We’ll surely hear it at St Mary’s on Saturday night: Manchester City fans tweaking the tongue-in-cheek chant adopted at Arsenal in George Graham’s days – Boring Boring City.
Unfortunately, when the world’s columnists reflect public opinion, no one but the faithful will listen or watch.
There’s considerable dynamic behind the idea that City’s playstyle is dull, a narrative distinct from the fear that their dominance is sucking competitiveness into a bottomless money pit forever.
In , Ken Early wrote about Chelsea’s “clinical chloroforming” last week and fell asleep on City’s “cautious, disciplined, risk-averse football” — “better suited to winning trophies than admirers.”
On our own patch, Johnny Nicholson is unwarmed from football with the “soulless ice of technical drawing.”
Rory Smith is unmoved by a style so well drilled it lacks any “danger.”
Barney Ronay is fed up with the “extremely high quality” but “pretty cold stuff”.
Jason Jones is fed up: “The boring march towards football oligarchy, that’s all a bit boring, isn’t it?”
In , Eamonn Sweeney lamented City’s bloodless, classic perfection, “safe, clinical and a little bit boring”, concluding that “City is a team to admire but Liverpool is a team to love.” “.
And it’s hard not to take that as our starting and ending point in this debate. The main problem with Manchester City is that they harass the great loves of modern life, Liverpool and Manchester United.
As we tackle this one, let’s not forget that one of the more tedious title races of recent years – Liverpool’s 18-point gallop – has bathed acres of newspaper in tears of joy and emotion, rejoicing in a new order that will endure for the foreseeable future would have .
Looking at this matter, it’s hard to get away from how the vast football world tends to focus on how the big two are faring. Just think of the staffing of experts at Sky. Or RTÉ’s fierce determination to show Liverpool’s deadliest gummies, even when offered rights to an alien invasion sweeping Brazil at Tolka Park in 1970.
As a result, Manchester City can find it difficult to entertain the many people who want them to lose as they tend to win. Let’s face it, anyone who says they think a football game is worth seeing when the team they want to lose has two zeros is lying. Maybe City is good enough to shut down at one-zero.
It might also be fair to note that even if you want them to lose, you might not want it enough to make City the kind of compelling draw that, say, Chelsea was, under Mourinho’s watch and with Brave JT stripped to the waist forever except for a captain’s armband. Unless you can get upset about Fernandinho’s tactical fouling.
Still, it seems impossible to exclude the viewer’s eye from our investigations into this one. It seems that a “crossfield diag” is a little more exciting when it’s hit by “Trent” and not Kevin de Bruyne.
We could leave it there, that matter is closed. But this site is occasionally larger than that, so maybe we should take a closer look at this puzzle, just in case. After all, you can’t tell people they’re bored any more than you can make them fun.
Is it also true that people cannot separate the “product” in the field from the wealth that was paid for it? That they feel dirty because they’ve been sport washed?
Although you rarely hear of anyone turning off an Oscar winner because of the ridiculous budget. Or because Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t cheap. There’s also not much analysis on how these things are funded.
Is it just because series champions are boring? Dublin first made people sick, then it became mundane, maybe even for themselves. Kilkenny hurls the same thing. Stephen Hendry, Sampras, Serena.
Limerick could be allowed one more, though their “machine” has already been accused of breaking Hurling, the wrist stylist mowed down by rampaging mobs of people programmed by a sysadmin.
“I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good,” said Mies van der Rohe, the architect who is considered a pioneer of minimal modernism. Mies delivered plenty of “boring” jibes in his day, and his “less is more” aphorism could just as easily be applied to Pep’s City.
Lacking in indulgence, built on structural integrity, but breathtaking in the scale of its ambitions. Pep has literally moved the game’s goalposts, so the challenge isn’t just preventing goals, but preventing the opponent from getting any meaningful touches in your half.
The geometry involved no doubt puts some off, that speech by Pep dividing the pitch into 20 zones, players being asked to constantly enter their coordinates into a matrix. It’s almost collective snooker, break building attacks, always four passes ahead, opponents pinned to a pillow forever.
But is it self-evident how tuned in even the world’s best footballers have to be for this to work? And how persuasive do you have to be to keep millionaires in the loop like that? The danger is obvious when they try at the highest level in the Champions League.
And the connections between men like Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva, however guided by geometry, are surely more enduringly beautiful than any glass skyscraper.
“God is in the details”, was also attributed to Mies. But as he has rightly heard from his critics, today’s lavish elegance is tomorrow’s boring tradition-breaker. Stopping Jack Grealish from dribbling up dead ends is Pep’s answer to giving up decorative brickwork.
Of course, what City attempts each week – the blizzard of triangles and double crosses – would have once been considered incredibly artistic. It says a lot about Guardiola’s impact on the game that it could be called boring.
Now that everyone accepts that holding the ball is better than just hitting it, that your center-backs should split and your full-backs should push up, there’s a certain nostalgia out there for the old quarter to five-ball to the big Lighthouse.
And as for everything else, from the lack of European Cup-winning Eastern European cracks to the intolerance of an old-school reducer, it’s easy enough to drop all our complaints about modern football at City’s door.