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UEFA Champions League: Manchester City Expected to Win First CL Under Pep Guardiola, But Pressure That Comes With Donning a Real Madrid Kit is Immense, Says David James

Recruitment of talent is a crucial yet complicated part of building a team that can challenge for titles domestically and in Europe. Manchester City and Liverpool have done exceedingly well in the said department and seem to reap the benefits on the continental front.

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The Champions League Semi-Final pits Manchester City against Real Madrid in what can be perceived as a clash of ethos.

Manchester City personifies the nouveau riche approach to football as a way of keeping up with the rapidly changing times and economy, while Real Madrid stands for the more traditional take on the beautiful game.

It is interesting to examine which MO appeals to contemporary footballers- The footballing utopia that the City Football Group have managed to fabricate over time through their ‘Disneyfication’ process or the heritage-rich footballing customs of the ever-glorious Real Madrid steeped in tradition.

“This is something similar to what my friends and I were talking about this weekend. First of all, let’s have a look at football in itself. We’re not just talking about half a dozen players or so. There are millions of players around the world to choose from. And the quality of players is getting better across the world and therefore the need to find that ‘rare diamond’ is reduced to an extent,” begins the 2008 FA Cup winner.

With the talent pool at an all-time high, the answer lies in the mentality of the players rather than their ability on the ball.

“Look at the case of Bayern Munich for instance, who generally have the Bundesliga wrapped up early, if you don’t win the Champions League, how do you get fulfilled? They did win the CL a couple of years ago, but that was under very different circumstances. Similarly in the case of PSG too,” elucidates the English international.

Theoretically, Bayern Munich and PSG can afford to drop a couple of games and yet finish the season with the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 titles respectively owing to the lack of competition in their league.

“Some players are happy with that as they don’t have the pressure of having to win every week in order to try and win the league,” said the 51-year-old.

“So, I think if you’ve got the right player, in terms of being happy with wrapping up the league in January, and, I say this respectfully, not having to deal with that mental stress, I see no harm in them opting for the above-mentioned clubs,”.

“But, if you look at the Liverpool players at the moment, they feel the urge to get things right game after game, not least due to the pursuit of the Quadruple but, to fulfil their potential. To carry on trying to do what they are meant to do, which is winning every football game,” noted the keeper who has represented Liverpool and Manchester City in his long illustrious career.

“There is a lot of pressure on Man City and Pep Guardiola to win the CL which they haven’t achieved yet. Other than that, everyone will talk about them being the best team in England and how they should be one of the best in Europe,” said the goalkeeper to News18.

“But, at Madrid, there is unbelievable pressure that comes with putting on a Real Madrid shirt. Period,” James explained.

“And all of a sudden, you’re questioning what kind of a character you are. Are you worried about not having won the CL, and I’d like to think, yes? Or do you worry about the fact that every time you put on that (white) shirt the public, the whole of Madrid, if not Spain, are questioning you and putting you under immense pressure?”

“So, there is no right or wrong answer here. It is just that for the clubs themselves, it is about finding the right player who fits the profile and hope you get to taste some sort of success,” the ex-Kerala Blasters captain asserted.

Anglo- Iberian dominance

This season, the English and Spanish teams populate the Semi-Final of The UEFA Champions League. This show of dominance can be attributed to the competitive nature of these two leagues in comparison to their European counterparts.

“Well, I think, the Premier League teams have been doing very well in the Champions League in recent years. Arguably, and wonderfully, they can lay a strong claim to the tag of favourites.”

“We could quite possibly have another all-English final, but the two Spanish teams interrupt that at the moment,” continued the guardian who has over half a century of English caps to his name.

“If you look at the other leagues, PSG were the pick of the lot for many to reach the CL Final again, but it just hasn’t worked for them this season. And Bayern Munich have shown their flaws” reflected James.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case with the leagues in Spain and England who seem to thrive in Europe despite (or maybe even ‘because of’, depending on who you ask) cutthroat competition locally, on a weekly basis.

“You’ve got anomalies flying the flag for Spanish football (in this season’s Champions League), whereas the Premier League is just strong throughout.”

“I feel Villareal have a defensive tactical genius in Unai Emery. And with regards to Real Madrid, I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying that they have experience in winning, but they have the quality to exploit opposition defences. They have the ability to capitalize on mistakes as highlighted in the quarter-final fixture against Chelsea,” noted the Watford academy product.

Real Madrid lead the La Liga table, while Villareal currently sit seventh, outside the CL spot for next year’s tournament. But, this year, both teams can claim to deserve their status as CL semi-finalists.

It will be interesting to see how the English and Spanish representatives nullify and counter the opposition threat.

Watch UEFA Champions League 2021-22 (Semi Final Leg 1) – Man. City vs. Real Madrid LIVE on SONY TEN 2 (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels on 27th April 2022, at 12:30 am IST.

Watch UEFA Champions League 2021-22 (Semi Final Leg 1) – Liverpool vs. Villarreal LIVE on SONY TEN 2 (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels on 28th April 2022, at 12:30 am IST.

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