Thursday, 2 April 2009

City and The Damned United

I'm sure lots of you will have seen The Damned United this week, or even read the book as well. And while it's worth seeing (and reading) on its own merits, I do think its main theme can tell us alot about City.

That theme is that the most valuable currency at any football club is managerial authority, and the extent to which the manager has ownership of the football team. The reason Clough failed at Leeds is that he did not own the team. It was a side constructed by his predecessor, to play a particular sort of football, with great success. Having managed Leeds United for thirteen years, and won two First Divisions, one FA Cup and one League Cup, Revie's authority and ownership of Leeds United was total. Clough's decision, then, to cast himself against the Revie regime was to run against the grain of the narratives of the club. Even though Revie had left, the Revie narrative had been so imbued by the players, the fans and the board of Leeds United that Clough simply could not throw it over.

Now I'm not suggesting some perfect analogy between Leeds United 1974 and Manchester City 2008, but I do think there's some value in using those themes to look at City last year. When Mark Hughes became manager he inherited a squad with eleven players bought by Sven-Göran Eriksson, players very different from those that Hughes would himself have bought to City. While Eriksson obviously had neither the longevity nor the success of Don Revie at Leeds United, the squad was sufficiently supportive of him to threaten to refuse to go on the Far East tour of May 2008, in protest of his immanent dismissal. But when Hughes came he cast himself as an order-destroying manager, an anti-Eriksson. And in the last ten months we've witnessed Mark Hughes (and Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki) attempt to tear down the club as they found and rebuild the club as they wished it. I've previously called this 'Sparkyisation': it's a process of defining, destroying and creating, realised through language, transfers and other means.

Hughes has already got further with his wresting to himself of club ownership than Clough ever did at Leeds. But while there are still those at the club with fond memories of previous era, this is still an embryonic process. There are still too many Eriksson signings: Garrido, Elano, Fernandes, and Caicedo who Hughes sees as fundamentally unsuited to the Premier League. And too many from the Stuart Pearce seasons - Vassell, Ball, and Hamann - whose hunger left them along with their pace some time ago. Until he rids the club of them, and replaces them with his players to play in his way, he cannot hope to have the ownership - and with it, the authority, that Don Revie - like every other successful club manager in football history - had.


M9NY said...

Great analogy, intelligently written. Another example of why this excellent blog is head and shoulders above most other sites. You're without doubt the best out there, Keep it up mate.

Elby the Beserk said...

I'll second M9NY's comment.

As a 57 year old, I can recall that Leeds team all too well! And the times. Certainly, the book caught both the tenor of football at the time, and England as well. A sense of grime everywhere hangs over the book.

Hope the film is somewhere near as good.