31/07/2009

Friday mp3: Liverpool Five

The Liverpool Five (featuring no Scousers) formed in 1963 as The Steve Laine Combo, playing many major cities in Europe and Asia before achieving their greatest success in the United States between 1965 and 1967, touring with, amongst others, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones.

They made three albums before disbanding in 1968. A 'Best of...' was released last year on Sundazed Records. Their stuff's top notch, they were a blatant Beatles rip-off, but good in their own right, with some great little tunes; some Merseypop, a few more Stones-like, or American garagey numbers. Well worth a listen.

MP3: Liverpool Five - Piccadilly Line
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30/07/2009

Sven's signings down to three

When Sven-Goran Eriksson took over the reins as City manager in the summer of 2007 many spoke about his great scouting network and knowledge of the world game as he swept into the club with several arrivals and for a short time at least appeared to know what he was doing.

Those players served him well enough for half a season, before generally appearing more turkeys than inspired signings. Now, only two years later, most are gone, and the three who are still here seemingly have little chance of playing regularly in the first team. A spend of around £45m has so far returned less than half that figure, as most have had occasional impacts as members of the senior side.

Sven's initial imports did at least appear to fill gaps. Martin Petrov had a very good first season and could, should he regain fitness, challenge for a place. Vedran Corluka was imperious at right-back, only for the manager following Sven not to fancy him. The rest though, proved utter stabs in the dark.

Rolando Bianchi, who did appear to posses quite decent technique, soon became homesick and was never a £9m striker, returning to Italy for a third of the fee just a year later. Javier Garrido quite quickly showed an inability to defend, never really got over a mauling at Chelsea, and should leave the club soon. Valeri Bojinov picked up two serious injuries, Benjani frustrated absolutely everyone and from day one was a signing that reeked of desperation, Geovanni played very little, Caicedo looked completely devoid of confidence until well after Eriksson left, and the loan signing of Nery Castillo, well, less said the better.

The signing of Elano, who left the club today for Turkish side Galatasaray, probably sums up Sven's time at the club best. A player of outstanding natural ability who played when he wanted and who seemed to permanently need his ego massaging. He leaves the club with my blessing, as one of the most frustrating players i've ever seen play for the club. Potentially brilliant, often absent, and the kind of player we can well do without if we're to have any hopes of building a tight-knit, hard-working and ultimately successful squad.

29/07/2009

Touré: good value at £15m?

I don't think many would doubt that Kolo Touré has been a terrific servant to Arsenal. Coming in as a somewhat erratic full-back he's become one of the better centre-halves in the Premier League under the tutelage of Arsène Wenger. In seven seasons at the club he played over 300 times, and was a key member of the 'Invincibles' side of 2003/4.

Their fans, however, somewhat to be expected, seem keen to paint a picture of a player in rapid decline. Someone who, once it looked like he was on his way, was all of a sudden a squad player, indispensable, and a bit of a calamity, and not the solid, dependable defender we've all watched impress season on season.

They do, perhaps, have a point somewhere in the nonsense they've been spouting since the player indicated he'd be open to moving on. He probably isn't the player he was five years ago, but i'm not sure that's too much of an issue. He's been playing in a weaker side, it's quite simple, and alongside a partner in central defence with which he has previous. For him to no longer be one of the two or three best centre-halves in the league, on form at least, doesn't mean he isn't still a very, very good one.

Whether he's worth £15m is arguable. We have probably slightly overpaid, i'm not sure it really matters, we're building a side on someone else's money, and spending it at a much slower rate than he's earning. Being in the position we're in, without European football, and having not finished near to the top of the league in years, we will understandably have to pay a little more to entice players from these sort of clubs. I don't think anyone would have batted an eyelid had another club paid, say, £10m-£12m for the player, so we shouldn't lose sleep over it. The fact that he was out of contract in a year's time is neither here nor there, the most important thing is that we improve our side and squad.

Arsenal will miss Touré, it's a fact, and any of their fans who aren't idiots would freely admit as much. He was after all their best centre-half, to say otherwise would be quite mischievous. Whether his form last year lived up to previous seasons is questionable, even as outsiders who don't watch the club week in, week out, we could probably say it wasn't, but that far from makes him a bad, or poorer player, it's completely natural for players form to differ, he's not 'in decline' in the same way Micah Richards isn't, neither does one good season make a player great.

Getting an eight-figure fee for a player you bought for peanuts and have had such a good innings from would have to be considered good business. Wenger has a history for doing such, and things generally go in his favour. I'm not sure he's quite the magician people make him out to be, he, like all managers, has made his mistakes in the market, but the offer we made Arsenal was very healthy for them, as well as meaning we added a quality player of proven pedigree to our squad.

Indeed this to me seems like a transfer that simply makes sense for all involved. Arsenal have received good money for someone who didn't want to sign a new deal and who could have walked away for nothing next summer. We've addressed our key area of concern, the centre-back position, and acquired a player with experience at the very highest level and who has proven himself to be one of the better defenders in the country over a number of years. The player, who did put in a transfer request early this year, can have a fresh start at a club who seem to be making, or attempting to make, great strides forward, and obviously the deal on offer would appeal to most of us.

I've no doubts at all that we've bought a very good defender. Paying a little more than his market value is water under the bridge, he'll improve us no end. Any City fan will agree that we needed at least one centre-half, and he was a player on all our lists of possible signings. He'll bring strength, pace and an aerial presence to our backline, as well as experience and a work ethic to the dressing room. Good business for everyone.

28/07/2009

The Mini Derby: Maine Road vs FC United

If like me you've been bored shitless over the last few weeks watching the odd pointless summer tournament like the horn-friendly Confederations Cup, or our three-game one-goal Vodacom Challenge non-triumph then i'm sure you'll be eager to get back into things now August is upon us.

Maine Road FC have been going for over fifty years now, formed in 1955 as City Supporters Rusholme, and started off playing in the Sunday League. In the late sixties they moved to Maine Road Social Club, changed to their current moniker and joined the Manchester Amateur Sunday League. After achieving a league and County Cup double in 1971/72 they joined the Manchester Saturday Football League. In 1980 they moved to their current home of Brantingham Road, Chorlton, and between 1984 and and 1987 won four successive league titles.

In 1990 they won promotion to the North West Counties League Division One (now the Vodkat League) and had by then won five County Cup competitions. They stayed in that division for twelve seasons before being relegated for the first time in their history in 2002, regaining promotion two seasons later. Under the guidance of Chris Simms and then Ian Walker the club achieved four consecutive top half finishes and won the Vodkat League Cup.

They've also won seven of eleven Umbro Cups, and last season finished 13th with a very young side under the leadership of club stalwart Derek Barber. This summer former manager Ian Walker has returned along with several experienced players, and the club hope for a credible league finish.

With average home attendances of around 65, 'Road might not be the best-supported side in the area, even the division, and certainly in relation to City, that other lot, and others in the local Premier and Football Leagues, but they're a club with great history, and a close-knit and loyal following.

The last game they played against FC United drew a crowd of over 3,000, admittedly swelled by the support of the Rebels, and there's a good chance that a fair few might come along and watch this friendly. The two clubs, unlike their more illustrious rivals, sound like they've formed a great relationship, and a healthy number of attendees could really make the difference to Maine Road over the coming season.

Going to City now, well, any club, not just those in the Premier League, can cost an arm and a leg, we all know. A season ticket can cost the best part of £600 top end, or one-off games might set you back £25-£30 a person just for your ticket. At Maine Road you can get entrance to the ground, a programme, brew, pie, and if you're lucky, a tinny, all for a tenner. Give it a whirl. It might be a far stretch from Robinho, billionaire owners and a 47,000 capacity, but you'll see decent footballing sides, have a great and affordable night out, and support a good local club with big City links.

The game does clash with the reserve team's match at Stalybridge, but i'd encourage those not making that trip to try and get down if they can.

Maine Road vs FC United
Tuesday 4th August, 7:30pm

Brantingham Road, Chorlton, M21 0TT

Admission: adults £5, seniors £2, kids in free

27/07/2009

Fergie continues to unravel

Perhaps it was naivety on my behalf, or just plain stupidity, i don't know, but over the last year or two i've, well, i wouldn't say been warming to, moreso hating the bacon-faced old fool from across the road slightly less. He has, in all honesty, been proving better value than Rafa Benitez or Arsene Wenger, and since the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea, most of the managers in the league, always good for a soundbite or cheap laugh, either intentionally or not so.

