It appeared to be an unsubtle and strangely significant piece of news management by Manchester United. They were accused of massaging a post-match quote by Chris Smalling, who dared to reveal an inconvenient truth: Manchester City’s bank balance cannot buy them a backbone.
This is what Smalling said about Man City, after Sunday’s win at Arsenal: “If we keep ticking off these wins, then they’ll crumble.” These are the words put into his mouth by Man Utd’s website: “If we keep ticking off these wins, then we’ll be in a good position.” Spot the difference?
No great surprise, really. Anyone who takes at face value the half-truths, white lies and spun-dried quotes delivered by official club media outlets is either blindly loyal or terminally naive. What is interesting is the implication that City’s vulnerability to pressure deserves such deception.
It hints at an underlying assumption that Man City lack the substance of champions. Winning the FA Cup, at the expense of a collection of tourists in Stoke City shirts, might have torn down that Old Trafford banner, but it proved little beyond the inevitability of City’s artificially accelerated development.
Ah, the m-word. Money. No piece on City is complete without it. But conviction and character are as important as cash. Starting with tonight’s Carling Cup semi-final at Anfield, we are about to discover whether City’s multi-millionaires are made of the right stuff.
Roberto Mancini is looking, and sounding, a little flaky. He insists it was a sore throat, rather than a lack of moral courage, that prompted him to push David Platt into the firing line after Mario Balotelli’s latest mind burp. Hmmm.
January was always going to be a bumpy month, with or without the Last of the Mohicans. From City’s point of view, the Ivory Coast’s status as favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations, is depressingly logical. There’s little chance of a convenient implosion, and an early flight back to the UK for Yaya Touré.
Someone needs to lead from the front. David Silva is setting a peerless example but, in terms of providing a rallying point, Micah Richards fits the bill. The DJ-ing, blingtastic youth, who seems to have scarred Fabio Capello’s psyche, has matured.
Richards is not only the best right back in the Premier League, he also has the potential to be a key character in its pivotal storyline, the emergence of City as champions. Fall in behind him, chaps. He can give United greater problems than a few heartfelt, but ill chosen, words.