Etihad Ten: The Sven Revolution of 07/08
- 05 June 2013 09:38
- Posted by @markbooth_mcfc
Though his reign was brief, the name of Sven-Goran Eriksson still raises a smile around this part of Manchester.
City’s marked year-on-year progression up until winning the title in 2011/12 arguably began with the then 60-year old’s only campaign in the hot-seat.
Winds of change were blowing through the corridors and along the terraces at the City of Manchester Stadium after a miserable end to the 2006/07 season which featured the infamous five month home goal drought.
Despite Sven's reputation taking a knock after a five-year spell in charge of the Three Lions, he was still seen as an exciting appointment for City going into the new season after amassing seven trophies in his last club management job at Lazio.
With the national team’s recent struggles well documented, perhaps his England regime deserves re-examination, considering that only Brazil matched England’s achievement of reaching at least the quarter-final stage in three consecutive major competitions from 2002 to 2006.
Now back into the day-in-day-out work of club management he'd been craving, Sven was in possession of one of Europe’s most extensive scouting networks, a thriving youth academy, as well as Thaksin Shinawatra’s seemingly ample cheque book.
The amiable 'Svennis' immediately set about adding quality to his squad.
Wikpedia may have been required for Blues eager to learn more about the exotic summer shopping list which included Elano Blumer, Javier Garrido and Vedran Corluka but the relative obscurity of the names only added to the intrigue for City supporters as the season drew near.
More familiar acquisitions on this trolley cart dash around world football were highly rated Italian forward Rolando Bianchi, Bulgarian international winger Martin Petrov and former Barcelona playmaker Geovanni, much to Sven’s delight.
"I like it very much here and I hope I will like it even more in May," he told mcfc.co.uk. "It's good to be back even if it has been a hectic few weeks.”
Journalists and pundits cast doubts that this international cast of newcomers could gel together into a cohesive unit in time for the first game but any reticence would be firmly dismissed on one glorious opening day in the East End of London.
West Ham were taken apart in the opening half at Upton Park, as debutants Elano, Petrov, Bianchi and Garrido immediately took to English football.
Bianchi scored the opening goal of the Eriksson era after 18 minutes, sliding home from an incisive cross-cum-through-ball from Elano in the first half before Geovanni made sure of the points three minutes from time with a clinical strike past Rob Green.
"My first match in the Premier League and three points away - that's really good,” was Sven’s typically understated verdict.
City edged past newly-promoted Derby in their first home game and then made it three out of three when Manchester United visited the City of Manchester Stadium,courtesy of a deflected strike from Geovanni but it was the performance of Micah Richards at centre-back that really caught the eye.
The teenager was given the Man of the Match award after a commanding showing which belied his years and earned his manager’s praise.
"I do not remember having a defender that strong and that quick at any age. That is a combination that is very rare indeed,” Eriksson beamed.
"He wins everything in the air and can fight with any centre-forward and then, if he makes a mistake, he has the speed to repair it."
...Sven Goran Eriksson on Micah Richards...
After guiding City to the top of the league at the end of August, Sven received the Premier League Manager of the Month award and Richards claimed the Player gong.
As Micah, Michael Johnson, Kasper Schmeichel, Joe Hart and Stephen Ireland will attest, Sven had no hesitation in giving youth its head which paid rich dividends long after the former Benfica Head Coach departed.
A couple of 1-0 defeats to Arsenal and Blackburn followed the derby delight which served to check some of the euphoria around the club but the Blues were too good stay down for long, picking up 13 points from their next five games, winning their first six home games for the first time since 1957.
In particular, the comprehensive back-to-back home wins against Newcastle and Middlesbrough stand out as indicative of this sublime brand of football seen at times under Eriksson, with Elano, Petrov and Geovanni all in devastating form at the back end of a summer Blues wanted to never end.
However as the nights drew in, City’s away form was stuttering – an issue highlighted by the 6-0 thumping at the hands of Chelsea at the end of October.
City failed to win in five away league games after that humbling Stamford Bridge encounter but the perfect home start of nine consecutive wins kept Sven’s men in touch with the upper echelons of the table going into the busy festive fixture pile-up.
That incredible run finally came to an unfortunate end when future Blue Roque Santa Cruz scored a controversial 84th minute equaliser for Blackburn Rovers to make it 2-2 in a match City really ought to have won.
In the New Year, the goals seemed to dry up and critics queued up to posit that either Premier League defences had worked out how to stop Eriksson’s new-look side, City had no Plan B, or that the heavy pitches of an English winter were telling on foreign legs.
In truth, City were not helped by a growing injury list and a run of fixtures which included tough assignments against Liverpool, Arsenal and a Joleon Lescott-inspired Everton.
Creeping doubts on the legitimacy of the City’s European aspirations were to be cast aside in the most thrilling circumstances when the second Manchester derby of the season came around in February.
It was a sombre occasion inside Old Trafford before the game as the two clubs came together to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
Sven penned an open letter to Manchester City supporters asking for rivalries to be put to one side and for respect to be shown to City’s neighbours on a poignant afternoon.
Pleasingly, the tribute was impeccably observed by both sets of supporters and on the field, City produced a performance equally versed in quality and grit against a Manchester United team featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
Deadline day acquisition Benjani shouldered in the winning goal in a 2-1 triumph to complete City’s first league derby double since 1969/70.
A double over Manchester United is one way to assure a place in the hearts of all City supporters but despite this promising first campaign in charge, speculation on Eriksson’s future started to appear across the back pages and refused to go away.
These rumours seemed to have an impact on the team’s performances and a miserable run of form gripped in spring, with defeats to Reading, Birmingham and Fulham wiping away the previously fixed smile on supporters’ faces.
As the league entered its final weeks it was becoming increasingly obvious that Sven would not be in charge in August and the nadir of his reign arrived on the final day, in the farcical 8-1 defeat to Middlesbrough.
Many fans donned the yellow and blue of Sweden in support of their under-pressure manager for a game which got off to the worst possible start when Richard Dunne was shown a straight red card in the 15th minute.
A porous City side shipped seven goals over the next 70 minutes until Elano rolled back the months to remind everyone present of those magical opening weeks of the season.
The Brazilian magician weaved through a few challenges and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner but the goal could barely be referred to as a consolation, despite the comical over-celebrations of hardy Blues in the away end.
Despite the heavy defeat, a local newspaper petition named “Save Our Sven” garnered tens of thousands of signatures but fans’ pleas fell on deaf ears.
As expected and feared by many, Eriksson was relieved of his duties at City on 2 June 2008, just three months before Sheikh Mansour took ownership of the club.
"I have enjoyed my time at Manchester City very much and I would like to thank the fans, players and staff for their amazing support,” Sven said in his final statement, before travelling over to the stadium to shake hands and thank every single employee at City.
Those saying goodbye to the Swede were left in no doubt that one of the game’s true gentlemen was departing the club.