His latest City-related outburst, though, one of many it should be pointed out, makes you wonder whether he's starting to lose his marbles. For years we've only really been a rival to United in a geographical sense, and barring the odd pop he seems to have not really bothered with us, instead aiming his frequent drivel at managers of sides challenging for the title - Wenger, Keegan and Benitez amongst others. Quite simply, he's not had to regularly speak ill of us because he didn't have to.

To feel the need to tell us we're 'a small club' whilst constantly pointing out that we're not good enough to challenge United really does sound like a man confused. Firstly, the manager of a club who have won eleven of seventeen Premier League titles even needing to point out that the likes of us, who although possibly on the verge of something special have been bobbins for some time, aren't quite in their league really strikes me as odd. If we really aren't any concern for them now, though, then you'd think at his age, he might want to save himself the stress of getting into 'mind games' when unnecessary.

As much as the old chap is clearly showing signs of frailty, i think we should take his words, as ridiculous as anyone with half a brain can see they are, as a huge compliment. He obviously likes talking about Manchester City, he's been doing it for weeks, which makes his accusations of us doing likewise all the more humorous. I say let him carry on, the more hostile and uncalled for his pearls of wisdom become the better, it just shows him up for what he is, a rancorous old oaf coming towards the end of an admittedly great career. Cheers Alex!

26/07/2009

Terry finally decides

After a month of daily headlines, idle gossip and even accusations of tapping up, Chelsea captain John Terry this afternoon declared that he'll be staying at the club for the foreseeable future, most likely pocketing himself a nice payrise for his troubles.

The potential transfer was always a bit of a weird one, not least due to our willingness to pay the best part of £40m for a player who despite his obvious leadership abilities and experience, is pushing thirty, injury prone, and well, a centre-half. The battle of wills between the two clubs was about more than football, it was much more about both boards wanting to make a statement of intent. Terry isn't worth anything like the money talked of, either the transfer fee or the salary said to be on offer, and Chelsea could quite easily have sold him and signed someone as good for half the money, likewise we could find a player for that position for a much more sensible amount. Quite simply, we wanted to make a statement of our true arrival as a challenger to the big four, and Chelsea, despite the deal making financial sense, were eager to not be seen as a club whose best players were obtainable.

Fair play to John Terry, whether he ever had any real intentions of coming here i guess we'll never know, but it certainly suited him to keep quiet. I don't blame him at all for staying where he is, i'm sure many of us would have. He's at a club who are serious contenders for every major trophy, whereas we're in the very early stages of trying to do what they've done over the last few seasons since the arrival of their own wealthy backer. His career couldn't be going better, and next summer he should, fingers crossed, captain England to the World Cup. The move, for him, never really made sense on any sort of footballing level.

Though i object to fans of other clubs claiming players 'are only coming here for the money', in this case even the bluest Blue would have to say it probably would've been true. There is 'the project', and what we're doing is certainly exciting, but in my opinion there are a few players who would, at this point at least, be taking a step back coming here, and with Chelsea already challenging for titles, and having reached the semi-finals of the biggest trophy of them all, the European Cup, in five of the last six campaigns, i just think it was a move too far.

In the sense that we're not naive enough to think a significant increase on his deal would've been the main factor in him moving here, i hope Chelsea fans see that a player, their most high-profile player and captain, has taken the club for mugs, similarly to how, say, Rio Ferdinand did two or three summers ago, or how Adebayor did at Arsenal last year, or even Steven Gerrard regards his on/off moves to Stamford Bridge in previous summers.

Even if the player didn't want to come here, as i suspect he'd have been told to say if contract negotiations are to progress, he used interest from others to force his club into improving the terms of his deal. He was happy to sit quiet, letting the press and his own fans assume that he was considering leaving, knowing full well that he'd be getting a few more quid. Happy as Chelsea fans should be now he's staying, perhaps they should reconsider their unconditional love for key players like him, and Frank Lampard, both of whom have taken the club for a bit of a ride in recent months. Were one of our best players to have done what Terry has, though i'd still have some time for whoever involved after the years put in, i'd probably lose a little of the respect for them i'd had previously.

Anyhow, good luck to Terry, if we're not going to win the title i'd rather they did than either them lot over the road, Liverpool, or Arsenal, the latter whose fans are seemingly the most nauseous since realising we may well at some point take their place in the top four. There's a lot to not like about Chelsea, but i feel no animosity towards Terry for choosing to stay where he is. Any move was always going to have to involve him doing the dirty on his club, and whilst that would've undoubtedly have been humorous given their recent history, it would've given the numpties in the media, and those who follow other clubs, yet more fuel for their fires.

What's most important now that this protracted transfer is finally at its end, is who we sign, and when. We need to bring in at least one centre-half. Going into the new season with Richard Dunne, Micah Richards or Tal Ben Haim in the middle of defence really isn't an option if we're to significantly improve on last season's performance. Nedum Onuoha played superbly last season, and i've every faith that Vincent Kompany will serve us very well moving back from midfield, though obviously isn't matchfit at the moment. I'd like to see us add one, perhaps two Premier League defenders of proven quality. Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott or Matt Upson would do perfectly. I just hope we get them on board sooner rather than later, and so our defence can get some pre-season action under their belts and build up a good understanding ahead of the new season.

25/07/2009

Kaizer Chiefs 1 City 0

A largely disappointing performance from City this afternoon resulted in South Africa's Kaizer Chiefs winning the hardly prestigious Vodacom Challenge Cup in Pretoria. Recent signing Emmanuel Adebayor started upfront with Craig Bellamy, ahead of a four-man midfield of Barry, De Jong, Wright-Phillips and Petrov, with Richard Dunne, Nedum Onuoha & Shay Given making their first appearances of the tournament, with Wayne Bridge & Javan Vidal occupying the full-back positions.

The game started extremely slowly, very little happening for the first twenty minutes or so, Javan Vidal being stretchered off after picking up what looked like a serious injury when going in for a ball with the Chiefs 'keeper being the only real talking point, Tal Ben Haim replaced him and looked solid enough. Adebayor had a lot of the ball, dropping back into midfield to start moves, and linking up well with Martin Petrov down the left, including a couple of good one-two's. Infact, most of what did during the first period came down that side, with SWP quiet on the right.

The Africans took the lead just before half-time from a corner after Given had made a good save after a shot from just outside the box. Tal Ben Haim managed to get his head to the inswinger, but the ball landed at the feet of Jeffrey Ntuka at the far post, who scrambled the ball into the opposite corner, possibly controlling with his arm beforehand.

After the break City saw more of the ball, with Gareth Barry in particular beginning to pull the strings, and spreading play around nicely. The Chiefs sat back and let us come forward, but as on many occasions away from home last season, we had plenty of possession without looking like creating any real opportunities. Adebayor put himself about and proved to be a good outlet on the break, but should have probably done better with one effort, having got into space on the right he had two opportunities to find Bellamy in the centre, failing on both occasions before blazing over.

Overall it was quite a disjointed performance. Though hardly the end of the world, and despite being without several players who will make up our strongest side this season, namely Ireland and Tevez, i had hoped to see signs that we're likely to improve on our poor showings away from Eastlands over the last year - are we stronger defending set-pieces?, can we pass through sides without reverting back to type when pressured, playing backwards and hoofing the ball up to no-one?, and can we make breakthroughs when we're perhaps up against more physical sides? We didn't really do anything to answer any of these questions today, but with three more run-outs before the season opener at Blackburn, perhaps there's encouragement to come.

Team:
Given, Vidal (Ben Haim 15), Bridge, Dunne (Zabaleta 32), Onuoha (Weiss 75), De Jong, SWP, Barry, Bellamy, Adebayor, Petrov (Robinho 57)

24/07/2009

Friday mp3: The Futureheads

The Futureheads released their debut LP in 2004, one of a number of bands to emerge from the North-East of England around that time, other examples being Maximo Park, Kubichek! and This Aint Vegas, who were loosely termed part of the 'post punk revival', citing influences such as Devo, XTC and Gang of Four.

This is one of the early demos, and a b-side from their debut single, First Day. It's a great little track, just 99 seconds long, a bit more punky than their polished album material, and still a live favourite. All three records are solid, in my opinion, and they're still one of the best live bands i've seen.

MP3: The Futureheads - Piece of Crap
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23/07/2009

Ched & Big Fel follow Jo & Sturridge out of the door

To the disappointment of journalists and fans of other clubs up and down the country, two more strikers have left the club today, reducing our alleged options in that department to 900 or so. Ched Evans has joined Sheffield United in a deal that could eventually net the club £3m, and Ecuadorian workhorse Felipe Caicedo has signed for Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon on a one-year loan.

