RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Tuesday, August 1

25-Man Metaphysical Roster: MANCHESTER CITY

{Manchester City achieves immortality, sadly}

[25-Man Metaphysical Rosters are divined using a football metaphysics methodology where minutes played over the past 100 competitive club matches determines which 25 players constitute the strongest psychic influence over a club’s current psychic trajectory. Intuitive analysis is then added, done in English by an American, but with a decidedly anti-English un-American foundation. Football metaphysics believes in the beautiful game, not the modern corporate spectacle. We have more of a love for Maradona in Mexico than Messi in Miami. One Premier League club is done each month, as it’s the top domestic league in an English-speaking nation (the language we were born with). This is now a solo project again by Raven Mack, but used to be a small group effort, so it bears saying, Rest In Peace Neil.]

25-Man Metaphysics makes a return because I feel compelled to pretend to know about English football again. I’ve always loved this project, and in the heyday when myself, Paul, and Neil were writing together, it had a strange charm where even though the three of us were in entirely separate spaces, we somehow came together perfectly, not quite like Voltron but like if Voltron were a demo derby car made of used books. But I jump back into this solo, because I love nothing more than ambitious and perhaps impossible projects to dump on myself as an excuse to jabber about the metaphysical foundations beneath the consumer culture we obsess over in our declining American Empire (and in fact, the iron lung decades of unchecked capitalism’s last gasps globally).
One club a month means it’ll take well over a year to cycle through the entire Premier League, and I’m fine with that. Nobody needs to be revisiting these clubs on an annual basis in metaphysical terms like are written about here. The feel of a club has eras which cover multiple years, and this slower schedule will work just fine. But I did want to come out the gate on the restart with Manchester City, as this is currently, without a doubt, their era. In the 7 seasons since Pep Guardiola arrived from Bayern Munich, they’ve won the PL title 5 of those seasons, including the past three seasons, where they became only the second club to three-peat in the Premier League era (also done by Manchester United from 1999-2001 and 2007-2009). But this past season was an extra dominant one, with them pulling off a treble by winning the FA Cup (for the second time under Pep) and finally winning a Champions League title. They made it to the final three seasons back, losing to domestic rival Chelsea (somewhat shockingly at the time, to be honest), but finally made it back this past June, and sealed the deal against an outclassed Inter Milan squad. (Even more impressively, they played a major match in Istanbul as an English club without any prominent stabbings.)
I am no fan of Pep Guardiola, despite his obvious successes throughout his career. To me, he is the corporate football wonder manager, who is able to navigate the oversized egos of a top club and somehow make it work. Sure, that’s a talent, and not everybody has it, but I tend to appreciate the ragged philosopher who motivate a pack of football misfits into a collective shape. Pep’s methods are not that, and though it may seem like the same type of managerial acumen, just at a higher level of money invested in squad, there’s something that feels hollow about a club that can purchase every player it desires, move them around like puzzle pieces (with three pieces to a normal club’s one), and create the desired picture of a team. I love playing Football Manager on cheat mode where I can sign anybody I want, but it’s not quite as satisfying to see in real life. So of course Pep eventually won a treble with this squad… I did the same thing with Wrexham for four years in a row, from 2047 through 2050. If you got the financial cheat code in life, few things stand in your way (including UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, which seem to have enough loopholes and workarounds that they’re fairly impotent).
Nonetheless, with pep at the helm, the secondary Manchester club powered by fossil fuel money has ascended to the highest heights in club history, and established themselves as the pre-eminent club in the Premier League. And though I say that with the warning that all eras come to an end, we don’t know how long this run will last before egos clash and destroy the fluidity of what’s there now, or better yet, Yaya Touré’s curse is reactivated and snuffs the momentum of wealth masquerading as physical superiority. Nonetheless, here are the top 25 men according to our football metaphysics minutes played methodology over the past 100 competitive matches (through June 10, 2023)…

#1: RODRI – The Spanish midfielder has quietly become the fulcrum to Man City’s successes. Key tenet of football metaphysics as we think of things around here is the presence of a quality defensive midfielder who has the ability as a presence to shift entire club from defense to offense, often with a single pass. Rodri joined Man City four seasons back, and it’s no coincidence that they had their first three-in-a-row title run with him after he settled in. It’s also very telling that in a scrappy Champions League final this past June, it was Rodri’s wily missile from a loose ball midway through the second half that gave Man City their first ever Champions League final goal, and ultimately they’re first ever Champions League title. He is not as globally famous as the club’s more superstar names, but he is the backbone of the team as it currently stands.

