Thinking back to the last game of the 04/05 season still twangs at my heartstrings. A draw at home to Middlesbrough would have been enough to see us re-reach the promised land; European football. As the time ticked away, and 1-0 down, the dream looked way over the horizon, until Fran Queudreu handballed in the dying seconds. As Mark Schwarzer parried the ball clear from Robbie Fowler's spot kick, the 'typical city' tag remained stitched into Manchester City hearts once more.
Just 7 years later, and here we are, mourning the exit of the Premier League Champions from the biggest club competition in World football; apocalypse now. After last season's group of death, failure in the Europa League led to a similar punishment this season, a group of four Champions: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax. After no trophies in 35 years, Mancini, under insurmountable pressure from the press and opposition fans and managers brought us the FA Cup and the Premier League in the space of 18 months. Following a Summer of transfer mishaps, the press' favourite love-to-hate man faced an uphill task of balancing a tough European adventure, while retaining the Premier League. Now, with a second consecutive European failing, the axe wielders are back with a vengeance.
With the beauty of hindsight, we can refresh many a short memory with how Wenger and Ferguson fared in their early Champions League conquests. Wenger's Arsenal failed to progress in their first two campaigns, and Ferguson also took three attempts to qualify from the group stages. No, I hear you cry, Manchester City spent £9trillion so there are no excuses. What you need to consider, is that you can't piece a European team together, no matter how much European experience they have as individuals, alongside others who have never played on such a stage and expect instant success. Money cannot buy everything; time, however, has such power. Dortmund went out of the competition in the group stages last season and having topped the group this time around have shown the progression expected, and lacked by the Champions of England.
Roberto Mancini has taken a patchwork squad of sheer expense to the greatest of expectations, but still cannot deliver on the main stage, why? Firstly, I'd like to dispel the constant reminders that we play in the 'Greatest league in the world'. How long must we kid ourselves? From back to front, many other leagues make our very own a shambles; from ticket pricing, to stadium structures, to book-balancing, players produced and standard of football, the German league especially is a model we may all kiss the feet of.
And now, as we read many a club obituary after City were once again 'dumped' out of Europe, it ramps up the pressure on Mancini to deliver the Premier League once more. Without the relentless fixture struggles of playing Wednesday and Sunday, lifting the league trophy this May now becomes a necessity.
Disliked by many in the press, Mancini's support from the Manchester City faithful is at times phenomenal, from his standoffish tactical decisions to his outlandish conference comments, driven to win, and with his heart on his sleeve, Mancini is a fans favourite, and for all his misgivings, it'd be wrong not to give him one last bite at the Champions League cherry. Daniel Taylor from the Guardian once described the Manchester City gaffer as 'one of the hardest bastards you'll ever meet', and the players seem to know this, and give him the respect he demands, the Tevez saga aside, but something has gone slightly off kilter since 'that day' in mid may.
With his Real Madrid exit just around the corner, the shitstirring brigade will have Mourinho nailed on as City successor. You would be stupid to cast any doubt over whether Mourinho would improve the side both at home and in Europe. No, we wouldn't play expansive free scoring football, but he's a born winner. However, aspersions are cast over the long term future and well being as a club. 'The Special One' might take us further in Europe and may help us retain the title and help further our current squad, but would he look long term? Would he develop the squad for the long term or conjure a quick fix solution and move on once he's achieved his aims?
Though comparisons are hazy, you have to look at the stability at our red wearing neighbours; they are proof that riding out an initial storm will become fruitful in the long term. Chelsea have proved on the contrary, that chopping and changing may indeed win titles, but externally it looks messy, there's a distinct lass of class in the chopping and changing of managers after four or five poor results, something I thought we had overcome.
“Everybody has to pull together, and together we'll remain.” Patience, blues, patience.