Both deals make sense to me. Evans has demonstrated his ability to score goals at Championship level, but never really looked Premier League quality when given the chance, though to be fair to him they were mainly from the bench. He'd have possibly been as low as 7th or 8th choice this season, so it's probably best for all parties for him to move on, as much as a youth team graduate leaving the club is always a disappointment. Saying that, the £3m we should get for him is a good price for a player who has only scored one goal for the senior side. I'd imagine this sort of figure might fund the Academy for a further year or two.

Caicedo's a player who i'm really quite unsure about. He certainly looked useful towards the end of last season, scoring several important goals, and really getting stuck in. He does seem to lack any sort of finesse, but he's certainly a handful, and a year ago we probably wouldn't have even been debating wether or not he was worth hanging onto, so fair play to him for knuckling down. Sometimes sides just need a proper centre-forward, a bit of a lump upfront, someone who can drag defenders about, smash them up a bit and generally unsettle tham. Caicedo looked like a player well capable of doing that, and were it not for us signing two proven targetman in recent weeks, i'd have been perfectly happy to see him stay at the club, probably as a useful option from the bench more than as an immediate starter.

So that's four strikers gone in as many weeks, admittedly for little return but i'm not sure that's really a concern nowadays. We still probably have one too many, and i expect The Boj might follow Ched & Felipe, which in one sense will be a shame, but sensible in another with his propensity to pick up serious knocks. He's a player i like, he appears to have a hunger, and a good deal of ability, but realistically he's sixth choice as things stand, so any cash offer would probably have to be considered. As for Benjani, well, i'll gladly carry him to whichever club wants him.

Our forward line does now at least appear to be looking both healthy and almost free of dead wood. Top sides, though we'd admit to not being one yet, but sure hope to be in the near future, need at least four. United, Chelsea and Arsenal all have five or six, so our options perhaps aren't as OTT in that department as people appear keen to make out. Clubs need two good players in each position, i expect Adebayor & Santa Cruz will vie for one slot, Tevez & Bellamy the other, with Robinho & SWP starting on each flank. If we stick with a three upfront, then the wingers simply push up and fight for those places either side of whoever's leading the line, with Nigel de Jong coming into a three-man midfield behind Barry & Ireland. Either way, i don't think a Premier League side having a few attacking options is really that newsworthy.

Good luck to Ched, i'm sure he'll do well at Sheffield United, and hopefully Felipe will return a better player in a year's time after gaining some valuable European experience.

22/07/2009

Keep Ned!

News reports indicate Everton are keen on pinching Nedum Onuoha to replace the probably City-bound Joleon Lescott. I'd hope Onuoha would be a player we'd hang on to, personally. He was excellent on coming into the team for the second half of last season, and did very little wrong at all. He's obviously an excellent professional, too, and as with most of the better academy graduates, i'd like to see him continue to get his chance. He has all the attributes needed to be a top centre-half, and though we almost certainly do need to strengthen in that area, i'd be more than happy for Ned to get games.

Since breaking into the first team squad Nedum has perhaps struggled with being able to fill in at a number of positions. We've seen him play quite a bit at right-back, even occasionally on the left, and whilst that's been handy, it's probably come at a cost for his progression. His main qualities in my opinion, are his sensible head, athleticism and strength. He rarely tries to overplay and is eager to put himself about. I think he'll go on to be at least as good as Lescott.

You could quite easily see us paying the £20m for Lescott and turning him into a donkey whilst Onuoha, who might command a third of that fee at best, could go to a club like Everton and flourish. Moyes has a track-record for turning unfashionable players into regular performers. Phil Jagielka was perhaps thought of as a bit of a risk at £4m, but now he's arguably the best English centre-half in the division barring Ferdinand & Terry. Lescott, a good player on arrival but injury-prone and completely untried at Premier League level having missed Wolves entire last campaign in the top flight, has also proved a snip, now a regular international and adept at centre-half or full-back against the very best in the country.

I don't think Everton would be any weaker with Onuoha in their side rather than Lescott, Moyes' man-management appears second to none. There are plenty of players in their squad who might not be too great technically, but they work hard for him, and the results follow. I'm not convinced that we'd see the same Lescott here as has come on so much at Goodison over the last three years. There's more to it than just bringing good players in, they must continue to be motivated and coached to the same levels as before.

With pretty much every defender on our books going backwards over the last year, i do have concerns about the defensive coaching methods Hughes and his team employ. Likewise with John Terry, he's looked like a great player for Chelsea and England because he's been playing alongside the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Ricardo Carvalho, but also under coaches who are good motivators and tacticians. I'm not convinced it's simply a case of bringing these guys in and assuming we'll suddenly transform into some sort of impenetrable and cohesive defensive unit.

While i do want to see Lescott arrive, i'd be against it if it meant using Nedum as a makeweight in any deal. I'd go as far as saying i see him as future captain material, and a possible England regular further down the line. He's a great example to young lads coming through the ranks, aswell, and someone who i'd imagine would be a positive influence around the place. If they're short of a centre-half, let them have Micah, Dunney or Ben Haim, even better, all three.

21/07/2009

Kaizer Chiefs 0 City 1

Our second game of this year's Vodacom Challenge resulted in a hard-fought challenge in Durban this evening. Fielding a stronger side than in Saturday's opener, including a debut for £12m signing Gareth Barry, City dictated the tempo of large parts of a game which could and probably should have resulted in both sides sharing a few more goals.

Lining up in a 4-5-1 formation with Felipe Caicedo leading the attack, Kelvin Etuhu & SWP on the flanks and a three-man midfield of Barry, Ireland & De Jong, we looked excellent until the break, with Barry in particular putting in a good showing. Pablo Zabaleta remained at right-back, Ben Mee kept his place, partnered by Ryan McGivern, and Wayne Bridge came in on the left, with Stuart Taylor again in goal.

The first 45 were exciting enough, and a huge improvement on the last performance, with both sides looking to gain advantage in what turned out to be an end-to-end half. Midfielder David Mathebula looked dangerous for the Chiefs, always eager to shoot from distance. SWP, who was kept quiet for most of the game by an excellent left-back in Masenamela, started brightly, with tigerish runs down either flank. A couple of set-pieces ensued, Barry finding McGivern from a free-kick, whose disappointing header failed to trouble the 'keeper.

Stevie Ireland had a great opportunity around the twenty-minute mark, some good work by Wayne Bridge, beating two or three players on a mazy run through the middle of the park, and looping a long ball to Ireland, who had a shot saved when he could've perhaps pulled a ball back for the advancing Caicedo & Etuhu. Gareth Barry, who had a really strong half, had a couple of chances himself, collecting a ball from Etuhu on the left, cutting in and testing the goalie with a low right-footed shot, before going close with a similar effort shortly after.

The South Africans looked lively, too, especially down their left, giving Zab a bit of a rough time without ever creating many clear-cut chances, Mathebula forcing a parry from Taylor the only real danger moment. Bridge, Barry and Ireland continued to link up well, all eager for the ball, Bridge with a long effort just wide after an indirect free-kick. In injury time we got the breakthrough, Etuhu, now on the right, managed to get free, cutting into the box before laying back for Ireland to slide home from around three yards.

At half-time Benjani and Petrov replaced Caicedo (who hadn't really done a lot besides be offside a bit and pick up a booking for kicking the ball away) and the scorer, Ireland. SWP seemed to move into a more advanced central role, with Etuhu replacing him on the right. The changes seemed to have an effect on the tempo of our play, and the second half never really got going. The Chiefs still looked dangerous during sporadic attacks, Barry picked up a booking for a shirt-pull, before being replaced by Javan Vidal, with Zab moving into midfield again, where he looked much more comfortable.

Martin Petrov began to stretch the opposition after the hour mark, skinning his full-back on two or three occasions and getting in good crosses, but with hardly any presence upfront they didn't come to much. Garrido replaced the impressive Bridge with around twenty minutes to go, Motaung missed a superb opportunity from all of two yards after some great work from Nengomasha, Weiss replaced SWP late on, Etuhu looked quite lively but somehow managed to miss an open goal in the last minute, and Benjani hobbled off with what looked like a thigh or groin strain with seconds remaining, and after doing absolutely sod all for the whole half.

