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 Europa League ties between City and Juventus before the end of 2010. The first game, set for The City of Manchester Stadium this midweek, cannot come quickly enough for the Blue three quarters of Manchester after their thrilling defeat of Chelsea in the Premier League.

Well maybe we can wait a day or two. Revenge, after all, is a dish worth serving stone cold after 35 years, which is almost how many years it is since these two last locked horns.



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

 

With low gear home and away wins over the Romanians of Timisoara putting City into the 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, an historic meeting with Juventus looms large on the horizon. This is a match to savour for those of the blue persuasion, fed a meagre diet of TNS and Midtylland in recent forays abroad and nothing but crumbs for 30 years before that. Between the late 70's of Kidd and Tueart and the 2003 match with Total Network Solutions of Wales, not a sausage, bratwurst, chorizo worth its name in anybody's language.

Now, however, we prepare for the mouth-watering prospect of one of Europe's elite giants showing up for a game with City's talented squad in our own backyard. Away with the gremlins of Groclins and the double decker bus press "building" in Lokeren, be gone tiny Aalborg and noisy Omonia, this is what we have really been waiting for. This is were we have to sit up and concentrate, mind our manners and remember how to behave at the top table.

For the Old Lady, even in her new low budget blouses and sensible shoes, represents much of what City are not - old Europe, old money, trophy-heavy, aristocratic elite from the parched south of Europe, where the Ultra turn anything good into a deified form. The tiaras and the dancing shoes may have been put back in the old Stadio Communale cupboard, but this old spinster still knows how to throw a move or two.


Not Juventus

"Call me morbid, call me pale, but we've spent 34 long years on your trail..."

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 rivals appear to have more of it than you do. Times are less opulent than they once were. Now even City are a kind of rival of Juventus and one, incredibly for some of us still pinching ourselves to wake up from the nightmare of relatively recent league visits to Northampton Town and Wycombe Wanderers, being taken increasingly seriously by the continent's big hitters.

HISTORY BECKONS
Rather than shuffling along the well worn path of the tawdry and the costly in Serie A game arranging, we should make this an excuse to turn the clock back. To Wednesday 15th September 1976, to be precise. City, with a team full of international pedigree 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

The Kippax cranks up some old-fashioned noise
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. We 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.

CAT & MOUSE
So, now finally a chance for revenge. Having danced a tactical foxtrot with Chelsea and revealed a penchant for caution, closed ranks and safety-first, City under Mancini are proving a tough unit to get past. Delneri's men might well ponder their leaky offering against Palermo this week and wonder, just for a minute, who it is these days that are the kings of catenaccio...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

AS TIME DRIFTS BY...(PART TWO)


Even before you'd had time to turn to the vaguely aromatic guy in the rally jacket with the chocolate stains sitting next to you and say "the new fella on the left looks a bit handy, doesn't he?" that new player was off again, to sample the delights of stability & feeling wanted at Rotherham or crucial playing time at Dagenham & Redbridge. Here we salute 10 more of MCFC's magnificent unforgettable walk on parts. it wouldn't have been the same without you, lads:

Peacock: made one proud
1.       Lee Peacock: Covered in tattoos, square-headed Lee is best known for a slightly more prominent part in the Ewood Park dressing room shenanigans after City had beaten their hosts to rise back to the Premier League under Joe Royle's stewardship, than his meagre contribution to the cause merited (see also David May in Utd’s Champions League celebration photos). Best (only) goal he ever scored at Maine Road was a swinging dipping winner…for Mansfield Town in the Turn-the-Lights-Out-When-You’ve-Finished Cup.
2.   Buster Phillips: To be clearly the Most Embarrassing of all alan ball’s signings (and that takes some doing), Buster takes some beating. He was lightweight, lacked confidence, couldn’t pass, scored no goals, once lost a heading duel with Charlie Drake, was easily knocked off the ball and contributed only a cartoon goal attempt v Blackburn, when, with City needing a goal so desperately some of us had taken to prayer, he managed to scuff the ball onto a post from a central position six yards out of an unguarded net. Poor bally quickly labelled him the first 10 million pound teenager, before a large stash of hallucinatory drugs was found stuffed in his shell suit pocket.                                                                 
3.   Ivan Golac: Gold star if you remember this bandy legged pickpocket turning out for the Blues in two consecutive 4-1 defeats during our plummet to relegation in the spring of 1983. By the time David Pleat did his hop skip and jump across the hallowed turf, Golac had been sold to a processing factory back home in Rijeka to be made into medium quality budget plimsolls.

