Newsletter #897

Plenty of opinion tonight on the aftermath of the boardroom shake-up, team selection and the new stadium. Don’s news summary has fixture details and possible comings and goings.

We’ve also a few of the usual requests.

Finally an enormous thank you to all those who volunteered to stand in as editor; Martin Smith from Vancouver Island will be taking care of the issues.

Next game: Birmingham City, home, 2pm Sunday 16 March 2003
Countdown: 59 days


General News

Shark Bait: Sale Sharks have been made an enticing offer to take up residence at Maine Road. Manchester City Council has offered the Rugby Union club £2.5 million to redevelop the stadium once City vacate their headquarters in the summer. The stadium’s capacity would be reduced from the current 34,000 to 20,000, and the Sharks have two weeks to accept the offer. If Sale do not take up residence, it is possible that the stadium will be demolished. Sale’s current ground at Heywood Road only holds 7,500, and their success this season means that they are turning fans away at the gates.

Friendly Locals: The constabulary of Bolton are preparing a less than amiable welcome for City fans when the Blues visit the Reebok Stadium on April 5. The game kicks off at noon, on the instructions of the Police, and just like the visit of the Reds a month ago, the publicans are asked not to serve visiting fans. A police spokesman said: “We want to starve the hooligan element of alcohol before the game. During the clash with Manchester United, we had very few incidents around licensed premises. We are asking pubs to stay closed until noon and if they do open, only to let their regulars in and be discreet. If they suspect anyone might cause trouble or is a Manchester City fan, they should remove them. We want to get the fans to the ground where we have the manpower to control them.” He said that after the game, publicans should only serve regulars and “should be aware of groups of people congregating.”

New Stadium News: It’s reported that City are one of seven Premiership clubs to apply to stage the UEFA Cup final in either 2004 or 2005. UEFA is set to choose the venues for the next two years later in March along with the hosts for the Champions’ League final. City, Aston Villa, Southampton, Sunderland, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle have all put themselves forward to stage a UEFA Cup final. Old Trafford is hosting the 2003 final of the Champions’ League, so there must some doubt as to whether England will receive such an honour so soon. As the move to Eastlands gets ever nearer, the club have announced that the fans will be consulted in the choice of a name for the West Stand. John Wardle explained: “The move to the City of Manchester Stadium heralds a hugely exciting period for the Club and one in which we will continue to keep the fans involved,” he said. “We have consulted our fans and their committees on many issues involving the new stadium, but in inviting them to select the name for the West Stand the decision will have been made entirely by the fans themselves. It is hugely important that they are given the opportunity to have their say on important aspects of our new home.” Supporters’ Club branches will be invited to nominate one suitable name. The Fans’ Committee will draw up a shortlist of six names, then all City fans get a chance to vote for the final choice, either through the club website or by post. It is unclear at the moment if “The Bring Back Bernstein Stand” will be accepted by the Committee.

Semis Draw Made: City continue their quest for the FA Youth Cup with a two-legged semi-final against Middlesbrough. The first leg will be played at the Riverside on Wednesday 26th March with a 7.00pm kick off. Tickets are £3 adults and £2 children. The second leg will be staged at Maine Road six days later, the game kicking off at 7.00pm on Tuesday 1st April. Should City beat the Boro, they could face Trafford Wanderers in the final. The Reds have been paired with Charlton in the other semi-final. KK gave his opinion on the draw: “I have no idea what the standard of Middlesbrough is,” he said. “But I know what the standard of our side is. The strength of our kids is that they are a good team. There are no outstanding individuals but they are all good players. You have to hand it to the Academy. The players are all very well disciplined, they don’t take chances but have invention in the right areas.” Keegan did witness the 2-0 defeat of West Ham United in the previous round, and commented that “The pleasing thing for me on Tuesday was when Trevor Brooking came up to me at half time and said that we had much more football in us than they did. I thought that was a great compliment as it was West Ham we were playing and they are renowned for playing good football. Some of the passing, movement and interplay between them was excellent and then they worked some nice little moves from corners and free kicks. You could have been looking at five or six nil.” Considering that eight of the current Youth squad are eligible to play in the competition next year, the future looks bright for the Blues. Further proof of the strength in depth at the Academy came last weekend, when the under-17’s beat Sunderland 6-0.

