “Referee Mike Dean’s leniency was on display once again in the build-up to the opening goal. The official opted not to penalise Bardsley when he appeared to bundle over Milner, allowing the full-back to race on to Brown’s long pass and curl a precise finish past Costel Pantilimon.”

The Blues were back down to eighth in what seemed likely to be a tight title race.

Match Stats:


2 Nov   Norwich City (H)                        W 7-0 Silva, Nastasic, Negredo, Toure, Aguero, Dzeko & Johnson (OG)              47,066

10 Nov Sunderland (A)                         L 0-1                                        40,137

League Cup

30 Oct  Newcastle United (A)                 W 2-0 Negredo, Dzeko             33,846