As City won the title this week, the media coverage has been more negative than positive in the last few days. Joe Butterfield has a look over it and just how much faith he’s losing in it all…
You may have missed it, but Manchester City won the Premier League on Sunday. They were the first team in a decade to retain the title and, in doing so, managed to score within the shifted goalposts many in the media had decided must be fulfilled in order to be considered a “true Premier League great” after the centurion season of 2017/18. They came out on top in a two-way title race which, in terms of points, has literally never been seen before. Despite the incredible season Liverpool had, which has been relentlessly praised from all corners of the media, rightly so, City still managed to figuratively and literally go one better than them.
They won the league having not dropped a single point since January, going on a winning run which lasted over 14 games. In that time they scored 31 goals and conceded a staggeringly low 4 goals. They kept up with a Liverpool team which spent the vast majority of the 14 game run having played a game in hand over them – with a lead often extending to 4 points if Liverpool played their weekend’s fixture first – responding to the high pressure to win.
During this 14 game run, they played against four of their five fellow top six sides, winning them all with an aggregate score of 12-1. This winning streak of 14 games is the second highest number of games won on the bounce in history, with the first being a record which City already hold from last season.
This team is astonishingly good.
Of course, the Sunday itself was filled with largely praise from the media. As with the centurion season, nobody can truly deny City any credit after the season they’ve just had and after the title race they’ve found themselves in. A Liverpool side which now holds the third highest points total in Premier League history (with first and second, again, being held by Pep Guardiola City teams) was still pipped to the post on the final day by a Manchester City squad which has refused to let up domestically. Even the reddest of Liverpool journalists have thrown praise City’s way, begrudgingly or otherwise.
So why, then, does it feel like we’ve barely had any praise beyond that day?
It’s because this wasn’t part of the script. The media had prepared a narrative and it’s one they’d stuck to religiously for the last three or four months – Manchester City will slip up and Liverpool will claim their first Premier League title. Purposefully or not, many journalists over the last month or so have gone into numerous Manchester City games half-hoping that there’d be some kind of slip from a team which has shown little signs of wavering since winning the Carabao Cup.
Whether it was swathes of the media deciding that Sean Dyche’s Burnley at Turf Moor was a step too far for Manchester City, the Liverpool-centric narrative of the scousers coming up against former-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez on the same weekend that City faced former-Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and both would conspire to help Liverpool bring their first title back, as if either has any interest in watching Jurgen Klopp achieve something they never managed, or whether it’s, on the final day of the season, the big story not being that Manchester City might win a back-to-back Premier League title, it’s the idea that Liverpool have the potential to be the first team to take the Premier League title away from the current leaders on the final day, the narrative has always been Liverpool first. There are legitimate, click-driven reasons as to why this would be the case, however when it comes to fairness and equal coverage, it is anything but legitimate.
City are the baddies. The insurmountable obstacle which has blocked the plucky national treasure, Liverpool, from taking their first top-flight title in 29 years and their first ever Premier League trophy. Instead, the media were forced to watch the filthy conglomeration of capitalism and state-sponsorship at its sickening worst pass the trophy amongst themselves from £40 million signing to £40 million signing.
‘The amount of money they’ve got is sickening’, the media sighed, as £60 million club record-signing, Riyad Mahrez, struck it into the top corner to take the title away from Liverpool. As Liverpool’s £66 million Allisson Becker collected his Golden Glove award, the sadness in his eyes was clear for all to see. He trudged back to the changing room with his £75 million team-mate, Virgil van Dijk, both resigned to the fact that money would always rule the game.
City, naturally, are unable to get away with this. The Times’s footballing supplement, The Game, ran with a cover story the following day which focused much more on the disappointment and determination of Liverpool, rather than the achievement of Manchester City.
It was just over 24 hours after Vincent Kompany had lifted the trophy in front of the away fans at the Amex Stadium before the New York Times broke the story that UEFA’s committee who’ve been investigating Manchester City’s Financial Fair Play have recommended that, should they be found guilty, City should be banned from the Champions League for a season.
Within 48 hours of winning a historic back-to-back title for the club, City were forced to release an official statement refuting the claims made in the New York Times piece, pointing out that any information which any journalist is getting is either fake or being purposefully leaked in order to make the club look bad. With a former Liverpool chief executive on the panel making the decision, it’s just impossible to imagine where such a leak may have come from the day after Liverpool lost the league to City.
