I absolutely love a bit of magic. The illusion of creating something that is seemingly impossible.
I sit there, eyes transfixed on the performer, drooling in anticipation. I can feel the suspense of those around me as the foundations of the illusion are slowly and precisely put in place. I await the moment of wonder…
“Was your card the Seven of Clubs?”
“Yes! YES IT WAS! Huh? How did you do that?”
An extravagantly produced illusion or a basic card trick – it doesn’t matter to me – I guarantee it’ll give me goosebumps. If I ask my three-year old son to ‘say the magic word’ (i.e. please or thank you) his first thought now is “Abracadabra!”
Of course, there’s no such thing as magic. People don’t get sawn in half (or do they?) It’s all in the mind.
A magic wand is just a black and white stick. Which is a shame, as City could do with some fairy dust right now. I heard many moans and groans against Sunderland but I’m not really sure what these fans were expecting?
Were they hoping for rabbits appearing in hats? Did they think we’d be the ‘real deal’ in August?
It’s very early days and sadly, Daniel Farke has not quite managed to perfect his sleight of hand yet. He’s still working on his spells, ably assisted by the lovely Edmund Riemer.
Most of the discontent surrounded our style of play rather than the final result.
A mix of profligacy and being too pedestrian. “Stop pissing about with it and get it in the mixer” being the favourite cry of one particular fan standing in my vicinity. I’m not convinced he’s going to enjoy this season.
But does he have a point? Are we a one-trick pony? Is heavy possession an illusion that disguises problems elsewhere?
Are we going to be too predictable? Do we move the ball too slowly? Should we pull the trigger a little more often? Should we sling a few balls into the box and mix it up?
All reasonable questions to ask but as far as I can tell, barring a few tweaks here and there, what we see now is a good guide to what we’ll get under Farke. We won’t be changing the style of play – this is the blueprint now.
Patient, possession football. Just like the performance of a magic trick, the build-up can be slow and calculated but it’s all designed to move the concentration away from what the magician is actually doing. They don’t want you to see how it’s done.
When we pass the ball around the back three/four for 30 seconds without ever moving forward, it’s not done simply to boost our possession stats! It’s tactical; it makes them expend more energy while also bringing our opponent towards us, leaving more space behind for our attacking players to expose.
If the option to pass forward is deemed the wrong one, it’ll go backwards. If we’re 30 yards from goal and get stuck, we won’t just shoot for the sake of it.
We will remain calm and assured on the ball, regardless of the score and opponent. We’ll have a tactical flexibility that allows us to switch things up if required, rather than a change of style we normally associate with British teams desperate for a goal.
We won’t be using the phrase ‘gung ho’ anymore. There’ll be no launching cross after cross into the penalty area, no pumping balls ‘into the mixer’. The die is set, and if some fans don’t like what they see, they will just have to suck it up I’m afraid.
This is a footballing philosophy. You don’t throw it out of the window if you lose a couple of goals.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and I understand that.
Despite enormous success over a decade or so, there were, and still are, plenty of naysayers who are turned-off by the Cruyff-invented, Guardiola-defined brand of possession football. But that is the tactical and technically-driven route we’ve chosen to go down as a football club. And to be fair, I can certainly think of worse ways to play the game.
One thing is sure: we’ll get better – better at everything. There’ll still be mistakes – they’re human – but the key is to choose the right option at the right time. To shoot from 30 yards, to cross, to clear your lines when appropriate.
One area we desperately need to improve is defensively, and it’s not the first time I’ve said that.
The personnel may have changed but some things never do, such as our defence disappearing quicker than the Statue of Liberty under some David Copperfield wizardry.
I’m not going to call-out individuals as it’s very early days, but no team, under any circumstances, should be losing goals like that opening Lewis Grabban strike.
Its ‘jumpers for goalposts’ stuff – the most basic style of play you’ll ever see. A huge lump forward, a flick-on and a shot. Completely unacceptable to get undone like that.
Against Fulham, Swindon, and again on Sunday, it was too easy to deliver crosses into our box. We need to work harder to close that space down. We also look liable to concede against every single set piece we face (and did against the League Two side).
But there have been positives too.
The second half against Fulham was very promising, against a side who I feel sure will compete for a top two slot. For 30 minutes on Tuesday evening, we were rampant and playing a brand of ‘sexy fuβball’ that had my appetite whetted.
And until Sunderland’s opening goal, there was a real buzz amongst fans at the way we were moving the ball around, creating spaces and angles and pinning our visitors back.
Had Cameron Jerome’s offside goal stood, the confidence would have flowed and I think we’d have won the game. Fine margins.
Wes Hoolahan has been our most spectacular magician for the best part of a decade but it seems his heir-apparent, James Maddison, knows his way around the stage too.
For me, he’s been our most pivotal player in these opening three matches and it’s great to see him playing in a slightly deeper role where he is given plenty of responsibility to dictate the play. It gives me hope that we can fit Maddison and Pritchard in the same team.
As much as people will say ‘possession stats mean nothing if you don’t win the game’, our improvement on this front has been staggering given how little time we’ve had to improve on it. And we’ll get better at keeping the ball too.
It might not always work in each individual match, but over a long, gruelling season, the teams who have more possession will be nearer the top of the division than the bottom.
We all wanted change over the summer; most of us wanted dramatic change.
Well, we got it by the bucket load. Not just new players and a new gaffer – a whole new ethos and strategy for the club to adhere to, not just under Farke’s stewardship, but under each coach that will follow him over the years to come.
Kick and rush may have won the day on Sunday but I’m confident that a beautiful, more magical style of football will take the plaudits in the long run. Keep the faith and heed our own advice.
Even before a ball was kicked this season, we said we’ll have a few tricky results as we adapt to our new, more stylish gameplay. It’s now about improving and cutting out the silly mistakes – honing our stage presence.
Be patient. It takes time to create a great trick – and it takes time to create a new team.