No excuses if Manchester City lose to Roma
ROMA v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 3.40am, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
Pablo Zabaleta probably didn't mean to be quite so perceptive when he made his bold statement yesterday.
If Manchester City fail in the future, the Manchester City defender claimed, there would be no excuses.
His comments were immediately yanked out of context. In the endless spin cycle of sound bites, his words were taken to mean… if City lose to Roma tomorrow morning (Singapore time), there would be no excuses.
But he's right. There are no excuses for City, no mitigating circumstances. If they lose in Rome, City's fledgling empire falls in its infancy.
And there will be no sympathy.
If City don't book a place in the last 16 of Champions League, Manuel Pellegrini signs his own severance package. His head rolls at the end of the season.
City's owners are too media-savvy to spill blood during the campaign. But if their quest for the Holy Grail of European domination ends prematurely once more, Pellegrini is a dead man walking. And so is half his squad.
They are one game away from salvation. They are also one game from the scrapheap.
The Premier League champions had just unveiled their state-of-the-art training facility to considerable fanfare. Two years in the making, the complex encompasses the best of Planet Football. Its designers orbited the globe, learning from Spain, Germany, Australia and other sporting powerhouses to surpass them all.
City's oligarchs lavished more then 400 million petrodollars to underscore their commitment to world domination with a "cradle to the grave" football facility.
An early football grave now awaits anyone who stalls the club's insatiable ambition. Being second in the table and chasing Chelsea's coat-tails buys time, but the Premier League title can no longer be viewed as an end in itself; it's a stepping-stone to greater glory.
Bill Shankly always said that first was first and second was nowhere. For City, first is first only in Europe.
Football empires are usually cyclical, spanning at least one generation. At City, they are seasonal. Footballers fade faster than melting snow in spring.
Another premature Champions League exit triggers another seismic shift in strategy, another earthquake; the aftershocks will be felt beyond next May.
When the axe starts swinging, the dressing room will be left a bloodbath. Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala, Jesus Navas, Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri and James Milner may not survive the cull. Others will fall.
Many are trophy winners and loyal servants. City's owners will struggle to contain their indifference. Resumes and reputations count less than the club's long-term branding.
They came to conquer the Champions League. So far, they haven't even got close.
The task is not insurmountable, but it will not be easy.
Roman sporting arenas once entertained gladiators with better odds of victory.
In truth, City are fortunate to still be alive at this stage. Ordinarily, five points from five games are worthy of an early obituary.
But Pellegrini's patched-up performers are spineless. With Sergio Aguero injured, Yaya Toure suspended and Vincent Kompany highly doubtful, City's spiritual core is crippled.
Roma are undefeated at home this season and won their last three home games against English opposition. They will not be cowed.
City's season, on the other hand, effectively ends with a defeat. The Premier League already feels like a consolation prize.
Such ludicrously lofty ideals were imposed on the club by the club themselves. City's employees said as much at the official opening of the training behemoth that spreads its tentacles around the Etihad Stadium.
Each sparkling feature of the stunning complex - the 16.5 pitches, the 56-seat auditorium and the 7,000 capacity arena - offers a reason to fire Pellegrini and rip apart the current squad if they fall at the first European hurdle again.
Each remarkable aspect of the project adds another incentive for victory and removes another excuse for defeat.
In Singapore dollar terms, there are now 400 million reasons to throw the current lot on the scrapheap if they are rumbled in Rome.
As Zabaleta unwittingly pointed out, Manchester City's corporate giants now resemble the American banks of a few years ago. They are too big to fail.
The only difference is Pellegrini won't be bailed out after another bankrupt Champions League campaign.
He'll be booted out.
Zabaleta ready for Rome hostilities
- PHOTO: REUTERS
Defender Pablo Zabaleta hopes Manchester City can feed off a hostile atmosphere in Rome to make a big statement in Europe.
City's laboured attempts to reach the last 16 of the Champions League for a second successive year come to a potentially dramatic conclusion as they face Roma in the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
A stunning Sergio Aguero hat-trick against Bayern Munich a fortnight ago revived the English champions' hopes of progressing from Group E.
It was their first win in five attempts in the competition this season and another positive result could secure a place in the knockout stages that seemed unlikely a month ago.
The equation is still not straightforward, with City locked on five points with Roma and CSKA Moscow in pursuit of the second qualification spot behind Bayern. Such are the complexities of the group system that they could go through with a draw or out with a win, but it is almost certain to be a night of high tension in the Italian capital.
Zabaleta believes if City can survive such a test, the club can finally start to come of age in the Champions League.
The City right-back said: "Always Rome is a great atmosphere, and especially for this game because they have the same points. Also for them to go through in the competition would be massive.
"As a player, it is one of those games you really enjoy playing. You are playing against a top team and always the atmosphere there is just fantastic as well. It will be huge.
"I think the Champions League is the competition at the moment where we are not performing good enough, although it is true that the draw has always been difficult for us and we are a team that are learning about a lot of things.
"The Champions League is that competition where you play against the best teams from Europe and if you make mistakes you are out of it.
"I think Rome is a crucial game for us to show that we want to continue in that competition and we want to go far.
"The quality is there to do this and hopefully we can have a great game and go through." - PA Sport.
"We have the players to beat Roma and we will do everything possible to go through in the Champions League."
- Man Citydefender Pablo Zabaleta (above)
GROUP E EQUATION
- Bayern have clinched first place.
- Roma will go through with a win, or a draw if CSKA also draw.
- If CSKA lose, Roma would go through with a goalless draw but out with a score draw.
- CSKA, to finish second, must win and hope Roma don’t beat City.
- City must win and hope CSKA don’t win, or get a score draw and hope CSKA lose. If City lose they are definitely out.
- Roma v Man City
- Bayern Munich v CSKA