It's a cryin' shame for Man City
More than 20 years later, it remains one of the most iconic images in English soccer: Paul Gascoigne, the legendary Gazza himself, blubbering like a baby when he realized that a yellow card he picked up against West Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup would keep him out of the title game should England advance.
The Three Lions didn't, of course, but no matter. The Tears of Gazza signaled a watershed moment. From that point on, it was considered acceptable for a grown man to cry in a soccer stadium.
Cut to the pathetic sight of a Man City fan Sunday openly weeping seconds after Luke Moore's header in the 83rd minute gave Swansea a 1-0 lead, which ultimately toppled the Sky Blues from their league-leading perch, one that they had occupied since Oct. 15.
Get a grip, mate. Whatever happened to the ol' British stiff upper lip? You didn't see Winston Churchill's lip quivering when the Nazis reduced London to rubble in World War II, or tears streaming from David Beckham's eyes when he announced he was giving up his England captaincy after the 2006 World Cup. Oh wait: Becks is different -- he's even been known to wear a sarong. But all other Englishmen when confronted by adversity are supposed to pick themselves up, drink their room-temperature ale and get on with their business.
And yet this Man City supporter dissolved into a heaving case of PDB (public display of bawling) merely because his team fell behind by a single friggin' point to United atop the Prem? Does he know there are still 10 games left to play, including The Big One on April 30, which will undoubtedly decide the title unless City chokes it away first? Is he aware that there are still 30 points up for grabs in the remaining two months of the season -- or to put it another way, 29 more than the margin currently separating the two teams?
It's not that as a fan you're not entitled to express your emotions, but even I didn't wail in public after Arsenal's heroic comeback from a four-goal deficit fell agonizingly short in last week's second Champions League leg against Milan. No, like a real man, I locked myself in the bathroom, curled up in the fetal position and rocked myself gently.
And besides, if the City fan wanted a good cry, why did he wait until the 83rd minute to turn on the waterworks? Didn't he see the starting lineup contained Stefan "The Montenegrin Squillaci" Savic?
Mercifully, the cameras didn't pan to the Sad One when assistant referee Sian Massey ruled Micah Richards' tying goal offside in stoppage time. Imagine how stoically he would have reacted to a female linesman making the decisive call that cost his team a draw and two precious points? Let's just say that compared to him, Andy Gray would come off as a raving feminist.
As it turned out, Massey nailed the call, earning even more respect from neutrals as well as a bouquet of flowers from one S.A. Ferguson in Manchester.
The fraught end to the match was also too much for Mario Balotelli to bear. After Massey disallowed Richards' goal, he simply dropped to the turf and covered his eyes with his hands. The striker had endured a frustrating week, coming on as a second-half sub in his team's Europa League loss to Sporting Lisbon and then giving a rare one-on-one interview to Oasis songwriter and City fan boy Noel Gallagher in which he appeared to debunk all the wonderful myths the media had attached to him.
So it was no surprise that the Italian performance artist who wears his heart on his T-shirt would let his emotions boil over after City's insipid first-half display at Liberty Stadium. According to the BBC, Balotelli engaged in a furious argument with teammate Yaya Toure in the tunnel as the teams went off at halftime. At least Roberto Mancini was able to stop himself from breaking down, though his frothing at the mouth and angry gesticulations every time a call went against his stumbling City side was hardly a championship-worthy display of grace under pressure. Rather than showing off his operatic skills, the Italian would be better served taking a hard look at how a squad that fielded around 400 million dollars' worth of world-class talent managed to lose to a team whose player budget amounts to what Samir Nasri spends on valet parking.
Not that the absurd economic discrepancy means Swansea City is cannon fodder. The Swans aren't known as the "Barcelona of Wales" for nothing, having earned a richly deserved reputation for their slick passing and fierce-pressing game. They are deceptively tough to beat, especially at home where they not only boast the league's best defensive record but also have taken points from the cupboards of Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Still, the Swans were the final team to emerge from last season's Championship playoffs and as Prem debutants they were crushed by City 4-0 in their opener at the Etihad Stadium. Going into Sunday, the blue Mancs had racked up twice the points and had a plus-54 goal differential over their Welsh opponents. Oops.
Yet despite their status as the EPL's reigning alpha dogs for the past five months, City is no longer the unstoppable juggernaut that eviscerated United 6-1 and looked to be hijacking the title early in the season. It'd won only two of its past seven away games and was sufficiently concerned to welcome back the ever-ingratiating Carlos Tevez. Part of City's problem has been its over-reliance on David Silva, the throbbing heartbeat of the team and once the presumptive EPL Player of the Year. With the silky Spaniard stymied by close marking in recent games, City has had no creative fulcrum in midfield. The technically gifted Nasri, whom City had taken off Arsenal's hands for $40 million in the hope of relieving some of Silva's playmaking burden, has been a peripheral figure at best. City has also looked increasingly wobbly at the back because of injuries to its formidable center back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott, a circumstance that forced Mancini to start both the hapless Savic and the slow-footed Kolo Toure against Swansea.
This was not a lineup that was ever going to cow the home side. Pinging the ball around quickly and accurately, the Swans took the game to the league leaders, bossing the midfield and earning a penalty early on. Scott Sinclair showed that he'd been studying Liverpool's Carling Cup tape as his timid effort would have been saved by a falling stick, let alone England's No. 1 keeper, Joe Hart. All the same, notice had been served.
Suitably alarmed by his team's inability to impose its league-leading mojo on a club it had previously clobbered, Mancini took off defensive midfielder Gareth Barry and brought on Sergio Aguero to join Silva, Balotelli and Nasri in attack. It was a bold tactical gamble, given that City was already being overrun in midfield and it did not sit well with Barry, who left the field in a Tevez-worthy funk. The substitution, though, reflected Mancini's new affinity for math, as he had pointed out this past week that he wanted 99 points to take the league title -- a relatively simple thing to accomplish as all his team had to do was win 11 on the trot. According to the Italian's calculations, there was no margin for error in the run-in. A draw or a point would not be enough to secure City's first top-division title in 44 years. And how else was he going to run the table unless his team scored goals? Yet, for all the incandescent firepower at his disposal -- he even threw on Edin Dzeko for the last four minutes -- it was Swansea that put the ball in the net when Moore, with virtually his first touch after coming on as a substitute, headed in the winner.
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"We conceded a stupid goal," Mancini told the press afterward. "We could be tired because after seven months, when you play three games in one week, it is difficult. But we shall fight against Manchester United until the end."
And the end is 10 games away. For now, though, maybe City should consider adapting the Oasis song, "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" as its new anthem. Boo hoo.
David Hirshey has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and has written about the sport for The New York Times, Time, ESPN The Magazine and Deadspin. He is the co-author of "The ESPN World Cup Companion" and played himself (almost convincingly) in the acclaimed soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime."