Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A tale of three Silva's

If there was any doubt that David Silva could withstand the rigours of English football, then the Spaniard’s last three performances in a blue shirt should have eradicated it. In Silva we have signed a top draw talent, arguably in his prime.

Perhaps we should have seen these performances coming. At the beginning of the month Silva put in a phenomenal performance against Lithuania in Euro Qualifying, capping it all with an amazing headed goal considering the diminutive figure he casts.


It was always going to be billed a David vs. Goliath contest. Whichever way the media framed the result, we were always going to be loser. A win, and it would be business as usual, nothing special, almost an after thought. Lose, and we would be a slain giant. This is the way it is going to be for many of our games this season. In terms of the respective structures of both clubs, the David/Goliath comparison certainly worked. But on the pitch, it was Blackpool that appeared to be closest to that Goliath.

It was a strange encounter. Blackpool wanted it more than us and their pressure on us when we had the ball made them formidable. We couldn’t get going and almost paid the price when DJ Campbell went through on Hart, only to miss the goal by inches.

It was into this supposed mis-match that David Silva stepped. It turned out to be an inspired substitution by Roberto Mancini. We were an altogether different threat with the Spaniard on the field and, perhaps understandably, Holloway’s men couldn’t handle him. Silva immediately produced the cross for Tevez to nick in – the finish itself an excellent piece of skill even if the goal looked slightly offside.

Then of course came the moment (much like Robinho’s stunning chip against Arsenal) that I will always feel was the moment David Silva arrived at Manchester City. Receiving the ball in the area, the tricky Spaniard’s double feint took two Blackpool defenders out of the game, with his curling shot elegantly finding the back of the Tangerine net. Sublime stuff that would’ve gone down a storm had it happened at Eastlands.


Starting against Polish outfit Lech Posnan in the Europa League, in an attacking sense Silva was at the centre of everything good that we did. He linked the midfield with the attack superbly, and provided crosses for two of Emmanuel Adebayor’s three goals – allowing the Togo forward the record of the first City player to score a hat trick in Europe. What struck me here was how the Spaniard was a cut above from the rest of his team mates. The likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips benefited greatly from Silva’s slick passing, but yet could not reward that passing with a good end product, such as a quality cross or goal.


Silva was the best thing about what turned into a frustrating encounter with Arsene Wenger’s men. It was always going to be hard for us after Dedryck Boyata was sent from the field of play for taking out Marouane Chamakh, but even at 0-2 I still felt we had a great chance to get something out of the game. As a City fan this feeling is something that has been alien to me ever since I supported the club. Usually it’s the other way around – you fear that the team might throw away what looks like an unassailable lead, but its players like David Silva that are changing this mentality.

Once again, the Spaniard was at the centre of all our quality attacking play. In the opening minutes a deft Silva back heel from a Tevez cross almost secured us the lead only for the alert Lukasz Fabianski to deny us. Then at 1-0 down the Spaniard almost changed the outlook of the game with a twisting and turning run into the Arsenal penalty area, only for Fabianski to be equal once again. You certainly felt at 1-1 we could even go on and win the game, but in the end it was not to be and the Gunners efficiently closed the game out.

Even though he is known on the world stage, English teams are still getting to grips with the threat of David Silva. But the Spaniard has now had his ‘Robinho moment’, and the key will be to see how he reacts once teams start to get a handle on him. Will the Spaniard thrive where the Brazilian so spectacularly failed? The answer to this question will have a major bearing on whether or not City fans will look back at the 2010/11 campaign as a success.

Friday, 15 October 2010

A fine line: the City career of Malcolm Allison

Former City coach and manager Malcolm Allison has sadly passed away. If there is a fine line between madness and genius, Allison certainly crossed it during his involvement with the Blues. But far from casting a shadow on his City career, I think this paradox will only serve to reinforce his status at the club. The man will always go down as a City legend.

The genius

During the club’s most successful period during the late 1960s to early 1970s. Allison played a pivotal role. Brought to the club as the first team coach by manager Joe Mercer - the manager for the majority of these glory years – Allison soon proved to be the perfect foil to Mercer’s figurehead, the Y to Mercer’s X. Theirs was a symbiotic relationship, formidable when they worked together, but fallible when they were at odds.

Together, the duo took City to heights of which the club has never experienced either before or since. Clinching promotion to the First Division in 1966, winning the First Division in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969, and then the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970. From the Second Division to European glory in five years was the stuff of dreams. This couldn’t have been achieved without Allison.

Key to this success was Allison’s relationship with the players and his motivational techniques, creating a fantastic team spirit that allowed players to believe in themselves. This ability to get into the heads of players was complemented by his visionary training methods. In the words of another City legend of this era, Mike Summerbee, Allison was “the forerunner of fitness and tactics way beyond his time.” Indeed, according to another City great, the Allison approach appeared to border on the scientific, through studying the physiology of the squad.