Overall, it was a fairly decent performance. The two youngsters at centre-half were solid, though not really tested too much, Bridge had his best game since his debut, Barry showed some great touches and a real engine, passing well and forging chances, De Jong was solid, Ireland had a good half & Etuhu showed signs of promise that we've not seen previously. These games are, of course, primarily fitness workouts, and we were certainly made to work hard by a very athletic and quick Kaizer side whose lack of a decent striker probably cost them a draw. Their previously-mentioned left-back Masenamela really was superb, and several others, including their right-back, and Mathebula might be players we should keep an eye on.

Team:
Taylor, Zabaleta, Bridge (Garrido 71), Mee, McGivern, De Jong, Ireland (Petrov 45), Barry (Vidal 63), Wright-Phillips (Weiss 81), Caicedo (Benjani 45 [Bojinov 90]), Etuhu

20/07/2009

City XI (89-09): Wingers

The choice for the right-wing position, as you might expect, came down to two exciting youth team graduates from different decades. Both emerged during difficult times, both became huge crowd favourites, and both ended up seeing moves to rival Premier League clubs not quite work out.

David White, a member of the successful 1986 Youth Cup side, was equally at home on the right flank or upfront. Tall and strong but fast as a whippet, he was lethal on the shoulder of centre-halves, and with his pin-point crossing as dangerous on the wing, forming a good understanding with Niall Quinn. He was, of course, one of three players to grab hat-tricks in the infamous 10-1 drubbing of Huddersfield in '87. He also scored 50 goals over three seasons at the start of the nineties, including a four-goal brace at Villa Park.

The only other real contender for this position was Shaun Wright-Phillips, undoubtedly the fans darling of this last decade. Another to come through the ranks, he was and still is a peculiar player to watch; pace to burn, tremendous balance, control that at times looks almost accidental, and a waspish tenacity that must frustrate the hell out of full-backs. If only his crossing was as good as White's.

As for the left, well that one was a little more tricky. I ended up with a shortlist of four, all terrific to watch in their own right; Peter Beagrie, Mark Kennedy, Martin Petrov & Robinho.

Beagrie was a real showman, too much so sometimes, turning defenders inside-out before going back for a second serving rather than whipping in a ball. Signed from Everton in 1994 for £1.1m after they'd brought in Anders Limpar from Arsenal, the fans quickly took to him. Sadly Beags' time here was blighted by injury, managing only six appearances in his last two years. During the 94/95 season under Horton, though, he was excellent as we played some brilliant stuff but somehow contrived to finish in a disappointing 17th. On his day, Beagrie was a super player, a proper 'chalk on his boots' winger with great close control and the ability to make defenders look very silly.

Another who had obvious talent but whose time here was brief was Mark Kennedy. He perhaps didn't have the grace on the ball and balance of a Beagrie, but he did posess an absolute hammer of a left foot and played a pivotal role during the 99/00 promotion season. He was maybe another who couldn't quite take his form into the Premier League, but there's little doubting the lad was good to watch.

More recently, Martin Petrov, a player who when focused can make a mug out of any right-back, but who when off the boil can be terribly frustrating to watch. Him missing large parts of last season through injury was a big blow, but he was tremendous during his first year. His main assets are undoubtedly his acceleration and overall pace. Whenever he gets the ball he's always looking to give and go, and over a few yards there aren't many who will have a chance of catching him. Well capable of accurate crossing, aswell, we've probably not made the most of his talents in this respect, and the additions of Santa Cruz & Adebayor may help, if he gets the games that it.

The man most likely to keep him out of the side is record buy Robinho, whose good first season in England seems to somehow have been judged a hugely disappointing one by fans of other clubs. We wouldn't deny that he was generally awful away from home, like we wouldn't deny we were probably not his first choice, but to average a goal every other game during your first year in a new, more physical league, i'd say that's pretty good. I'm not sure how much more people could expect of him, but they seem to think he should be spending most of the game tracking back, he shouldn't, he's an attacker, his job's to attack. Yes, his mannerisms are sometimes a bit off, or he might go missing when sides are giving him a kicking, but that's par for the course, he's a supremely-talented South American winger/forward, not a rough and ready, numbnut centre-half. What i do know is that he's a unique talent, and what he lacks physically he makes up for with skill, pace, a great footballing brain and the ability to make a goal from nothing.

Picks: David White & Robinho

19/07/2009

Pushing our luck over Terry?

The biggest transfer rumour of the summer, and one which sounds like it will run and run for some time yet, has been our pursuit of Chelsea and England captain John Terry. Despite us repeatedly expressing our interest and bidding at least twice so far, and Chelsea's perhaps naive insistence that the player is not for sale at any price, it seems we're no nearer to a decision either way than we were a week ago, or two, or three.

The player's continued silence on the matter would indicate his intention to pressure the Chelsea hierarchy in some way, be that for a transfer here or not isn't known, but it's certain that Terry could have put all tales to bed on a number of occasions, but has chosen to keep his lips well and truly sealed, to the point that we've now heard opinions on the matter from pretty much every current registered Chelsea professional, any former player with the vaguest link to the club, and a number of board-level suits, not least frequent denials from no-necked motormouth and gardening leave enthusiast Peter Kenyon.

Terry, it would seem, quite fancies the move, and a new improved bid should make its way to Stamford Bridge sooner rather than later. As a City fan, i want us to have the best side possible, we all do, it goes without saying, but i do feel a slight unease at what to me looks like a pretty blatant case of tapping up. It goes on, we'd be deluded to deny that much, it's always been a part of the game, even from the very early days, and i expect it's something that goes on in lots of walks of life, but that's not to say it should be encouraged.

With our new-found wealth and all that comes with it, we will inevitably earn our fair share of knockers. Fans of rival Premier League clubs have suddenly gone from 'having a soft spot for City', mainly because they were guaranteed four points from us a season, to pouring with jealousy at our ability to sign players who might not've considered coming here a year ago. You'll meet the odd one who puts forward a well-reasoned argument, and i'm sure that in our heart of hearts we can appreciate that were it not us, we might have objections ourselves, but generally it's just idiots so quickly keen to remind us that we're 'a small club', 'have no history', and 'will be goosed once the oilmen get bored and do one'.

The media, too, although they seem slowly to be turning round to goings-on, probably eager to get on the gravytrain, are quick to point out that heavy investment in players is 'obscene' or 'absurd', and that Hughes, despite constant backing from the board, is under unfathomable pressure. Cook, trying to be proactive, is 'naive', 'not a football man', 'another ego'. Basically, we're an easy headline, and everyone is waiting for us to fall flat on our faces in 'typical Citeh' fashion.

It's with this in mind then that i think we need to try and do things as by the book as possible, earning ourselves as little criticism as we can, and alienating as few along the way as we can manage. Hughes using the press to force a move for Terry, speaking of other club's players knowing full well that no bid's been accepted, didn't really sit well with me. I want Terry here, but i think we should adhere to ethics that we'd expect of others, and not sink to the levels of say, Harry Redknapp, the sour old fool over the road, or, funnily enough, Chelsea themselves.

Don't get me wrong, Chelsea deserve all they get. They've bullied their way through the transfer market for years, and it is funny that they should be getting a taste of their own medicine, but i'd like to think that a couple of years down the line, we won't be as universally loathed as they are. They have, of course, been quite successful, and teams who are tend to attract critics, but i'm not sure why the two must go hand in hand.

The signing of Terry would be hugely significant, you get the feeling that it's key if we want to make real progress. Firstly, he's a top defender, we've not got too many of those. He brings a wealth of experience, aswell, and leadership skills that we're severely lacking. Despite all this, i'd rather we did things as ethically as possible. If we repeatedly bid for the player and are told he's not for sale, be it Terry, Lescott, or anyone else, then we should turn our attentions elsewhere rather than bullishly pressing ahead anyway, the club almost certainly having been made aware that the players mentioned would like to see the figures on offer.

I guess football's just a case of big and little fish, a foodchain, but we should remember that until very recently it was us on the other end of things, vulnerable to our better players being fancied by the great and the not so good. If we must syphon other clubs best players, then i'd rather we did it with those days in mind, because people's lack of sympathy for Chelsea over this particular transfer is similar to sentiments we might meet at some point down the line.

18/07/2009

Orlando Pirates 2 City 0

The club got their pre-season underway this afternoon with a lethargic defeat in the opening match of the Vodacom Challenge in Polokwane. An experimental side, including new backup goalkeeper Stuart Taylor, youth team captain Ben Mee, and promising winger Vladimir Weiss, huffed and puffed without ever really threatening to score.

