HOW MANCHESTER CITY WENT FROM PEARCE'S ZEROS TO SVEN'S HEROES- WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THAKSIN!
FanCast columnist Emily Brobyn looks at the impact Sven Goran-Eriksson has had at her beloved Man City and feels that after the shambles of Stuart Pearce's reign, that City fans have every right to feel optimistic for the future.
It's safe to say that Manchester City have never been the most consistent of teams. For many years they have been the bane of many people's jokes, the yo-yo side who couldn't establish themselves in one particular league for the duration of more than one season and who have had more managers than Jodie Marsh has had men.
So the 2007/08 season so far must have come as somewhat of a pleasant surprise for the long-suffering City faithful. The best start to a season ever in the blue half of Manchester has took everybody by surprise; Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer have described them on Match of the Day as the 'surprise package' and rightly so. The likes of Ipswich, Bolton, Wigan and Reading have all enjoyed seasons of being the Premier League's surprise package and as a result went on to enjoy varied success in Europe.
It could have been a very different story for City though. After a decent start to the 2006/07 season, their form plummeted after New Year and City found themselves lurking dangerously close to the bottom, with relegation form. Goals were more than hard to come by, attendances were down and confidence was at an all-time low. It seemed that Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce had run out of ideas, and both the fans and players had lost confidence in the manager. So why then did he decide to take on the England under 21 manager's job role, as well as his position at Eastlands?
Pearce had originally joined City as a player-coach in the Keegan era in 2001. He retired in 2003 and stayed on at City, but his big managerial break came in March 2005 when Keegan was sacked after a poor run of form. Pearce was definitely the fan's favourite: although he was inexperienced, his 'hard man' reputation left fans with no doubt of his motivational potential in the dressing room.
In his first months in charge, Pearce enjoyed an enviable run of form, stringing together a nine match unbeaten run and narrowly missing out on UEFA Cup football by literally the kick of a ball (Robbie Fowler's penalty miss). But eventually being passionate and having limited experience can only take a team so far. City's 2005/06 season ended in them scraping a lowly 17th finish, add to that City's lack of financial support (for Pearce to spend £6 million on Georgio Samaras is unacceptable. I watched him at the training ground once and in an hour's striking session he didn't score once), it really was no wonder that the Blues nose dived in the Premier League.
What Pearce did do well was encourage City's academy players to take the step up into first team football and integrate them well with more established players. The likes of Micah Richards, Ishmael Miller and Stephen Ireland all emerged through Pearce, and he was also preparing midfielder Michael Johnson to join them.
At the end of the 2006/07 season City finished 14th in the Premier League. It was yet another nail-biting close to the season, with City playing unorganised, scrappy football and Pearce playing long-ball with two of the most out of form strikers in the league, Samaras and Vassell. The general opinion amongst fans was that Pearce had to go- he had completely run out of ideas. City had scored no goals at home in the league in 2007, and 10 home goals in the entire season was the worst record ever. It came as no surprise when Pearce was sacked- it was to be the dawn of a new era.
Rumours had been circulating for some time regarding a potential take-over at Eastlands. So when it was confirmed that Thaksin Shinawatra had injected a rumoured £80 million into the club, the hype turned to who Pearce's replacement would be. Psycho's successor couldn't have been more different.
The appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson was a real coup for City: many people were surprised to see him return to English management so quickly after the national team debacle. Also, many people let his performance in that job, plus the media's perception of the Swede, cloud his credentials. Sven's glittering domestic record spoke for itself; Lazio, Benfica, Roma and Sampdoria all had trophies in their cabinets thanks to Sven. It was quite a change from Psycho and his maiden voyage.
Like I said, Sven was poles apart from Pearce. Pearce was the Lionheart: brimming with passion and pride, tenacious and eccentric and haphazard in his tactics (who remembers him playing David James up front- stroke of genius or just plain bonkers?). Sven on the other hand is the Iceman: he can read the game, has superb tactical awareness that allows his teams to play fluid, attractive football. His persona demands respect and his name, along with Shinawatra's millions enables him to attract top class talent.
Another clear difference in the change of management is their private lives. Pearce is very much a family man whose time away from work is spent safely behind closed doors. Sven' in stark contrast is played out very much in the media spotlight. His exploits have earned him a 'ladies' man' reputation with his every move being publicised, whether it be with females or meeting up with 'fake sheikhs'.
But both have enjoyed their success in quite contrasting ways. Pearce made himself a household name through being a highly successful club and country defender, spending considerable time at Forest and West Ham. His time in management has been minimal so far therefore he must learn the trade and gain in experiences so far. However, Sven's playing career was cut short by a knee injury at the age of 27, from which he decided to go into club management and has never looked back since.
Sven has got City playing football again; he has included the younger players (Richards, Ireland, Johnson) in amongst the new (Elano, Geovanni, Corluka) and established (Dunne, Hamann) players to create a unit that is defensively strong and somewhat creative and ingenuous. He will be the first to admit that he needs to bolster the Blue's striking options, but the result has been one-touch, sublime football rarely seen at City. Gone are the days where it takes a player in a blue shirt 20 yards to control a ball- well, they hope anyway.
It seems that fortunes and times are changing in the blue half of Manchester- could all those years of hurt set to finally be rewarded? City are sitting pretty in the top half of the league at the moment and fans have even seen Sven get a little 'Psycho' every now and again on the touch line. It remains to be seen if the Iceman's touch can make City hot favourites for a ticket to Europe this season but get your passports out, just in case.