And whilst on the subject of former City player greats, we should acknowledge Allison’s role in bringing a fair few to the club. ‘Big Mal’, as he came to be known, was vital to securing the services of Colin Bell, Francis Lee, and Tony Book – names that are now etched into the very soul of the Club forever, as is his own.

The madness

In his fictional account of the Mercer-Allison relationship, 'The Worst of Friends', Colin Shindler indicates that these men let greatness slip through their fingers. He could well be right. Everything seemed in place: the right managerial set up, the right tactics, the right team spirit, the right players who were beginning to win things. All that was left was the objective of sustained success.

But in the end this did not materialise, and it is not exactly clear why. The club of course will say that the Allison-Mercer relationship remained strong through their tenure, but I fear the reality was different. The prolific City Author Gary James has indicated that relations became strained when both men supported different sides during the club's early 1970s takeover battle. Allison supported the winning side and eventually became manager whilst Mercer was gradually forced out of the club. For Shindler, Allison’s ambition to step out of his manager’s shadow, and Mercer’s refusal to let go of the controls, was the root of the problem. The truth is probably a combination of both scenarios.

The result soon became clear. With Allison at the helm, City missed out on the League title by a point and won the Charity Shield the following season, but never again did they hit the heights of the late 1960s and Allison resigned in 1973. A fine line between success and failure indeed.

But ‘Big Mal’ was reinstalled at Maine Road in 1979 with the dubious title of ‘coaching overlord’. It was during this period that the madness of Allison really set in. In his book ‘Lows, Highs and Balti Pies: Manchester City Ruined my Diet’, Steve Mingle captures the eccentricities of Allison’s second spell in charge. Perhaps guilty of believing too much in his own judgement and ability, Allison set about dismantling what was potentially another City side capable of great success. The likes of Asa Hartford, Gary Owen (then England under 21 captain), flying winger Peter Barnes, and probably the best defender ever to grace Maine Road in a Blue shirt – Dave Watson, were all jettisoned. In their places came players of inferior quality, demonstrated most clearly with the now infamous £1.5m signing of Steve Daley. This was a horrendous gaffe - and an expensive one at that. Ten years earlier Allison had left a heroic legacy at the club, but his actions during this period threatened to undermine all his previous efforts – as Gary James quite rightly points out, these expensive replacements dogged City’s finances for the next decade.

With his judgement way off target, Allison’s once legendary motivational methods now seemed to border on the absurd. There’s a great example in Gary James’ recent ‘The Big Book of City’. In 1979, City had reached the fourth round of the UEFA Cup against Borussia Monchengladbach. In the previous round the Blues had dispatched AC Milan. Since that victory Allison had been installed and City went on to lose 4-2 to the Germans. Kenny Clements was a player on the sidelines at the time. He attributes the Blues' exit to the return of Allison, indicating that ‘Big Mal’ ruined everything during his second spell:

“I think he’d become too hung up on new ideas that he forgot about the basics. I remember he used to give us homework. He’d tell us to go home and write ‘I must win’ or ‘I will win’ a thousand times, then the next day he’d ask us if we’d done it. I always used to say ‘yeah’ but some of the younger, more impressionable lads would produce their lists and some would even write out twice as many lines! He insisted we drank coffee before a game to keep us alert, and brought in lots of motivational people. It didn’t motivate me I’m afraid!”

The legend

Clearly the motivational methods went a bit too far, but in the end this just adds to the Malcolm Allison aura. We must not forget of course that Allison went on to manage around the world and delivered real success in Portugal with Sporting Lisbon by winning a league and cup double in 1982.

But somehow I feel Allison’s heart will always be at City. Of course he was flawed. Of course he eccentric, over-confident and greedy. He wanted the plaudits of the Mercer years all for himself. But City fans will allow these excesses because they recognise that he was a foundation to the Club's glory years. Hopefully, we are going back to that place soon.

As Gary James shows, perhaps Blues will also allow Big Mal his shortcomings because he understood what it meant to be a City fan, and what it meant to beat United:

“In December 1970 he walked up to the Stretford End prior to a League derby match and held up four fingers to indicate how many goals he expected City to score against the Reds. Understandably, the United fans hurled abuse at him, but by the end of the match the confident Allison was laughing as City won 4-1.”

I can’t find a more fitting tribute to Malcolm Allison than that.



I’ve relied on some fantastic City authors to write this article. I’d highly recommend all of the books below, each of which provide a unique angle on the Club.

Gary James, Manchester City: the complete record (2006)

Gary James, The Big Book of City (2009)

Steve Mingle, Lows, Highs and Balti Pies: Manchester City ruined my diet (2008)

Colin Shindler, The Worst of Friends: the betrayal of Joe Mercer (2010)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The first quarter

With another international break now over and the Premiership ready to begin, it’s a good time to reflect on how the first quarter of the season has panned out. Firstly, a word on our two encounters with the black and white shirts of Juventus and Newcastle.

