Neil Humphreys: Rich managers cannot insult poor supporters
Guardiola wrong to criticise smaller crowd against Fulham
Pep Guardiola deserves an empty stadium in the Manchester Derby.
He will not get one, of course.
Supporters are notoriously loyal, often to their own detriment, and Manchester City fans will troop along to the second leg of their League Cup semi-final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
But their manager does not merit such devotion, not in this instance.
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His criticism of City's "small" crowd of 39,223 for last Sunday's FA Cup victory against Fulham was the latest, frankly bizarre, instance of an elite manager causing unnecessary friction with his own fan base.
Juergen Klopp has already insisted that he will not show up for Liverpool's fourth-round FA Cup replay against Shrewsbury Town, preferring to respect the winter break rather than the freezing fans who will be expected to turn up at Anfield.
But when supporters do not show, their dismayed managers are quick to intervene.
Guardiola probably believes that the empty seats against Fulham must be filled for the Manchester Derby to fuel a cacophonous atmosphere against the old enemy, but he has picked the worst time to demand unswerving loyalty.
As the transfer window closes on Saturday morning (Singapore time), so does Britain's current relationship with the European Union. Economic uncertainty is omnipresent in Britain, particularly around the working-class communities of Liverpool and Manchester.
These local bread and butter issues are of little consequence to English football's global juggernaut of TV subscriptions and streaming packages, but they really should be.
Without the local element, games are little more than 22 men kicking a ball around in an empty, soulless venue.
It is park football inside a steel case. It does not transmit with the same visceral intensity.
It does not sell.
Fans are not powerless cogs in a corporate machine to be shoved into position, without comment or complaint, to provide an engaging spectacle for TV screens and a motivational tool for Guardiola.
They are mostly working-class families struggling in a tough economic climate.
According to the Manchester Evening News, surveys show that City's support mostly comes from the poorer areas of Greater Manchester.
And that divide became a chasm once the money-washing oligarchs arrived in 2008 and turned a community club into an international public relations exercise.
OUT OF TOUCH
It is fair to say they might be slightly out of touch with the financial reality around them, Guardiola included.
As he rambles on about fixture overload, he glosses over the fact that those fixtures hit punters in the pockets.
The Fulham game was City's fifth at home within a month.
Ticket prices were up to £35 (S$61.90) for adults and the cup fixture was not included for EPL season-ticket holders.
Was it so bad that supporters rested cold limbs and weary wallets and perhaps saved themselves for the Manchester Derby?
Guardiola does the same with his players. Klopp does the same with himself, opting to skip the FA Cup replay during the winter break, while no doubt expecting thousands to fork out for an Anfield ticket in his absence.
Guardiola's response was particularly galling, as if he was at a loss to explain such quintessentially English behaviour, lumping empty seats in with heavy tackles and second balls.
They are peculiar English quirks that the Spaniard cannot fathom.
Aside from the obvious fact that they are not uniquely English traits - even Guardiola's Barcelona played for crowds smaller than 30,000 - the City manager does a disservice to his supporters.
Since the Abu Dhabi United Group takeover, City have suffered with the "Empty-had" tag from their neighbours, a faintly ludicrous label for obvious reasons.
Before the oligarchs arrived, City had successfully maintained a strong local support for 30-odd years without winning a trophy.
So it is a bit rich for the United faithful to throw "Empty-had" jibes when Old Trafford's attendance can be topped up with football tourists, those who show up for a match every other year.
The City crowd are not a fickle bunch and their supporters groups have justifiably denounced their manager's comments as unfair and unhelpful.
But Guardiola has veered down this road before, criticising the empty seats in Champions League games - which City fans boycotted for different reasons - as if he still has not fully grasped that he took over a football club, not a franchise.
His job was to transform one into the other, which takes time and money.
City fans will give him plenty of time, but they simply do not always have the money.
Guardiola should remember the massive financial imbalance here. It is called knowing your audience.
As long as elite managers prioritise certain fixtures over others, they can never blame their cash-strapped supporters for doing exactly the same.