Club journalist Rob Pollard reports on events out in Shanghai on our preseason tour of Asia.
Watching Manchester City’s development over the last decade has been spectacular. We’ve been the most successful side in England, winning the Premier League title four times, as well as the FA Cup twice and the League Cup on four occasions. We’ve scored more Premier League goals than any other team and qualified for the Champions League eight years in succession. No English side can match our on-pitch performance.
City are now a global entity, with interest in the team visible across the globe. The reaction we’ve had in China on the first leg of our preseason tour of Asia has only served to underline that, with fans turning up in numbers to watch open training sessions, shirt signings and community coaching classes. Wherever the players have gone, there has been hysteria, with fervent supporters there to share the moment with them.
The squad landed in Shanghai on Tuesday and were soon taking part in an open training session at the Yuanshen Stadium. It was a chance for the players to recuperate after the flight and begin acclimatising to the humidity of China. There were some light stretches, followed by Rondos and other one- and two-touch training games aimed at sharpening the players up ahead of the game against West Ham the following day. A select group of fans were invited inside and the players stayed afterwards to sign shirts and take pictures, a light but enjoyable start to the tour.
Shanghai is a sprawling metropolis home to more than 26 million people. It’s busy, bold and brash, with The Bund lit up in thousands of neon lights. It’s a spectacular sight, particularly at night, and some of the players enjoyed the view from the hotel rooftop before getting some much-needed rest.
The game against West Ham was held in Nanjing, a two-hour train ride from our base in Shanghai. The heat and humidity there far exceeded my expectations and the players found it difficult to play at their usual pace, but Kevin De Bruyne told us afterwards that in some ways those conditions are good as it helps accelerate the improvement in fitness levels. Rarely will the players sweat that much over the course of a game, with humidity levels going above 80 per cent.
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West Ham played a much more senior side and took the lead, but City ran out 4-1 winners, thanks to goals from David Silva, Lukas Nmecha and a double from Raheem Sterling. The pace of our game may have been lacking, but that ability to carve out chances, even when not in full flight, was very much there.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis, a 17-year-old centre-half, impressed, as did Tommy Doyle, an outstanding midfielder with a mature understanding of the game. The highlight, though, was Adrian Bernabe’s pass for Silva’s goal, a moment of sensational vision and technique.
Rodri made his debut and will bring more completeness to our Fourmidables squad, and De Bruyne, Silva, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo all got at least 45 minutes under their belts. No injuries, a win and a good workout. It was the perfect start.
The following morning saw the players complete a recovery session in Nanjing before heading back to Shanghai to begin preparations for Saturday’s Premier League Asia Trophy final against Wolves.
But tour isn’t all about working with the ball. The players are also here to enjoy themselves and see some of the city, as well as meet the fans and promote the Club. A fan event at the flagship PUMA store saw the players mobbed – De Bruyne is a particular favourite out here – with the Belgian and fellow midfielder Bernardo doing a public Q&A in front of fans and local media and Oleksandr Zinchenko also on hand for photographs and signatures. When you see that kind of passion, it hits home just how far we've come in a short space of time.
Perhaps the most striking off-field activity, though, was the PUMA shoot that saw Sterling, Silva and Zinchenko wear the new kits on a helipad on top of the Peninsula Hotel. Not only did it showcase the kits in all their glory, it gave us an opportunity to see the Shanghai skyline from a unique vantage point. It was a stunning spectacle and a credit to everyone who help make it happen.
On Saturday, we played Wolves in the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy at the Hongkou Stadium. The players wore the new third kit, launched at an event in Shanghai the night before the players’ arrival. Despite enjoying 66 per cent possession, we failed to produce in the final third, and the game finished 0-0. City's penalties were poor, and we lost 3-2, a disappointing end to our time in China but one that Pep Guardiola brushed off.
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“We played incredibly well in the first half," he said afterwards. "Wolves defended so well and deep and it’s not easy to create chances, but we created and we didn’t concede one counter-attack in that first half and the first 15 minutes of the second.
“Everybody, not just the young players, made a good performance. We will learn from that. We realise how difficult everything is and we are satisfied, especially with the way we played.”
Sometimes you learn more in defeat than you do in victory.
Today, we arrived in Hong Kong, a chance to refresh, re-energise and step up our training schedule. We play Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee on Wednesday at 8pm HKT, another chance for the players to find match sharpness and continue bonding. It's also another chance for a set fans geographically so far from Manchester to get close to the team they love so much.
This tour has been testing, but it's also been a celebration of the progress we've made in the last decade. A Club that was treading water not so long ago is now making a big splash in far flung corners of the globe.