The day after that, footage emerged from City’s plane journey back to Manchester from Brighton of the players singing City’s monument to the small club mentality that every single one of us possesses, a spoof of ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’, in which Liverpool’s bottling of the Champions League final despite the media’s feverish desperation to see them win it is mocked.
One line in particular, “crying in the stands, battered in the streets”, was then twisted by Liverpool fans and, in turn, the media to say that City fans have actually spent the whole season laughing at Sean Cox, a man who was stabbed and seriously injured in the streets of Rome, not Kiev as the song very clearly states it refers to. The suggestion was already enough and soon the nation’s media was listening to Sean Cox’s brother telling everybody that he was “shocked and disappointed”. City were, again, forced to issue a statement to the media to deny that Hillsborough and Sean Cox were being directly mocked (which, whatever your opinion on the chant, they legitimately aren’t).
Manchester City were forced to issue their third statement in two days, as UEFA then referred the Financial Fair Play case to an independent panel to determine the extent of City’s wrong doing. City were, for the third time within four days of winning the Premier League, being forced to defend themselves.
Now, obviously, I am not implying that the likes of the UEFA investigation have been purposefully concluded in the immediate aftermath of the Premier League season to tarnish the club in the afterglow of a historic title retainment. Nor am I saying that it isn’t worthy of media attention, it’s obviously a massive story. However, the leak from the investigation finding it’s way to NYT is interestingly convenient and almost immediately deflects any attention that there may have been on the fact that Liverpool have failed to win the title onto the fact that City are, as far as the media are concerned, cheats.
The sheer hyperbole in the reaction to the chanting from the Manchester City players of a song which has filled every football ground in the league for the last nine months, as if it was invented by the City players there and then in the plane as Raheem Sterling insisted that they use the word victims because “that’ll stick it to Hillsborough”, is hilariously ridiculous. James Pearce writing a glorified fan piece for the Liverpool Echo – which read as a piece of ‘Liverpool fan bingo’ complete with “can’t buy class”, “obsessed with Liverpool” and the exaggeration of an event to the point where Liverpool are (DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT REFERRING TO HILLSBOROUGH) the victim of the situation – was expected. The likes of Sky Sports, BBC Sports and The Guardian taking the story and running with it was, sadly, equally expected.
As I drove home after the victory over Brighton, I tuned into 5 Live’s 606. Lee, a City fan, was the first person they had on and, after the initial celebratory comments, the inevitable release of the frustration which has plagued many a City fan for the last few months shortly followed.
“It’s been a real struggle to pick up a paper or listen to the radio or watch the TV when it seems to be so pro-Liverpool. I can understand the romanticism of Liverpool not winning it in so long but it’s become an obsession in the media. As a City fan, you know, there’s been two teams in this title race.”
Of course, the immediate reply to this (though Chris Sutton did later go on to acknowledge that the caller may have had a point because of the narrative of the Liverpool story), was “why aren’t you just happy that you won the league?” as if humans are only able to experience one emotion at a time, incapable of mental multi-tasking. It is entirely possible to be glad that you’ve won the league and also irritated by the severe one-sided nature of the media coverage which has surrounded the final months of the season.
A large number of journalists, most of which will no doubt have their cards marked very heavily by the majority of blues, have spent the entire season telling City fans that they’re paranoid for thinking that there’s an “anti-City agenda”, which isn’t really what people are accusing them of, any time that City fans question these journalists on why there is such a shocking imbalance of praise and coverage of the two teams. Only now, in the last month or two, some have quite willingly admitted that the coverage has been slanted in such a way because it’s good business sense to appeal to the larger audience that is Liverpool fans as opposed to Manchester City fans.
This is largely because the mask has slipped so far that we’ve seen the face of the mainstream media and it’s got face-paint of a liver bird on its right cheek, with YNWA painted on the other. Sky Sports has virtually become Liverpool Fan TV in this last couple of months, with Jamie Carragher, famed child-spitter, popping up when Liverpool are winning or if City look like they might drop points, only to skulk back into the swamp of phlegm where he presumably resides when things start going the wrong way.