Reserves Setbacks: In contrast to the Academy teams, it has not been a good week for the Reserves. On Friday evening, the Blues surrendered their top spot in the FA Premier Reserve League North to Middlesbrough, when the Boro’ won 1-0 at Ewen Fields. The goalscorer was Tony Vidmar. The Blues’ team featured a number of players with first team experience, including Steve Howey, who played his first ever game for City at that level. City: Ellegaard, Flood, Jordan (Paisley 71), Bischoff, Howey, Ritchie, Barton, Belmadi, Vuoso, Goater, Whelan. Subs: Westwood (GK), McCarthy, Browne, Gilder. Last Monday, a young City Reserves team lost by the same score to Oldham Athletic in the Manchester Senior Cup. This means that City’s fate in the competition is in the hands of others. Team: City: Ellegaard, Warrender, Paisley, Whelan, McCarthy, Jordan (N D’Laryea 57), Croft, Flood (J D’Laryea 57), Browne (Gilder 78), Elliott, Tandy. Subs: Westwood (GK), Bermingham.

Transfer News and Gossip

Duo Depart: The clear out of players has begun this week. First to go was Jeff Whitley, whose contract was cancelled by the club. A club statement announced on Friday: “An agreement has today been reached between Manchester City Football Club and player Jeff Whitley, that his contract and registration with the club will be cancelled with immediate effect. With two weeks remaining until the transfer deadline and having not featured in the Manchester City team for some time, it has been decided that in the interest of Jeff’s career and to enhance his prospects of finding a new club offering the chance of more regular first team football, he will be freed by Manchester City and assume unattached player status.” Twenty four year-old Whitley began the 2001-2002 season as a part of KK’s plans, but a fractured ankle in the second game of the season at Norwich meant that the Northern Ireland international never featured again in first team action. He has since spent two spells on loan at Notts County, helping the Magpies to avoid relegation last season. Whitley played 111 times for the club, and scored 8 goals. The second player to be told to leave this week was Chris Shuker, currently on loan at Walsall. The Blues will not renew his contract at the end of this season, so Shuker hopes to create a good impression on Walsall boss Colin Lee. Shuker said: “I just don’t feel that I will ever get the chance at City. I am just glad that this chance came up for me at Walsall because I don’t want to be stuck in the reserves all the time at City. The move will give me the chance of being noticed in the First Division and it is up to me to grab the opportunity. Things have been frustrating for me at City but I just want to get on with my football now.” Shuker has started only one game for the Blues this season, the 2-2 home draw with Blackburn, as well as making substitute appearances on the opening day at Leeds and in the home Premiership defeat to his hometown club Liverpool.

Interest Reiz-ing: The weekend’s tabloid transfer speculation mostly concerned potential defensive reinforcements for the summertime. KK was unable to sign full back Michael Reiziger in January, as he was only able to offer the Dutchman a loan deal. Now it’s thought that Keegan will try to sign the Barcelona man on a permanent basis. A fee of £4 million has been mentioned. On the goalkeeping front, David James got yet another mention, while Bolton’s Jussi Jaaskelainen was a new contender for Peter Schmeichel’s shirt. Further up the field of play, KK is thought to still want Arsenal’s Ray Parlour.

Finnan-Dandy: Fulham may well be preparing to sell right-back Steve Finnan. According to the Daily Express, Fulham have paid £250,000 to Finnan’s previous club Notts County to settle the sell-on clause in his contract. KK was said to be interested in the Irishman last week, but now faces competition from Liverpool, who are said to have bid £4 million for the player this week. This has been rejected – Fulham want nearer £7 million. Another defensive target is said to be 21-year-old Spanish defender Pablo Ibanez of Albacete. Ibanez has been in impressive form in La Liga this season, and from the sound of it fancies a spell in English football. He said: “I know Leeds, Arsenal and Manchester City are interested in me although I haven’t spoken to anyone. For me it is the best thing that could have happened to me because it is a dream to play in the Premiership. I think that it and the La Liga are the best two leagues in the world, I especially like the stadiums in England and the way the public get behind the teams. They are all big teams that are interested in me, Manchester City are doing well and have some good players, while Arsenal are one of the three best teams in Europe.” The fee mentioned for the player is £5 million.

Ex-Blues’ News

Boss Man Uwe? Former City striking legend Uwe Rösler wants to come back to City – as manager. The 34-year-old is currently playing in Norway for Lillestrom, but knows what his next career move will be. “Last year I took a UEFA coaching badge and completed the first stage of my licence,” said Uwe recently. “Now I have three options – to become a coach, a scout or maybe a manager. I want to be boss of Manchester City one day.”