Sadly for fans, technical difficulties robbed us of the first half-hour or so, pictures finally coming through shortly after the Pirates had taken the lead with a 36th-minute Lucas Thwala penalty. City, playing a straightforward 4-4-2 with Petrov & Weiss wide, Craig Bellamy & Valeri Bojnov upfront and with the returning Michael Johnson partnering Stevie Ireland in the middle, did up the ante, Johnson spraying passes upfield to utilise the pace of Bellamy, whose hard work nearly paid off shortly after the opener, cutting in from the left and laying off for Bojinov who forced a good save from the 'keeper with a powerful half-volley.

Before the break, having just seen Craig Bellamy booked for bad language, we worked another good move down our left, Garrido overlapping Petrov, whipping in a good cross only for the Boj to head wide from all of three yards. Boj followed Bellamy into the book soon after.

Changes were made at half-time, Johnson making way for Javan Vidal, who slotted in at right-back, with Pablo Zabaleta moving forward into a central midfield role, and Benjani replacing Bellamy. It didn't really alter much, we still had enough possession without anything really clicking in the final third. Petrov saw plenty of the ball without any end product, several crosses and a couple of free-kicks which came to nothing, one blazed well over, another straight at the goalkeeper. Weiss looked a bit more likely to create something, especially when sticking to the right, and gave their full-back a run for his money.

In the 55th minute Orlando went 2-0 up, a freak goal, really, and one that Taylor could've done little about. From around thirty yards from goal their left-winger, Mongala, looped a ball into the net with what seemed neither a short nor a cross. The game was pretty much over then, but i'm not sure Given or anyone else would've had a better chance of keeping it out, and Taylor did go on to make a couple of good saves afterwards.

With twenty minutes to go City made a double change, Caicedo and de Jong replacing Bojinov and Ireland. We did seem to slightly improve on going two down, but little exciting happened. Benjani worked hard, to be fair to him, didn't stop running, but he couldn't get on the end of anything. He was always looking for the ball, though, and dragging defenders out wide, so if we're looking for straws to clutch at we could call that a plus, i suppose, not that i think he's good enough to win his place back. The Pirates could and should've gone three up late on, hitting the post with only Taylor to beat before Ben Haim's robust challenge prevented them scoring from the rebound.

Quite a deflating performance then, but we need to bear in mind that this was only our second game of the summer, and the side was largely reserves and academy players. Encouraging to see Johnno back, though, and Weiss looked tricky. Those things aside, there wasn't too much to write home about.

Team:
Taylor, Zabaleta, Garrido, Mee, Ben Haim, Johnson (Vidal 45) , Weiss, Ireland (de Jong 62), Bojinov (Caicedo 62), Bellamy (Benjani 45) , Petrov

17/07/2009

Friday mp3: Video Nasties

Video Nasties aren't prolific by any means, a single and two EP's over three years between demo and the eventual release of their first album. It's odd that such an obviously-talented band should be able to mull around for so long, struggling to find a label, finally releasing the record themselves. Their back-catalogue's terrific for such a new band, three good LP's worth of tracks, easy.

They'll inevitably be compared to The Strokes, and it's fair cop, i suppose, they do sound alike, only the Video Nasties are probably a better, more balls-out, garagey, British version. I'd certainly recommend the new record, On All Fours, it's solid. Also, if you can find one, the Karl Blau EP's probably the best thing they've done to date.

MP3: Video Nasties - Gobi
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16/07/2009

City XI (89-09): Central Midfield

Undoubtedly the hardest part of trying to put together any City side of recent times will be choosing those for the middle of the park. From the dross that's filled our squad for years and years has emerged the odd jewel, the player with that extra something, the rare talent that has fans on the edge of their seat, ours in recent times tending to be supremely-talented but in someway flawed midfield playmakers.

The most obvious pick for anyone who's supported City over the the last decade or so would be a nimble Georgian fella signed from Dinamo Tiblisi for the princely sum of £2m in the summer of 1995. Kinkladze, as no-one will need telling, was a genius, it's as simple as that. Whether he was right for us at that particular time has never really clouded my opinion of him as a player, he was a unique talent, almost certainly the most natural i've seen, at City or anywhere else. In a way it sums up both player and club that the undoubted fan's idol of the last quarter of a century would end his career without a major trophy, never having played in a World Cup, and whose three seasons at his peak resulted in the side being relegated twice.

Gio had everything you'd want a playmaker to have; unbelievable ball control, world-class skill, an unrivaled eye for a pass, tremendous balance and acceleration, plus a hammer of a left peg. At times he seemed to be quicker with the ball than without it, and to this day i've not seen a footballer capable of putting players on their backsides repeatedly simply by dropping a shoulder. It shouldn't be forgotten that Kinkladze only played one season at the highest level for us, in which we were relegated and he only scored four times, but he was a breathtaking footballer.

My gut instinct was to pick Ali Benarbia alongside Kinky. He was another player with absolutely sublime ability on the ball and who really added another dimension to the side during the promotion season. Sadly he couldn't have as much of an impact in the Premier League, and it's always irked me that we signed him so late in his career. He was superb in his first year, though, a tremendous footballing brain, he seemed to see runs before players were even aware they were going to make them. Arriving a few weeks into the season, he slotted into the side with consummate ease, proved the catalyst during a remarkable run of high-scoring games, and had won the fans over almost instantly.

Instead of Bernarbia, however, i've plumped for current fan favourite Stevie Ireland. It'll be interesting to see if Ireland can maintain his terrific form of last season, but there's no doubting that he's an extremely bright talent. Whilst not perhaps having the skill of those previously mentioned, he has a much better overall engine, and i'd say he's probably the most complete midfielder i've seen at the club. His biggest asset appears to be his fitness, coupled with a terrific pair of lungs. People will often talk about how Colin Bell could make up tens of yards in seconds, and seemingly without breaking sweat. Whilst Ireland's got a long way to go to be considered in Bell's league, he's demonstrated that he at least has a comparable motor (not least with two or three goals last year in which he must've ran half the length of the pitch) and is fast turning into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the country.

I'd probably be doing Stevie a disservice if i didn't go into the other facets of his game. He's a very tidy footballer who can do both the simple and difficult well. He seems to always know where other players are, but also when to use play the easy ball. He's got terrific movement, drifts deep, wide, and into advanced positions, leaving teams unsure of who should be picking him up, and he's got an eye for goal, too. He could go on to be a superb player, we'd have been goosed without him, he's really stepped up to the plate and made himself undroppable. Although he always looked like a decent prospect, none of us could've predicted just how much he'd come on.

Making up a three-man midfield is Kevin Horlock, always a favourite of mine, and at £1.25m one of the best pieces of business we've done in recent times. Horlock, whether deployed in an advanced or more defensive role, always put in a shift. He could mix it with most, and was never afraid to put his foot in, but at the same time was quite a cultured player, competent in possession, a good passer, looking to get forward at any chance and deadly from set-pieces. He was a menace, but one with a sweet left foot and a real eye for goal. Another whose best days were at a lower level, but still, a very good footballer.

Two players who i think deserve honourable mentions are Eyal Berkovic and Joey Barton. Eyal only started just north of fifty games for the club, but he was a real key player for us during Keegan's first year, and another who seemed to have all the time in the world when in possession of the ball. The football that season with the two playmakers was the best i've seen in my time supporting the club, both were effortless, Berkovic in particular had this ability to draw defenders towards him and spotting late unlocking passes that sides rarely anticipated. I always thought he was a player who with more dedication could have been one of the very best, right from his initial loan spell at Southampton.

Barton, well, it's hard to show any sort of support for the boy now, chance after chance thrown back into the faces of those who pay him very handsomely. For a time, though, he was our best player and we relied on him immensely. During his final two seasons here especially it felt like he was the only one in the side with the urgency and will to influence games. The football under Pearce was notoriously drab (not all the manager's fault, it must be added) and the side rudderless, 72 goals over two seasons, with strikers who couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with a banjo. Joey, for all his faults, and we'd be here all night if we tried to list them, had the fire in his belly, and the dozen goals he scored during that time, not forgetting those he played a part in, kept us in the division.

Picks: Gio Kinkladze, Kevin Horlock, Stevie Ireland

15/07/2009

Look Back: Burnley 0 City 6, Division 2, 09/03/99

With a dozen games left of what turned out to be a promotion campaign, City sat well off the top; double-figures behind Preston & Ray Graydon's Walsall, and almost twenty behind runaway leaders Fulham. Eventual Halsey-victims Gillingham, and Bournemouth sat inbetween, and five sides, including future Premier League trio Stoke, Wigan and Reading were waiting for us to slip up in the hope of grabbing a Play-Off place.

