Men's Team

Calling the shots: BBC 5 Live's John Murray on City's title drama and the artistry of De Bruyne

In the wake of City's dramatic Premier League title triumph, we gauged the views of respected BBC 5 Live Chief Football correspondent John Murray about what it has been like to follow Pep Guardiola's side this term from the commentary box.

John, many thanks for your time – Sunday’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa was a remarkable match to watch but what was it like to commentate on?

I would say that was one of the most memorable final days that I’ve been involved in.

Part of doing the job I do means you do have to plan and speculate beforehand about what might happen.

Therefore, you get yourself into the mindset that there might be drama, so you have to be prepared for all eventualities.

That said, it’s easy to get lulled into this feeling that: ‘Oh well City will do it’ as they are at home in a game many expected them to win.

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But over the years I’ve had so many situations where you’ve gone into occasions like that, where at the end of the afternoon you’re saying: ‘Well no-one saw that coming!’

But, even so, it’s amazing that football is such a simple game, we see so many matches and see so many different scenarios that even now – and I don’t know how many thousands of games I’ve covered – it’s still able to throw up the kinds of scenarios we’ve never seen before.

And Sunday was definitely one of those.

Did you ever doubt City would win the title on Sunday?

I thought in the immediate aftermath of when Villa went 2-0 up that the players did look a bit shaken, but it says an awful lot for them about how quickly they were able to recover themselves.

We had direct communication with Ally Bruce-Ball, who was at Anfield covering Liverpool v Wolves, so we were crossing there at regular intervals.

CALLING THE SHOTS: BBC 5 Live commentator John Murray
CALLING THE SHOTS: BBC 5 Live commentator John Murray

In fact, when Villa went 2-0 up, we crossed to Anfield for a spell of commentary as at that stage - from a production point of view - it felt like the momentum was with Liverpool for that little period of four or five minutes before City got that first goal.

So, at that stage, yes, I did feel the momentum was with Liverpool.

But my feeling is that there is not much between City and Liverpool in terms of talent and how good the teams are.

And I don’t think there’s much in it in the mentality sense either – and I think what happened on Sunday only served to demonstrate that.

Where does it rank for you in terms of memorable Premier League finales?

It’s right up there.

I think just the manner of Sunday, and also from our point of view being influenced by other things that were going on such as Burnley and Leeds fighting to stay up, just the fact that so much was being decided made it all the more memorable.

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To be really memorable you needed the title race to be in there as well.

And I had felt until the last few games it had been too much plain sailing for me to be a classic title race.

To be a proper title race there have to be setbacks and you have to see teams go behind and obviously we had that on Sunday as well as when City went to West Ham the week before.

And, of course, on the final day with everyone playing at the same time you do have proper drama with events swinging one way and then the other.

For that famous 93:20 occasion 10 years ago, when City won their first Premier League title, I was actually at Manchester United’s final game at Sunderland that day as Mike Ingham and Allan Green were commentating at the Etihad for City’s match with QPR.

So, I clearly remember being there at Sunderland, looking at Sir Alex Ferguson down at the side of the pitch when it became very obvious that Sergio Aguero had scored that famous third goal to snatch the title away.

Reflecting on the season as a whole, what have been your impressions on commentating on City’s fourth league title in five years?

On air we have talked almost week in, week out for all this season - and most of last when Sergio Aguero was out for such a long time with injury - about how City could possibly play without a number nine.

How would City operate without a recognised striker?

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And yet this season they scored 99 goals in the Premier League while I think seven players reached double figures in all competitions!

It’s remarkable and is a huge credit to Pep Guardiola and also the quality of the players.

The other thing for me is that you know when you go to watch City that you are going to be entertained.

It’s almost a guarantee that you will be entertained. Because if Kevin De Bruyne doesn’t deliver, then Phil Foden will. Or if he doesn’t produce on the day then Bernardo Silva will, or Riyad Mahrez will and if he doesn’t then Raheem Sterling will and so on.

And it won’t just be one of them – it will likely be two or three of them and when they are all on form you know just how devastating City can be.

Very often in the past you would go to watch the top teams and say ‘Well, I hope he’s playing today – but with City you can take your pick out of any of them!

Has the fact that Liverpool pushed us all the way made it even more of a special achievement?

I think so and not just when you consider this season. City have won four out of five titles over the last few seasons so it’s not like it’s been handed back and forth.

City have got a very clear edge there and it’s remarkable really when you consider how close the teams are in terms of how many points they have both won in that time.

I think Liverpool will feel they maybe haven’t quite got the dues they should have got given the number of points they have won in the league.

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But that is the clearest possible indicator that City just do have the edge in the Premier League through the number of titles they have won.

And does a fourth title in five years also speak volumes as to City’s own mentality?

That is massive.

I think as well talking about mentality, it’s such a great narrative.

It really struck me as I was driving home after Sunday that they have had those two key matches in such as short space of time with City having been hit by those late three goals at Real Madrid in the Champions League.

So to be able to come back in a sporting sense and do what they did and then win the title with three goals of their own in a very short space of time against Villa - it’s a great little narrative.

But when you are a good team that is what you do – you do react.

AT THE MICROPHONE: John Murray on duty covering City's game at Newcastle United back in 2019
AT THE MICROPHONE: John Murray on duty covering City's game at Newcastle United back in 2019

Where does this City side rank for you John in terms of all-time Premier League sides?

They have been one of the most entertaining teams I have watched over the years. They would certainly be in my top three.

And they are not just fancy dans, those forward players. They put in the work too.

That is what Pep demands of them too – it all comes from him.

The message could not be clearer… if you want to be in his team, you have to put the work in.

Kevin De Bruyne is also right up there as one of the best players I ever commentated on over a period of time.

I loved commentating on Dennis Bergkamp and I love commentating on De Bruyne too.

In fact, I think that when Kevin is right on his game and it’s one of those days where everything clicks, it’s almost like a walking piece of art.

For me there will be genuine sadness all around the game when we don’t have him to watch and enjoy any more

Finally, in sporting terms, where for you does the City - Liverpool rivalry rank in Premier League history?

It’s definitely right up there. We have seen it for a few years – and I think it helps that both managers have been at City and Liverpool for several years now.

I think it is right up there with the Manchester United v Arsenal rivalry of the late 1990s, and the various other famous rivalries we have seen down the years such as Liverpool v Everton in the 1980s.

And I think it’s almost guaranteed to continue until such a point in time comes when either Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool or Pep at City are no longer in charge.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.

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