#2: EDERSON – The reverse colonialism pipeline for great Brazilian players is they rule their native country, get bought up by one of the big three Portuguese clubs (Benfica, Sporting CP, and Porto), make a strong highlight film package in continental competition, then get sold off for big Euros to one of Europe’s behemoth clubs. Ederson was great enough he was shipped off to Portugal at the age of 16, and was signed by Man City at the age of 23, for a transfer fee that was the second-largest ever at the time. And in that reverse colonialism pipeline, Ederson’s fee was the largest Benfica ever got for a player (thus far). Ederson is an elite GK, but not really because of amazing shot stopping (though he’s good enough at that). What he excels at is confidence with the ball, even at his feet, and being able to switch his side from defense to counter-attack fairly adeptly. That foundation at the back end can’t be overlooked in helping a guy like Erling Haaland just pile up goals like he does. It’s not so much that Ederson stacks up clean sheets like a classic brick wall of a shot-stopping GK, as it is he handles his business and gets the ball moving, so that Man City can stack up multiple goals on the other side, which just makes his job even easier at that point.

#3: İLKAY GÜNDOĞAN – Gündoğan spent seven seasons in the midfield for Man City, and was a constant and productive presence. He accumulated a lot of playing time on a squad with enough talent that rotating folks was necessary. Gündoğan had 51 appearances last season across all competitions, and most importantly was a mainstay on Champions Leagues squads. But you can’t maintain a Champions League-winning squad, and Gündoğan was one of Manchester City’s highest profile exits in recent memory, joining Robert Lewandowski at Barcelona, with their hopes of creating a new chapter post-Messi now heavily invested into. How Man City adjusts to him being gone is really one of the biggest question marks going into this upcoming season, where they’re expected to continue fucking everybody up.

#4: KEVIN DE BRUYNE – Gonna be honest here and say I hate Kevin De Bruyne. I hate his goofy face, hate the way he plays, hate how you pronounce his stupid last name. Thus, he is the perfect guy to be a prominent face on Manchester City’s club, standing alongside Pep Guardiola, just unleashing the hatred of the wretched of the football Earth masses at City’s manufactured dominance. He also complicated me pulling for the Belgian national team in European competitions, because I’d be all excited for Romelu Lukaku and the Hazard brothers, but then De Bruyne would show his stupid face and ruin it for me.

#5: BERNARDO SILVA – Silva is, at this point, the elder presence for Man City in the midfield in terms of time with the club, but certainly plays a more support role behind Rodri. Silva’s quietly a great player though, and it’s painful how many top talents a club like Man City can accumulate, and just keep restocking over and over. But it’s also a testament to Silva’s quality that despite being on a club like that, going into his seventh season, he’s still a prominent figure. He’s actually already had over 300 appearances for the club across all competitions, which is second only to Kevin De Bruyne amongst active players on the squad.

#6: ERLING HAALAND – The young Norwegian freak joined the club last season on a ridiculous transfer fee from Borussia Dortmund (whose striped bumblebee kits matched Haaland’s bizarre face aesthetically). Even after joining the Bundesliga midway through the 2019-20 season, he maintained a blistering pace of averaging one goal per appearance. Even though he’d be a freak, nobody thought he’d maintain that level of scoring in the Premier League. But he did. Haaland is a true striker, who thinks of nothing but goals, and not just basic goals but the soul crushing type that break a defender’s spirit. As a fan of football metaphysics, it’s a bit frustrating to see such an immense talent tied down to a soulless club like Man City, but it’s also how things work in the age of modern football. Haaland at Man City lacks the spiritual feel goodness of Mo Salah at Liverpool, in fact it’s like the opposite. But we’re all going to have to suffer through it for the foreseeable future, and Haaland’s likely to only become more dominant. Gonna be a long few seasons for us Man City haters.

#7: JACK GREALISH – It took a season for Grealish to get settled into a new role at Man City and become a regular part of their starting XI. Grealish’s tale is one paralleled by many players acquired by the largest clubs after becoming dominant legends at other English clubs. Grealish’s last season with Aston Villa made him a club legend, wearing some ratty ass cleats and helping Villa survive relegation with a final match goal against West Ham at the end of the Covid-complicated 2019-20 season. He signed a big contract, and maintained that club legend status for another season, but it was obvious he had outgrown Villa. Man City came calling, and the small club legend was absorbed into a club behemoth’s oversized roster, the big fish in a small pond suddenly scrapping for minutes amidst even bigger fish. Not everybody can adjust (my beloved Swansea City’s PL hero Wilfried Bony comes to mind, who shrunk until he disappeared after joining Man City), but Grealish eventually did, and had a fairly productive season this past one. The hilarious thing about Grealish and his style of existing is the exact same characteristics that make him seem like a legend when in some godforsaken club existence like at Aston Villa also make him look like a complete and total douche in the unblemished limelight of a club like Manchester City. He just looks like an asshole now, with that fuckin’ hair and smug ass face. But send him back to Villa in 8 years, and it’s gonna be, “Haha, what a regular bloke; I’d love to get drunk with that guy!”

