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English Premier League: Football is just a game, until it isn’t

In that shocking moment, when Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba collapsed at White Hart Lane, the English football world united. Legally dead. For 78 minutes. Three points? One? Zero? Frankly, no one—not even faltering City boss Roberto Mancini—could care less on March 17.

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By Thomas Davies (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: April 11, 2012

In that shocking moment, when Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba collapsed at White Hart Lane, the English football world united. Legally dead. For 78 minutes. Three points? One? Zero? Frankly, no one—not even faltering City boss Roberto Mancini—could care less on March 17.

I credit everyone for their role in saving the young athlete’s life, but luck was in Muamba’s favour: The London Chest Hospital is only 12-km away from the stadium, referees Howard Webb and Chris Foy are experienced police officers, and Peter Cech had a skull fracture in 2006. As a result of Cech’s injury the medical and ambulance services came under fire after due to their overall response time and capabilities. This alone probably saved Muamba’s life, as ambulances are now on standby in stadiums, and pitch-side medics are better prepared to treat serious injuries. Muamba is improving slowly in hospital. He may never play football again, but he is alive, after being dead for 78 minutes.

British March Madness began with City leading the league by five points and five teams in the relegation doghouse. With the March 31 and April 1 fixtures in the book, really only two interesting changes occurred during the month.

United now leads the table by five points (woot!) and Wolves are dropping like a rock. On March 1 they had 22 points, on April 1, 22 points. Uh oh. Five teams are still in the doghouse, but Wolves surely will drop, with six points and a hefty goal differential to make up in seven games. The club already fired Mick McCarthy after five-and-a-half years in charge to no avail. Bolton (29 points), QPR, Blackburn and Wigan (28) round out the bottom five.

QPR is screwed. With away fixtures at United, Chelsea and City, and home to Tottenham, they’re destined to drop. The club, although plucky, lacks skill to compete down the final stretch. Wigan also has a tough slate: away at Chelsea and United, home to Arsenal, and crucially, away to fellow bottom-feeder Blackburn on May 7. Circle the date people, that one will be good. QPR and Wigan are my picks to follow Wolves down, but if the Latics can pull a win out of Ewood Park, you never know.

Back to the top, City faces a mountain to overtake the red half of Manchester. The Red Devils could lose again to their rivals at Etihad Stadium on April 30 (again, circle the date) and probably still take their 20th title. What I find more interesting: the Mancini conundrum. In my humble opinion, City is suffering from what I lovingly call the Real Madrid problem. Spend every penny you have, and plenty you don’t, on players without creating a team. Why is Sir Alex so successful? He builds a team. Sometimes through cash, sometimes through the Academy, but the end product is a team. Real Madrid and now City simply fail to recognize this.

Balotelli, Tévez: their club isn’t a team; it’s a group of mercenaries. Everyone knows about the Tévez saga (and believe me, it isn’t over) and Balotelli is a laughing stock. Ok fine, he’s young, and I enjoy the randomness we sometimes see. Spontaneous visits to a local college – fun. Setting off fireworks inside his house – a rookie move. However, the Sunderland fixture on March 31 epitomizes the problems with Balotelli and the team; down 3-1 at home and Balotelli argues with captain Vincent Kompany and others over who takes a free kick. Seriously? Teammates physically restrained Balotelli to prevent the altercation from developing further; if it had, I say Balotelli strikes someone.

And this is where Mancini comes in. He bought both Balotelli and Tévez and he can’t control them. A la Real Madrid, he threw money at the problem without creating a team. City owners won’t tolerate excuses; title or bust. No title, no Mancini next season.

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