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Boos reverberated around a far-from-full Etihad Stadium as Manchester City’s players lined up for the Champions League anthem before their group game against Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Pep Guardiola already has achieved plenty during his short time at City seven wins from his first seven games in charge is evidence of that but there’s a sizeable task that still needs fixing: Getting the club’s fans to embrace the Champions League.
City has had an uneasy relationship with Europe’s elite competition since becoming a regular presence in it from 2011.
Initially, it was because of disappointing early results, perhaps due to a bigger focus on winning the Premier League. More recently, the issue has been UEFA, the Champions League organizer, which City fans perceive to have treated the club harshly over Financial Fair Play sanctions handed out in 2014.
Also that year, many CSKA Moscow fans managed to watch a home game against City in group play despite the Russian club supposedly being hit with an empty-stadium order as punishment for racist behavior by its fans.
Since then, City fans have booed the anthem that UEFA uses before Champions League games, while the club has regularly struggled to fill the stadium on European nights.
It was the same old story on Wednesday, with only 30,270 spectators inside the 55,000-seater Etihad for a game City won 4-0 with some irresistible attacking football.
Guardiola is in his first season at City and wants the fans to start afresh with the Champions League to give the team the best possible chance of winning the competition.
“They must forget what happened in the past,” Guardiola said. “The stadium was not completely full so the only thing we can do is play good so the people at home say, `Wow, next time I will be there.’ We have to be so proud to play in this competition.
“Our fans have to know we need them in the Champions League. In the Premier League, everyone comes here but in the Champions League they don’t. We need them to compete against the best teams in the world. With our supporters and their songs, we are stronger.”
There were reasons why so many seats remained empty on Wednesday, primarily because the game was rescheduled at late notice after torrential rain forced a postponement of the original fixture on Tuesday. That seriously affected the number in the away contingent, which slumped from 1,600 fans to less than 1,000.
Will Guardiola’s message to the fans get through in time for City’s other home games in Group C, against Celtic and Barcelona?
“In three or four weeks are coming the best football player ever (Lionel Messi) with Luis Suarez and Neymar and Barcelona, and we have to enjoy it,” Guardiola said.
“The people are listening so I am sure they are going to do that.”
Those who did turn up for the Moenchengladbach game would have been happy they made the effort. Guardiola said it was the team’s best overall display since he took over, with chances created with ease and regularity.
Sergio Aguero scored a hat trick and there was a promising debut for Germany international Ilkay Gundogan, a late call-up to midfield after David Silva pulled out on the morning of the game after feeling uncomfortable in training.
It’s 21 goals in seven games so far for City, which can only get smoother under Guardiola. That’s a terrifying prospect for City’s rivals.
There was one moment midway through the first half that summed up the new City. Winger Jesus Navas won a 50-50 tackle in central midfield, span and played a throughball to left back Aleksandar Kolarov, who found himself in the center-forward position.
It’s total football under Guardiola.
“The way (City) played in these six, seven games,” he said, “I am so confident I am going to enjoy this year.”