4.   Barry Silkman: Here was a man, who looked like he should have been playing the banjo for Tradewind or Claxon down at the local. Barry was giggly, he was bubbly, he was smiley. He even managed a goal on his debut in a 2-1 defeat at Portman Road, but that was very nearly that. Paraded his glossy curls a half dozen or so times before disappearing back down to his native London to become a member of football’s massive and well-loved agent community.
5.   Paul Sugrue: Came straight from non league during Malcolm Allison’s hair brained experiment in getting rid of an entire squad of top of the range internationals and replacing them with overpriced journeymen, who nobody had heard of. Paul duly skipped about a bit, looked nothing like Brian Kidd at all, scored no goals whatsoever and duly buggered off back to take up the hallowed number 9 shirt Camberwick Green Athletic.
Beesley: absolute limit
6.  Paul Beasley: Paul was big, bulky and looked absolutely made for …van driving. Played a handful of games in the style of Audrey Hepburn in fishing waders and was shipped out. Famous for making Jason van Blerk and Lee Briscoe look like reasonably sound purchases during our donkey derby days.    
7.   Egil Ostenstad: The Bollard. This one didn’t stay for long, although it was a surprise he left at all, he was so slow. You could have imagined Big Joe Potato Head saying “Sorry, Evil, me old son, we just don’t see how you will score” and it then taking him seven weeks to reach the coat peg to fetch his hat and scarf.
8.   Peter Bodak: Did a nice jinky one for Coventry against us in the cup, which got him the move. Then immediately turned into a solid 3/10 performer for the rest of his less than illustrious City career, before hitting the pop with Bobby Mac on Blackpool prom.
9.   Tony Grealish: Appeared from nowhere to harass United’s aristocrats in the derby. Looked a little out of breath when taken off, a little haggard in general and a little short of pace and stamina in particular. Penny dropped that he was actually a mummified slab when he fell over waiting for a corner and turned into a cloud of prehistoric dust in front of the North Stand, leaving only a ball of grisly grey beard behind to blow around in the six yard box like miniature slow-motion tumbleweed. 
Grealish: turning circle etc....


Gaudinho: lustre, bounce & body
10.    Maurizio Gaudinho: Here was a man from Germany with a head of hair like a labrador, a set of leather jackets that would have put the wind up Don Johnson and a line of enthusiastic customs police in tow, said to be en route to Moss Side. Who in their right mind would have thought of Rusholme as a good spot to get away from some rather clinging car crime rumours? Whatever the thought that went into this, Maurizio will be forever remembered for flexing his neck, sending his shag-perm into full quiver as he tonked the winner v Liverpool in yet another tense Easter relegation threatened performance.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WORLD SOCCER: A LASTING AFFAIR

Being football literate in the 70s meant you were much better looked after than today. If memory serves, Football Pictorial, Football Monthly, Goal, Shoot, Match, Football Weekly News, Football Monthly Digest, Big Match Poster Magazine and a host of other quality publications could be spotted vying for my measly pocket money. Shoot was sorted, by my Nan, and would arrive on the stairs in pristine condition every Friday morning. That was a thing of beauty with its Crosstalks, its Focus Ons (another steak and chips!) and its Clubcalls with their immaculate 10 year records, a mesmerising blur of colour photography, muddy legs and herbaceous sideburns. The monthlies were heavier, higher up and high brow; costing more, they peered down at me with imperious self-satisfaction. Can you reach me? Can you afford me? Can you understand me?


