CAN Manchester City win an unprecedented quadruple? Of course, they can. Of course, they won’t.
So ridiculously difficult is the feat it has eluded the greatest creations to illuminate English football in the 59 years since four tournaments have been up for grabs, and that’s largely because there comes a certain point where dominance ceases to be enough. As history beckons huge dollops of luck is suddenly needed, or rather the avoidance of misfortune and this comes in many forms, namely the circumvention of injuries that are almost inevitable when wear and tear erodes fitness levels and fixtures congest towards the end of a long and taxing campaign. Additionally, a referee can easily have a brain fart and screw you over in a semi-final, or a defender can just as plausibly commit an uncharacteristic howler in the dying moments of a final. Complacency too threatens to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune of moments, plus of course, you could always plainly be beaten, fair and square on any given day.
12 major finals
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Achieving a clean sweep of silverware then is like scaling a citadel wall, bloodied, shattered but victorious from a great many skirmishes, only to realise with the battlements in sight that boiling oil is being prepared.
No such realisation befell Pep Guardiola this weekend as he tempered talk of a quadruple amidst the celebrations of a Carabao Cup triumph that mathematically, at least, makes it one down, three to go. He knew well in advance from his vast experience of competing on multiple fronts that the closer you get to greatness the more it demands, and what it invariably demands is perfection when you are at your most imperfect. This is why instead of further fanning the flames he focused on the muscular problems endured by Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte at Wembley, with their absences expected to be sorely felt in the weeks to come. This is why prior to the game he reacted to the Q word with incisive deflection: "It sells something that isn't true, because after that you (the media) say, 'Manchester City failed because they didn't win four titles' or 'they only won three titles', when it's only happened once in its whole life. That is not fair on us.”
Yet perhaps in this rare instance to suggest that an ulterior motive is afoot is not being entirely fair on the media. Firstly, it is the very epitome of first world problems to imply that the press are setting City up for a fall by normalising the prospect of brilliance when elsewhere Spurs are being damned as ‘bottlers’ for losing an extremely testing game at Burnley, while a Liverpool side who have lost once all season are presently encountering similar criticism. If the narrative planned for City this term is to paint them as immortal only to then reveal flesh and bones well, frankly we’ve endured much worse.
More so, it can reasonably be argued that the hyper-driven chatter regarding an all-conquering City side is justified at this juncture. The odds of them securing all four trophies are shorter than Newcastle getting relegated or Derby being promoted. It’s only slightly wider than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finishing up as the Premier League’s top marksman, and currently he is a mere two goals shy of Salah and Aguero. Then there’s the stark facts that jolt when stripped of context. Manchester City – with the strongest squad and proven ability to string together a fearsome run of results no matter who against – have just seven cup opponents to better and a wobbling Liverpool side to overcome in order to attain legendary status. That’s doable right? Of course it is. Even if they ultimately and definitely won’t: of course it is.
The reasons why they won’t – over and above those already mentioned – are numerous and include a plummeting of form from David Silva that concerns and the lack of quality cover for Fernandinho that really concerns. There is also the small matter of Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Messi, Ronaldo and all the rest of them looming large on the horizon, and that’s if Schalke can be negotiated on March 12th. It would be utterly remiss not to highlight Liverpool here too. The title race in itself is a coin flip set to be conducted over 12 tense weeks.
So it’s a good job then that talk of City achieving a quadruple is ultimately a sleight of hand from all concerned. Publicly, the media speculate on it because it sells papers and builds a narrative. Privatel,y they know that history has shown time and again that succeeding in every fight is simply not feasible. Publicly, Pep derides the hypothesis. Privately, he will be hammering into his players the motivating notion that history beckons. He will be selling something that isn’t true.
This latter point is pertinent and perhaps it’s the only pertinent aspect of this whole quadruple fantasy. Because the serious pursuit of the impossible can often afford you a consolation of the improbable. A back-to-back double let’s say. Even a treble. And should this be achieved, oh boy what a magical season City will have had, flesh, bones and all.