City ready to challenge United for title
My first full-time job as a sports reporter was for a local radio station in Manchester. One of my tasks was to take in Joe Royle interviews – the then manager of Manchester City - and edit them for our Saturday show. They were always entertaining.
I remember him having an argument with a collection of journalists over the quality of a striker called Robert Taylor. Taylor had scored against City in the Division Two play-off final of 1999 for Gillingham and was snapped up by Royle about six months later.
One of the assembled voices had referred to Taylor as a “pub player” in his commentary and Royle was not a happy bunny. “You’ve got to realise that I have to work within a budget!” he said. “Who do you expect me to bring in... Ronaldo?”
I was reminded of that story when City splashed another bucketload of cash this week. Samir Nasri is the latest man persuaded that the future looks bright in laser blue.
The days when supporters used to call our football phone-in to defend their often-booed captain Richard Edghill and sing the praises of Kevin Horlock (or Super Kevin Horlock) seem an awfully long way away.
Even the excitement at the arrival of Kevin Keegan, and the dazzling skills of Eyal Berkovic and Ali Benarbia, have faded into the shadows created by the current crop of superstars.
On the day Keegan arrived, there were hundreds of fans outside the club reception. He made a joke about his mother telling him never to play near the “Maine Road” – everybody laughed. His name was all over the Manchester Evening News that night and he was talking about stealing some of the limelight away from Sir Alex Ferguson’s lot down the road. City fans believed he could do it.
Keegan left Manchester in 2005. In the six years since, things have changed immensely. Ronaldo isn’t playing for them but, if he (the Brazilian Ronaldo, that is) was in the prime of life - and a few stones lighter - he might well be tempted.
Two seasons ago, I asked Mark Lawrenson about the future for Manchester City on my first Football Focus. He predicted that they would win the league within three years.
That’s why I’m backing them to do it this year. Manchester United look slick again and Ferguson has built yet another impressive young squad but, if manager Roberto Mancini can get his team to click (and importantly the bosses believe he can) then they will be mighty close to the league championship come May.
One man who is particularly impressed with Mancini’s transfer dealings is Rafa Benitez - back on Football Focus last weekend.
I’ll be honest with you, I used to be a Benitez doubter. I’d sat through hundreds of press conferences and interviews with the Spaniard and never been entirely convinced that he was a football colossus. I was wrong.
I’ve written in the past about how he divides opinion but you don’t have to spend long in his company to realise how much he knows and how passionate he is about the game.
Now I don’t want this blog to turn into a “how much did Benitez really spend at Liverpool” debate because, frankly, it’s boring. I would love to see how he does when he dips his toe into management again.
The Aston Villa job wasn’t right because the club were not willing to spend the money needed to make the top four. He will be back but, as he said last week, it’s all about the “right opportunity” and he might have to hang around for a while.
After the show, Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham, Benitez and I had a 10-minute chat just outside the studio. Higginbotham was firing questions at the former Liverpool boss, who was responding with remarkable story after remarkable story.
You know it’s a good tale when a Premier League footballer’s jaw drops. Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, David Moyes and Sergio Aguero were some of his specialist subjects but – as per usual – the conversation ended with a Spanish smile and a “keep all that to yourself... right?”.
There is no Benitez on Football Focus this week but we’ve got another packed programme for you. I need to remind you that we are on at 1130 BST this week.
You’ll hear from Nani and John Terry (amongst others) and we’ll hopefully grab a word with Uwe Rosler. He also played for a very different looking Manchester City but has been through an awful lot since and is now the Brentford boss.
If you have any questions or comments about Football Focus, you’d like to suggest something for the show or you can tell me whether to put Rooney or Aguero in my fantasy league team then put your thoughts below.
I’ll come back to answer some of your queries and if you want to keep up to date with all the thrills and spills of Football Focus you can find me on Twitter at twitter.com/danwalkerbbc
Don’t forget - an early start at 1130 BST on BBC 1. Tell your friends.