Friday, March 17, 2017

HIS MASTER'S VOICE


It has long been wondered by the good and wise just how much professional footballers take with them onto the pitch from the pre-match discussions, dressing room briefings and intimately detailed weekly coaching sessions. Is all that advice and planning thrown out with the bath water or do the players stick religiously to the plan? Can Gael Clichy bear to peel off his massive headphones to take in the trainer’s advice or is it all just a little bit too tedious?

City’s recent dive into the shenanigans of top class football has brought several examples of this kind of behaviour to light.

On the august occasion of the club’s inaugural away game in the Champions League, you might have been forgiven for thinking the players would have been 100% focussed on what little piece of history they might be able to carve out for the club in the auspicious surroundings of Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena.

Instead, and despite the gallant galloping of an unrestrained Micah Richards, the spotlight on that evening fell squarely on the rugged features of Carlos El Apache Tevez.  Gaining his nickname from the dusty squalor of Fuerte Apache in Buenos Aires, where he was brought up, rather than the fiercely autonomous Indian marauders of the same name, Tevez chose the occasion to ignore Roberto Mancini’s instructions to warm up and prepare to come on as a substitute. It is still unclear to this day whether the troubled Charles had equated the forced removal of his namesakes from the parched foothills of the Rio Verde with his deportation from the warmth of the subs’ cubicle for the icy night of the Allianz pitch.
We can perhaps assume that historical metaphor was not amongst the highest elements in his skill set and he was purely being a stubborn little shit.

For those of us watching high in the stands, with maliciously little thought for the trials and tribulations of the Coyotero and Tonto as they were chased out of New Mexico, and indeed little awareness of the general kerfuffle developing down on the touchline around dear old non-plussed Carlitos, the part this scene played in City’s eventual downfall was not at all clear.

However, it soon became painfully evident that the player had totally disregarded his manager’s demands and had instead sat back down in the dugout with the face of the small child whose Golden Grahams have just been devoured by the family Jack Russell.

Edin Dzeko got whiff of the stale odours of mutiny floating around the touchline and had his own hissy fit on being subbed off later in the same game. Mancini, dreaming of a nice plate of spaghetti alle vongole, could only shake his head and brush those flowing locks back behind his ears.
If that was not bad enough for the Italian, his abrasive style did not fall well with some of Tevez’s team mates and by the time his managerial stint in Manchester was coming to an end, it was more than just Tevez and Dzeko that had seemingly had enough of the Italian’s beloved arm waving and touchline histrionics. They then chose the 2013 FA Cup final to down tools. It was the most public possible dereliction of duty and secured Wigan Athletic their only major trophy in 80 years of trying.

Mancini had overseen a wonderful transformation of the club from self-deprecating shot-in-the-foot merchants to gliding trophy winners. Only here, the bullet-ridden boots were being worn with pride once again.

Charles hid behind the others until Teacher had left
The question of player power has arisen again after last week’s desperate Champions League exit to Monaco, a side with well drilled but little heralded players of still tender years. Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim has done a fabulous job in a tricky situation, where the club asked him to ditch high earners and watch as they sold  many of the squad’s jewels and replaced them with eager kids. The difference here bites you in the bum like Carlos Tevez’s Jack Russell. The kids obviously listen. They take in the coach’s bons mots and act upon them. They keep their shape and run their little legs off, because that’s what Dom Leonardo told them to do.

City’s recruitment process down the years has brought in star after star. Some have been more humble than others. The likes of Adebayor and Yaya Toure, backed by eccentric agents, with world domination and other fripperies in mind, have been harder to handle than the afore-mentioned galloping Richards and trundling Gareth Barry. Even simple Yorkshiremen James Milner had his moments of mental illumination.

It is perhaps telling that Liverpool’s emergency full back now states: “Winning two titles at City, we had some good players, but as a team this (Liverpool side) is probably the best I’ve played in."

Tte two titles that Milner played a role in gathering at the Etihad witnessed some of the most exciting moments of football that City fans have seen in generations. However, the underlying feeling that the club has underachieved, despite it going through what has now probably developed into the best period in its history, will not die away.

Mancini’s cup final embarrassment was just an amuse bouche, as it turned out. The main course was to be served under Manuel Pellegrini’s stuttering tutorship and the dessert is being thrown our way as we speak.

Pellegrini launched himself at us with a Keeganesque spree of attacking football that had everyone gasping for breath. It was of course all too good to be true and – once the euphoria of a League and League Cup double had faded away – years two and three were an abject exercise in underperforming. How To Get a Thimble of Juice Out of a Warehouse full of Grapefruit.

Did the players do as they please? Who knows. Big egos, big dressing room characters and a manager, who apparently would not and could not say boo to a goose. By the end of his three year jaunt, City were playing on memory. The last year was saved by a dramatic success in the League Cup final against Liverpool, but it had also petered out in the league in a season when all the major threats to City had fallen away, leaving an embarrassed and surprised Leicester to take the crown that nobody seemed to want.

Pep Guardiola was brought in after a long and arduous chase to put all of this nonsense to bed. Which player, young or old, apache or monk's assistant, could ignore the teachings of the Word’s Greatest Coach © after all? Which idiot could cock a snook at a man, who had led, nay constructed, that fabulous Barcelona side of pass and glide, who had moved smoothly onto Munich by way of New York and built another dynasty there?  The man was untouchable. If he said Kolarov’s going centre half, that’s exactly what’s going to happen and we’ll all stand and applaud the foresight that nobody else seemed to possess.
Only the suave Catalan had underestimated the failing-power of Manchester City. The power to fail, that is. The historical willingness to aim that twelve bore at your own feet and press the trigger. The mavericks, cretins and ne’r do wells that have inhabited this club’s sumptuous history would never have had it any other way, and indeed neither would a lot of the supporters.