Burnley were struggling, floating just above the relegation zone, a point ahead of Lincoln City and near-neighbours Oldham. Ternent's side had also been in shocking form coming into this Tuesday evening derby, winning two of their previous fourteen, only eight all season and having been hit for five in their previous home fixture. Our form had generally been good, picking up three points most weeks, the odd goalless draw at Maine Road aside, as a number of teams came to our place and successfully parked the bus infront of goal.

City, Cricket Field Stand full of Blues behind us, had the best of the game from the off, and took the lead just before the quarter hour. Andy Morrison getting his head onto a Burnley long-ball, United loanee Terry Cooke (a key player in that run-in, it must be said) crossing for Super Kevin Horlock to drill a left-foot finish past the Burnley 'keeper's far side from around the penalty spot. Shortly before half-time we'd doubled our advantage. Cooke again playing a pivotal role, whipping in a corner at pace right onto the noggin of Morrison on the edge of the six-yard box, who smashed home a header into Crichton's top corner for a two-goal lead going into the break.

The second period belonged to a certain Bermudan, who despite being the most unorthodox striker you might ever see, managed to bag twenty goals this particular season, ditto the next, and win pretty much every one of us over. Five minutes after the interval, Goater got on the scoresheet, Nicky Weaver hoofing the ball upfield, Gareth Taylor heading on and a cracking finish from Shuan, under the goalie's body from outside of the box.

Within fifteen minutes he'd won the matchball, tapping in from a Taylor cross ten minutes after his first, and wrapping up his hattrick shortly later, finishing off a greatly-worked move, starting with a Burnley throw in our half, Taylor whipping the ball out to Cooke on the right-wing via a dummy (intentional for once) from the Goat, who then made up a third of the pitch to make it 0-5, initially miskicking before ramming home from a yard. Danny Allsopp completed the rout with a late tap-in.

We'd of course follow this win up with a sloppy home defeat, this time to Oldham, but would go on to not lose again for the remainder of the season, culminating in a trip to Wembley. Burnley themselves would hit form, the following week's home defeat by Preston the last they suffered, finishing well clear of the drop-zone before going on to be promoted the following season.

14/07/2009

Carlito signs!

No guessing what today's big story has been; Carlos Tevez, his move here finally signed and sealed after weeks of speculation. The player and his agent were met outside the stadium by crowds of fans and a bit of an unnecessary hug from Garry Cook, after arriving fashionably late this afternoon following a medical. It's taken a while, in part down to the complexities involved when dealing with third-party agreements, but it's been well worth the wait. He's somebody who i expect will give the whole club a lift.

It's a huge signing, perhaps as big as Robinho, and another real statement of intent. Assuming we do go on to sign Emmanuel Adebayor, aswell, we'd have five very good Premier League forwards, and an array of options for the new season. Tevez has proven himself to be good enough during his two years at Old Trafford, only an idiot would deny that, almost a goal every other start, scoring only one less goal than fan's darling/idiotboy Wayne Rooney during that time.

Carlos will wear his favoured No32 shirt at City, and has inked a five year deal.

13/07/2009

Adebayor talks underway!

Reports today have the club in talks with Arsenal over temperamental Togan striker Emmanuel Adebayor. He's obviously a good player, despite what the odd sour Arsenal fan might tell you, his goal record speaks for itself. I'm not sure he's the most obvious target, us having just signed Roque Santa Cruz, but he'd no doubt improve our already strong attacking options.

He's always seemed a player who splits the Arsenal support, and i can see why. He has all the attributes needed to be one of the best strikers around; he's strong, quick, good in the air and with the ball at his feet and can finish. During 2007/08 he looked immense, thirty goals as Arsenal looked well on course for title and Champions League glory before blowing both. This last year, however, he's looked unbothered, lethargic, and having talked of a possible departure, certain elements of the Arsenal support have turned on him. He still averaged better than a goal every other start, it must be added.

What we pay for him, assuming the player's interested, of course, is largely irrelevant, but i'd hope it wouldn't be something absurd. This is a lad who was being linked with £30m-£35m moves away this time last year, so he's not going to come cheap, but anything over £20m and i'd be having my doubts. I think that price would be a good deal for the selling club, who i believe paid £3m for him, but their fans seem to point out he's worth a huge fee whilst assuring us that he's bobbins, they should make their minds up.

There's no doubt that we needed options upfront, a targetman at least. We did quite well in an attacking sense last season, over eighty goals, but more of a cumulative effort than the forwards themselves doing too great, Robinho being the only one to threaten double figures. We still lacked a physicality upfront, an aerial presence, especially away from home. We need strikers who can both lead the line and score goals, and more than one in each position, and he's someone who definitely can. Adebayor, Santa Cruz, Tevez, Robinho & Bellamy would be a terrific set of strikers to choose from. Plus there's still the other half-dozen numpties we've yet to get rid of!

12/07/2009

Interview: Jimmy Wagg

You started supporting the club in the early sixties. Do you have any memories of the title-winning season, or the other successes of that period?
The title-winning season was fantastic. The football was brilliant and it all happened so quickly. I remember being on the Kippax for the 'ballet on ice'. Barely remember a kick of the game, but the feeling on the terraces was amazing. We knew we were watching something special. Went to the League Cup Final in 1970. The pitch was a dog, but it was my first trip to Wembley so it was still special.

In your many years supporting the club, no doubt there will be many to pick from, but what would you say was the lowest low in that time, and to be most positive, the greatest moment?
Winning the title was the highlight. We also had a couple of great road trips in the '81 FA Cup run - Peterborough and Villa Park. Lowlights would be the Colin Bell injury against United, and losing to Luton in '83.

What are your abiding memories of the nineties now? As stupid as it might sound it’s a time I look back on quite fondly, despite the obvious disappointments. I think that decade sums up the club more than any other…
Covering City for radio in the 90's was never dull. I hope it doesn't sound twee, but I've got real respect for younger fans who supported City through those years. As we were making a pig's ear of it, United were winning everything. Unlike older supporters the younger fans didn't even have happy memories to draw on. The highlight for me was watching Kinkladze. One of those players who split opinion. One former City manager described him as a 'circus act', Ken Barnes says he was the real thing and Ken is a pretty fair judge.

We’ve been at Eastlands for six seasons now, no doubt it’s a great stadium, and that the club had to move, but Maine Road was Maine Road. Does it feel like home yet for you?
No. Eastlands won't feel like home till we acquire a few great memories to go with such a magnificent venue.

If you were given the choice of us winning a cup or breaking into the top four, which would you prefer, and why?
I'd take either, but in the short term I'd take the FA Cup or League Cup for the lift it would be for everyone, and to get the club back in the record books. Ultimately, though, we'll be judged by our performances in the Premier League.

With the signings that have arrived, or sound on their way, where do you think we ought to be looking to finish next season? The chairman says top six is the target, would that represent good enough progress for the money spent?
Top six would be progress, but football is an impatient business, so I think it would need to be top six but not twenty points adrift of the top four.

The owners have been here for coming up to a year. What are your impressions so far, and what are your opinions on foreign owners in general?
So far so good. I'm always a bit wary when I read stories of two acquisition lists - the manager's and the owner's, but I suppose those stories come with the territory. As for foreign ownership, it's part of the evolution of the game. It's a worldwide market now and it needs the sort of money which is more readily available, say, in the Middle East than in Middleton. I suppose, like most fans, I want to have my cake and eat it. I want foreign investment as long as they understand the Mancunian soul of the club.

Mark Hughes seemed to split the supporters initially, with his Big Red connections and last year's indifferent form, but towards the end of the season seemed to really win the doubters over. Do you think he's the man for the job, and given the fact that we were going to need someone to come in at some point and pretty much rebuild the football side of the club from top to bottom, which he seems to be doing, how do you think he's got on so far?
I've never been bothered about the United connection - Matt Busby did a pretty fair job going the other way. Think he's done okay so far. No idea if he will take City to the top of the football tree, but I do know we won't find out if we sack him after a season.

One of the highlights of the last few years has been the kids coming through the Academy ranks, and the good work of Jim Cassell and his team in general. Stevie Ireland, Micah, Johnno and others got their chance because we were short of options. With the new investment it’s probable that the next group might not. Is this just something that should be expected, or do you see the Academy remaining an integral part of the club?
I hope the Academy is part of the future. The connection between fans and homegrown players is special, but the bar has been raised and I think we will see fewer coming through. You don't need to give young talent time to develop if you can go out and spend.