Life in the Old Lady yet

They may not be the force of old but I was mightily impressed with Juventus. For me they were probably the best team to arrive at Eastlands so far this season and this encounter was probably the most interesting game to grace the pitch since the 2010/11 campaign began.

Juventus seemed well up for the game and pressured us on the ball at every opportunity. We couldn’t seem to get a grip on the game at first but gradually came into proceedings. Although Juventus seemed to have more control in the first half, it was still a surprise when Vincenzo Iaquinta powered them into the lead with a blistering effort from some way outside the area. I believe the shot was slightly deflected off Kolo Toure’s head, but nevertheless Hart was at fault here. England’s number one should not be letting in these kinds of speculative efforts. To be fair to him though, Jerome Boateng was the real culprit, standing off Iaquinta and allowing him sight of goal for that split second. In retrospect, the warning signs were there when the Italian striker had a powerful shot from a difficult angle saved by Hart in the opening minutes.

Our other dependable Argentinean Pablo Zabaleta, later injured with hamstring trouble, simply could not deal with Milos Krasic. The Serbian winger rampaged down the right wing for the entire first half. Although he was eventually booked for diving in the area (the referee could’ve easily caved in here) he was easily the most dangerous player I have seen at Eastlands this season. Mancini must take the credit for gradually nullifying the Krasnic threat, switching Boateng over to left back in the second half to keep the Serbian quiet.

Flashes of the potential brilliance of our attacking play shone through with Adam Johnson’s goal. An excellent through ball from Yaya Toure connected perfectly with Johnson veering run, and the winger took his goal fantastically well.

In the second half we had our chances but as the game approached 60 minutes Juventus had already decided upon their strategy. Playing against a bank of four and five is hard at the best of times, but it was made even harder against the defensive discipline of Luigi del Neri.

And then of course came the biggest let off of the night. Alessandro Del Piero is a player who needs no introduction, and whilst he is far from the player he was, he was a central element of Juve’s strategy at Eastlands – defend to the hilt, counter attack when possible and if the opportunity presents itself, draw fouls around the edge of the penalty area – then give the ball to Del Piero. So it was that this scenario played out in the dying embers of the game, with Del Piero’s resulting free kick smashing against the bar and crashing onto Joe Hart’s line in the style of Geoff Hurst 1966. Replays confirmed that the ref had got it right. Looking at the game as a whole, we had certainly got away with a point.


We didn’t really perform well against the Geordies either. Early on, after Tevez had once again stepped up to the plate by converting a penalty, it had looked like Newcastle were going to be on the end of a hammering. But credit must go to the Tynesiders in the way they fought themselves back into the contention and levelled the score line with a strike from Jonas Gutierrez. Defensively I felt we were looking a bit like we did in the Hughes days, when the team was unbalanced and schizophrenic.

With a forward quartet of Tevez, Silva, Milner and the supporting Yaya Toure, we lacked ideas. At this stage in the season I can only put this down to lack of understanding, with Yaya had a particular off day. I have written previously of my concern that we don’t have enough versatility up front and that a quality target man might give us this. But still, with the quality of that forward four we should be doing better against a team like Newcastle.

It was left to our boy wonder of the moment, Adam Johnson, to provide the answer. Benched after the Juventus game, he came from the sidelines into the limelight seconds after being introduced by Mancini, driving a low shot from the right into the corner of Newcastle’s goal, giving us the victory we required to build on the Chelsea win.

Adam Johnson

Mancini may well focus on Adam Johnson’s shortcomings, but the Italian must also admit that the winger has saved our blushes on a number of occasions this season. After Tevez, and in the absence of a second striker, Johnson represents our next best goal threat. And although his crossing is not yet the best, his trickery often unsettles teams and ups the tempo of our play. The crowd also love him. And given his recent 1st half England performance against Montengro, the nation is growing to love him as well. All players need to improve but we should be careful not to dim the glow of Johnson’s start to the season

‘Winning ugly’

When all is said and done, we cannot complain too much about Mancini either. Seven games into the season and we are a clear second in the league, having already played Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea. I know a lot of City fans grow frustrated with the Italian’s approach. You can hear the frustration in the post match phone ins and I do agree with some of it. I agree with the charge that we should be going for it a bit more at home. Sometimes we’ve too many defensive minded players in midfield clogging up our play, sometimes we’re not able to give enough support to Carlos Tevez.

Mancini’s caution may well be because of injuries, and with Kolarov, Boateng and Balotelli firing on all cylinders we could see a more adventurous approach. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that as we turn our attention to facing Blackpool, we are second only to Chelsea in the league – a much better return than at this point last season. Brian Kidd talked of ‘winning ugly’ against Newcastle. Whilst this may not be the traditional City way, it is something we may have to do for a bit longer in order to keep in touch with the leaders – at least until personnel return from injury and the team begins to gel.