All things being equal, in three weeks time I’ll be cobbling together some words on City’s season opener at St. Andrew’s. Hopefully, we’ll be discussing a win. Hopefully.
It may be too much to wish for, but I also hope the general mood will be one of positivity. I won’t though be holding my breath. If there is one thing the last few weeks have reminded me, it’s that there will always be folk who go searching for negatives, even when there aren’t many.
The naysayers have been out in force.
For Gareth Southgate’s England to have finished fourth in the World Cup was an overachievement in anyone’s book. A FIFA world ranking of 12 suggested that a place in the last 16 was par, and so you would think even the most cynical would regard a place in the top four to be more than acceptable. But no.
They, apparently, were only there because of the fortuitous way the draw opened up and as soon as they played anyone half-decent they lost. All of which has elements of truth, of course, but conveniently ignores the fact that since 2006 they had not won a knockout game against anyone – half-decent or not.
It ignores the fact that we hadn’t won a penalty shoot-out since 1996 and also that wins over Columbia and Sweden, with the pressure on, compared rather favourably to the disaster of Euro 2016, which culminated in that dreadful night against Iceland.
It ignores the fact that Southgate’s squad is a young one, one that is still learning and which has the potential to improve, and that a playing style is emerging; one that’s being embedded in all of the age groups.
It ignores the fact that in seasons to come this current squad will be enhanced by talented youngsters who won the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups and the Under-19 European Championships.
It ignores the fact that, while the football wasn’t perfect, this group played with a freedom far removed from England teams of recent years, the culmination (again) being the near paralysis that set in when against Iceland.
And, finally, it ignores the fact that this group of young men, together with their manager, somehow managed to put smiles back on peoples faces, all while re-engaging a whole generation who had fallen out of love with their national team.
‘It’ didn’t come home, if indeed ‘it’ was even the World Cup in the first place, but it did feel like it united a divided nation for four weeks and where there had been misery and angst, replaced it with joy. That, for me, was a greater achievement than fourth place.
Those who choose to criticise the on-field deficiencies are probably right to point out the lack of precision and creativity in the final third, the lack of a Pirlo-type ‘quarterback’ to control and dictate a game, the poor ball retention in the final two games and how some big names either failed to turn up or faded as the tournament wore on. But, by Southgate’s own admission, this is nothing like the finished article and shouldn’t be judged as such.
Who knows, this may be as good as it gets and we may have to wait another 28 years for a chance a shot at a World Cup final, but, unlike 1990, this at least is a team on an upward trajectory. No-one is pretending this is even close to being perfect.
To come up well short against Belgium was no disgrace. They’re a really good side who have been years in the making and but for Adnan Januzaj’s strike against England, it would surely have been them lining up in today’s final against France. But tournament football does odd things; it throws up quirks and on that score, Roberto Martinez can count himself unlucky.
England were well beaten yesterday and, despite having plenty of possession, it all came across a bit tippy-tappy when compared with the speed and precision with which Belgium continually hit them on the counter-attack. And for many that will be the over-riding memory of Russia 2018, but it shouldn’t be.
There was a tweet doing the rounds last night that went something along the lines… ‘is it okay to admit now this England side are bang average?’ Well, after Iceland I’d have given anything for ‘bang average’.
But to bring it back to City, our own half-glass-empty brigade are also girding their loins ahead of the new season – even before a ball has been kicked.
Yet, in my admittedly simplistic mind, there really isn’t much to get angry about so far. We’ve made a couple more signings than I’d expected, we’ve signed a couple of players who are of a calibre I hadn’t anticipated, and it’s still possible we’ll see a loan player or two coming in once Premier League clubs have decided who they can afford to release for a season.
The new kits look quite nice, the sale of Josh Murphy means that right now we’re not quite as skint as I thought we’d be and Daniel Farke clearly recognises that the playing style needs a tweak or two, and is doing things to try and improve it.
So, while there are some serious challenges and hurdles ahead, right now – on Sunday, July 15, 2018 at 11.01 – I really can’t find too much to get angry about.
I’ll save that for when-we’re 3-0 down to Birmingham at half-time 😉