#8: MANUEL AKANJI – Honestly, Akanji’s addition last summer is a highly underrated piece of their successes last season. He’s solid at either right or left back, and that helped cover all the fluctuations they sometimes have at center back. Akanji had also been teammates with Haaland the previous two seasons at Dortmund, so the two coming in together helped assimilate them both into starting XI. In fact, during last season’s PL campaign, Akanji played more minutes than any other defender. He’s sort of the reverse image contrast to Haaland up top, on the defensive side. And again, he’s going to make it perhaps an unbearable next couple seasons for Man City haters like myself.

#9: RÚBEN DIAS – Portuguese defender who helped solidify defense three seasons back, and has been key to Man City’s run of three straight PL titles. Good with both feet, so much like Ederson, helps establish a solid defense that can also get the ball confidently back the other way. And even though he’s only 26, Dias has been an on-the-pitch leader for the defense, something they hadn’t really had very clearly since Guardiola came in. Even if you have all the money in the world (as Manchester City do), you can’t just keep mixing and matching folks… somebody’s got to become the leader, especially on defense.

#10: RIYAD MAHREZ – One of my all-time favorite offensive juggernauts was when Mahrez combined with Jamie Vardy at Leicester City for that improbable Premier League title in 2015-16. The two of them together was deadly, as Vardy was an unrelenting striker (like Haaland) and Mahrez is classic poacher picking up any and all scraps or openings to add to the tally. That sort of secondary mentality served Mahrez well once he finally threw enough of a fit at Leicester to get his desired transfer to Man City, because that’s all the role he was gonna get there. And despite not ever being an every match player for Man City, he was a constant offensive threat for them (including 24 goals across all competitions in 2021-22). His raw numbers were down last season, as would be expected with a guy like Haaland added to the mix, but Mahrez still got 15 goals across all competitions. However, the French-born Algerian was part of the mad money being thrown about by the Saudi League this summer, and joins a wild collection of players at Al-Ahli, that includes himself, Roberto Firmino, Allan Saint-Maximim, and Édouard Mendy in goal. Despite the influx of expensive players, I do not plan on watching a single minute of Saudi Pro League action (with the possible exception of Asian Champions League matches). I still enjoy Mahrez a lot though, and look forward to him having another run at the African Cup of Nations with Algeria in January. The Fennec Foxes have been perfect in qualification thus far, so should be a contender (again) when AFCON rolls back around.

#11: KYLE WALKER – Look man, Kyle Walker is 33, and despite his most basic name, he can be a brutish presence on defense. But their defense has become crowded, and Akanji excelling, Walker can be sold off, with Bayern Munich reportedly working up a deal. Man, what a fuckin’ weird situation that would be for Bayern to have both Harry Kane and Kyle Walker suddenly. But mostly I look forward to three seasons from now, when Sheffield United has somehow survived getting relegated (inshallah), and Walker returns to Sheffield, for a glorious final run with the Blades. He never got to shine at the senior level for them as he should have. Let that man follow his heart and go home.

#12: JOHN STONES – Ah yes, unlovable doofus John Stones. It looked like he was gonna get lost in the Man City squad shuffle a few seasons back, but he somehow has settled into key defender… at least until they find somebody shinier they can blow big money on. But even with an increased role last season, he still only played in less than two-thirds of their matches. Nonetheless, he’s been able to extend his English football peak in standard trajectory, having gone from Barnsley to Everton to Manchester City. He’s successfully fought off the descent back down thus far, but also turns 30 next May, so the John Stones to whichever middling northern English Premier League club has big aspirations rumors aren’t too far away on the horizon.

#13: PHIL FODEN – In American football, a great tradition of subliminal racism is the deep affectionate love a team’s fans have for a white guy who plays Tight End or Fullback (very different type of fullback than in the world’s football). Of course, it’s never outright racism, but the way they crazily embrace some doofus freak is almost certainly built around the fact he’s a successful athlete and still a white dude. English football has that as well, in the basic-looking good ol’ English player who quietly just plays along at a highly competent level for a supporter’s favorite club. At one like Man City, there’s so much coming and going of high-priced global superstars, it’s harder to find such a character to channel your internalized xenophobia. Thankfully for Manchester City, Foden gives supporters that chance… just a boy from Stockport who joined the club at the age of 4. He’s a rare homegrown player for them, and native Englishman (which in this case means white, as that “native Englishman” doubles as exclusionary language, but in a way that’s easily deniable). Normally, you’d think this type of player would play their role in support and then be sold off to a second-tier Premier League club to cover the cost of importing global superstars on an annual basis. But Foden’s flirted with being too good to get rid of, contributing more and more. His big breakout moment was probably last October during the Manchester derby’s home match for City, where he got his first career hat trick, at the tender age of 22, in City’s 6-3 stomping of United. The racialists loved him even more after that day.

