Men's Team

Alistair Mann: UCL final view from the CITY+ commentary box

Alistair Mann: UCL final view from the CITY+ commentary box
As he prepares to commentate on Saturday's Champions League final between City and Chelsea, Alistair Mann spoke to Club journalist Neil Leigh about his own unique experiences following the Club this season - and reflected on his and our incredible journey to Porto.

Alistair, it has been described as a season like no other and that applies just as pertinently to you in the CITY+ commentator’s seat. What has your experience been like over the course of the past year commentating on us remotely?

It’s like anything I guess. At first it feels really odd and strange and detached and then what was weird becomes the norm. You kind of get used to it.

As a commentator when you’re at the ground you split the time between commentating on what you see looking across the pitch and what you see on your monitor to see what the director has been cutting up and the replays and so forth.

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When you commentate remotely, you are not looking at action yourself but instead what’s been presented by the director.

As someone who has been commentating for years, I’ve done a lot of commentaries that way anyway across Europe and around the world so it’s not an unfamiliar experience.

I think the strangest thing for me is that unlike when you are sat at home and you get the piped commentary noise of a sound tracked crowd, I have been commentating against the sounds of the boot hitting the ball and people shouting at other.

That’s been the strangest thing for me – commentating against a backdrop of silence other than ball on boot.

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Of course, for a great many of our supporters who have been unable to attend matches in person you have been our eyes and ears. That must have been both a special privilege and pleasure?

Commentating on City in the last few years, I can’t think of a more attractive team to watch on a regular basis.

To be in a position where you are watching some of the best football played by some of the best players in front of the best coach, it’s an honour, it’s a privilege, it’s something I never take for granted.

The fact City have been allaying that style of football to winning trophies as well has just been an absolute privilege to be part of.

Sunday's game at home to Everton was my 60th game of the season commentating on City and I can’t say I have seen a dull game in any of them.

There has been something each time they play. City just don’t do dull!

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I always remember when Pep was appointed, and City were playing this really attractive style.

People were asking him: 'Can you play this way and win trophies?' And he said he was never going to sacrifices his principles.

It took Pep about 16 months to win his first trophy and then that was it; everybody said: ‘Yes, you can play that way and win silverware.’

The pleasure you get from watching the way City play and the fact they are accumulating so many trophies too is just magnificent.

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You also been a key part of our CITY+ offering for supporters. How exciting has it been to be an integral feature of that unique platform for fans?

I think it has been so imaginative and refreshing. I remember after we went into lockdown last season for the first time, we started to show archive matches on CITY+ and I was getting this opportunity to watch back with some City greats.

At first, we weren’t sure how it would go but within 10 minutes of the first game with Paul Dickov and Les Chapman I just thought: 'This is great' and how smashing to provide something for the fans who were desperate to see something.

We were even putting them out on 3pm on Saturdays and 7.45pm on Wednesday and then came the idea of We’re Not Really with Cel, Natalie and all the fantastic guests we’ve had and to be part of that too I just think it’s been a wonderful service.

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You are never quite sure when you embark on something new and experimental, but the reaction has been so positive and it’s been such an exciting idea and has just grown and grown.

I don’t think any of us expected the reaction to be so positive and it’s been the next best thing to being at the ground.

It has been great to be a part of it.


                        Alistair Mann: UCL final view from the CITY+ commentary box

In terms of the Champions League what have been your own highlights of our march through to the final?

There have been so many. I thought the Dortmund second leg was something else. To have gone behind so early on and to have then turned it round...

When Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick went in, in Paris, that was another remarkable moment.

There have been so many but probably the moment I will never ever forget was the final whistle in the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain and the realisation that it was actually happening.

Against Real Madrid in the semi-final in 2016 I just don’t think City performed - they just weren’t at it at all.

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It just didn’t happen and then to have lost to Lyon and go out against Monaco, you just think it’s not going to happen.

All I could think of in that moment against PSG was the disallowed goal of Raheem Sterling’s against Spurs in 2019; you just think sometimes you are not destined to achieve something.

That there is always something that is going to conspire and that moment and then realising they had got there. I’m not normally speechless but I was almost lost for words.

It was weird. It seemed so huge to see City reach a European Cup final, to see City get there is just extraordinary. It’s going to be amazing.

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Has commentating without fans also seen you have to employ out different skill-sets in terms of the way you have to approach the job?

Over the years I’ve done a number of games, especially internationally, where for some reason or another, teams have had to play behind closed doors.

So, I’ve had the experience before of commentating before to silence, and you do employ a different feel.

The weirdest thing for me is that when you are commentating at a ground and no-one is there, you are more conscious of the fact that maybe people can hear what you are saying.

If there are 30-40,000 people no-one knows. But in an empty stadium if you start projecting your voice then you think: ‘I wonder if the players can hear if I’m saying something about them!’

That is the strangest thing.

You are shouting and getting excited against nobody – you still have to drive it and have the enthusiasm and project yourself as if there were thousands of people.