Garry Cook recently alluded to the new owners wanting to change the ‘defeatist attitude’ at the club. Of course, that comes primarily by the side doing the business, but do you think some of our supporters are ready for the possibility of us being decent one day? It seems like most will always find something to moan about, as you’ll well know from the phone-ins…
Fans will always find something to moan about, but I think the cynical, self deprecating attitude we have as City fans is more a self defence thing - get your Don in first. City fans are ready for glory. I wouldn't mind another taste myself!

If City could sign any player in the world now, who would you most like to see here? Similarly, which player of all time would you most liked us to have signed and why?
Iniesta, for me. The ever question is harder. One of my favourite ever players was Denis Law. I know we had him twice, but I would have liked the 14 years in the middle as well!

To end, would you be so kind as to tell us your all-time City XI?
Trautmann, Book, Booth, Watson, Pardoe, Summerbee, Bell, Hartford, Barnes, Lee & Law (I've only picked players I've seen, so apologies to to Ken Barnes. Bobby Johnstone, Roy Paul etc).

11/07/2009

1860 Munich 1 City 1

City got their pre-season preparations underway yesterday with a draw in Rotach-Ergen. The game saw us field an experimental side including several academy players, including right-back Kieran Tripper, man-mountain Clayton McDonald at centre-half alongside Ben Mee, and winger Vladimir Weiss. Stevie Ireland captained the team, Stuart Taylor made his debut in goal and Bulgarian duo Valeri Bojinov and Martin Petrov both started. The players who took part in the Confederations Cup or Under-21 Finals were excused, including the ill Micah Richards.

The game itself was announced as a 'low key' friendly by the club, but around 3,000 fans still packed into the picturesque Miesbach venue to watch. 1860 took the lead a few minutes before half-time, Alexander Ludwig scoring a free-kick after Zabaleta had brought a player down outside the box. Bojinov, looking leaner according to reports, equalised with a half-volley on the hour after good work from Weiss, who several reports agree had a very good game. Donal McDermott, Javan Vidal, Paul Marshall & Shaleum Logan all played a part in the second half.

Team:
Taylor, Trippier, McGivern, McDonald, Mee, Weiss, Zabaleta, Clayton, Petrov, Ireland, Bojinov
Subs: McDermott, Vidal, Marshall, Logan , Benjani

10/07/2009

Friday mp3: The Wedding Present

You'll probably be aware of The Wedding Present. From Leeds, sort of Gang of Four-style guitary legends. They've been going for almost 25 years now, releasing nearly forty singles, eight records, and a dozen or so compilations.

'Crushed' is from their second album, Bizarro. It's hard to believe it's nearly twenty years old. Their first three records, released between '87 and '91 are timeless, and the Tommy compilation's pretty decent, too.

MP3: The Wedding Present - Crushed
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09/07/2009

Decision time for Terry & Eto'o

Things appear like they might be being settled one way or the other regards the protracted signings of Chelsea captain John Terry and Barca forward Samuel Eto'o. Terry is said to have had a meeting with new Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti yesterday, and is expected to hold further talks with Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum at the club's Cobham training ground today. Eto'o, again allegedly, i must add, has been given an ultimatum by the club in an effort to speed up his move from Barcelona.

Of course, we don't know how much of either of these stories are true, but that doesn't really change the fact that both players will be well aware of the option of them coming here, and will both have to have some sort of explanation for their clubs on their return to training. Eto'o, according to the most recent reports from Spain, is certain to leave, but Barca will no doubt rather he hurried up with it so they can press ahead with bids for a replacement, probably Valencia's David Villa or Atletico Madrid's Diego Forlan. Chelsea, though, as much as large parts of this whole debacle have been nothing more than scurrilous rumour, will surely want some sort of indication from the player that he sees his future at Stamford Bridge.

Terry, in truth, has given no hint at all that he either wants out of Chelsea or to come here, we're simply dealing with tabloid gossip and 'in the know' rumour. The most interesting part of events, however, remains the silence from player and agent. It by no means gives us cause to believe he's on his way, he could simply be holding out for increased terms where he is, or not see the move as a possibility and so doesn't think it warrants any further denial than the one Chelsea issued end of last week. Either way, Chelsea will want it cleared up going into the new season, and we'll probably need to know what our chances are of turning him before pressing ahead with the Lescott transfer.

The offer for Eto'o is obviously much more transparent, he wants out, we want him, we've met the bid, the player has heard the terms. I've suspected for some time since that he might be prolonging the whole affair in the hope that he gets a better offer, perhaps from a top four English side or one of the Milan clubs. I wouldn't rule out the prospect of him turning up over the road.

In both cases the players have to decide whether they're going to accept the deals on offer and risk the wrath of idiots throughout the footballing world, their crime, potentially playing for a club with aims of a spot at the big table rather than one already well comfy in its seat. Yes, we're not in Europe, and we are a bit rubbish, but it's not as black and white as money versus glory. The outrageous contracts on offer obviously play a part, but i'm not sure players really deserve the bashings they get for seeing City as an attractive prospect beyond the figures. If we did manage to sign Eto'o & Terry we'd have at least a slim chance of achieving a top four finish, in my opinion. There are no guarantees, of course, but it's hardly like they're swapping the Globetrotters for Halifax Town, just very good European sides for a club who might be challenging either in a year or so.

I hope both sign. We're talking preposterous fees and salaries, of course we are, over £60m plus an alleged £13m each per year. The potential deal for Eto'o could actually make a lot of sense for the player, in the sense that no-one else really seems to be in for him. I'm sure plenty would want him, but none have actually put their money where their mouths are. Him moving here could simply be a case of the only offer he has besides staying at a club whose manager doesn't seem to really fancy him. Terry, will, in all likelihood, have to deal one almighty kick to the groin of Chelsea's support to come, would he do that, would Chelsea be seen to accept a deal without him doing, i doubt it, but we'll see. Whatever pans out, we should know how likely either are to be plying their trade here within the next two or three days.

08/07/2009

City XI (89-09): Defence

Picking standout City defenders of the last couple of decades has proved unsurprisingly difficult given the garbage that we've filled our back four with season after season. With that in mind i've had to consider those who simply served the club well, became cult heroes, or in the odd case, actually defended a bit. Being short of options, and with a wealth of players to consider for midfield, i had little option than to go three at the back.

The first name that came to mind, though he left the club in unfortunate circumstances, was Sylvain Distin. During his five seasons here he proved to be the most competent defender i've seen at the club, even making Dunney look good. He was, indeed still is, a very composed defender; quick, strong, comfortable on the ball, and an extremely good reader of the game. Like many, i expect, i was extremely disappointed to see him move on, and to Portsmouth especially. I still think he's one of the better centre-halves in the country and would serve anyone well, even bigger clubs. He seemed to slot right in when he came here, and for two of his five seasons him and Dunney were probably as good a partnership as any in England. I'm probably in a minority of fans who would have him back, i don't see him as any lesser a player than Joleon Lescott, who we sound like we're on the verge of a big-money move for.

Alongside him i've gone for Andy Morrison. I was surprised to find out that Andy only played for the club on 48 occasions, i'd assumed he'd appeared much more. There's no doubting the impact he had, though. When signing from Huddersfield on loan in winter '98 we'd been on a very bad run after starting the season relatively well, only managing to win one of ten games before Joe Royle brought in reinforcements in the shape of Andy and Michael Branch. Morrison's signing impacted on the squad in several ways; he was a very good defender for that level, brought leadership qualities we were previously lacking, and also chipped in with the odd goal that year, including strikes in his first two games. We were all well aware that he wasn't the most technical of sorts, but as fans you occasionally just want to see the sort of passionate no-nonsense approach that Morrison certainly brought. He picked up a few bookings, sure. He wasn't afraid to give the odd opposition player a kick up the arse, what's wrong with that? Football needs more Andy Morrisons, infact, we could do with one now. It should be noted that Morrison, after picking up a couple of serious injuries, only ever represented the club three times at Premier League level, but his impact on the club on arrival cannot be underestimated. I don't think we'd have made the Play-Offs that year had he not signed.

Making up the three-man defence is Gerard Wiekens. There weren't many candidates, in all honesty, but his consistency earnt him the spot. He seemed like a great professional, too, hard-working, no problems for the club in any way shape or form, your Mr Dependable. Like Morrison, he was by no means a top player, but he was a calming influence around a time when most were losing their heads, indeed we were relegated or promoted in each of his five season's in the first-team.