#14: NATHAN AKÉ – I like Aké simply because of him and Virgil van Dijk being such a fun and threatening combo on the Dutch national team defensive line. Because of this I mostly try to overlook the fact Aké plays for Manchester City, even though he in fact does. He got a contract extension after the Champions League win, and seems to work well with Akanji and plug and playable along multiple positions on defense. Aesthetically speaking though, his dreadlocked appearance likely reached its pinnacle (thus far) during a loan period at Watford years ago. Such a handsome figure’s natural shine is dulled by that Man City crypto blue color.

#15: AYMERIC LAPORTE – Laporte has been a center back at Man City since the winter transfer window in 2018, and one thing has become clear about Aymeric Laporte since then… he’s gonna get injured. In fact, his existence seems to be intertwined with John Stones at this point, where Stones doesn’t seem quite perfect enough, so Laporte starts clawing his way back into starting role, but then Laporte gets injured, and Stones regains control. It’s been this multi-season ebb and flow with them. Thus far, Laporte hasn’t gone away, but with Rúben Dias and now the pending signing of Joško Gvardiol from RB Leipzig, Laporte will be expendable, and likely elsewhere. Going back to La Liga and his old club Athletic Bilbao seems likely.

#16: JULIÁN ÁLVAREZ – An Argentine forward who, though he technically signed with Man City in January of 2022, joined the club at the same time as Erling Haaland, so despite being a big deal himself, was buried behind the far bigger deal. Álvarez came over from River Plate, and was left there on loan to finish out the first half of the year with River. He also was a young member of the Argentine national team that finally won the World Cup with Messi. Álvarez contributed 17 goals last season across all competitions, and that was usually as a sub. He’s got Copa Libertadores titles with River Plate, plus the World Cup, and last season’s treble at Man City, so it’s hard not to assume that even though he’s a supporting cast member in some of those situations, there’s a stroke of universal benevolence that comes with Julián Álvarez being on the squad. He’s only 23, so it’ll be interesting to see how his career progresses. He’s exactly the type of player I’d like to be seeing running wild at like AC Milan or Napoli (the classical young Argentine goal, although to be fair to the spirit of Maradona, young Álvarez comes from a bastard River Plate lineage, not the wild and wonderful realm of Boca Juniors).

#17: JOÃO CANCELO – Cancelo became expendable by Pep Guardiola’s standards, and was loaned to Bayern Munich the second half of last season, so missed out on all the big treble run. There’s been a lot of speculation and talk around Cancelo though, with some big clubs rumored to be interested (Barcelona, Arsenal), and Cancelo looking good during the preseason. But the fact of the matter is if you’ve fallen out of favor with that egotistical little shit Pep Guardiola, you’re not coming back. Look at how he treated Yaya Touré. Cancelo will be better off elsewhere, and somewhere else will be better off with him.

#18: RICO LEWIS – Rico Lewis got 14 appearances in Premier League matches last season, despite still only being 18. Still way down the depth chart, wearing the extraordinarily high number 82, but having joined the club at the age of 8, they’ll keep developing him, seemingly with a loan to a high profile Championship club this season, with both the recently relegated Southampton and Leeds United high on the youngster to help them claw their way back into the Premier League from the 46-match long (and even longer if you go the playoff route) Championship scrum.

#19: STEFAN ORTEGA – Ortega fills the complicated role of a high-caliber second GK, which is always a weird puzzle to figure out, because nobody at the highest level wants to know they’re gonna get like 5 starts a season, with 3 of them being the Carabao Cup. Ortega had quietly excelled for his youth club, Arminia Bielefeld, in the Bundesliga for a couple seasons, doing well enough against top competition that Man City brought him in last season on a free transfer as cover for Ederson. He’s already 30, so not a young back-up, but Ortega excelled in his limited playing time, including appearing in every match of City’s FA Cup run, and only allowing a single goal in six FA Cup matches. Throw in a handful of PL matches to give Ederson a rest, and being able to handle lesser competition during Champions League group stage matches, and Ortega’s about as perfect a second GK as a club like Man City could hope for. He’s a natural beta but with alpha performance capabilities, and will likely help the club make a profit off him when they sell him back to like RB Leipzig next summer.