I was willing to try, a football junky even then. Football Monthly with its brilliant England coverage (eight out of ten for Kevin Beattie and Dave Watson!), Soccer Monthly with its wordy writers and great photos, but it was World Soccer that got its hooks into me. It specialised in glossy front covers (the rest was normal paper) with team groups, the only magazine I know that has ever done this, featuring what were then exotic things of beauty like Dynamo Kiev and Colo Colo. This would transport me to a place of such luscious otherworldyness that I didnt know whether to laugh or cry. Where was Caracas for heaven's sake and who the hell was Bela Gutman? Ujpest Dosa sounded like a team that meant business but what should I make of Ferencvaros? Did I have to have an opinion on Lev Yashin and what exactly was Giorgio Chinaglia doing playing in New York with Dennis Tueart and Franz Beckenbauer? And Pele.

I would spend lazy hours pouring over the league tables, time which allowed me to become an absolute dab-hand at geography at school. The teacher would no doubt muse, "If he knows where Strasbourg and Trabzon are, why the hell can't he explain what truncated spurs are?" I knew what truncated Spurs were sure enough, cut short by Wolves or Anderlecht or some such European legends and every snippet gleaned from the pages of my latest copy of World Soccer.

Whilst the transitory love affairs with Football Kick (semi naked girls with club scarves twisted around their interesting bits), Roy of the Rovers (too embarrassing to buy after a while despite the brilliant Peter Barnes centrefold) and Football Monthly Digest (could I find that damn thing in any decent newsagents?) flickered to life and faded again, World Soccer was staunchly permanent. The thing just never went away, despite it seeming to be somewhat leftside. All well and good, my education continued apace with the sharp quill pen of Brian Glanville, a doyen even then, the tactics board of Eric Batty and those far-off pieces by Eric Weil, stationed in front of his steaming typewriter somewhere in a sweltering, noisy downtown street in Buenos Aires. I could almost smell the Bonbonera in his writing, sense the little street urchins struggling to be el pibe for River Plate.

Occasionally the editor of this august publication would trick me completely with a front cover from Watford v Forest or some such luke warm domestic rumble. I could never understand the idea behind this. Such a cosmopolitan, urbane, multi-faceted read with Steve Sims on the front whacking the ball past a prone Tony Woodcock. The link still unsettles me slightly, 30 years on. Like picking up next month's edition to find a turf busting crunch between Titus Bramble and Karl Henry on the cover. Once inside the exotica quickly returned you to a state of rapt fascination, as Dynamo Berlin's history was laid bare and Cesena's early season tactics were dismembered. This sort of quality navel gazing can be found on various wonderful blogs these days, but in 1978 World Soccer was out on a limb, out on its own, a true innovator and king of its patch on the glorious serious middle shelf. From these pages I became aware of the existence of Phil Woosnam, Cesar Menotti, Josef Venglos, Stromgodset, a young tyro at St Etienne called Michel Platini, Alex Czerniatinsky, the town of Mechelen, the little triers of Young Boys Differdange and a host of others, a cast of thousands whose mention in the school playground gave you kudos beyond just recounting that you had recently managed to see Sandra Dougherty's nipples up the football field without even having to share your curly wurly.

My relationship with the magazine held strong until the 90s when it seemed to go a little tabloid in its appearance and confused in its content. Suddenly we were treated to too much colour and too many big star specials. The modern era of product placement and lowest common denominator were raising their heads. Gone were my obscure team groups, replaced by garish portraits of Baggio and his stupid hair. It could have been me of course, living in Amsterdam and living the life of ...an Amsterdammer, that confused my Dinos with my Robertos and my Espanyols with my espadrils. Like any relationship worth its salt, we came round and sorted out our differences. I renewed my subscription, unwilling and unable to live without knowing what was happening to The Strongest and how Dynamo Dresden were going to control their supporters, and the magazine got serious again in return. In this its 50 th year it has never been so beautiful, its layout simple, clean and pleasing on the eye, the balance between text and photography perfect, between the big leagues and the obscure ones just about right. I have known it for more than 30 of its 50 years and, despite the wealth and welter of information on the internet, I still consider it required reading. Keep on keeping on.

