Saturday, July 13, 2013

PARALLEL LINES

All the managerial heavyweights were interested
30 years ago, Manchester City were embarking on a pre-season tour with a smart new
manager and staff in place, shiny new kit, exotic new players arriving from far-off locations and a sizeable new challenge staring them square in the chops. The story mirrors the beginnings of Manuel Pellegrini's reign at the Etihad more closely than one might expect with its alluring uncertainties and its feel of the new beginning.

In fact in July 1983, Manchester City were facing a far greater challenge than the task confronting the present-day squad. Relegated on the last day of 1982-83 by a loose and hopeful swing of Raddy Antic's right boot in the most dramatic of circumstances and without a manager since the removal of the lame duck regime of John Benson and his light blue puffer jacket, City had spent the summer sizing up the more than "100 serious applicants", including the then manager of Sydney Olympic, Tommy Docherty and the out of work Harry Gregg. Some readers might at this stage be asking themselves what the less serious applicants could have looked like, if these two were amongst the good ones. One can only say that, 30 years ago, certain reputations had not yet been completely mangled by the unchallenged procession of time and others were still to be properly secured.

After years of promising the earth and delivering small parcels of dust, chairman Peter Swales preferred experience, but it would be experience at a low price, if it were possible to could find this magic combination in the whirling managers' merry go round of close season 1983. This was a little like looking for salmon in a dust cart full of carrots, but nevertheless Swales embarked on his own journey of discovery to see what he could rustle up. It was a journey that took him to all four compass points but that would eventually end up with his Cuban heels pointing north.

The Daily Mirror turns to poetry

Quite by accident, it appears, Swales got lucky.

Amongst the hill of names that the press had gleefully attached to the manager's job at Maine Road was Billy McNeill, the manager of Scottish champions Celtic. Most thought this a little far-fetched for a club ever so slightly down on its luck. Why would the manager of Celtic want to move to 2nd division City, for heaven's sake? But then a strange thing happened. Either by coincidence or not, McNeill asked Celtic for a pay rise, to bring him closer to the likes of John Grieg at Rangers and the chipper Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen. He was, after all, manager of the Scottish champions and being paid less than the respective managers of Motherwell and St Mirren to boot. Celtic refused. The Glasgow giants have always held the purse very close to the skirt of their kilt and, on this occasion, the wind had got underneath at just the wrong moment.

They had been caught without their long johns on.

McNeill wears the "what have I done" smile at his unveiling
McNeill was wooed to Maine Road by Peter Swales's grand plan. Nowadays this would be called a project and it would involve sackloads of cash. Whether mention had been made of the new barrel roofing for the Main Stand or not is unclear, but perspex wonder or no perspex wonder, Billy McNeill decided to take the low road to Manchester and make his (relative) fortune. Swales, in his infinite wisdom, decided to leave Ferguson at Aberdeen, despite obvious signs that the Scot was building an empire at Pittodrie that was already the match for the Old Firm.

McNeill wasted no time at all in mapping out the players he wanted to ignite the revolution. Pellegrini rightly eyes the Iscos and Negredos of this world as safe well-known territory. These are players that he has seen in the flesh many hundreds of times, from close quarter or from the stands. He has been able to study them and knows what his new club will be getting from a purchase of this nature. So it was with Big Seizure, who returned to his Scottish roots for many of his first signings. In came ex-Rangers striker Derek Parlane, offloaded by struggling Leeds; in came ex-Morton schemer and Tottenham reject Neil McNab from Brighton for the midfield enforcer birth about to be vacated by Asa Hartford; another Morton prodigy, Jim Tolmie, arrived for pennies from Belgian club Lokeren and the side began to take on a distinctly tartan, distinctly costcutter look.

Pre-season would be the first evidence of McNeill's eye for a bargain and Swales's eye for an 
opportunity. The programme was a packed one, taking City through the football hotbeds of West Germany, Holland and Blackpool, long before the multi-million yen Premiership tours of the far east became de rigeur. There would be no cameras to record the tour, no squealing foreigners at the airport, but McNeill's hastily arranged cheapskate eleven were about to rack up a veritable hatfull of goals as they scorched the fields of Germany.

Not for City the most prestigious fields of Germany, but nevertheless, a marker would be put down for the season to come.
Derek Parlane becomes City's only non-Morton pre-season signing

The tour schedule looked a little like this:

GERMANY
FC Pfungstadt
VfB Eppingen
1FC Osterode
FC Sinsheim
VFL Wolfsburg
HOLLAND
Willem II Tilburg
ENGLAND
Blackpool

As the 17-man squad gathered at Ringway to head out across the continent, they were bolstered by experienced ex-Burnley keeper Alan Stevenson and out-of-contract Everton.reserve Alan Ainscow. Derek Parlane's tank-top provided the only minor controversy as the plane was boarded and City flew off into a new, sky blue future under Mr Billy McNeill and his Scottish deputy Jimmy Frizzell, the old general manager of Oldham Athletic.

A large crowd gathers on the roof at Ringway to check out Derek Parlane's tank-top
The days that followed would be an exercise in getting to know each other, getting used to the managerial team's methods and forming a solid bond before the big kick-off. As a further echo of recent times, McNeill would also shortly be confronted by his first big disciplinary issue. Time was short, nerves were frayed and the world was watching.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

TEVEZ: WARMING UP. COOLING DOWN.

By John Williams 
At it again
 
Following the infamous incident during the Champions league fixture v Bayern Munich in Sept 2011  it was widely reported that Carlos Tevez had refused to appear as a second half substitute, Tevez himself stated that this was not the case and he was under the impression that the instruction was for him to continue warming up, something he felt was unnecessary as he felt he was ready to participate in the game. The aftermath of the incident in the following days/weeks/months saw Tevez become an outcast at the club many citing that he was the one and only instigator of this situation, I for one never took this view and I shall try to outline my reason for this.

Carlos Tevez was the signing that had excited me more than any other for over 30 years and from game one he fulfilled, even exceeded, my expectations. Tremendous work rate and technically blessed, his never say die attitude soon endeared him to the Etihad faithful,  Roberto Mancini arrived at the club a few months later and all seemed well within the camp with Mancini  making Carlos club captain the following season.

Then the cracks started to appear, I was at the time in Colin Bell lower and soon noticed that whenever Tevez was not in the starting 11 he seemed to be continually pounding the touchline far more than any of the other substitutes, this was a pattern that was continually repeated and I could not help but think at the time that all was no longer well within the camp, shortly after Carlos handed in a transfer request and although the situation was resolved it became clear to many that the relationship between him and Mancini was by now very strained, it became a familiar conversation between the people in our section when Tevez was on the bench that should he be sent on to play he would be too worn out to perform. In my opinion that night in Munich was the tipping point, the catalyst for a situation that had developed over a long period of time.

I don't claim to know the full story and can only make assumptions on events I witnessed and the opinion I subsequently formed by observing from the sidelines. This is a golden age in the history of our great club and I feel a deep sadness that the career of one of the most gifted players I have had the pleasure of seeing perform in sky blue will be forever tarnished by events that night in Munich. No doubt in time when the plethora of Autobiographies are published much will be revealed about the Tevez incident and the Mancini era in general. 
 
Until then we can only speculate and debate the different perspectives and opinions which are so widely diverse within the faithful.
 
You can follow John on Twitter  here

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