FOX Soccer Exclusive
Man City beats Chelsea in New York
Irony hung as heavily in the air as the cold and humidity.
While Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were at Wembley Stadium in an uncharacteristically sunny London contesting the UEFA Champions League final, Chelsea and Manchester City, two teams that spent heavily to be in that game, were here instead, in the drenching drizzle of Yankee Stadium.
Fans turned out three hours ahead of the friendly, to watch the live screening of the big game – the day’s real game – on the giant scoreboard out in centerfield. Manchester City missed most of the final; they were on a bus from their hotel to the stadium. Chelsea caught the first half in their hotel, followed along on their cell phones during the bus ride and then caught Arjen Robben’s late Bayern winner from their locker room.
This was surely not how either side had pictured their season ending, in a meaningless friendly some 3,000 miles from the real action, conceived with marketing and financial ends in mind. They had begun their seasons with this very matchup, when City and Chelsea met on Aug. 12 in the Community Shield as the defending Premier League and FA Cup champions, respectively. City won 3-2 then.
Just how far their 2012-13 campaigns had gone off course between then and Saturday was best illustrated by a poignant moment during some season highlights shown on the big screen before the game. For just a second, the image froze on a forlorn-looking Roberto Mancini, the since-fired City manager. Another was offered by the lineup sheet. Under both teams stood printed, in thick and unmistakable black ink: “INTERIM MANAGER.”
A single designation that spoke to the disappointment both teams felt for their respective seasons. In spite of yet another round of generous investment from their sugar daddies into these nouveaux riches clubs, both had capitulated far too early in the league. Both had gone out of the Champions League in the group stage. City lost the FA Cup final to Wigan. Chelsea redeemed itself at least a little by winning the Europa League. Both fired their manager before the year was out. Turmoil rule the day, ruled the entire year. Almost everything was changed – tactics, priorities, personnel.
So much has changed this season that City now even has a local satellite club in New York City FC, the MLS team it is running in partnership with the New York Yankees in 2015 after coughing up MLS’s obscene $100 million franchise fee. So it was fitting that they should face each other in the last game of the season, all the better to illustrate the sea change since the first, brought on by elite soccer’s affliction of ceaselessly lusting after change.
With most players trying to get through the game unharmed, save for the prospects who had things to prove, the level was appalling. In front of a pretty well-filled stadium, eight soft goals made for a 5-3 City win. The entire affair was sluggish, sloppy and insipid.
There wasn’t much glory to be won, after all. There wasn’t anything to be proven. There will be new managers next year, who will surely bring in a slew of fresh players.. Rafa Benitez, Roberto Di Matteo’s unpopular interim replacement when the latter was fired in November, looked bored through his last game in charge. Brian Kidd, temporarily overseeing City before a new man is replaced, will go back to being an assistant soon. If that. Neither man ever got off the bench to instruct his charges. They were lame ducks, and nobody listens to those anyway. Chelsea fans sang the name of their presumed next manager Jose Mourinho to the tune of Verdi’s La Donna e Mobile out of Rigoletto.
But Chelsea and City are hardly alone in suffering through times of turmoil. These are singularly tumultuous days among the clubs of the game’s highest shelf. Almost a dozen big teams have recently appointed a new manager or are in search of one. Chelsea and City’s plight, then, speaks to much wider instability in the sport, where the trigger on managers grows ever quicker even while the merit of patience and longevity continues to be demonstrated.
After the final whistle the City and Chelsea players lumbered off, into their holidays, into the next season, which will bring yet more change. The next time these sides face each other, they’ll look differently again.
More Stories From Leander Schaerlaeckens