Wednesday 9 January 2008

The Departures article (Sept 2007)


Regrets? They might have a few when they see who’s just sat in City's managerial hotseat...

Although this summer has been a complete and utter washout (thanks for cursing us with your Umbrella song, Rihanna!), I think it’s safe to say that the summer of 2007 has most certainly heralded the dawn of a new era at Manchester City. A new chairman in the form of ‘Dr’ Thaksin Shinawatra, and a new manager, in the controversial form of Sven-Goran Eriksson, has completely transformed the future prospects of the club.

So, it was inevitable that, in the time of uncertainty when Stuart Pearce was sacked, there would be casualties. Not one, not two, but three of City’s longest-serving players have left for pastures new, seeking new challenges. Sylvain Distin, Joey Barton and Nicky Weaver were all popular and regular players for City but all jumped ship before Sven’s arrival; the first two seeking a bigger challenge and the latter having reluctantly left for the sake of his career.

I will reminisce first on Mr Sylvain Distin- a classy French defender who City chased for a good year before being promoted to the Premiership. Distin had experienced a taste of England’s top league during his loan spell at Newcastle, but decided to sign a four-year permanent deal with Keegan’s blues instead.

City signed Distin in May 2002 from Paris St. Germain for a reasonable £4 million to partner Dunney in the heart of the blue’s defence. He was definitely one of Keegan’s best buys and immediately became one of City’s regulars. Only a hamstring pull kept him out of the famous 3-1 derby victory and, after he returned, he eventually earned the right to wear the captain’s armband. His performances were consistent and he looked sharp and focused. The City faithful were definitely impressed- he was voted Player of the Year after his debut season.

His form continued after our move to Eastlands in the 2003/04 season as he led his team-mates into Europe- and beyond. He scored his first goal in the 6-2 massacre of Bolton Wanderers and grabbed a crucial second goal at White Hart Lane- the goal that sparked one of the greatest comebacks in the Cup’s history. Not only was he reliable, he had forged a strong partnership with Dunne.

A partnership that remained ever-solid in the 2004/05 campaign. This was arguably Distin’s best in a City shirt- proven by respectable goal-less draws against Chelski, Arsenal and the Stretford Reds. Despite the appointment of Psycho as manager, Distin kept the captain’s armband and finished the season with one of the best defensive records in the Premiership, narrowly missing out on getting into Europe.

The final two seasons that he spent at City were dogged with transfer rumours and media speculation. He gave up his number five squad number and the captain’s armband at the start of the 2006/07 season and refused to put pen to paper on a new contract until he was positive that the club was ‘moving forward’ and heading towards silverware. His performances remained impressive- he made 43 appearances and scored two goals in what was to prove his final campaign at City.

As you are probably aware through previous articles and my Distin interview, I was one of the Frenchman’s biggest fans. I’d met him several times: he was a true gentleman and a fine professional. We would always have interesting conversations- I could ask him anything and he would always answer with honesty. Although I certainly don’t agree with some of his quotes following his arrival at Fratton Park (“I decided to leave Manchester City because they didn’t try…”, “I don’t know if Manchester City are going down, but they are definitely not going up…”), I do wish him well in his career. I just wonder now after Sven’s arrival if he has any regrets. I’d be willing to put money on it. Au revoir Sylvain, c’est le vie.

I sometimes wonder if the word controversial was invented for our next departure. Joey Barton attracted more front page headlines than back during his roller-coaster time at City- it’s just a pity that his off-the-field persona and behaviour overshadowed his real talent.

Barton joined City’s academy as a teenager after he was released by his boyhood heroes, Everton. He spent years working his way up and training, and his passionate, stubborn midfield presence was exactly what Keegan needed in 2002, following the departures of Benarbia and Berkovic. He was about to be rocketed from lurking in the shadows to centre stage.

His debut for City was postponed from Boro’s Riverside after his shirt was stolen from the dugout (karma?), to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium. As a substitute he left a good impression with both fans and critics alike and he went on to score his first professional and Premiership goal at White Hart Lane.

The following season, 2003/04, was full of progress for Barton. Despite only scoring one goal for City, at Ewood Park, he began to show true potential and this, coupled with his grit, determination and midfield endeavours only fuelled his popularity with the blue army.