I guess you'd have to mention Ian Brightwell and Richard Dunne, both great servants to the club, amassing over 700 appearances between them. Brightwell, sixteen years at the club in total and a member of the successful '86 Youth Cup-winning side, allegedly played in every outfield position for the club, and his 'wellied' strike at Old Trafford will live long in the memory. Dunne, well, for all his faults he was capable of defending very well on his day. He lacked pace, made a few howlers, at times frustrated the hell out of us, yeah, but let's not forget the player on the verge of being sacked under Kevin Keegan, who knuckled down, got himself in shape, captained the club for three seasons and won four successive Player of the Year awards.

Finally, a more sentimantal nomination, Danny Tiatto. Six seasons at the club following a £300k move in 1998, Tiatto embodied the frustrations of the souls on the terraces like few others. Frequently carded (6 reds and 36 yellows in just over 100 starts), never afraid to put his foot in, bit of a nutter, handy enough going forward. Nearly snapping David Dunn did for him in the end, but for a while he was a valuable member of the side, particularly during the 01/02 promotion season.

Picks: Gerard Wiekens, Andy Morrison, Sylvain Distin

07/07/2009

City XI (89-09): Goalkeeper

My earliest memories of Manchester City come from the 89-90 season. In the twenty years since we've largely been bobbins, it doesn't need me to say; three relegations, twelve managers, five chairmen, tens of millions of pounds splodged on mediocre signings, no silverware, a paltry two top-six top-flight finishes and more disappointments than you'd wish on your worst enemy.

In those two decades, though, the years of mis-management, all the headless chickens and the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory time after time aside, there have been a few diamonds, not many, but some nonetheless. Sadly, for every Kinkladze we've signed a dozen Creaney's, Charvet's or Frontzeck's, but ignoring the donkeys for now, i'm going to try and put together the strongest side i've seen at the club in that time...

I guess we've been quite lucky at City to have had a number of top 'keepers down the years. Whilst the candidates during my time watching the club might not stand up to the legends of previous era's, like Trautmann & Corrigan, we've had several terrific and solid incumbents, and good job, too.

The first goalie who stood out, for me, was Tony Coton. He appeared to be a huge figure of a man at the time, he seemed as big as the goal, and with hands like dustbin lids. Having arrived for a fee just shy of the record for a 'keeper, if my memory serves me right, TC soon became a huge crowd favourite, winning Player of the Year twice. Somehow Coton never got to appear for England, being kept out of the squad by then shoe-ins Peter Shilton, Chris Woods, and later, David Seaman, though for my money Coton was a match for any of them. I always remember being supremely confident with him in goal, even during his last couple of seasons when, after Peter Reid's departure, we became blatantly crap. He had the lot; he organised his defence well, was a great shot-stopper, had cat-like reactions, and was a commanding figure.

Nicky Weaver will always have a special place in the hearts of City fans, mainly down to his performance at Wembley in '99. He played a huge part that season, even before those heroics, it's a shame his career eventually took a bit of a downturn meaning that he went on to miss three whole seasons and was eventually released. For around three years, however, he was genuinely one of the better 'keepers around. I've even got very vague memories of him being linked with a £10m move to Milan one summer, may've been 2000, madness. He became an England under-21 international during this time, and really looked like he might push on and takeover the jersey in the senior side. Though not in Coton's league, he certainly had a presence, and a certain unorthodox nature that endeared him to our support.

Peter Schmeichel's season here is another that sticks firmly in the mind, especially his performance at Anfield, which was as good as i ever saw from him, even during his time at them lot over the road. I think we could've got at least another year out of him, but respect why he might not have wanted to play past his 40th birthday. Overall, i'd have to say he's the greatest goalkeeper i've seen, not so much here, but, well, he was phenomenal during his eight years at The Skip, it probably wouldn't be too outlandish to suggest they've still not replaced him properly all this time later. During his year here he certainly seemed to have mellowed from the screaming mentalist we'd seen during his previous stint in the North-West, but he was pretty unflappable, solid, and capable of making great stops. He seemed to bring a bit of his Derby luck with him, too, and for that, the brilliant performance at Anfield and more importantly, the winding up of the older Munster brother before that season's thumping of United, i'm sure we'll all be eternally grateful.

Though often maligned, i thought that David James did very little wrong during his two-and-a-half years and exactly 100 appearances here. It was a canny buy for £2m, even at 33. It still surprises me that goalkeepers, the most important player in any side, go for such relatively small amounts. A good one can be worth a few points a year, and that first season here especially James was vital, saving a couple of penalties (one against Wolves at Eastlands, i think) and putting in some good performances. The following season he was again one of our better performers as we conceded very few goals on our own patch. Infact, despite him having a reputation as a bit of a calamity, i can't recall him making many errors at all whilst at the club. He might be a bit of a melon, and there's no doubt that when he does drop a rickett it's usually a big one, but he's been an excellent player for ten years now, and as consistent as there are. I was certainly disappointed when he moved on to Portsmouth.

After a brief renaissance for Weaver, Joe Hart established himself as first-choice under Sven. Similar to Weaver in the sense that he came into the side with a certain confident naivety that didn't do him any harm. He was probably lucky to get such a run so early in his career, but he never looked out of place. There was the odd hairy moment, he certainly has that madness to him that some sticksmen seem to, his decision making, especially when not under pressure, could probably be worked on, aswell as his kicking, but to be fair to him these are things that i'd imagine can be quite easily coached. The raw attributes are all there, and more-often-than-not he's proved able to get himself out of those situations. The £600k we paid for him has already proved a bargain, several times over, and in a sense i don't like seeing him out of the side, but we've got the best in the business now in Given, so i guess we can have no complaints. I don't see why he won't go on to be one of the very best around, whether that will be here i'm not so sure.

To Given, well, as i said, i don't think there's another goalkeeper playing in the country currently who can hold a candle to him, perhaps Jussi Jääskeläinen at a push, but i think Shay's proven himself over the years to be a real top Premier League player. I was surprised he stayed at Newcastle so long, but even when they were at their lower points he shone above anyone else. You don't play nearly 500 games at this level without being extremely competent, and after only seeing him once in our colours i was sure we'd made the correct move. He's the safest pair of hands about, and i think he'll be a huge success here, he's already proving to be, we just need a defence to do him justice. If there's any slight regret it's that we didn't snap him up five years earlier.

Pick: Tony Coton

06/07/2009

Friendlies...

For those of us who've been counting down each passing day since the final ball was kicked in the Cup Final, have half-heartedly followed whatever football we've been able to cast our eyes on, namely the ultimately disappointing under-21 finals, and the pointless and downright annoying Confederations Cup, and can't possibly wait the five weeks until the season starts properly, there will at least be, providing you don't go mental in the meantime, some City action to look forward to in the meantime.

The first-team have four friendly games lined up, the Vodacom Challenge tournament which United and Spurs have both 'won' these last two years. Both games might yet be streamed live on the new website, and both will no doubt prove good run-outs. On the 1st of August we travel to Barnsley, a ground where some of you will have seen us dispatch of European giants EB Streymur last July, before finishing pre-season with a friendly against Celtic at Eastlands. It might not be the Thomas Cook trophy, but hey!

The second-string will play five games, all away, at neighbours Hyde, Northwich Vics and Stalybridge, plus trips to Rotherham and Dean Saunders' Wrexham. A couple of the games clash, on the 18th July and 1st August.

Wed 15 Jul, TBC, Hyde United v City Reserves
Sat 18 Jul, 2pm, Orlando Pirates v City
Sat 18 Jul, 3pm, Northwich Victoria v City Reserves
Tue 21 Jul, 7pm, Kaizer Chiefs v City
Fri 24 Jul, 11am, City Academy v Plymouth Argyle (at Alsager College)
Sat 25 Jul, 3pm, Wrexham v City Reserves
Sat 31 Jul, 11:30am, Coventry City v City Academy (at Alsager College)
Sat 01 Aug, 3pm, Barnsley v City
Sat 01 Aug, 3pm, Rotherham United v City Reserves
Tue 04 Aug, 7:30pm, Stalybridge Celtic v City Reserves
Wed 05th Aug, 10:30am, Rochdale v City Academy (at Lilleshall)
Wed 05th Aug, 7:45pm, Glasgow Rangers v City
Sat 08 Aug, 3pm, City v Celtic
Wed 12th Aug, 7pm, Witton Albion v City Youth