Mick’s Mission Impossible? Sunderland sprang a surprise on Monday by sacking their second manager of the season. The Premiership’s bottom club sacked Howard Wilkinson and assistant Steve Cotterill, after 20 games in charge. Mick McCarthy became the second ex-Blue to be in charge at the Stadium of Light this season (Peter Reid was removed in October), but it looks like Mick will have a tough job. The Black Cats have 9 games to go, and are 7 points away from safety. “It’s an absolute privilege and pleasure to be here. I’m looking forward to working with the club,” he said. “I looked at it and everything about the club and players – especially the passion – proves that this is a ‘proper’ football club. Everyone connected to it has a passion to do well. Everything about the club is right – except for the league position – and that is my brief. We will try to get immediate results on the field. It would be a wonderful achievement to avoid relegation. But I’m not saying I can keep them up – but I will do my best.” Sunderland visit Maine Road on April 21.

Birmingham Preview

Fixture Frolics: KK has been complaining about the fixture schedule for City – there hasn’t been enough games! The Blues entertain Birmingham on Sunday after a two week break and following the trip to Chelsea on Saturday 22nd March will have another two week rest before the Premiership campaign continues at Bolton on 5th April. “Everyone is complaining about too many games and our season seems to have ground to a halt!” remarked Keegan. “I can only think the Football Association have done it to give the big teams some breathing space. If you are successful it doesn’t matter as we would have had games. I don’t know what number of games we would have budgeted for but I bet it was more than forty-one or whatever we are going to play.”

Bischoff Bounces In: The indications are that KK will give one of the younger players a chance in Sunday’s game with Birmingham City. It’s thought that central defender Mikkel Bischoff may well feature. The 21-year-old has only made one appearance for the club this season – the home game with Blackburn – after deputising for Steve Howey. Bischoff missed part of the season due to a hernia problem, but is now available again for first team selection. Keegan said: “Mikkel is fit, don’t forget we had to operate on him and that knocked him back a bit. He really is one for the future, but one who is now saying to us that his future could be here already. Pace is his biggest attribute. If you have seen him in the reserves you would realise that no-one gets away from him. He reads the game well, doesn’t give the ball away and can come out with it. He can play football and has got good feet for a big guy.”

Good News, Bad News: Things may be getting better for Peter Schmeichel. KK hopes that the goalkeeper will be fit enough to face Birmingham. The management decided to step up Schmikes’ training regime in an effort to shake off the back and calf injuries which have hampered the Great Dane. “Peter now has to start training regularly and he has just had a good week. I think this is the best spell of training that he has had since he came here,” Keegan said. “He has always had little niggles or we have rested him or one reason or another, so we will have to wait and see how he reacts to this training. We have had to nurse Peter along and then play him. He has done very well for us. Of course it did not work for us at Old Trafford so we then sat down and looked at things. We decided that he needed not just to get two days training into him before matches but a good week. Now, providing there are no setbacks he will have a good ten days training. That is good news.” It’s not so good news for Eyal Berkovic, who is unlikely to feature after undergoing a minor operation. The thirty-year-old, accompanied by City physio Rob Harris, went to Germany for the procedure at the weekend. “He has an outside chance of being fit for Sunday,” said the boss. “It is more likely that he will be fit for Chelsea. We were impressed with the surgeon in Germany and without going into detail it was a minor operation that should clear up the niggling injury and should have him back in training on Thursday. Hopefully the operation will put his mind at rest. The injury has been niggling him and he has not been himself. When Eyal plays he is more of a free spirit than he has been of late, he seems to have been more restricted. We have addressed the problem now. Eyal ninety per cent fit is still a good player but it is not the same force as Eyal a hundred per cent fit.”

Groundhog Day: I’m sure KK keeps giving the same pre-match build up to Robbie Fowler. Once again, the Boss Man has been saying how well his latest signing performed in his last game, and how he can’t wait for the Toxteth Terror to score for the Blues. “He was outstanding in the last match at Blackburn in what he did as an individual and for the team and it was just a shame that he didn’t get the goal he deserved,” said Keegan. “I got the feeling that some people in the national press wanted to have a go at him but they dare not because they know he played so well. Yes he missed a few chances but he was also unlucky in that Henning Berg made such a great block to deny him. I told people they would see a big step up from Robbie and they have but that’s not rocket science, it is what we have seen on the training ground and what we expected. He has now got four games under his belt and there was a massive improvement at Blackburn and there should be again against Birmingham. Robbie is sorting his feet out better and he is at match pace now rather than at reserve team pace, which was what he was at when he got here. There is a massive difference.”

Squad News

Danny Comeback on Hold: Danny Tiatto’s comeback has been held up yet again. He has suffered a series of injuries that began with him limping out of the clash with Aston Villa on December 26. “He has been out for so long now and has missed a lot of games. It is almost like a pre-season for him,” KK said. “He came back and then picked up several niggling injuries and I think he is feeling the aches after coming back and taking part in a hard programme. We will take him for a scan to make sure he is okay and then push on with him from there to get him back into training.”

