Tuesday, September 21, 2010

THE OLD LADY DANCES TO CHAMPAGNE SUPERNOVA


AS THE RAIN DRUMS DOWN ON A HUMDRUM TOWN

Morrissey's dirge might have been aimed at either Manchester or Turin, twin Northern industrial bulwarks which will host eagerly awaited Champions League games between City and Juventus before the end of 2015. The first game, set for The Etihad this midweek, cannot come quickly enough for the blue half of Manchester after their thrilling five-game winning start to the season in the Premier League.

Well maybe it is worth waiting a day or two. Revenge, after all, is a dish worth serving stone cold after almost 40 years. 1976, the year when the Italian Giants first turfed City out of continental competition.



Sep 15th 1976 Manchester City 1 Juventus 0 (Kidd)
Corrigan; Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Conway, Barnes (Power), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart. Att 36,955
Sep 29th 1976 Juventus 2 Manchester City 0 
Corrigan, Docherty, Donachie, Doyle, Watson, Booth, Keegan (Lester), Kidd, Royle, Hartford, Tueart  Att 55,000

A little more recently, with low gear home and away wins over the Romanians of Timisoara putting City into the romantically misty environs of the Europa League group stages, and a win in Salzburg in their first group A game elevating them to the position of early leaders, two historic meetings with Juventus loomed in 2010.

Fed a meagre diet of TNS and Midtylland up to then and having received nothing but crumbs for 30 years before that, City fans were chomping at the bit to see the Blues tackle such European grandmasters. These days City inhabit the European high shelves and draw monsters from the famous UEFA vases every autumn without fail.

Between the late 70's of Brian Kidd and Dennis Tueart and the 2003 match with Total Network Solutions of Wales, not a sausage, bratwurst or shrivelled chorizo worth its name had come in City's direction by way of European combat.

Starting line up v Juventus, 30th September 2010
When the two clubs clashed in 2010, with City new to a European scene by now bathed in dramatic low light and coated in layers of schmalzy marketing gloss, and Juve down on their luck, two less than memorable games ensued.

At home a tight match ended equal at 1-1, City's goal a crisp strike from Adam Johnson on the break in response to Vincenzo Iaquinta's early tweak to the exposed home nerves.

The irony of that cold evening is that City revealed a weakness at home that was to dog them continually as they lifted themslves into the rarified atmosphere of the Champions League. It has been the clubs Achilles Heel throughout troubled campaigns attempting to further their cause in Europe.

Fellow Italians Napoli and Roma have already exited the Etihad with comfortable 1-1 draws in the last four years. No Italian side has been beaten in Manchester since AC Milan in 1978 in fact.

The side put out by Roberto Mancini in 2010 looked like this:

Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, K Toure, Boateng; Johnson, Y Toure, Vieira, Barry; Adebayor, Tevez – substitutes used Deryck Boyata, David Silva, James Milner
Not Juventus
The Old Lady, even then in her unaccustomed low budget blouse and sensible shoes, represented much of what City were not - old Europe, old money, trophy-heavy, aristocratic elite from the parched south, where the Ultras turn anything good into a deified form.

The tiaras and the dancing shoes may have been put back in the old Stadio Communale cupboard with the side moving to a new purpose-built stadium, but the old spinster still knew only too well how to throw a move or two.

With City fans still thinking of recent disasters against the likes of Groclin, Juventus were always likely to be a psychological step too far at that stage of the clubs development.


"Call me morbid, call me pale, but we've spent 39 long years on your trail..."

By the time of the return game in Turin, 29th September 1976, Juventus had built up a good head of steam domestically and tore into City with a vigour that spelled trouble. Buoyed by the return of their chief talisman Roberto Boninsegna, they produced a performance that outflanked City. By the end of the game it was 2-0 to the Zebras and by the end of the season, in a review of 76-77 season, five players plus manager Tony Book had named Juve as their most impressive opponents of the entire season.

Corrigan at full stretch in the Communale
Joe Corrigan was not one of them, however, complaining of gamesmanship in a second leg, which produced the critical 2-1 aggregate score.

TIME LORDS
Images of the besuited Agnellis and Bonipertis flash across the mind, the striped gods of Bettega, Boniek, Rossi, Platini, Scirea, Sivori, Cabrini, Tardelli, Causio, Zoff and the Gentle Giant John Charles are easy to conjure in the mind's eye, draped in history, glory and the honeyed fog of all those unforgettable European nights. These names are the rich history of Italian football. Today's society  demands have taken something of a chunk out of this Italian institution, with financial and bribery scandals reducing the empathy and warmth traditionally reserved for this great old team. Money matters, of course, more so in football these days than ever before and, In Juve's case, it matters especially when your European rivals of old appear to have more of it than you do. Times are less opulent than they once were, despite a recent return to the glory days.