You have to imagine battling against crowd noise rather than experiencing it for real but it has been very odd and strange.

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And have there been any memorable technical challenges along the way what with WiFi, etc?

You are only as good as the power of your WiFi! I did a commentary for BT Sport earlier this season where there were technical issues, and I was about 10 seconds behind the action so things were happening and then there was a goal and I was describing it 10 seconds afterwards and I’m sure people at home would be thinking: ‘Blimey, this guy is a bit slow!’

To be fair, we have not had too many disasters.

I’ve been commentating from home and we’ve got a dog and a couple of times, he’s got very excited and stated barking in the background but that’s about as near as we’ve come.

Going back to the Etihad on Sunday for the Everton game reminded me how much we’ve missed the fans - the noise and atmosphere It was great and a real reminder

I was thinking how special it was but within two minutes, it just appeared normal again.

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For someone who has been watching and commentating on the Club all the way back to the 1990s, could you have ever imagined then you would be preparing to commentate on Manchester City in a Champions League final?

If I take the clock back, I always remember commentating in City’s game at Stoke in May 1998.

They had pretty much been relegated the week before. We did the game for ITV, City won 5-2 but it was clear by half-time the combination of results they needed to stay up were not going to happen.

And I just remember thinking it was inconceivable City would be in third tier of the English game.

It popped into my head instead of playing Manchester United, City were going to be playing Macclesfield Town – I thought: 'This is surreal.'

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I was then at the game against Stoke the following season when they came from behind on Boxing Day and I thought: 'I cannot see this club get any lower.'

I just got the sense of how important it was to get out of that league as it was possible the Club might even go bankrupt or into administration.

To have been there, if you'd have said to me then ,trailing to Stoke that City would win go on that incredible run and get promotion, and then within 20-odd years be in the Champions League - let alone a final - I would have just said you were mad.

I could never have imagined it.

I have commentated on some of their worst days and seen them at their lowest point and I can’t think there is anyone else who has commentated at their pits and will now commentate at their absolute glorious moment and I feel honoured that I’ve been there for the whole journey.

I know how extraordinary it is that they have turned it round to the degree that they are now on the biggest stage of all.

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And have any individual contributions particularly caught your eye?

Again, so many. Take John Stones. He has just been the player that Pep always wanted him to be.

I always looked at John Stones and the number of times I could see Pep having individual conversations, you got the feeling Pep always felt that John could be this extraordinary ball-playing centre-half who could spray the ball about with aplomb

The fact he has been so, so good this season has been a revelation and I think a lot has had to do with the incredible signing that Ruben Dias has been.

You have to check Ruben’s date of birth. You have to double-check he’s not 29 or 30 rather than just turned 24!

We always said that when Vincent Kompany left, this would be the biggest hole to fill and it took a couple of years but Vincent Kompany mark two is Ruben Dias and I just think that John and Ruben have been such an important factor.

Of course, there have been so many incredible contributions but that centre-half pairing have been huge.

Offensively, scoring has never been a problem for City but now defensively, they have the best defence in Europe.

City can also be very, very proud of Phil Foden.

One thing I have been doing for a number of years with City is commentate on the Academy and EDS and I’ve seen Phil Foden develop and I knew he was good. But when they are so young, you are never quite sure of how they will translate in the senior side.

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But the fact he has contributed so amazingly well this season and the fact you would imagine he is very likely to start on Saturday just tells you how well he has played.

Think of the number of important goals Phil Foden has scored; they have all been meaningful and carried real resonance such as that strike at Dortmund. His contribution has been phenomenal.

And in the last few weeks Fernandinho has been remarkable too. It was almost as if the gauntlet had been thrown down by Rodrigo in terms of that defensive midfield role.

Fernandinho’s displays have just screamed: ‘You can’t leave me out!’ He may be 36 but he has been outstanding - he really has.

I don’t like singling out individuals, but those guys have been out of this world

And all this without a regular centre forward. Extraordinary again.

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A word too about Pep Guardiola. Given the pressure and strength of European Club football, the challenge of COVID-19 and the relentless schedule, how special an achievement has it been for Pep to guide us to a first ever Champions League?

He has won so many things in so many countries over the years, but you could just tell in his interviews how proud he is of this achievement.

Not just in getting to the final, but winning the league, the Carabao Cup, and in this truncated season which has meant that other than two weeks, City played three games a week every week.

His rotation has worked every time, he’s kept everyone motivated. He played Scott Carson at Newcastle to say: 'I recognise your contribution.' He’s just been so perfect in what he has said and what he is doing on the training field. You just cannot underestimate the level of achievement this is.

When he was at Barcelona, Pep probably had the greatest midfield, we’ve ever seen and got them to where they would always end up, playing this sublime style.

The same principle at Bayern. It’s the best team in Germany; they have always been this monster of a team and then he comes to England and the media kept focusing on the Champions League.

