Last week, Manchester City visited Hoffenheim in the Champions League and once again, the fans greeted the anthem with a chorus of boos. But does it help the team and why do they do it anyway?
The booing goes back to the 2011/12 season, when City striker Mario Balotelli was racially abused by Porto fans, and the Portuguese side were fined a mere 20,000 Euros. A month later however, the bleus faced Sporting Lisbon at home and were 30 second late getting back on the pitch. For that minor misdemeanour, the blues were fined 30,000 Euros.
20,000 for racial abuse, 30,000 for tardiness, you’d be forgiven for wondering what was the lesser crime. But it doesn’t stop there.
Financial Fair Play was brought in by UEFA to limit clubs’ spending power. In 2009, then UEFA president Michele Platini indirectly referred to the blues as a club that had become ‘suddenly rich’ when discussing clubs spending, and in 2014 City, along with PSG, fell foul of UEFA’s little baby. The blues were hit with a £49m fine, spending restrictions and a requirement to cut the Champions league squad from 25 to 23 players. The fans began to feel the club were being victimised and the booing began.
The blues then travelled to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, and the Russian club had been ordered to close their stadium due to racial abuse and poor conduct from the CSKA supporters. The ban included City fans, and while CSKA stopped any blues fans from entering the ground, CSKA allowed home supporters access. UEFA delegates were aware of this and witnessed them in the ground, yet did nothing apart from reducing the stadium closure on appeal.
In 2015, UEFA considered charging the blues when the fans booed the anthem during a home Champions League match, leading to some innovative fans to write ‘BOO’ on placards and wave them in front of the TV cameras. UEFA subsequently decided against charging the club.
And just last week against Hoffenheim, the bleus were denied a clear penalty when Leroy Sane was brought down in the box, only for the referee to award a goal kick. If the keeper touched the ball last, it should have been a corner. And if Sane dived he should have been booked, and if the winger was the last to touch the ball, it means a penalty should have been awarded as he was brought down by the keeper. Neither happened and it led to outrage that again, UEFA had a clear agenda against the blues.
But does the booing help the team? Pep Guardiola has called for the booing to end, as has City legend Francis Lee. And looking over social media since the game, there is a feeling growing amongst the fans that it is time to call an end to the booing. Some say it affects team performance as the blues don’t want to hear their fans booing before a match, regardless of their feelings towards UEFA, but others feel the team are not affected, and their 2-1 win in Germany last week is proof of that.
Opinion is divided.
Some agree that it makes City look like victims, and if the alleged UEFA agenda against the blues does actually exist, booing will do nothing but fuel anti-City feeling in European football’s governing body. In fact, if there is an agenda, booing will only make referees want to give judgements against City to stop them from winning it.
But others still see it as a protest, a sign that the fans are not happy with how UEFA run their competitions, and how they treat the more favoured European elite than they do the gate crashers to the party. The clubs like City and PSG, who threaten the established European giants.
Throughout the history of the Champions League, it does indeed look like UEFA have favoured the bigger teams at the expense of the smaller clubs, so it’s easy to understand where the anger comes from. Prior to 1992, teams were drawn at random. The likes of Rosenberg and Gothenburg could face the might of Real Madrid, Barcelona etc, but the creation of the Champions league eventually put a stop to it.
In the 1992/93 season, 32 teams took part from 32 different countries, the league aspect entering the competition when there were only eight teams left, with the top two participating in the final. In 1994, the format changed so the league aspect was played first, with only 16 countries at the group stage. But it was all to change again.
In 1995, Atletico Madrid won La Liga, meaning there would be nor Barcelona or Real Madrid in the Champions League for the 95/96 season. The following season, the rules changed and clubs from Europe’s ‘top’ leagues were allowed more than one representative. England, Spain, Italy, France, Holland, Turkey and Portugal had two, while Germany were granted three, as Borussia Dortmund were the holders.
Coincidence? Was this to keep at least one elite team in the competition in the event an ‘unfashionable’ team were to win their respective league?
In 1999, three teams from the same country were allowed to enter, but France, Portugal and Turkey were not included and remained with two. That season, Real Madrid beat fellow countrymen Valencia in the final.
Today’s format sees teams not only separated by country, but by pots. UEFA allows the current holders, the Europa League holders and the champions from ‘top’ leagues in pot 1, followed by second teams in pot 2. Pot 4 is usually associated with the teams just there to make up the numbers. Some would argue that the format is to keep the top teams from playing each other until the knockout stage. But it doesn’t end there. Once the group stage is complete, rather than drawing team against team, the group winners face the runners up. Is this a bid to allow the top teams, who should technically win the groups, apart until the quarter final stage?
If you put this with the fact that, in 2016 UEFA relaxed their FFP rules just as AC Milan announced a lucrative deal from Chinese investors, but the new rules didn’t apply to the blues or PSG, who had already fallen foul of the old rules. So effectively it is one rule for Milan, another for City.
And just last year, UEFA changed the co-efficient points system to take into account the historical success of participating teams, mainly those that have won the competition. This came at a time when City, who had spent six consecutive seasons in the Champions League, had overtaken United, Liverpool and Arsenal in the rankings. As a result, United jumped eight placed, while Milan’s rise was by sixteen.
With UEFA carrying out such actions that seem to work in the favour of the ‘elite,’ is it any wonder that supporters see the governing body as the enemy? And with UEFA referee’s carrying out such blatant actions like they did last Tuesday, and officials seemingly disregarding the rules, there’s no way in hell the booing will be stopping soon, no matter who is making the appeals.