It’s been 420 years since Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice.
420 years since the magical playwright wrote about the contemporarily humorous travails of Shylock, a hapless construct who Jewry and relentless misfortune elicited comedic responses amongst a late 16th century audience.
420 years since the work of Shakespeare served to indelibly augment our nation’s proud literary history even further.
Four centuries on, audience responses to Shylock’s perpetual misery have been perverted. The liberalisation of society came to manifest itself in the form of the emancipation of Jews in France in 1791, in Britain in 1858, and eventually in Russia amidst the turbulence of 1917.
In an epoch now characterised by Trump, Brexit and intensifying desires for Scottish independence, readers of Shakespeare’s classic treat the previously-maligned protagonist with notions of empathy and pity. A work that was once intended to function as a callous form of comedy now takes its place in the literary cannon as tale of sadness, malevolence and injustice.
For those of us at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon, a more divergent transformation has surely taken place in our increasingly disillusioned mentalities. City’s season progressively became one that inflicted ideals of sadness and frustration against us, but has gradually descended into one that even the most optimistic fans out there would consider a farce.
Our side were comically woeful in the West Midlands, performing the identical circus of fundamental mistakes that have – and will soon mathematically – eradicated any hopes of salvaging sixth place.
Russell Martin and Ryan Bennett were mannequins for the lively Jonathan Kodjia’s second goal. I don’t recall Alex Tettey playing a single pass that delineated any sense of directness, urgency or penetration. Steven Whittaker was daydreaming for the home side’s opener. Contrary to a recent chant, you regrettably cannot play him anywhere.
We have come to readily anticipate a relentless display of defensive errors on our trips away from Carrow Road. We are all acutely aware of our team’s complete incapability of thwarting opposition attacks on our travels for a whole 90 minutes. However, what was so alarmingly visible about Saturday’s performances were City’s flagrant limitations when they looked to go forward.
Alan Irvine’s players enjoyed a considerable 69 per cent of possession in front of City’s laudable 2,220 travelling contingent. We were in control of the ball for over double the amount of time our opponents did. The second period of yet another dismal contest was almost solely played out in Villa’s half. Yet we offered absolutely nothing going forward.
This was feckless from City, whose growingly incompetent squad seemed content with playing a series of short, simple passes to one another around the half way line rather than seeking to penetrate their vulnerable opponents. Instead of demonstrating an ardent sense of desire to overhaul a deficit and play directly to keep our – albeit very limited – play-off hopes alive, City resembled more of a grossly underprepared candidate on Mastermind: pass, pass, pass – failure.
Our players looked lost in the final third, hopelessly attempting to find a way through Villa but appearing fundamentally void of ideas when confronted with their Alan Hutton-featuring defence.
Only Jonny Howson and Alex Pritchard demonstrated any willingness to turn and play towards Sam Johnstone’s goal, while the indefatigable Cameron Jerome was deprived of service. When the solitary chance came, Jerome’s inferior understudy Nelson Oliviera fluffed his lines.
What Saturday showed was the irreparable shortcomings of this squad, a group who are collectively ageing and do not therefore possess the requisite dynamism nor adaptability to outthink teams going forward.
Our Tettey-inspired laterality is startlingly predictable. That, compounded with a serial inability to defend, culminates to form an undesirable synthesis.
City’s intransigent reliance on keeping the ball through a series of sideways exchanges is set to be ruthlessly punished by David Wagner’s hungry and motivated Huddersfield in South Yorkshire tonight.
The German’s side constitutes the antithesis of what this current City team stands for: verve, vitality and offensive flair as opposed to lethargy, torpidity and a languid presence on the ball. The imminent masterclass from one of the league’s best should function as an additional education in Championship success, building upon The Terriers’ fine display at Carrow Road on that diabolical Friday night in December.
As I travel up the A1 this afternoon with my irrational notions of optimism and hope, I will no doubt reflect on the stark necessity for extreme change at the football club I adore. The new Stuart Webber-appointed Head Coach must ruthlessly cull this obsolete squad, eradicating the destabilising influences that constitute virtually the whole of City’s defence.
Fresh and hungry players with something to prove must be recruited, players such as Barnsley’s excellent young defender Angus McDonald or Wolves’ dependable captain Danny Batth.
Our selection of slow, undynamic midfielders who do not possess the sufficient enterprise to affect games at this level must be replaced with youthful flair. James Maddison is waiting. The summer is critical.
But until then, we must endure the elapsing of a season that has thoroughly underwhelmed. While I do fervently hope my first visit to the John Smith’s Stadium may witness a miraculously repeat of City’s Stephen Elliot-inspired victory back in League One, I fear that Huddersfield’s pace and energy in the form of Elias Kachunga and Nahki Wells may be too potent for our brittle defence to contain.
We shall wait and see.