It should be the greatest moment for a football fan. When it arrives, it is as if all the trauma, nail-biting and anxiety melts away. All the things that make following your team a slog are gone and replaced by pure euphoria. You’re through to the final of the Champions League. Drink it in.
Except when Manchester City fans came to drink it in on Thursday morning, they would have detected a slight bitterness in the beverage. Not their own of course, but rather that of rival and neutral fans. The name Lance Armstrong was trending on Twitter due to the sheer volume of internet jokesters who thought they were the first to draw a parallel between the cyclist’s doping and what they perceive as City’s financial doping.
The thorny issue of City’s problematic ownership has never gone away. But it is true that the criticisms surrounding it are always at their most cacophonous when Pep Guardiola’s team is enjoying success. The human rights record of Abu Dhabi, whose royal family own the majority of the club, has rightly been questioned in many quarters. As has the club’s fiduciary dealings. Rightfully so if some of the 115 financial fair play charges brought against the club are proven.
All of the above can be true but it does not mean City fans cannot relish this moment in their history. Reaching the final of the most prestigious tournament in club football is not something that comes around often nor is it something every fan gets to experience. Whatever your misgivings with the way City have achieved this latest milestone in their decorated recent history, remember who is at fault.
The fans didn’t ask for state ownership, as much as some of them revel in it and flaunt it. They did not ask for financial rules to allegedly be circumnavigated in order to allow Sheikh Mansour’s immense wealth to be used as liberally as possible. They asked for what any of us ask for, to follow our team while fearing the worst and hoping for the best.
It’s becoming a prevalent theme as football firmly leaves its “local boy made good” era of club ownership. Whether it’s Manchester United fans boycotting club merchandise to smoke out the Glazer family or Newcastle United fans facing questions over the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, never has football fandom been so complicated. Supporters have always wanted their voices heard but now it is seen as a responsibility not a choice. It is the fact City fans are largely quiet about anything that isn’t the football side of the project that seems to raise the ire of their rivals.
This does feel a little bit unfair particularly given the average fan’s inability to effect change at the top level. It is naive to expect the launching of a grassroots campaign to oust the owners when City are on the verge of becoming the first team to win the treble since 1999. It is also true that these issues are being used to cut down City in a way they weren’t when Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain reached the 2020 final
Equally, City fans also have unrealistic expectations of other supporters. Reading social media this morning it feels like a number of City fans are labouring under the assumption the rest of the football world should be applauding them. There have been disingenuous assertions that Real Madrid are actually richer than them and thus this was some glorious underdog triumph (City are the richest club in the world according to the Deloitte Money League, published in January 2023). Others have alleged that if City lift the famous trophy now it will forever ratify Guardiola as the greatest coach of them all. Any assertion that the former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now City manager, has merely been the best-resourced has drawn some scalding replies from proud Cityzens everywhere.
Everyone involved needs to adjust their expectations. City fans are allowed to enjoy their club's achievement. Fans of other teams are allowed to not enjoy City’s achievement. Nobody owes anyone anything in this scenario. In the ever-shifting court of public opinion that is social media, compromise is often hard to find. But the facts are these, City will play in the Champions League final against Inter Milan on 10th June. No, that fact doesn’t make them or Pep the greatest thing since sliced bread. Nor is it completely invalidated by issues of finance and ownership. For the fans, it’s wonderful. For the rest, it’s just another day.
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