Goody two shoes waits for the shit to hit the fan

However, in Gael Clichy’s words this week, that the players did not take Gaurdiola’s advice seriously and did not heed his words to avoid sitting deep against an energetic bunch, who clearly intended  to run City ragged, the whole foul-smelling soup has been stirred up again.

The massive underachievement that forms the bedrock of City’s renaissance may be a weird kind of oxymoron, but it remains a fact that the club has missed out on as much silverware in the last seven years as it has actually brought home.




Thursday, March 16, 2017

THE JOURNALISTS: Richard Bott

PART 4: Liverpool (Home)

Richard Bott was a name found attached to City's match reports for nearly twenty years.  As the Sunday Express Chief Northern Sports Writer, he penned pieces on City's mesmeric ups and downs between 1974 and 1989. As a result, his name is synonymous with many a memorable event involving the club during frequently tumultuous times in Moss Side.

Starting his career as early as 1955, the young Bott was employed by the Harrogate Advertiser group 1955-59, the Coventry Evening Telegraph 1959-60, Birmingham Evening Despatch 1960-63, Yorkshire Evening Post 1963-64 and the Daily Mail, before finding a permanent home at the Sunday Express.

On October 29th 1977, Bott was despatched to Maine Road, as usual, to report on the day's most attractive fixture between City and League and European champions Liverpool. What he and the near-50,000 crowd shoe-horned into Maine Road that afternoon witnessed would turn out to be one of the matches of the 77-78 season.



Friday, March 10, 2017

STARBURST

When Ian Ross launched into his Guardian report on Middlesbrough's 5th round FA Cup win at Maine Road in 1997, there was not the thinnest slice of irony intended in his opening gambit:


That the luscious pageant of the rich and famous were wearing red shirts on this occasion shows how quickly football moves on. With a side containing the shimmering diamonds of Juninho, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Craig Hignett, Boro were on their way to Wembley.

City, meanwhile, had - we were told - travelled a long way to be in a position to lose 0-1 to Middlesbrough on their own pitch. With a team packed with the following luminaries, it might have been considered quite something that it only finished one-nil:

Margetson, McGoldrick, Ingram, Lomas, Symons, Brightwell, Summerbee, Brown, Crooks, Kinkladze, Rosler.

If this City side had travelled a long way, it was tempting to ask where in that case they had actually come from. What Mr Ross didn't know was where they were going next, also at breakneck speed. After a lucky 13th place finish, the following season would see City go down to the third tier of English football, where even Martin Margetson might have been expected to have found his feet.

It would be a time when the faithful were introduced to bright new names, Gary Mason, Barry Conlon and the aptly named Kakhaber Tskhadadze. attractive new venues, The Racecourse Ground, Moss Lane and Layer Road as well as some invigorating new sensations, smouldering, chafing and disintegrating.

The football juggernaut trundles on in its own inimitable way, leaving odd bits of historical debris in its wake.






Tuesday, March 7, 2017

THE JOURNALISTS: Paul Fitzpatrick

PART 3: STOKE CITY (home)

In the early 70s, football journalism was a very diferent beast to what millions of football followers consume today. Many papers did not even have a sports department, relying on staffers and assorted wordsmiths to plug the gaps, when intermittent sports coverage needed some attention.

When they did turn their gaze on sweaty athletes, the broadsheets covered a variety of sports with almost equal amounts of column inches, meaning you could get your football fix on a page that had just as many column inches given over to a seemingly insignificant hockey match and the latest soaked participants at the Badminton Horse Trials.

Seemingly momentous events were often covered by a single hack with the most rudimentary means of filing his reports back to base in Fleet Street. The Guardian operated slightly differently to the others at this time in that it was a company with a controlling trust, namely the Scott Trust. It sought to be a business, but with a generally leftist moral tone in its attitude towards the governments of the day.

According to John Samuel  in his accounts of what those innovative days were like, "Different people had different ideas for the tone. It varied from Jo Grimond to Karl Marx. Strictly, it had no sports department, certainly not in a Fleet Street sense. There were fine writers – Pat Ward-Thomas, Denys Rowbotham, John Rodda, David Frost, Eric Todd – but in a limited number of activities....

In amongst these esteemed writers came Paul Fitzpatrick, who would write on football and cricket for the Guardian and Observer for more than a decade, breaking the Kerry Packer cricket scandal story in April 1979.

His football writing was what you would have expected from the Guardian, erudite, with cadence and clarity and gets a mention in Daniel Taylor's illuminating account of Nottingham Forest's rise to European elite status, I Believe In Miracles, as one of the first writer's to acknowledge Forest's talent in that surprise season of 1977-78, when they took the top flight by storm.

Here we see him struggling manfully with a dreary 0-0 draw between City and Stoke at Maine Road in the 1973-74 season.


Within two months of writing this match report, Fitzpatrick had been sent to Newcastle to report on the FA Cup 6th round tie between United and the then second division Nottingham Forest. An unlikely match to produce a full-blown riot, Fitzpatrick witnessed some of the most turbulent crowd scenes from an utterly unstable decade, describing them thus:

"Only a spark was needed to set alight combustible feelings, and a balding middle-aged looking pugilist provided it. His paunch exposed, his shirt flying, this heavyweight bare-knuckle fighter set his arms flailing like a windmill and at least five policemen were needed to cool his ardour and pin him to the muddy turf. But the damage had been done and the crowd went haring down the pitch to the Gallowgate end..."

"Combustible feelings"

Other Tedious Stuff

Poets and Lyricists