Friday, September 3, 2010

As time drifts by....



Part One: Davidson, Hoekman, Ingebritsen, Daniels, Conlon, Beardsley, Christie, Shinton, Hiley, Lee

It is not an overly difficult task to pick out the sepia days of glory from the hundreds of games played by the likes of Corrigan, Lee, Trautmann, Oakes and Bell, but those who arrived at Maine Road's great flat edifice and left again in the flash of an eye have had a far harder job finding an appreciative slot in our collective memories. Nevertheless, we would do well to recall them, if only to keep a loose grip on reality in these days of mangled Audis and subsidised loan deals. With the current squad housing instantly recognisable international exotica from Spain, the Ivory Coast and Italy, the walk-on parts in this long-running soap form part of a history as deliciously unproductive in the past 34 years as it is promising today. Manchester City may seem to many these days like the inevitable bastard creation of the modern football world, but, as the deceptively apt banner at the Stretford End suggests, there’s so much more to it than the gloss and glamour of 2010:  

The magic moment v Swansea
Watching the slightly portly, slightly off-balance, somehow disconcerting figure of Duncan Davidson swivel slowly and miscue his shot off a combination of post and Dai Davies’ back and into the Swansea net, one could have been forgiven for thinking an unlikely unbalanced but well-fed hero had just arrived. Sadly for the cut price Scot (one of many smuggled into Billy McNeill’s 1984 promotion chasing side), that was as good as it got. Of his 7 eye-opening appearances in a blue shirt, four were as a sub. Those of us lucky enough to witness the aforementioned piece of ball-juggling, dai-defying acrobatics, saw just about all that was memorable in Davidson’s City career. The crazed zig-zag, arms flapping celebratory dance is still etched on the memory however as the moment he too thought he had arrived in the big time.. 

Danny Hoekman’s stay in the sky blue was even briefer. Three substitute appearances in 1991 was the slightly built Dutchman’s total effort for City. What the record books will not explain, however, is that the ex- Den Haag winger actually had the ball in the back of the net at Meadow Lane and had already turned for home, arms aloft, little face cracked into a broad grin before his place in City history was wiped away by the precocious wave of a linesman’s flag. To add salt to the wound in the 3-1 win for Peter Reid’s men, his moment of City glory had been called off owing to Clive Allen’s suspect positioning, not his own. 

The stick-like Norwegian Kare Ingebrigtsen managed a princely total of 17 appearances for City, but the majority of those produced little more than polite applause and frustrated exhortations for more effort, accuracy and thrust from the terraces. The somewhat incongruous exception to this inglorious trail was a 1994 cup tie v Leicester City at Maine Road, when the tiny midfielder miraculously netted a hat trick in City’s 4-1 4th round win. This sudden burst of goal scoring prowess represents 100% of Ingebrigtsen’s City career goals tally and ensures he will be remembered long after the rest of his efforts ideally deserve. That year’s cup run faded in the following round when the Norwegian found himself marooned in the middle of a downtrodden performance at Cardiff.

When Barry Davies’s BBC commentary galloped towards falsetto, it was normally a moment to check if Francis Lee had entered the fray, but in 1975 the vastly unheralded Barney Daniels had the BBC man reaching for his beaker of Pepsodent, as he marked his nine game City career with a sudden and dramatic appearance v. Leicester at Maine Road. Not content with a close-in strike to pull City clear, Daniels, fresh-faced and full of the uncoordinated energy of the eternally hopeful, hit a second to his and Davies’s utter delight. Neither man was to know that this sudden burst of activity would represent the highpoint of Daniels’ entire career. 

