Down with the bunting, box up the tinsel. The league is over and we can all relax in the afterglow of our trophy gluttony. No late-campaign jitters, sleepless nights worrying about goal difference and whether our little star will shine brightest. It’s over and everyone knows it is.
But this is Manchester City, the team put out of the cup in a quagmire at Halifax by the curse carefully laid by a wall-eyed soothsayer called Romark, who the following month drove blindfold into a police car in Southampton high street to confirm his unique skillset.
The team knocked out of the cup by a balloon at Sheffield United. The team who gloriously won their sole European trophy the night the BBC and ITV live-transmitted the FA Cup final replay between Leeds and Chelsea instead. The reigning league champions that were relegated scoring 100 goals.
City have always tried their level best to make things as hard for themselves as they can possibly be. A club so contrary they could almost be relied upon to beat themselves without the aid of opposition. There was a time when this contrariness threatened to run riot completely.
Stuart Pearce played goalkeeper David James up front against Middlesbrough in a game City needed to win to qualify for Europe, with predictably hilarious consequences.
Sven Goran Eriksen closed out his City managerial career with an 8-1 reverse at Middlesbrough (let’s face it, nobody loses 8-1 to Middlesbrough), and Jamie Pollock produced Bergkampesque poise and precision to lob his own goalkeeper and help the club over the precipice to a first ever visit to the third division.
Chairman Peter Swales sacked then manager Mel Machin for “a lack of repartee” with the crowd. When violence came to football, City fans showed up with inflatables. It is sometimes difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is, but it is in many ways one hell of a weird club.
However, an unlikely and slightly alien process has been underway at the Etihad for some time now. It has taken shape in a kind of descaling exercise, like a snake shedding its skin.
The club has binned the pistol it used to employ for shooting at its own feet and waved the flag of reliability instead.
Trophy-winning has become the new norm.
There are players, who can not only pass in the right direction, but do it every week. Managers possess repartee, rapport and regard, in fact whatever is asked of them.
The team picture where two members of the coaching staff lining up alongside each other with their respective initials spelling D.E. B.T. (Dave Ewing and Bill Taylor) would need Clive Allen and Steve Hodge to attempt a similarly relevant visual quip.
The club is now one of the most well-oiled machines in world football.
So, when the owners profess to a burning desire to make hay while the Champions League sun shines, you can bet your last dirham that this is exactly where focus has been rerouted.
City’s last two titles have been delivered in a manner that allows no copying, although Liverpool are free to see how far they get with it. Four titles in the last 10 years, plus a welter of other shiny baubles and unforgettable moments.
A season, which has lurched out of control in the Premier League will now take on the form of a five-month dash towards knockout glory.
First Manchester United in the League Cup, then Port Vale in the FA Cup. The real deal, however, comes a little later in Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti, new in town with Everton today, will hope City’s attention continues to waver.
If “Napoli, Everton” looks a little like his own attention has lapsed after a 20-year CV that reads “Juventus, Milan, Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid, Bayern”, the Italian will appreciate City’s current dilemma.
While his unexpected arrival on the banks of the Mersey has brought Everton hope of a European finish of their own, Ancelotti has often ventured into a football world where domestic glitz is trumped by continental glamour.
It is a brave new world that City must begin the New Year seriously contemplating.