Manchester City Fans Are Spoiled But Criticism Has Major Blindspots

January 21, 2023
January 21, 2023

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola chose the aftermath of a rousing 4-2 comeback win against Tottenham Hotspur to get a few things off his chest.

"[We are lacking] passion, desire, to win from minute one. It’s the same for our spectators, our fans. They are so silent for 45 minutes,” he said.

"It is my duty, it is my job. I want my fans back. I want my fans in here. Not my away fans - my away fans is the best. But my fans in here, we want support for every corner, their reaction and support, because we play, we cannot expect [to win].”

One thing that particularly annoyed Guardiola was the chorus of boos that greeted his team as the half-time whistle blew and the side found themselves 0-2 down.

"They booed because we were losing but not because we played bad – we played good,” he added.

“Maybe it’s like our team. Maybe they are so comfortable winning four Premier Leagues in five years. And after we scored they react, but that is not the point.”

The legendary manager is far from alone in criticizing the Manchester City supporters, post-game pundits were lining up to take aim at the fans for their behavior.

“And to think the City fans booed their team off at half time,” former Liverpool striker Michael Owen wrote on Twitter, “winners of 4 of the last 5 Premier League titles. Sitting 2nd in the league and through to The Champions League knockout stages. Arguably the best club team in the world right now. Staggering.”

Speaking on the radio, another ex-Liverpool player, Danny Murphy, decided to compare the fans to those on Merseyside.

“Different supporters, different mindsets, different ways of thinking.

“After winning four leagues in five. No chance [would Liverpool fans act the same way]. Have you heard them boo Klopp yet? And they're sitting in ninth.”

It was a strange comment from Murphy, not least because Anfield has erupted into boos on several occasions this season. Most memorably against Brighton when the home support was also mocked on social media for videos that showed them barely celebrating an equalizing goal.

Analyzing the behavior of a crowd is a fool's errand, how a vast nebulous group of people behaves on any one day has a ridiculous number of variables.

But Guardiola posed an interesting question does a sense of complacency from the fans can transmit to the players?

A changing fanbase

This is not the first time Guardiola has attacked his supporters, back in 2020 he complained about the stadium being empty for the game against Fulham which preceded the Manchester Derby.

“Today was not full – I don’t know why,” the City manager said. “Now we have three days to prepare [to play] against United. Hopefully, our fans can come and make our stadium full.”

It was a comment that sparked a strong response from the official fans’ group general secretary, Kevin Parker.

“We feel unjustifiably criticized by other clubs, so for our manager to have a go at us as well makes it worse,” he said, “I’d suggest he’s not in touch with the financial reality facing football fans.

“Pep has to accept that this is a working-class group of supporters who spend a lot of their money on football, so stop beating us up about it.”

It's a point that all too often gets washed away in the criticism of fans of a particular team. Attending games week-in-week-out is expensive, especially with Britain in the midst of high inflation and a cost of living crisis. There are fewer times it’s been more challenging for diehard supporters to attend.

I personally know of several families of Manchester City fans who canceled their season tickets because of financial pressures and they are far from isolated cases.

The seats they vacated did not stay empty, being as Michael Owen stated, ‘one of the best teams in the world’, but they are not necessarily filled by people with the same passion.

A less discussed truth about all of the clubs in England’s big six is that when you visit their stadium you find a large proportion of day trippers or so-called ‘football tourists.’

Indeed lots of clubs now sell their tickets months in advance to help facilitate this type of fan attending, prices are pitched at a global rather than local market.

The downsides of such a strategy were articulated succinctly by a Liverpool supporter who’d just returned from a game disappointed at the atmosphere back in 2017.

“When you look in English stadiums especially, so many tourists haven’t any connection to the club they support. They’re just customers,” he said.

“But as a football club, you also need fans, you need people who say, ‘OK, now my club is ruined or we have been relegated, but I love this club.

“You can’t run a business only with tourists. The English Premier League isn’t an English Premier League, you could also say it’s just an international Premier League, because there are not so many English players on the pitch, not so many English fans in the stadium. They could play it in China.”

Becoming the enemy

The criticism of Manchester City fans face is one of the most powerful examples of how the club has changed.

In many ways, it shows how it has finally managed to emulate its arch-rivals from the other side of the city, Manchester United, who used to dominate the Premier League.

From the early 90s to late 2000s, as United was winning title after title, one of the few morsels of comfort Citizens fans had was the sense they were the more authentic passionate fanbase.

Rival club supporters often sympathized with City whose years of struggle contrasted substantially with their rivals.

But success has shifted the scales, just as Old Trafford was mocked for being quiet, passionless and filled with people from outside Manchester, these days the Etihad stadium is subject to the same criticism.

A more diluted fanbase partly explains it and perhaps the other reason for the lethargy is the idea raised by Guardiola that a sense of complacency can seem into the stands if success is anticipated.

"They expect ‘Oh, we’re Manchester City, we have to do it’. No, we don’t have it right now. The tendency of the human being when you’ve won a lot is ‘Ah, I should do this, I should do that’. No, you have to work. You have to put fire there,” he said.

Younger fans might do with some lessons from older counterparts who remember the club going 35 years without a trophy and would encourage them to savior success rather than take it for granted.

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  • Chuck Parsons

    Chuck is Score LA’s Executive Director of Events and Marketing. He aims to help business owners and would-be entrepreneurs in Los Angeles improve their business practices.

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