#20: SERGIO GÓMEZ – Gómez spent 8 years in Barcelona’s incomparable youth academy, before moving to Germany and joining Borussia Dortmund as a teenager. Even with Dortmund, he was sold off to Anderlecht in Belgium, rather than held onto, and after a strong season there, was part of Man City’s influx of players last summer, in fact making his club debut as sub for Erling Haaland last August. Gómez doesn’t have the massive presence Haaland does, but can hold his own. Somehow though, it feels like this is a bigger stage than he needs to be on, and he’d be better served on personal level getting regular playing time somewhere, with La Liga seemingly making perfect sense. But Manchester City can afford to stockpile players, not only for themselves, but to deny others, and I often think about multiverse string theory, and what might have been if a guy like Gómez never left Barca’s youth academy back in the day, and remained there instead of getting lost wandering the Earth looking for a metaphysical home that never does ultimately arrive.

#21: COLE PALMER – Perhaps Cole Palmer is the next Phil Foden, being another young English dude who was a childhood fan of the club, and joined their youth system before the age of 8, progressing up through the ranks, and having a bit of a breakout last season with 25 appearances across all competitions, including 14 PL appearances. He’s also the rare occurrence of an English footballer with a name that sounds like he could be a third-generation Nascar driver.

#22: KALVIN PHILLIPS – In some sense, Kalvin Phillips is a similar story to Grealish’s, as Phillips was adored at Leeds United, where he came up as a youth player, and was a key presence on Marcelo Bielsa’s squad that rose from the Championship back to the Premier League for the first time in nearly two decades. But as Leeds navigated the Premier League and wages, his shine was bound to be cashed out for a big transfer fee while they could. He hasn’t really settled into his role as sub, and the sporadic appearances have to make it hard to find a rhythm as a player. I don’t see him following Grealish’s growth into regular player, and Phillips instead seems like the classic player who can thrive at a smaller PL club (or in that weird tweener state of those half-dozen clubs that bounce between Championship and PL all the time, like Norwich City, Burnley, and Fulham), but just gets lost somewhere like the Etihad. And sadly, with him having left last season, Leeds struggled and dropped back to the Championship again themselves (so don’t be surprised if Phillips doesn’t rejoin them on some sort of loan mid-season if he continues to struggle, and Leeds is chasing getting re-promoted).

#23: RAHEEM STERLING – Yes, due to the nature of our football metaphysics methodology, players who are gone still show up on the 25-man list. The minutes accumulated still count for something, and I’m not really into that “let’s do an annual look at the current roster” because there’s no doubt the old faces that took up a lot of space still carry weight. And despite being a fairly prolific goal-scorer in this time at Man City, he somehow still wasn’t the dominant figure the club desired, which made way for the transfer of Haaland, which gave them exactly what they wanted. Sterling could score goals, but he never broke anybody’s spirit, and there’s actually a big difference there. Goal scorers can aid successful clubs, but you need a spirit breaker to win trebles. It sort of makes perfect sense that the by all means good but not quite great Raheem Sterling is now settled in at Chelsea, where club stature matches individual perfectly.

#24: GABRIEL JESUS – Jesus (along with next name Oleksandr Zinchenko) made the move to Arsenal last season, as the final piece of Mikel Arteta’s Operation Gabriel, accumulating as many Brazilian dudes named Gabriel as possible. The magic worked briefly, but failed to deliver the PL title that was teased early in the season. Jesus had a great first season with the Gunners, despite being injured for three months towards the end of the season. In fact, Jesus’s injury, along with William Saliba on defense, can’t be overlooked as to why Arsenal crumbled in the end.

#25: OLEKSANDR ZINCHENKO – Our last name on the list spent a half decade toiling amongst Man City’s always crowded roster. Shockingly, Zinchenko is still only 26, so plenty of tread left on them tires, especially considering he was never a full-time starter at the Etihad. In fact, after his move to Arsenal last season, he got more PL appearances in a single season than he ever had with Man City. Of course, Arsenal had that fabulous collapse last season, letting Man City surpass them in the spring stretch, so Zinchenko’s failure demons may be speaking more loudly now. A Ukrainian, and despite Russian being his first language, when the invasion of Ukraine took place, he posted on social media that he wished for Vladimir Putin to suffer a most painful death. He, of course, deleted the post after handlers were like “what the fuck bro?” But a sort of ugly dirt dog Ukrainian fuck is kinda perfect for Arsenal, and never really meshed with the Man City aesthetic entirely.

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