This was particularly apparent during Manchester City’s game against Burnley, in which Carragher spent the first half getting very giddy at the idea that Chris Wood might cause City’s backline some problems. He continued in similar fashion at the start of the second half, yet once Aguero scored in the 63rd minute he was literally silent for the rest of the game and didn’t even emerge for the post-match analysis. It was as if he’d just got up and left the stadium the moment we went 1-0 up. And, of course, nobody needs to be reminded of his reaction to that Salah goal, which you’d think had just won the Champions League for Liverpool in the final minute.
There are plenty of other examples. The penultimate weekend of Premier League action saw a full back-page red spread in The Guardian dedicated to Liverpool, something which was never afforded to City. During this same weekend, The Guardian wrote a story implying that, now the blues had been knocked out of the Champions League, all that remained for them was a bittersweet domestic treble. A never-before-seen, historic domestic treble has been deemed “bittersweet” because the club was knocked out of the Champions League.
Of course, the downplaying of the treble has continued. I’m currently writing this on the evening of Thursday 16th May, two days before City play in the FA Cup final. I’ve yet to see a single mention from a mainstream news outlet which is bigging up the achievement which City are on the cusp of. Of course, if Miguel Delaney’s Twitter activity is anything to go by, I won’t hold my breath just yet…
Ultimately, and I know for a fact that most, if not all, City fans feel similarly, it feels like the media has got little to no interest in praising us for longer than five minutes, no matter what we achieve. The centurion title win last season was met with initial praise, obviously, though the narrative quickly became “but City will now dominate English football and make it boring”. This then spilled over into this season when we had the audacity to take a two point lead over Liverpool in October, with many decrying the lack of competitiveness within the Premier League.
Now that we’ve come out of the other side of the most heavily contested Premier League title race in Premier League history, the Financial Fair Play stick has been brought out to beat the club with, just as it did in the immediate aftermath of our Carabao Cup title win. Failing this, the likes of Miguel Delaney, among others, are dismissing a domestic treble as “no longer historic” because we’ve spent so much money, as if Manchester United weren’t spending £32 million on Rio Ferdinand back when no club in England had the resources to compete, as if Real Madrid weren’t spending £80 million on Cristiano Ronaldo when no club in the world had the resources to compete. I suppose all their trophies count for nothing too, right?
There’s been no meaningful discussion of where this City team ranks amongst the Premier League all-time greats, a conversation which dominated last year after the centurion season and was almost unanimously agreed that it wasn’t yet the best. Claims that City would have to retain the title to be considered one of the true greats rang out and since we’ve managed to actually do so the conversation has not been revisited. The hopelessly optimistic part of me likes to think that might change if we were to win the domestic treble but I fully expect some high-profile journalists to rank the current Liverpool team higher than Manchester City’s should they win the Champions League, purely because they’ll have “done it in Europe”.
Any journalist who reads this will no doubt think it’s all paranoia. Most non-City fans will probably think the same thing. “But we do talk about how good City are!”, as if Gary Lineker repeatedly saying “what more can we say about how good City are?” after every victory on Match of the Day is equivalent to having the back pages of newspapers dedicated to the club’s historic achievements. It’s an issue which City fans are no longer able to ignore – we’re simply not treated the same as any other top six club. Even Chelsea’s beginnings as a regular title-contending team, which are incredibly similar to our own, are barely mentioned anymore.
Journalists are deliberately antagonising City fans. Anybody who dares to suggest that Der Spiegel might not have given a well-rounded, unbiased account of everything they detail in their articles or tries to imply that Manchester City fans aren’t directly responsible for war crimes in Yemen are just performing elaborate “whataboutery” to defend their club against the indefensible.
City fans no longer want to engage with a media which isn’t willing to engage with them beyond berating blues for things which are far beyond the control of any fan. What’s worse is that it doesn’t even feel like journalists are remotely bothered, or even happy to entertain a legitimate discussion without resorting to mocking sarcasm about agendas.
The media will laugh at blues now for their talk of boycotting media outlets but, with print media slowly dying, they’ll do well to remember that it’s readers who keep them in jobs.
Nobody’s asking the media to pander to us and ignore any and all negative stories there might be, however if you relentlessly give the club negative coverage during its most successful period and refuse to give out a level of praise which is afforded to clubs who’ve achieved much less (see Liverpool), only to then immediately and aggressively go on the defensive when fans point this out, don’t be surprised when the fanbase turns on you. I certainly won’t be giving them any attention for the foreseeable future. I’d suggest you do the same.
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