Unfortunately passion and commitment can boil over and reckless tackles do get punished. Inevitably nowadays a player becomes typecast with a reputation for unsavoury behaviour after one too many yellow cards. This definitely played a part, along with his mouthing off when Barton received his first red card in the historic 4-3 F.A. Cup triumph at Spurs.

The 2004/05 season saw Barton cement his place as a regular in City’s starting eleven. After an injury setback, he returned and became an inspirational figure for City- a pivotal figure in the team, making 33 appearances and scoring two goals. He remained one of the star players up until his departure from the club, having retracted his transfer request in January 2006 and signing a new deal.

However his incidents off-the-pitch have been well documented. Barton jabbing a lit cigar into academy player Jamie Tandy’s eye at City’s 2004 Christmas party ended in a £120,000 fine. Barton allegedly punching a fan during the 2005/06 pre season tour in Thailand ended in Barton being admitted into Tony Adam’s ‘Sporting Chance’ clinic. The whole transfer debacle in the winter months of 2005 and early 2006 tested fans’ loyalty to him, not to mention our patience. Then the final straw in May this year when he attacked team-mate Ousmane Dabo during training, resulting in his arrest and subsequent assault charge (to which he has today pleaded not guilty…what??).

How many chances can an individual have? It gets to a point where you realise he is taking the piss- nobody knows what provoked his attack on Dabo but it was unsavoury and unnecessary. Barton is supposed to be a professional and should act in a respectful manner. He has disgraced himself at City and in my opinion was very lucky to have the opportunity to redeem himself by Sam Allardyce. I do hope he sorts himself out though as he is a talented player and it would be a shame to see that talent go to waste. I will definitely be keeping my eye on his future progress. You want my advice Mr Barton? Anger management, well, that’s if he manages to avoid jail time.

Every football follower has a hero- somebody whose heroics captures their eye and encourages them to chart their career progress from that special day. Mine was Nicky Weaver. After being touted as the future England goalkeeper, his career has sadly been plagued by injuries, but there’s no doubting the good memories every City fan has of him.

Weaver joined City at the close season 1997 from Mansfield Town to help put a stop to our goalkeeping crisis. He made his debut in the Second Division opener against Blackpool where he kept a clean sheet, a trend that continued consistently throughout the 1998/99 season. His record-breaking 23 clean sheets undoubtedly helped City into the play-off final that season.

We all know what happened next. Weaver saved two of the four penalties that Gillingham took in the Second Division play-off final shoot-out to help City gain promotion. It was a culmination of a season’s worth of achievement for Weaver, giving him cult status at the club.

The Sheffield-born ‘keeper continued to do his job in season 1999/00, notching up 11 clean sheets in 41 appearances, deservedly securing a place in the England under 21 squad. Once again the season reached a dramatic conclusion, this time at Ewood Park where a 4-1 victory promoted City to the Premiership. Weaver was now faced with living his dream- playing for his country and playing with the big boys.

However Weaver struggled to find his form. In the 2000/01 season his performances became erratic and unreliable. To most people it looked like he had been basking in his glory a little too much- and Royle decided to replace him with Carlo Nash. He had gone from hero to zero in the space of nine months.

After being dropped from City’s first team and England, Weaver had a point to prove. In season 2001/02 the Keegan era began and Weaver and Nash shared goalkeeping duties- until Weaver picked up a knee injury at St. Andrews. The injury was a devastating blow for him and ruled him out of the entire 2002/03 Premiership season. He made a brief return to action in August 2003 but sadly suffered a re-occurrence of the injury, sending him to the United States for a graft on his cartilage.

Since his return from injury, Weaver enjoyed a period on-loan at his boyhood favourites Sheffield Wednesday, where he made 14 appearances for the Owls. The 2006/07 season saw Weaver make a very welcome return to first-team action at Stamford Bridge and staying between the posts for 31 appearances during the season. His departure is a sad one for many blues for feel that he was never able to live up to his expectations due to being blighted by injury, but I for one will always be grateful for the memories he provided us with on that amazing Wembley day eight years ago. I would wish him the best of luck with the future Nicky, wherever it may be at.

It remains to be seen what is around the corner next for City. With so many new arrivals coming through the doors at Eastlands, it’s likely that more familiar faces will be departing as Sven rings the changes. It’s just a shame that the three above players left before Sven’s appointment. But then again, we are a club with no ambition apparently…let’s hope a slice, sorry chunk, of humble pie will be served come May time. Let the season begin!

Emily Brobyn xx

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