Craig Salmon takes a look at the current Manchester City team’s place in the history of English football
Wigan Athletic’s shock victory over Manchester City has ended one argument – for the time being at least.
Pep Guardiola’s men were on course for a historic Quadruple this season.
No English club has ever managed to win the league title, conquer Europe and emerge victorious in both domestic cup competitions in one campaign.
But with City running away with the Premier League title, in the final of the League Cup – where they will face Arsenal on Sunday – and on the cusp of the Champions League quarter-finals, talk of an unprecedented quartet of honours was certainly getting louder.
However, Will Grigg’s smartly-taken second-half strike at the DW Stadium on Monday night in the fifth round of the FA Cup means the debate about who is English football’s greatest ever club side will rumble on for a bit longer.
If City had claimed the Quadruple – combined with their beautiful style of play inspired by Guardiola – then arguably they could have laid claim to being the best ever.
As it is, City cannot now better neighbours Manchester United’s Treble of 1999 when they won the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup.
And they can only emulate the great Liverpool side of the early 1980s who won the European Cup, the League Cup and were also crowned champions of England in 1984.
I think City’s playing style is what has had many judges and observers within the game extolling their virtues, as far as the history of the game in this country is concerned.
The Citizens have only lost once in the league, have already scored more than a century of goals in all competitions and won an astonishing 18 Premier League games on the bounce.
I have been fortunate to witness Pep’s men in action live this season and it is certainly an interesting watch.
Much has been made about their goalkeeper Ederson’s ability with his feet as much as his hands, but in many ways the Brazilian is City’s most important player. The comfort he possesses with the ball at his feet under pressure and his Ronald Koeman-esque ability to knock accurate 50-yard passes allows City to spread the play and make the pitch appear huge.
Striker Sergio Aguero is happy to drop into offside positions, while the centre-halves go wide and the holding midfielder drops deep, as Guardiola tries to create as much space on the pitch as possible.
It certainly is a different way of playing to Sir Alex Ferguson’s great teams of the past.
Although he was an advocate of passing football, his teams were always committed to a dynamic attacking style, high-tempo – sometimes direct – and often imposed their sheer will on the opposition. The Liverpool teams of the 1980s were famed for being a pass-and-move outfit, but the fact that the back-pass rule was a thing of the future back then means City’s current crop have arguably taken the game on another notch or two.
While I can’t help but admire the football being played in the Blue half of Manchester this season, I always baulk when I hear commentators suggest that City are great representatives for English football and that they could be the greatest ‘English team’ ever.
Is Belgian Kevin De Bruyne’s unbelievable form, Spaniard David Silva’s tiki-taka’s brilliance or Argentinian Aguero’s phenomenal goalscoring record something which English football can be proud of? Even the English players such as John Stones, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph were all brought to the club for more than a pretty penny or two after being developed by other clubs.
I know that City are not alone in spending huge amounts of money on players both from home and abroad and that it is just the way of the world as far as the Premier League is concerned nowadays.
But for me – in terms of great sides from these shores – there is something rather more romantic about United’s famous home-grown Class of ’92 or the way Liverpool’s famed Boot Room were able to unearth unpolished gems and turn them into world beaters.