How City beat the fear inside

Deepak Chopra — still waiting for his Premier League chance — calls it past conditioning. “A new experience enters the mind, but instead of being evaluated for itself, is shunted down a well-worn track.”

Which is — has to be — the kind of madness that gripped Manchester City tight last Sunday after Pablo Zabaleta appeared to have eased them to a straightforward coast into clover.

City, as a club, to a man, briefly allowed their minds flood with the sweet but deadly conviction that they were winners. Then everything they have ever known convinced them it could only end in tears. And it paralysed them.

And so, in that jaw-dropping second half, the new Colin Bell Stand became the old Maine Road Kippax, catching glimpses of the action through its fingers. Joe Hart was Alex Williams in ‘83, watching his cruel diversion on Raddy Antic’s drive give David Pleat’s loafers a chance to dance. Joleon Lescott’s voluminous head was guided by the ghost of Jamie Pollock’s imaginative own-goal in ‘98, while Roberto Mancini was as panicked as Alan Ball in ‘96, when he advised Steve Lomas to take it into the corner when they still needed another goal.

‘Are you City in disguise,’ United used to sing, whenever an Old Trafford visitor made no fist of things. But it has been City who have worn a disguise lately — an expensive, glamorous makeover. On Sunday, the mask slipped and it was no longer moneybags Middle Eastlands. They were, in their minds at least, plain old City again. The City of regret and misfortune. And for much of that second half, it might as well have been Ged Brannan, Eddie McGoldrick and Gerry Creaney toiling in front of QPR as Nasri, Silva and Tevez .

The only way out of a bind like that is, according to Deepak to look back at your regrets and renounce them. I’m not sure if Sergio Aguero quite needed to do that. Perhaps he heeded, instead, another of Deepak’s mantras. “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”

Perhaps when you’ve lived in slums and dealt with gangsters vying for a piece of you since you were eight years old; the hang-ups of a downtrodden people in a foreign city can’t quite weigh you down as they might others.

I groused last week about English football’s Age of Disillusionment and carped that City couldn’t truly enjoy this bought favour. But all of that went out the window during that second half when City found themselves again.

At that beautiful final moment, it didn’t matter how much you had paid Kun. No consideration could have gifted him the composure. No lodgement in his account could have bought you the split second the shift of his hips did.

More importantly, New City had got in touch again with their inner City, miserable as that was. A 4-0 romp couldn’t have done that. This, in the end, was the best way. They had, as one of Deepak’s self-promotion rivals recommends, felt the fear and done it anyway. And even when the flow of oil money makes days like this second nature, nobody will forget this one.

If City was a club encumbered by its past, Kenny Dalglish was a manager propped up by his. A leading man with a great backstory but no plot. It was sad to watch him drive away from Anfield employment for surely the last time, but you could rely on the Scousers to lift the gloom with unintentional comedy.

“The problem with Kenny is, you should never go back,” reflected one sage. “So who would you have now?” the reporter pressed. Who else? “Rafa.”

If you could bottle the belief these guys have in their old heroes and somehow give it to Manchester City, neither Kun or Deepak would have been needed on Sunday.

Once upon a time, the late Jack Walker questioned whether one of Kenny’s proposed Blackburn signings would really be worth the money. Convince me, urged Jack.

Stick your job, suggested Kenny, pointing out Liverpool would never question his judgment. In the end, Kenny stayed around and won Jack a title anyway. But in a time when Gary Neville gets a coaching job because he’s been good on the telly, part of Kenny’s problem has been his failing powers of persuasion on screen. Nowadays, there are a lot more people who need convincing. Increasingly, they weren’t.

More in this section

Price info
Price info

Subscribe to unlock unlimited digital access.
Cancel anytime.

Terms and conditions apply


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Saturday, September 25, 2021

  • 3
  • 7
  • 11
  • 28
  • 31
  • 43
  • 46

Full Lotto draw results »