Misery loves company, as the old adage goes. For an Evertonian, historically the most apposite companions with whom to share our misery have been the ‘long-suffering’ followers of Manchester City.
For years, our Manc counterparts have suffered as we have, overshadowed by wildly successful neighbours. Each set of fans knows a special kind of disappointment, one rooted in the insurmountable levels of success that have been regularly forced down our throats.
In the past, our encounters have been charged not by the hatred evident in games between Liverpool and United but instead with a communal sense of despondency as if each of us knew deep down that this was the Liverpool/Manchester tussle that nobody really cares about.
But I fear that our special connection is no more. Look on the clubs as two people that were once locked in a loveless marriage, one characterised by frustration and the sense of our lives not quite panning out as we would have hoped. Although it seemed likely that we would stay together forever, comforted by our shared disappointment and mutual loathing of people more successful than ourselves, by some miraculous turn of events one of us has managed to escape.
Man City now possess the potential to be everything they have always wanted to be, which deep down is essentially Man Utd. By contrast, Everton are now bereft of the comfort that at least they weren’t in this alone.
So as the two teams line up to play each other this weekend, as a Blue you would expect me to be bitter, filled with acrimonious loathing like spurned partners everywhere. But I’m not. Although there is a sense of loss, a slight feeling of sadness that a body of supporters who knew and shared our pain has disappeared, I don’t begrudge City their turn of fortune.
Their fans have had to endure a horrifying couple of decades since Ferguson arrived on the scene, a period where Utd’s unparallel levels of success have contrasted bitterly with City’s consistent run of poor form. Evertonians endured something similar during the late seventies and early eighties when Liverpool dominated European and domestic football and so I would be a hard-hearted b****** if I resented City’s chance to redress the local imbalance.
And it’s not as though we Evertonians don’t benefit slightly from City’s transformation. By expanding the number of teams able to challenge for the title, it means that there’s another formidable outfit standing in the way of Liverpool’s attempts to win the league; one more back-up in case Utd have an off-season.
City have prostituted themselves out to the highest bidder and by doing so left themselves at the mercy of one man.
And yet, despite Everton’s own financial calamities I don’t envy City’s sudden largesse, which taking a brief look at the balance sheet and squads of the two clubs might not at first sight make any sense.
Everton have debts of £45 million, have been for sale for three years without so much as a sniff from any potential buyers and are so hard-up that the team have been unable to purchase any new players during the summer. We lack any strength in depth and are becoming increasingly reliant on the often unpredictable youth system.
By contrast, City are backed by a multi-billionaire, have spent millions in the transfer market over the last few years and this summer have managed to add class acts, such as Agüero, Nasri and Clichy to the squad. With a second XI that could likely give most English teams a run for their money, it’s probably an understatement to say that they have strength in depth.
Man City have done what any club that wants instant success in the modern game needs to do; find someone with more money than they know what to do with and let them turn you into their play thing, or the “Chelsea/whore” approach as it’s more commonly known. By doing this, it’s likely that in the coming years more silverware will be making its way to Eastlands.
But the keys to success don’t come without a price. Like Chelsea before them, City have prostituted themselves out to the highest bidder and by doing so left themselves at the mercy of one man.
The problem with multi-billionaires is that these people are like overgrown children, a section of society not renowned for their commitment. At the moment he’s happy playing fantasy football but that fantasy could very easily turn into the stuff of nightmares for City should his desires exceeds the clubs’ abilities and he decides to de-camp elsewhere.
And even if the team do attain levels of success to satisfy the hunger of their new owner, what kind of club will that turn them into? In a similar way to our relationship with Liverpool, for decades City have prided themselves at being everything their neighbours are not; a club possessed of humility, a club with a proportionate approach to success and money, a club with a sense of humour, a club whose supporters predominantly hail from the city. It seems unlikely that this will continue to be the case if they start emulating their neighbour’s levels of achievement.
So, despite being broke, residing in a ground that has seen better days and reliant on loan-deals and the youth system I still wouldn’t swap this for what City have taken on. Everton remain a people’s club; rooted in the city and run by Evertonians. The owners might be clueless but they still understand the club and have an attachment to it that is borne from love.
Man City might have been whisked away to a ‘happier life’ but for once it’s the one that’s been left behind who I think is better off.
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