Manchester City fans turn to Einstein for consolation
Much as some fans try to justify their club's demise, the defeat by Southampton proves the cheque book is not the long-term answer
One would think a soccer stadium might be the last place to find devotees of Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity.
Not so. Many Manchester City fans have an acute understanding of the eminent physicist's famous concept and deployed it in spades after their 3-1 defeat by Southampton last weekend - a loss which by Monday's end and Manchester United's 2-0 win over Everton left them 12 points adrift of their second successive title.
As Einstein determined, constant motion can feel like you are sitting still, as when on a train or plane. But to observers watching from the outside, the train or plane and it occupants are whizzing by.
The dynamics of e=mc2 are complicated. In essence, although we all live by the same law of physics, we will not always see the same thing when objects are in motion.
City fans such as Steve Shaw relied on the theory for answers after the race for a second successful EPL title had been almost certainly lost by mid-February. Shaw was among those travelling fans seeing the implosion of his team in an entirely differently light to the rest of "planet football".
For him, the spectacle of Roberto Mancini's highly expensive squad handing United the championship on a plate thanks to a comedy of errors was not the catastrophic train wreck it looked to the rest of us.
Shaw and City fans like him only see their team moving ever upwards, albeit at a much reduced rate.
"I don't mind watching us lose because I think about from where we came and where we are now," he said in a cheery tone unbefitting the occasion. "It's all relative, isn't it?"
Indeed it is. Last weekend, the rest of us saw the folly of lavish spending and cheque-book soccer for what it is - a sudden burst of unsustainable power and glory, quickly and inevitably followed by the wimpy puff of a damp squib (if that's how damp squibs sound).
We are full of mirth and "told you so" wisdom. Yet Shaw and others are not the slightest bit angry because they remember the not-too-distance past when City were the runt of Manchester and the punching bag of United. Clearly, two decades of humiliation and embarrassment can scar fans and change their outlook on life.
After losing the 1981 FA Cup final, the club went into decline, culminating in 1998 with relegation for the first time in the club's history to the domestic third tier - the first European trophy winners to sink so low.
City bounced along the basement floor while their detestable neighbours flew supersonic miles above, through clouds lined with silverware.
Then came the hypersonic renaissance - the 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group to become one of the wealthiest clubs in the world.
A constellation of stars docked in City's orbit - Robinho, Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Touré, Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tévez and Joleon Lescott, Javi García, Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Matija Nastasic, Vincent Kompany, ad infinitum.
In 2011, City qualified for the Champions League and won the FA Cup. Last May, the club won the EPL in the most dramatic of fashions - overcoming an eight-point gap to leap-frog United on the last day to claim their first league title for 44 years.
As much as we hated the idea, City showed all problems could be solved with a bulging cheque book.
Forget heritage, deep-rooted loyalty, provenance, wisdom and trust. Just land yourself a consortium of oil-rich sugar-sheikhs, a half-decent manager and spend your way to glory - a far easier and more exciting formula than building success from the roots up. But what City fans crave is long-lasting success like that of their neighbours.
This time last season, City had 60 points and a goal difference of 48. This season they have seven points fewer and a goal difference exactly half that amount, having scored 19 fewer goals.
We could point to Robin van Persie's arrival at Old Trafford and the failure of Mancini to sign Eden Hazard and Daniele de Rossi for City's drop.
Mancini blames a lack of spending last summer, which seems rather odd given his bosses' generosity thus far.
While adding new faces to refresh the side and increased dressing-room competition is understandable, opening the cheque book for spending's sake is fuzzy maths. It is clearly evident that it offers no guarantee of success.
Mancini threatened to wield the axe and drop many of the gilded stars for tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round showdown with Leeds, but taking the cleaver to the dressing room might only serve to divide the squad and dent morale even more.
Beating Leeds and perhaps going on to win the coveted trophy - say in a dream final against United - might salvage some pride, but compared with United's bruising encounter with Real Madrid this week and summit-topping ways, it would be scant consolation.
Of course, nothing is absolute. If United implode and City overturn the 12-point deficit, we will once more be eating humble pie come May.
Not all City fans were drawing on Einstein's theory and waxing philosophical, however. Others were aware of near-certain loss of their crown and relied on black humour to cope. They even saluted Isaac Newton's laws of gravity.
"We are staying up, say we are staying up," one group chanted as they made their way back up north.