Now City are a bona fide rival of Juventus and one, that begs to be taken increasingly seriously by the continent's big hitters. If Juve, with their solitary Serie A point from three games and their uncustomary 16th place in the table, glance nervously at City's 15 from 5, you can understand what might be making them uneasy. With a paltry 5 home wins out of a possible 14 in the last 4 Champions League campaigns, Juventus will eye this as City's clear weak point.

HISTORY BECKONS
Turning the clock back to Wednesday 15th September 1976, City, with a team full of international pedigree had been drawn to play Juventus in the first round of the UEFA Cup, an unlucky quirk of the draw in the days before seeding and money kept glamour games away from the early stages. On a raw Manchester night, City did the raucous Maine Road crowd proud. With the Kippax belting out the slightly unusual chant "we hate spaghetti" and following it up with a thumping rendition of "Fish and chips, fish and chips, fish and chips", not only was the electric atmosphere giddy with that famous Maine Road mix of gallows humour and slapstick but the men from Turin were in danger of being rocked out of their composed stride


To stand on the Kippax in the 70s and watch a night match in European competition, you were transported to a unique spot in life, at once bursting with wit and spontaneity, danger and uncertainty. It grasped you, shook you and embraced you, that trembling old place, then cast you back out into the night streets of Rusholme to fend for yourself.

CITY FALL INTO IL TRAP
Italy line up circa 1978 with 8 Juventini
Juventus represented, much as they do now, not only a chance for City to measure themselves against one of the better sides continental football could offer, but also an opportunity to ask the football world to take them a little more seriously than they were used to doing. Despite the trophy rich end of the 60s being only 6 years behind them, the rest of Europe was already beginning to forget about the exploits of Lee and Young, Summerbee and Bell. And good old pasty faced, knock-kneed Ian Bowyer.

New England manager Don Revie sat expectantly under a tartan rug in the Main Stand with a notepad marked "Tueart, Royle, Kidd, Barnes, Doyle, Watson, Corrigan...", the new pretenders, whilst Juventus coach Trappatoni, embarking on what would stretch to a ten year stint in charge, strode around the muddy edges of the Maine Road pitch with a small piece of paper marked with a single vital word - "catenaccio". If foreign tongues were anathema to the mean streets of Rusholme in those days of pie and mash, we would soon enough understand what this bit of Italian signified.

Tony Book would later admit that this was a well-laid but hardly unforeseeable trap that the Blues had marched straight into. With the Kippax heaving and City leading through Brian Kidd's soaring header, a win was considered well worth celebrating. It was not every day, after all, that Manchester City dealt a blow to the pride of a team so swollen with foreign international names. City had practically beaten Italy for heaven's sake. The nagging doubt remained, however, that having Juve on the ropes on your own patch, with the Kippax baying for more, might just be seen as a missed opportunity rather than a heroic episode in what we laughingly hoped would be a thick volume of similarly outstanding European adventures.

THE OLD ONE-TWO
Well-steeped in European two leg tactics, Juventus knew full well that a 1-0 deficit could easily be turned around in the boiling bearpit of the Stadio Communale in Turin. And so it transpired, with City unable to steel themselves, unprepared for the iron-clad defensive shut-out that was necessary, instead attempting to give the striped Juventini a game, playing open expansive football, which the home side quickly picked off. With the score at 2-0 in a rainy Turin, City had no answer and the Italians played out the rest of the remaining minutes with their familiar defensive aplomb. Book had been right to say beforehand that the winners of this tie could go on to lift the trophy, but it was Juventus who would do so and not City.


Kidd heads the winner in Manchester

"They were just too experienced for us," he said later. "We were 16 months together and only knew one way to play. We did not adapt to the needs of the European game, the slow build up, cautious patient passing game." Another abrupt end had been reached, another harsh lesson had been dealt out. A small consolation presented itself in the next round when United showed they had learnt nothing from City's approach and were dumped out by Juventus too. The Old Lady shimmied all the way to the final and yet another glorious trophy win, whilst Manchester's blues began an inexorable slump that would end up at Macclesfield in the mud of the late 90s.

CAT and MOUSE
So, now it is City who appear in fine shape and Juventus who must put an end to bad early season vibes. For both clubs, Europe presents a challenge that must be met, for the well-being of their coffers and for the continued aspirations of their owners. For the two sets of fans, meanwhile, it represents a chance to lock horns with an opponent rarely seen in their respective backyards. Perhaps the future will throw them together more frequently than during the past 40 years, but competitive games 5 and 6 between the sides will provide a rich new backdrop for both to enjoy.

STATS
City v Italian sides:
1976 Juventus 1-0 and 0-2
1978 AC Milan 3-0 and 2-2
2010 Juventus 1-1 and 1-1
2011 Napoli 1-1 and 1-2
2014 Roma 1-1 and 2-0

Champions League home wins in 4 seasons:
3-2 and 2-0 v Bayern
2-1 v Villareal
4-2 v Viktoria Plzen
5-2 v CSKA Moscow

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