An unusual sight
No such glory for Barry Conlon, who pulled on a City shirt to start a game just once, against Port Vale in the notorious 2-3 home defeat at Christmas 1997. Once the seven substitute appearances are added, Conlon’s tally – given the lean years in which they were assiduously accumulated – represents as poignant a symbol of the dark days of the late nineties as any. Mention his name to anybody who misspent Saturday afternoon’s watching City’s floundering incompetence and you strike a chord with a fellow sufferer. Conlon will forever be a name associated with the heady aroma of drowned hope, scorched trousers and that special aroma of complete despair. It wasn’t long before this and only slightly further up the league pyramid that the once heralded Peter Beardsley found himself donning the laser blue. For a player who had regularly terrorised the City defence over a lengthy period spent spraying in goals and telling passes for Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton, all sides in the 80s and 90s who could be guaranteed to hand out easy-on-the-eye pastings to our boys, the heavy-jawed Geordie will remain another novelty memory for his brief cameos at Huddersfield Town and Reading. No goals were forthcoming in the six tumultuous games he played for City. 

Christie scores for Notts against City
Twelve years earlier, City fans had also been coming to terms with the familiar feeling that their side was losing shape and life. A recurring theme if ever there was one. With the dizzyingly exciting period of Parlane and Tolmie reaching its sell-by date, up stepped the ex-Notts County goal machine Trevor Christie to enjoy his ten minutes of Maine Road fame. His three goals in just ten City performances will not be remembered by many, but nevertheless represented the welcome but ultimately useless acquisition of two points against Wimbledon and one versus Norwich, where he netted both in a 2-2 draw. Rather than this, those present will certainly have stored an image of a professional footballer with knock-knees and the mobility of a rusty farm vehicle.

Smiling at Wrexham
If you are looking for someone other than the oft-mentioned Steve Daley and Michael Robinson to illustrate colourful accounts of Big Mal’s 2nd coming profligacy, then look no further than the v-shaped chin and exquisite bubble perm of Bobby Shinton. A prolific scorer for Wrexham, the partially bearded, always moutachioed Shinton appeared in the number 3 shirt at Highbury, wore number 4 v Middlesbrough and played in three unbeaten games over Christmas 1979 before sinking without trace. It is often overlooked that his £300,000 fee was also seen as a huge waste of money in even those devil-may-care days, but the much-maligned and almost completely forgotten Shinton nevertheless takes a record of played 5 lost none with him into the record books. 

The sight of Scott Hiley skipping past a bemused Newcastle defence to set up yet another attempt on the Magpies goal during a see-saw encounter in the relegation year of 1996 was sadly not duplicated on many occasions. The injury-jinxed left back made just 4 appearances for the Blues and another 5 as sub before moving on to pastures new, but he can claim to have been an integral part of City’s greatest game of that particular season, remembered for everything good in the game at the time: a long-legged head-butting cameo from Asprilla, Keggy Keegan’s 90’s mullet flopping dangerously in the Moss Side rain, Buster Philips trying to climb Niall Quinn to offer his congratulations after the second goal and artful dodgers like Ginola and Albert coming face to face with a damp and smoldering Keith Curle. A truly grand day out in the sleet.  

Stuart Lee’s arrival at Maine Road in 1979 provoked no fanfares and precious little publicity, coming as it did in the backwash of Steve Daley’s staggeringly rash transfer from Wolves. The £80,000 fee Big Mal paid for Lee was comparative peanuts and Lee’s impact was to amount to roughly the same. Although a well-struck volley in the dreadful 3-1 home reverse to West Brom revealed a talent that was not fully exploited during his short spell at the club, the remaining appearances were tragically brief and unspectacular.
Another stalwart of the lower leagues-to-be had had his moment in the Maine Road hall of mirrors.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wrecking Robinho

It has come to the attention of many that Robinho has left the room, two years to the day (the transfer deadline day, at least) since he waltzed in looking sheepish, surprised and a little bit confused, to be hugged by Mark Hughes and lifted off the ground by numerous strange heavies with an unidentifiable taste in cheap aftershave. No wonder he mentioned being delighted to be joining "Chelsea" when he finally got within spitting distance of a microphone. The kid was suffering from the first critical debilitating moments of Eau de Lune Bleu inhalation. Intoxicacao muito forte.

