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Manchester City Not Yet a Big Team: Is Ilkay Gundogan Right?

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Big words from the German.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: First Leg Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

As expected, several reactions have followed Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat to Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final double-header. It was a match in which the Sky Blues were expected to win or at least get something out of the game in the way of a draw or an away goal. None of that happened in the end, although the lone goal advantage means City still has a good chance of overturning the result back at the Etihad Stadium in just under a week. Both players and manager Pep Guardiola have had their say on the game and the possible outcome of the second leg.

While Fernandinho stressed the fact that the team’s attack was somewhat neutralised as a result of the defensive set up for the match, Ilkay Gundogan went a step further. Speaking after the game, the German midfielder who has been reluctant to renew his deal with City, stated:

”We were not brave enough in the game, there were many simple mistakes.

”I have the feeling that we are nervous in important Champions League games. We have always made the wrong decisions.

”In such games, we always want to do something special because it means: Champions League semi-finals. Sometimes, less is more,” he continued.

”After the missed penalty came the break. Such negative experiences always throw us back too much. If we put the penalty in, we would have taken Tottenham apart. That’s how we got out of the game.

”That must not happen to a big team. That’s why we’re not there yet,” he concluded.

That last sentence there is where he summed it all up. In Gundogan’s view, Manchester City is not yet a big team. And what happened in the game against Tottenham was confirmation. The question is: What makes a big team? Well, maybe the former Borussia Dortmund man will be in a better position to answer that. But the last time I checked, there is the so called ‘big six’ in the English top flight and Man City is no less than any other member of this elite group.

Historically, other members of this group may have achieved significant success in years gone by, but so has City too. The Sky Blues have not just been a local champion as the club has also won in Europe. No, City has not won the Champions League as it is in its current format. But the club is one of only 12 English football clubs to have won a European title; the 1969/70 Cup Winners Cup. And it got there by conquering the domestic front; winning either the Football League Championship or the FA Cup. In fact, the Sky Blues played European football regularly in the 1970s before enduring a barren period that ended in 2003. Since then, City has been a regular as far as continental football is concerned.

A peep into history even brings back some good memories. I mean did you know that on the way to winning a first continental trophy, something similar to the 1-0 first leg defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League occured? Well, if you already knew that let me remind you. And if you had no idea, here’s the gist:

Man City faced German side Schalke in the semi-final of the competition. The first leg away ended 1-0 in favour of Die Knappen. Needing a win at home, City won the return leg 5-1 by deploying an attacking strategy to progress to the final and then beat Polish side Gornik Zabrze 2-1 to lift the trophy. The Polish club had qualified for the final by eliminating Italian giants AS Roma in the other semi-final.

So it’s clear that Gundogan has not bothered to understand the history of a club he carries the badge on his chest. No wonder he has been reluctant to renew his contract with the club. Losing the first leg of the Champions League quarter final fixture by no means consigns Manchester City to the tag of a small club.

The most successful club in the competition Real Madrid has also suffered several losses, some of them as surprising as they were painful. Does that make the Spanish giant a small club, then? In fact, the team was embarrassed out of this season’s edition by losing 4-1 to Ajax in front of the home crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu. Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and all, was knocked out of the competition by Roma last term losing 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico.

Bayern Munich lost 3-1 at home to Liverpool. Does that make the perennial German champions a small club? Sir Alex Ferguson, with all his success at Manchester United won the competition just twice in 27 years at the club’s dugout. That is despite managing the most games in the competition, 190. That does not make the club a small one. The Scottish manager lost two finals to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Even financially speaking, Man City is up there with the richest and biggest clubs in the world at the moment. So where in the world did Gundogan get this small club jab from?

The 28-year-old should rather concentrate on helping the team overturn the 1-0 deficit than belittling a prestigious brand he represents, even if he is thinking of jumping ship anytime soon in the future.