The darlings of the league for the first part of the season, blasting six past arch rivals Man City at Old Trafford and running up a five point lead in the league at one point. Only, for it all to (seemingly) blow up yesterday at Arsenal. This really brings back some bad memories for me when our own title dreams were shattered in spectacular style.
There’s no worse feeling than blowing a league title after having a big lead, we did it in 1996 after being 12 points clear just in time for me to head off to university in the midlands.Instead of heading proudly to far away parts victorious, to gloat over students from the rest of the country it was a shamefaced skulk to the taunts of the other (mainly Man U supporting) youngsters.
Back then, like now, the arm chair pundit’s easy answer seemed to pin the blame on one unorthodox and often unusual player. In ’96 that was one Faustino Hernán “Tino” Asprilla Hinestroza.
It was said that the ‘octopus’ lost possession too much, upset the balance of the team, disrupted other players and had forced manager Kevin Keegan to change the winning formula that had brought the 12 point lead in the first place.
I never really bought that at the time, and believed it even less when he got a hat trick against Barcelona a couple of seasons later giving us one of the club’s defining moments.
Just like Man City this year it was probably down to a host of factors including poor management, fatigue, a lack of leadership, a paucity of title winning experience, bad judgement and maybe a dose of simple stage fright.
There was of course also the famous Keegan ‘I’d love it if we beat them’ rant, maybe matched this year by Roberto Mancini’s handling of the Tevez saga.
However, Mario Balotelli is now the villain of the piece this year and although he seems pretty petulant, immature and annoying he’s not lost Man City the title on his own.
Mario Balotelli is certainly a divisive figure – amongst the fans and seemingly his own team mates – but the inconvenient truth is that one man can’t lose or win a title on his own.