As I reflected on Manchester City’s League Cup win it was not the trophy that made me proud to be a City fan. We’ve won more trophies in 5 years than I ever dreamed of! None will ever matter as much as 2011’s fa Cup and 2012’s Premiership moment. Winning in a penalty shoot out is not winning anyway, just deciding which of the two teams, who drew, take the trophy home.
Yet today, as I surmised, I concluded that yesterday might actually be my proudest day supporting my beloved team of 47 years. Many will say that the money that ruined my favourite club should make me feel shame every day. Well I have written about that before. Three things about yesterday makes me feel that City were winners.
Firstly, our manager Manuel Pellegrini. Now he has always been “That Charming Man,” as the fans have quoted The Smiths, but yesterday he exceeded his charm. The controversial chat among the pundits before and during the match was his decision to play Willy Caballero in goal ahead of Joe Hart. Hart is obviously one of the best keepers in the world so no one could understand Pellegrini not playing his best player. Pellegrini said after the final whistle that he would rather not win the trophy than to tell a lie. In other words he had given his reserve goalkeeper his word that he would play him in League Cup games. He didn’t compromise his word, even for a trophy. Wow! This is not every day Soccer ethics in 2016, head and shoulders above most of his peers.
Many will say that Pellegrini is being treated badly by Manchester City being replaced no matter how well he does this season by Pep Guardiola. I am certainly impressed, as I so often am, by the way Manuel has dealt with the decision. I don’t see it as the betrayal that many do. In Europe this happens. 3 year contracts are just that and there is a lot of moving around. However, though I believe Pep has the credentials to win more trophies, can he be the authentic man of dignity and values that Pellegrini continually shows. Tough man to follow Mr. Pep!
Not only have City a gentleman as a manger but what a captain. My second reason to be proud yesterday could be seen, if you watched the players carefully, after Ya Ya’s winning penalty. As the players rushed to towards Toure and Caballero, Vincent Kompany stops and as everyone else thinks, “We’ve won it!” Kompany heads towards the Liverpool players to give his condolences and no doubt apologise for this awful way of winning it, something he articulated in the post match interview. Sportsmanship of a high calibre. A captain to be proud of.
Lastly, Joe Hart. I am a nerd and spend time watching the Manchester City Tunnel Cam where we get to see the players arriving for the game, heading out to play and coming back in at the end of the game. My interest is to see the genuine good guys. The ones who speak to the security staff or the mascots or the opposite team. Joe Hart comes across as a genuine man. Yesterday, he was not given his rightful place in the team. Everyone said he should have played. It’s City’s second League Cup win in three years and he hasn’t played in either. Yet, if you watch the post match celebrations then you see that he is as pleased with Willy Caballero’s heroics as anyone else. Generous of spirit.
So let us finish with the best bit of the entire day. For Liverpool fans that will no doubt be the fact that Raheem Sterling missed an open goal and had another opportunity to finish his old team off. For me it was the fact that Willy Caballero was the penalty shoot out hero. I am not saying that because it proved the pundits wrong. It is because the reserve goalkeeper at a massive club like Manchester City has to come to terms with playing very few games. They have to be of a world class quality but give their all week in week out to their competition for that one place on the team sheet. There are special qualities needed and many give up the chance of glory moments for such a role. Willy Caballero’s three penalty saves, two particularly spectacular, was one of the finest ever shoot out performances. He will forever be remembered, a City legend. It might be his finest career moment. His selflessness deserves it. How wonderful! Well done That Charming Man for giving it to him.