He was always saying: 'Judge me how you want.'

But to get to the final this year in this relentless schedule with COVID with the leading scorer of all time not being available and to have played a false nine and to have won what they have, I think is the most phenomenal of all achievements and I understand why Pep is so emotional about it.

Just outstanding. This achievement just feels like it’s his greatest moment and hopefully, he can cement that with victory on Saturday night.

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With your commentators’ hat on, where does this City side rank in terms of the great teams you have watched over the years?

That Barcelona of 2009-11 was probably the greatest Club side I’ve ever seen if I’m absolutely honest. They beat Manchester United in two Champions League finals and it was one great side all peaking at the right time with the greatest manager and wonderful tactics playing sublime football.

So, it’s hard to compare any side to that Barca team but when you look at the average age of City and the number of young players who are 24, 25, 26 and then throw in Jesus, Foden, etc you do say to yourself: 'This has to be potential to be one of the great sides.'

Let’s not forget: they got 100 points to win the title in 2018, pipped Liverpool by a point a year later and have won by 12 this time in this country - three times in four years against teams like United, Chelsea Spurs Arsenal with all their talent and resources.

So, in terms of greatness, City have absolutely earned the right to be called a great team but that will be proven beyond doubt if they win the Champions League.

And you would be hard pushed to find any football fan in the world who doesn’t enjoying watching what Manchester City do.

What they bring is a pure brand of football. It’s not just about how great they are on the ball - what they do off the ball in terms of work rate is sensational as well.

The way they hunt you down, this is a great side, make no mistake. Everyone says the Premier League is the hardest one to win in the world and City have won it three times in four years which is phenomenal.

And if they do win the Champions League on Saturday, I get the feeling it will be the first but not last.

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For the game itself with what it means and given your emotional attachment to the Club, how will you go about maintaining your professional focus and objectivity? Do you employ any special tips?

This is my profession - it’s what I do. It's commentary - it’s not like a fan running onto the gantry and tearing the microphone off you!

You are there to provide a professional commentary on what you see and to describe what you are witnessing to give a genuine appraisal of what is going on in front of you.

If Chelsea do something astonishing and score an extraordinary goal, you have to tell it as you see it.

What I will say, and I have no problem saying it, is that it will be hugely emotional.

I was emotional on Sunday watching Sergio Aguero as well as on several other occasions over the years watching City as I know how much it means.

For 35 years, no-one saw City win anything.

All of a sudden, we have had this extraordinary decade of trophies and I just feel you are almost inhuman if you can’t get caught up in that.

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My Dad was at Vienna in 1970 for the European Cup Winners’ Cup final. Him and his brother went across Europe in a charabanc to get there!

He passed away a few years ago so sadly hasn’t seen this but if I can’t get caught up in this emotionally then there is something wrong with me.

I saw the Club at their lowest ebb, so this is almost like serendipity, I guess.

It feels like I know how everyone who supports the club is feeling. I know how extraordinary it is that in 20-odd years, they have gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs and I will get caught up in it emotionally - no question about it.

But having said that, I will still have my professional hat on and still do my job and no-one would expect me to do anything different.

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And in terms of your own distinguished career, where will commentating on Saturday’s final rank?

I never thought I would see City in a Champions League final and I never thought I would commentate on City in a Champions League final so it will be the best moment of my commentating career.

There is no question about that.

I’ve been on some amazing commentaries down the years. I’ll never forget commentating when Vinny Kompany scored against United that famous Monday night - it felt the wall had been broken and that the mantle had passed from United to City.

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It was such a momentous goal. It was a huge moment and is up there as one of the highlights.

I was lucky enough to commentate on the Olympic final when Brazil won the gold medal at Rio and Neymar scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out. That was another absolutely amazing moment.

But having been there are their lowest moment; having commentated on so many matches in that '98/99 season and the relegation season before to now do this huge occasion is definitely the highlight

And I just hope and pray that City play like we know they can.

It’s not just an occasion but a day we’ll never forget.


                        Alistair Mann: UCL final view from the CITY+ commentary box

Finally, Alistair, if you had to make a prediction, what does you instinct tell you?

I don’t think there is a question more difficult to answer than to predict a Champions League final and to complicate things further, it’s the fourth time the two sides have met in five months.

You are talking about teams who know each other; players who will play alongside each other in internationals and two superb coaches who have come up against each other before.

To call it is ridiculously difficult.

I know City are favourites to win but that's people looking outside. This is an occasion against familiar foe with players who know each other so well.

I just can’t call it. I know it is sitting on the face but there are so many ingredients which means it is too difficult to call. I can’t see many goals in it.

If someone had said Sergio Aguero would come on on Sunday and score twice and win 5-0... My, wouldn’t it just be an extremely poetic moment if he came off the bench with one last golden memory...?

And with the number of substitutes available, who is to say that won’t happen?

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if he left us with one final abiding memory and you know, stranger things have happened!

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