Philosophical Paulo: Speaking of long term injuries, Paulo Wanchope has been having a miserable time in the last year. His season was declared over by KK last week after the Costa Rican star had dislocated his shoulder in training. At the time he was still recovering from the knee problem that affected him in February 2002. There was an odd report or two last week that Keegan had told Paulo that he had no future with the club, although the player did not sound like he was about to leave when interviewed this week. “It’s up to the manager when I return, though obviously it will be next season at the earliest,” said Wanchope, who has played just 42 times for City in 3 seasons. “But I have trained several times recently and there has been no reaction with my knee. Hopefully I’ll play again sooner rather than later. It is nice to have the kind of competition that we do here. It can make you a better player and it helps the team to go forward to have the quality of players at the club that we now have. I wanted to make an appearance before the end of the season but that is not possible. I’m really looking forward to playing in front of our fans again. The thought of that has been the thing that has inspired me while things have been hard and I have been trying to get my way back up to full fitness. I’m anxious for that moment to come again.”

Horlock’s Success: Kevin Horlock reckons that City’s return to the Premiership should be seen as a success. Considering the three promotions and two relegations that Horlock has seen in his seven seasons at Maine Road, he is well qualified to judge. “In one respect, the fact we have stayed in the Premiership so easily can be construed as success,” Horlock said. “But I guess we are all aiming that little bit higher. A year ago we were ninth in the First Division so we have come a long way in a short space of time and dealt with the change really well. The manager has brought in quality players who have played at this level before and they have proved their worth. A lot of people would have settled for survival but the manager certainly doesn’t and the board won’t either. We want to be up there pushing with the big guns in the top six, whether it happens this year or not. Maybe we have been slightly inconsistent this season but you are going to lose games because there are more quality players in the opposition squad. I certainly wish we had been inconsistent last time we came up. Then we just seemed to have one long bad run.”

Put Your Shirt on Joey: Our team leader has been building up the prospects for his younger players this week, particularly 20-year-old Joey Barton. In fact, Barton would have already played in the first team had a light fingered scally not pinched his shirt while sat on the bench at Middlesbrough. “Joey is training with us every day now,” stated the Blues’ boss. “He has improved dramatically and it still improving. At some stage he needs to be given a chance. Whether that is before the end of this season or in the pre-season, which is when I like to do it, we will have to wait and see. He has a good attitude, he wants to be a player and he has a desire and hunger. Joey is essentially a holding midfielder but he can get around the pitch. He is one of those we have got to put in and have a look at so that we can analyse exactly what he is. I think that he might grow if we put him out there on the biggest stage of all. I think he would thrive on the atmosphere. Some shrivel up and cannot handle the crowd and the occasion but I don’t think that would bother Joey.”

Beyond Bernstein News

It Wasn’t Me: KK thinks that he has been unfairly represented in the coverage of David Bernstein’s departure. “I said when the Chairman left that I would get the blame for it. It didn’t matter what happens and yet it had nothing to do with me. I told John Wardle that the best story the for press would be that Kevin Keegan wanted money. It had absolutely nothing to do with money for players. It is not accurate to say there will be more money available to me now that there have been changes. We will have budgets, as we always have had, and we will see in the next few weeks what money, if any, is there to spend,” he explained. “I don’t think the message going out to the fans should be that there is any more money or any less money. I think it will be looked at as it always is.” Keegan was at pains to pay tribute to the departed Chairman. “Football survives everything. It was a disappointing week last week, now we have to get on with things. David Bernstein has come out of it with a lot of credit and that is the way it should be after what he has done for this club.”

Franny and Other Flummery: Not surprisingly the weekend’s media were full of Bernstein/Bird coverage, and most of it was not complimentary to the club. It was interesting to note that the M.E.N. ran an online poll, and found that 92 per cent of City fans said he would be badly missed. “I am touched by the response of the fans, which has been incredible,” Bernstein was quoted as saying. “Not many chairmen are missed when they leave.” According to some reports, the replacement was not going to be Sir Howard Davies, but the flaxen haired messiah himself, Mr.F.H. Lee. even wrote that Lee was “99% certain” to be returned to power. And the jokes have begun: the Sunday People said that Chris Bird “will now concentrate on running his PR firm, which has won the contract to promote Disney on Ice. Not so very far removed from overseeing a Bedknobs and Broomsticks club and an Alice in Wonderland manager.” [Franny categorically denied a return to the Chair at our meeting on Monday night – Ed]