The Easter period is a staple, constituent element of all Christian’s lives and that is probably where the religion begins and ends its relationship with football, unless: Maradona really does have the Hand of God, Lionel Messi really is the messiah and every piece of turf up and down the country really is holy. This year was no different, and hitting on par with other such footballing clichés, such as “the next goal is vital,” “what they don’t want to do now is concede” and “it was a game of two halves,” the Easter weekend really was “defining,” “pivotal” and “crucial.”
Some quickly denounced Mario Balotelli as a scapegoat this weekend and in doing so they actually commended him – what with it being the weekend in which we remember the biggest scapegoat that graced our God-given planet, Jesus. However, the Italian, as miraculous as he may be roaming into schools to arbitrate children’s squabbles and turning fireworks into house fires, wasn’t able to save his people on Sunday and instead, much like Jesus, he looks set to disappear after 40 days of making sure everyone knows he still exists. Probably in the summer transfer window and probably back to Italy. Then we’ll only hear of him in stories, probably. I say probably because Roberto Mancini has already shown his own compassionate forgivingness in allowing Carlos Tevez to return like the Prodigal Son.
So is that what the weekend taught us – that Manchester City will have to finish second without Mario? No. What the weekend taught us is probably what Manchester City have lacked to date and not what they’ll lack in the future. (Mario by the way, they’ll miss Mario. I miss him already.)
So, away from Mario Balotelli, what they really did miss this weekend – as well as their first win in three games, someone to score a goal and Yaya Toure from 17’ onwards – was the presence of someone with rooted Englishness, quintessential understanding of the English game and more than just vested, financial interest in Manchester City doing well. Contrastingly, Manchester United had “this” in abundance – more than any other team in the Premier League and only behind five teams in the rest of Europe.
“This” is the presence of club-trained players. A club-trained player is one who has spent three years between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one training at their respective club. Normally, Manchester City have Micah Richards for their basic dose of club-trained player: however, as he was missing, the only players Manchester City had that came close were Gareth Barry, Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott. Yet, these three are association club-trained players, rather than City’s own and arguably this is one category that Manchester United far excel their inter-city rivals at. This weekend, 46.67% of Manchester United’s featuring players were club-trained at Carrington.
Maybe, then, it is in all of our best interests if Manchester United win the league – because then, the team that is winning the top flight of English football and supposedly the best league in the world, is the one that has the highest concentration of English produced footballers and surely that is only good for English football itself. On the other hand, Norwich, Fulham, QPR, WBA, Bolton, Wigan and as aforementioned Man. City didn’t have a single club-trained player on the pitch over the weekend.
It may just be that, even if Manchester United do not have the best XI in the league, The Red Devils win things continuously because they simply “know how to win.” The bunch coming through was bred on the back of success and thus, naturally, it is in their veins and at United it happens again and again and again. So, for City fans it will be reassuring to know that their extensive plans for a 100 million-pound footballing academy and training complex in the east of the city that will be built on an 80-acre brownfield site next to the Etihad Stadium and is to be named the Etihad Campus are starting to be put into practice.
If Manchester United’s relentless march towards the Premier League isn’t enough to grate City fans, then the fact that 37-year old Paul Scholes is proving Patrick Vieira’s lambasting comments of calling him out of retirement “desperate” with every pass he makes, is. Over the weekend, Scholes was not only the best distributor of the ball in the Premier League, but he was the best player in the Premier League on the whole and in the top five across the whole of Europe, along with A,Pirlo, J.Farfan, B.Traore and E.Benat.
In the first half of United’s 2-0 win over QPR, Michael Carrick attempted 81 passes with 88% accuracy and only 27% were forward with 67% square. Comparably, Scholes attempted 76 passes with 93% accuracy. Only 18% were forward. By the end of the game, Scholes had a pass accuracy of 95% with a final third pass accuracy of 92%, which made up 33% of all of United’s goal-scoring opportunities.Scholes made 120 passes, 114 of which were accurate, and was responsible for 16% of United’s passes.
Over Easter, nothing’s really changed much in the past fifteen years: Manchester United look like they can win the league, Sir Alex Ferguson is doing as little as flinching and being accused of mind-games and Paul Scholes is the metronome at the heart of it all. Pass, pass, pass, pass, Passover.