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In Defence of Martin Demichelis

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Short-termism is not a problem restricted to the media and football, but its prevalence these days is worrying. No longer does measured opinion characterise reaction. Instead, aided by the non-stop churn of social media, melodramatic views and sensationalism are rife.

The nature of football fandom and the demands placed upon supporters by the constraints of Twitter lead to such inevitable over-the-top vitriol. It is far easier to single out one individual for stinging criticism than offer a balanced outlook on proceedings. And with that, naturally, comes the need for a scapegoat.

This season, Manchester City have played a scintillating style of football and enthralled fans with a relentless attacking intensity. They have already lifted one trophy and are through to the quarter-finals of another competition. Should the Blues win their Premier League games in hand, they will top the table and occupy a strong position from which to reclaim the title. Throw in progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in the club's history and you would be forgiven for thinking that supporters would be content with achievements during this campaign. However, that does not prevent the obsession with having a scapegoat.

In recent times, special, unrefined criticism has been aimed at the likes of Aleks Kolarov, Samir Nasri and Javi Garcia. Yet this year, as those three have all responded positively to Manuel Pellegrini's soothing man-management, focus has shifted onto another target, Martin Demichelis. If you were to believe many City fans and, indeed, large swathes of the press, both written and spoken, the Argentine defender is a disaster. He is slow, old and, to top it all, he has a ponytail. What a harmful combination of attributes.

As such, unfairly, but totally unsurprisingly, he is derided. The negative beliefs about him have been repeated so frequently that many simply take them as the gospel. In the papers, on Twitter, in pubs, even in stadiums as a game unfolds, he is denounced as a liability. It is argued that he is fortunate to be playing for a club of City's ambitions, that he is an accident waiting to happen, a "geriatric in a young man's game", as reported one national journalist after Demichelis's perfectly acceptable performance in the Capital One Cup final.

The hidden reality, avoided so as not to obfuscate the derisive narrative, is that the former Malaga man has been a solid enough presence at the back for City throughout the season. By no means is he a world-beater, but nor is he the amateurish figure painted in the press. He is somewhere in the middle, but middle ground does not sell papers, attract new followers or make headlines. And so the truth is neglected in favour of extreme opinions.

The fact that critics highlight his lack of pace is fair enough. In a straight race, he would likely be beaten every time. Yet what the doubters fail to mention is how rarely he allows himself to end up in such a situation. What he loses in speed along the ground, he counters with his positional intelligence. He knows when to push forward to stay tight to a striker so as not to let himself get turned, and he knows when to drop off a few yards and protect his goal. Of course, there are occasions when he is caught upfield and has to resort to ungainly bringing down an opponent but there is not a defender in the world who has successfully avoided that scenario at some stage.

Demichelis is aware of his weaknesses so uses his acumen and nous to limit the potential problems. His anticipation is excellent, enabling him to position himself where danger lurks and thus, despite not having that yard of pace deemed crucial at the top level, allows him to thwart opposition endeavours. His best years may well be behind him but it is naïve to discard him purely because of that. What he has done is sharpened his defensive wit and learnt from experience so whilst he is not always flashy and therefore does not attract the limelight in a positive manner, he is effective enough at what he does.

In all probability, he has featured more than expected when he arrived in the summer. Matija Nastasic, after such a promising debut season at City, has regressed this time around. Injuries have played their part, meaning he has been absent for lengthy chunks of the campaign, but even when available, his performances have been hesitant. For all his composure on the ball, and that is an aspect highly valued by Manuel Pellegrini, his physical struggles have been evident. At times, he is bullied by strikers, unable to cope with a powerful opposition presence. That in turn leads to a tendency to drop off a couple of yards into no-man's land, but he undoubtedly has the potential to bounce back against next season.

Another competitor for a starting berth at centre-back is Joleon Lescott, a man many feel should have been awarded more regular opportunities alongside Vincent Kompany. It is easy to see why. In simple terms, the former Everton player is a defensive defender. He makes tackles, he intercepts passes and his forte is clearing danger from City's box. At times, that simplicity, of performing the primary defensive role efficiently, is what Pellegrini's defence has needed this season. Nonetheless, Lescott's limitations are manifest. There are few footballers as uncertain as he is in possession, his panicked nature on the ball painful to watch. Pellegrini wants his defenders to play out from the back in a controlled manner. He likes all his players to be technically comfortable and elegant in possession yet those characteristics couldn't be more alien to Lescott.

As for Demichelis, his positivity from the back and his eagerness to carry the ball out of defence and into the opposition half to prompt attacks fits into Pellegrini's offensive gameplan. It is that same system, however, which has led to an air of vulnerability about City's backline. The manager's style, of incessant waves of Blue attacks, of bodies swarming forward irrespective of the score or minute, is pulsating and has been welcomed by supporters enjoying the feast of quality on show. At the same time, however, it does create an element of imbalance.

Of the two central midfielders, Fernandinho sits deeper and has adapted superbly to the Premier League, a bundle of dynamic energy and effervescence, but he is not a natural holding midfielder. Next to him, Yaya Touré contributes enormously when moving forward, his delicate touch belying his imposing frame, but he views defensive duties with utter contempt. As a consequence, the defenders are often left without protection, fending for themselves against an opposition sensing success on the counter-attack. That is not to complain, as the brilliance of City's creative talents is magical to observe, but it does result in a susceptible streak at the back.

The summer transfer window presents the next opportunity to strengthen the squad and apart from targeting a top quality holding midfielder, someone who could stitch up those gaps in front of the backline, the priority will be a central defender. The efforts in January to bring Porto's Eliaquim Mangala to Manchester suggest that Pellegrini is aware of the current squad's deficiencies, so come August 2014, a new signing is expected to have arrived, Lescott will have departed and Demichelis will have dropped to fourth choice in the pecking order. And a year after that, Karim Rekik will hopefully have developed sufficiently to take his place in the squad and Demichelis will take his brand of suave, yet rugged, defending elsewhere.

For now, however, it is time to lay off the latest victim of football's need for a scapegoat and appreciate him for what he is: a solid enough defender doing a solid enough job. Nothing more, nothing less.