Robin Sainty: ‘Football without fans simply isn’t football’
PUBLISHED: 18:24 26 June 2020 | UPDATED: 18:24 26 June 2020
Regular readers of this column will know that I was considerably less than enthusiastic about the return of the ersatz version of football produced to keep the broadcasting wolves from the door of the Premier League, and Project Restart has so far done nothing to convince me that I was wrong.
The first two games produced a turgid stalemate between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, only memorable for the embarrassing failure of technology to spot the blindingly obvious, and a Manchester City training ground stroll, so by Friday my expectations weren’t high.
What came next did nothing to change that as even with the ridiculous piped noise on Sky’s feed, something which is apparently meant to enhance our experience but just serves to irritate, the whole experience was lacking in anything to get the blood pumping.
City’s performance didn’t help, but even if they hadn’t been so poor I find it hard to believe that I would have found it much more uplifting. Football without fans simply isn’t football, no matter how much the broadcasters might try to dress it up.
Sadly, City’s two games have served only to emphasise why they’ll be a Championship club again next season. Against Southampton, Daniel Farke finally provided what some fans had been calling for, with a midfielder sacrificed to allow two up front.
The result was that City were invariably wide open and were lucky to concede only three goals, while at the other end there was no greater goal threat than with a lone striker.
Against Everton he went for a line-up that was clearly based on work ethic rather than flair and in fairness City looked pretty solid in the first half, but one sloppy set-piece saw the confidence visibly drain from the players.
Inevitably, Farke took a lot of criticism for the Everton selection, but in what is in effect a nine-game mini tournament he hasn’t the time to wait for players to find form and none of those left out could have any real complaints, although others could consider themselves lucky to stay in the side.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is that he has been unable to find a combination that balances solidity with creativity, although that may be because he doesn’t have the players to do that, with the failure of the Ibrahim Amadou loan still weighing heavily, along with Tom Trybull’s failure to make the step up to Premier League standard.
However, there is no doubt that the admirable desire to play open football rather than to try to grind out results has been a big factor in City’s demise (I’ve lost count of how many commentators have remarked on their naivety) but I think we all expected to see more fight than has been evident.
What worries me most, though, is Farke’s reaction to the criticism of his selection and tactics for the Southampton game, which was ominously reminiscent of the latter part of Alex Neil’s tenure when the Scot became increasingly sensitive to criticism.
While it’s inevitable that some fans will question the manager, most will not easily forget that he has produced some of the best football that they have ever seen at Carrow Road, and I see no reason why he can’t do so again, particularly given that the club’s financial position will be infinitely stronger than when he won the Championship before.
Yes, City have been disappointing, but to make too many judgments on what happens during this bizarre, sterile exercise in contractual fulfilment would be harsh, and whilst there is clearly a need to refresh the squad I firmly believe that Farke is the man to take the club forward.
That said, there are clearly lessons to be learned, both tactically and in terms of recruitment, if City are to not only bounce back but also have a better crack at the Premier League next time around.