If billions of pounds turns you in to what Manchester City have become, then I don’t want it at Sunderland.
The aspirations most of us have for Sunderland are not as lofty as Champions league finals or quadruples. Though I’d like to see us lift an FA or League Cup while pushing for top half finishes, I can’t say I crave the hundreds of millions spent on players or the European nights. I want to see a team with pride, passion and ability, who try to win games and put themselves on the line when doing so. Give me that and no more, and I'll be happy.
Our new signings gave us a mixture of composure, strength and ability on the ball. Though I would like to spend my time discussing the performances of Kirchhoff, Khazri and Koné, who I thought were fantastic, I feel Manchester City’s disgraceful conduct has been glossed over.
I saw a Sunderland team batter Manchester City for the majority of the game last night. For all their money, City could only adopt a negative tactic and hang on, which is of course their right. However, the antics of their players was wholly unacceptable and unbefitting of a club with such a wonderful history, who have experienced the lows of football very recently indeed.
The players who represent them, however, have not even the slightest inclination to accept this aspect of City’s recent history, instead behaving like a bunch of spoilt, self pitying, mercenary, cheats - desperately wasting time, crowding the referee and conspiring to orchestrate a sending off. Twice Manchester City players squared up to Defoe and twice the referee gave no yellow card for their incitement.
I am not naive. I know that winning has become everything, while sportsmanlike behaviour and integrity are an increasingly distant memory. But does that mean I must accept that as an irreversible fact of football? No.
We have lost our way. Sport should be about respect and fair competition. When did it become acceptable to crowd referees, dive constantly, take an age over goal kicks and throw ins? Fernandinho, first lying on the ball to stop a quick throw in, then - wishing to feign an injury but being off the pitch already - walking two yards on to it, before collapsing into a heap to ensure the game cannot go on. This is not football, this is not sport; these are the actions of a business desperate to meet targets by any means necessary. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost - football's soul.
I know Sunderland are not blameless in this culture. Every team must carry some blame for the perpetuation of this trend. However, I am struggling to think of seeing another team behaving quite as disgustingly as Man City last night. I am against any club behaving in the way they did, including my own, and have frequently criticised Sunderland players for diving, trying to get others sent off and wasting time.
The worst offender of all was Joe Hart. Signed from Shrewsbury and having served a loan spell at Birmingham, one would have thought Hart may have some idea of what it is like to be at a smaller club tussling with some of the top teams and battling to upset the odds.
Hart disappointed me. There is no denying he made several wonderful saves, but that is not all we should demand from England’s first choice goalkeeper. Though all professional footballers should conduct themselves in the knowledge they are ambassadors, Hart has a responsibility to take the lead, representing the English national team and English footballers, as much as Manchester City and himself.
I watched a young Sunderland fan in the North Stand eagerly catch the ball as it went behind for a corner. He cannot have been older than eight years old. At that age, any glimpse of recognition or interaction with a footballer, whoever they play for, is a moment of joy. It is indescribable how important these people are when you are a child and not yet fully aware of footballers many inadequacies or failings.
Joe Hart went to collect the ball from the boy behind his goal. Asking for the ball, the boy threw it only for Hart to immediately turn his back and walk away, leaving the ball behind the goal. All to waste a few seconds. It is not an exaggeration that Joe Hart will have hurt that boy's feelings and damaged his view of football.
If victories mean so much to Joe Hart, that he would treat a young boy with such callousness, he can have them. But while he treats young fans with such disrespect, and his team conduct themselves as they did throughout the game, he and Manchester City's players remain oblivious to the true purpose and spirit of football.
All I’ve heard since Pellegrini announced he is leaving, is that he is a gentleman. But if this is how we wants his team to behave, then I have no respect for the man. Is this how he wants to win football matches? Keeping the ball out of play, cheating, diving and using a child’s love of football and desire to interact with a player to waste a few seconds? Of course, he will not mind the victories however they come, but this is what makes me sad for football. If this is a measure of Pellegrini, then I say good riddance to him.
I am not bitter about the defeat. I know we lost and I know the best team doesn’t always win. But I also know an unsportsmanlike group of business representatives when I see them, and I saw that in Manchester City last night. I also saw a group of players pursuing the game, with determination, skill and passion, backed by fans who cheer when they see such performances whatever the outcome. Performances like this mirror the club's passion, identity and history, and reflect the passion of the fans who do not ask for the world, but who would rather see their team fail to win in the spirit of the game and their club, than win through callous and unsportsmanlike behaviour.
Should a day come where Sunderland become a business machine, unrecognisable and indifferent to its history, I would not wish to celebrate. While on a basic level, such financial and trophy laden success may seem to represent the highest highs that football can offer, I would argue that it comes at a terrible price of a very swift and sure disconnect from the history of the club and its fans.
Though I do not begrudge the Manchester City fans their success and experiences, I would hope they would ask themselves if this is the sport, or the club, they fell in love with.