For the last half a decade, City fans have seen club records broken and headlines which include phrases such as ‘the first time since....' followed by a sickening number of years, running into decades in most cases. We also, I am sure, all remember the banner at Old Trafford which so eloquently made the point of our trophy less years.
Then came the FA Cup win under Roberto Mancini in 2011. Defeating Stoke on a sunny afternoon at Wembley it was the first time City had won any trophy since 1976 and the first FA Cup since 1969. The next season was followed up with our first top flight title since 1968. Now, as a club and its supporters we find ourselves in the Semi Finals of the Champions League, after defeating PSG over two legs in, what has to be said, were two very organized and well executed performances.
Much was made of the battle of the billionaires with most favoring PSG to make light work of City. A new coach coming in, and players unsure of their futures at City, led most to tip the French side to overwhelm the Citizens over the two legs. Zlatan, Cavani and co, it seemed, would be too much for little Manchester City. The Quarter Finals, after all, were further than we had ever been before and therefore, there would be no disgrace if that was where our journey ended.
When Sheikh Mansour outlined the new owners plans in 2008 the goal was to make Manchester City a global brand. This included goals of domestic silverware, Champions League football and eventually a Champions League trophy. In that first season at City the Champions League Semi Final stage featured three English sides. United faced Arsenal while Chelsea went against Barcelona. The Final saw the only non English club in the final four lift the title. The year before it was a similar story but with Liverpool instead of Arsenal, although it would still be the non-English side of the four, AC Milan, who would lift the trophy. That has been as good as it's been for English clubs and since then English participation, as a whole, at the Semi Final stage has been a little embarrassing.
In the years since that season only two English sides have reached this stage. Manchester United made it all the way to the final before being beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in Rome, in 2009. The following season Chelsea would better United and beat Bayern Munich in the Final, in the German sides own stadium, with the Chelsea Manager moving on despite the success, a sign perhaps? Finally it would be Chelsea, again, who would fly the English flag into the latter stages of Europe, eventually losing 3-1 over the two legs to Atletico Madrid.
It has been five years since Manchester United last got this far in this competition and more for Arsenal. The trajectory of each does not fill one with confidence they will be there anytime soon either and so it falls to little City to fly the flag this season.
Not great in the league it seems the side steps up for these European nights. Mangala, much criticized this season for poor performances in the league, kept Ibra and Cavani in his back pocket in the Quarter Finals. Joe Hart came out on top of his battle also with the Swedish Andy Carroll and even a Sergio Aguero penalty miss didn't have the players heads drop.
The ‘Emptyhad', as some would have you believe, was sold out with an attendance reported as a record for Manchester City in Europe and, no matter who the draw has us face in the Semi Final, I expect that attendance figure to also be spectacular.
For Manuel Pellegrini the historical parallels are astounding. The only City Manager to have won the League cup twice and one of four to have won the title has the potential to follow Roberto DiMatteo in leading an English side to Champions League success and not be at the club the following season. If that were to happen he would join Joe Mercer as one of only two City managers to lift European silverware and both would have done it in the same season as also winning domestic silverware. For Mercer that was in the shape of a League Cup win on March 7th 1970, the same competition as Pellegrini. Don't even get me started if City were to make it all the way and win, meaning Pep Guardiola steps into a side already crowned Champions League Winners for the second time in three seasons! Just for an interesting fact, the European Cup Winning season in 1970 saw City face German opponents in the Semi Final stage. Do we hope for Bayern, and Pep, this time around? Do we care!
Finally, when Joe Mercer arrived at City Simon and Garfunkel had just released ‘The Sound Of Silence' into the world. Now, half a century later, it has been recorded and released again, this time by a band called Disturbed, and I cannot help but think that is how the top brass at UEFA must be feeling when they have to put City's name in the hat for the draw on Friday.