He was immediately and stunningly placed as the figurehead of the new blue revolution, a mouth-watering little folly by our day old owners from the desert. Wow, these guys are both serious and deeply frivolous, we thought. it's a comedy pairing that sits well with City, let's face it. Joe Royle's Cityitis did not envisage breaking the uk transfer record for a Real Madrid star known the world over. The slapstick we can do, possibly better than anybody bar a select few (Newcastle, Napoli, St Pauli) and even the other runners and riders have been taken seriously at one point or another.

Manchester City have not. Up to now. Robinho was the first small incredibly expensive step in that direction, taking us to a place both unaccustomed and uncomfortable for most who follow the fortunes of the Blues: serious contenders. Even now the phrase sounds a little quirky, like it has been stolen from yet another piece about Chelsea or Arsenal. Even Everton. But the blue Scousers are behind us now. Their supporters neither like us nor empathise with us anymore. We used to be brothers in the miserable shadow of megaliths. Now we are moving out ahead with the big boys and nobody likes them, let's be honest.

Robinho started well in his new home. Given the ball after a quarter of an hour of his debut against his suitors from West London, he swerved an impudent freekick around the wall and into the net. A genius of Kinkladze-esque delights had announced his arrival and the stands were in a fervent of delight. The little man played with a smile too, but gradually that smile, the lolling tongue, the darts to the camera for attention after a goal, became laboured and forced. One too many step-overs, failed dummies, misplaced passes littered his repertoire. Suddenly the mask was slipping and the nights were closing in.
 
hang on, twas never that bad
If the jinking Brazilian represented one thing, it was changeover. His input was too ephemeral to be lasting or truly meaningful but somehow he was the token image of this cluttered new City world, with its cadillacs, security phalanxes and omnipresent teams of architects. He flitted into our lives with the sumptuous touch of genius and - just for a moment - made us forget all those Danny Tiatto red cards, all those rainy sideways slaloms from Neil McNab and the shirt pulls of Andy Morrison. the delight of Goater and Dickov at Northampton suddenly seemed like pretty feeble stuff, a damp orgasm over a currant bun. Here was real football gateaux with a little cognac flaming on top. The G-spot had been located.

So he flipped one in against Arsenal, smashed one in against Twente, slid one in against Hull, his reputation for sizzling, delicate, slide rule finishes growing as fast as that of sniveling, bedraggled non-performer at the Britannia, the Reebok or any other windy, heaving northern hothouse with horizontal rain and jet-propelled insults. He viewed the tremulous row of wet faces at Hull with the veins standing up in their necks and something began to dawn. A little image of Vila Belmiro in the setting sun wafted through his consciousness. Recife, belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre. You could almost see that bewildered little boy look return to his features, the one that says "I don't understand why bad man made me do this".

As the away performances began to get more and more ludicrous, blatant in their displays of unwillingness, so the patience levels dropped alarmingly. By the time he scored a late and meaningless goal at Scunthorpe in the cup, it was clearly a joke that nobody wanted to be part of anymore. Could things have been handled better? certainly City would do well to understand what makes Brazilians tick. Elano seemed not to get what he wanted from his Manchester experience either and it is no good just hauling out the "toe the line" message when a player is obviously not enjoying life. Having said that, it was never evident that Robinho himself was pulling out all the stops, never did he come across as mature enough to carry this "project" through. A certain immaturity never seemed far from the surface. Let us hope that Milan treat him well and that he rewards them for it. We saw something of what the little man can do, but there could and should have been so much more. Boa sorte Robinho

a smile returns to the face of Robinho

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Imbiber of Amantis 2005, cold water, black coffee. Victim of great Winona Ryder trouser theft; hapless dreamer, willing accomplice and crafty left sided midfielder.

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