|Distant times: City’s 6-1 drubbing of cross-town rivals United in October has not stopped Ferguson’s side from finishing the year joint top of the EPL [GALLO/GETTY]|
A club video showing Manchester City players icing a ‘1-6’ Christmas cake ranks alongside Liverpool donning number-7 Luis Suarez t-shirts as the worst decisions of the festive period.
The cake commemorated the five-goal thumping of Manchester United at Old Trafford on October 23.
When the baked goods and video were created, City stood comfortably on top of the English Premier League table.
But with the Christmas leftovers barely finished, United had caught their arch rivals and were playing in a more convincing fashion.
The warm endorsement for Suarez from his t-shirt wearing Liverpool teammates in the warm-up at Wigan on December 21 might be appropriate for someone battling a life-threatening illness or about to attempt an inspiring feat in the name of charity.
Instead, it came after the Reds’ striker was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, suspended for eight games and fined over $60,000.
And let’s not even mention the improper conduct charge that saw the Uruguayan banned this week for one match and fined $31,000 for an offensive gesture during a league game at Fulham on December 5.
Can someone explain how Suarez has gone from villain to victim?
The Liverpool ‘love-in’ reminds me of the old political motto once adopted by the United States when strategically dealing with wayward foreign leaders: “He may be an S.O.B, but he’s our S.O.B”.
Describing Suarez as a “great ambassador”, manager Kenny Dalglish is desperately using any tactics he can to increase the chances of reducing another FA suspension on his most influential player.
No Suarez for an extended period means no top four spot and no Champions League for the Reds next season. Even the Europa League might be a stretch.
One doubts that the same show of support would have been afforded to Milan Jovanovic had the misfiring Serbian forward been embroiled in an identical scandal before he was shipped off to Anderlecht in August.
This is an unsubtle means to an end rather than standing up for any wronged individual or noble principle.
But while there may be some perverse logic in championing Suarez to create an ‘us versus the world’ mentality at Anfield, the Man City cake episode can only have a negative effect on the club’s hopes of winning their first top-flight title in 44 years.
Without question, the 1-6 scoreline was astonishing and made the reigning champions look second rate, but this was just one game that came in October, seven months before the Premier League trophy is lifted in the spring sunshine.
If ever Manchester United need any extra motivation in the second half of the season, they can simply watch the cake video again.
Not only were Manchester City effectively rubbing their cross-town cousins noses in the icing, they were celebrating a very small step along the way instead of keeping focused on the ultimate target.
There’s no way that anyone at Old Trafford would have been allowed to behave publicly in such a fashion. It also suggests that these so-called ugly neighbours simply do not know how to handle success.
In previous seasons, when the odd derby win was heartily savoured, it did not change the fact that City uniformly finished below United on the table.
With Sir Alex Ferguson reaching the milestone of 70 years old on December 31, it is another reminder of the maturity and wisdom of the game’s greatest man motivator at England’s most decorated club.
“It’s a long season,” said Sir Alex on Boxing Day after the 5-0 thumping of Wigan that took the Red Devils level on points with the Citizens.
Those were the most profound four words spoken during the festive season.
As well as having a track record of guiding many different squads through the taxing holiday period, it’s a fair bet to assume that Sir Alex will be using the premature Eastlands’ chest-thumping – and cake icing – to psyche up his players for the battles to come.
And the noises coming out of the Etihad Stadium from Roberto Mancini are not inspiring huge confidence for early 2012, with the Italian complaining loudly about a torturous upcoming fixture list including a FA Cup third-round clash against Man United on January 8 and the Carling Cup semi-final over two legs versus Liverpool.
|Kolo Toure’s duty at the Africa Cup of Nations should not be a worry for Mancini [GALLO/GETTY]|
Even with the likes of the Toure brothers disappearing to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the Africa Cup of Nations for several weeks, Man City have the kind of squad depth that could probably handle a match every two days for the entire month.
Mancini won three consecutive Scudettos with Inter Milan but with Serie A taking a mid-winter’s break, he never had to deal with games coming thick-and-fast over the Christmas-New Year period.
There is no question that January 2012 will make or break City’s season.
United’s ability to claw their way back, despite a horrendous injury toll, is remarkable.
But a relatively easy December fixture list has perhaps flattered them. Doubts linger about their ability to cope with top-six opposition without the sidelined Darren Fletcher and, more poignantly, last season’s player of the year, Nemanja Vidic.
Based on the resources available and the draw for the second half of the season, Man City are still in the box seat, despite their recent dip in form.
But Mancini and co. could easily blow it and hand the title to Man United, just as Chelsea and Arsenal did last season.
The club cake with its ‘1-6’ icing has quickly gone stale needs to be dumped in the waste-paper bin along with the leftover turkey, ham and Christmas decorations.
Only a lean, mean and focused Man City will succeed in finishing the job they have started.
Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever the world’s first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.