The 2007/08 season was one of the most exciting in Manchester City’s recent history. With a new owner, a new manager and a raft of new players, an air of optimism surrounded the club for the first time in years. Throw into the mix an extra-large helping of typical City or Cityitus, call it what you will, and the season epitomised much of what it means to be a Manchester City supporter.
Elano, Geovanni, Martin Petrov, Gelson Fernandes, Vedran Corluka, Javier Garrido, Valeri Bojinov, Rolando Bianchi. City were transformed by these exotic sounding names. Thanks to funds provided by new owner Thaksin Shinawatra’s, Sven-Goran Eriksson splashed approximately £30 million on these largely unknown players from all four corners of Europe. It was exciting. After all, the lethargy of Stuart Pearce’s City team had become almost unbearable.
If the new signings alone weren’t exciting enough, the football that followed certainly was. City’s early season form was nothing short of remarkable. Seemingly out of nowhere, Sven’s men learnt how to pass the ball and play an attractive, rousing brand of football. Long balls were a thing of the past – the team played with verve and were great to watch. The likes of Elano and Martin Petrov were pivotal in leading City to their best start in the league for thirty years. The 2-0 win away at West Ham on the opening day of the season, the 3-1 home win against Newcastle and the 1-0 Manchester Derby win courtesy of Geovanni’s long range strike in the early months of the season all live long in the memory.
Of course, Sven was largely responsible for City’s upturn in fortune. He was loved by the players and the fans. His relaxed approach allowed the creative players to flourish and his experience demanded their respect. As well as revolutionising City’s style on the pitch, he was charming and entertaining off it, it was all a far cry from the Pearce regime. He was so laid back that any attempts to find pictures of “Sven-Goran Eriksson angry” on Google are futile (but rather entertaining nonetheless). It was always worth tuning in for his press conferences, even if it was just to hear how him pronounced “Michael Johnson”. Speaking of which…
Michael Johnson, what a joy he was. Now a sad story of wasted talent, back in 2007 no one was more exciting our Urmston-born prodigy. This was the season where he established himself as one of the most naturally talented footballers ever to come through the ranks at City. A box-to-box midfielder, he had all the assets of one of the best: a great touch, passing ability and skill. He was a delight to watch. “The new Colin Bell”, “Future Captain of England” they used to say. His importance to side was only emphasised by his absence through injury during the winter of 2007. He was in a class of his own and his talent soon overshadowed the likes of Elano and Petrov. The story of what happened next is well known, but for this season at least the future was bright for Michael Johnson.
In spite of City’s excellent start to the season there was an ever-present air of unpredictability about the team. The fans certainly didn’t know what to except and, on the some occasions, it looked as if players didn’t either. After cruising in the top four for the first few months of the season, City’s form tailed off, and by February were languishing in mid-table.
That unpredictably is best epitomised in the Derby at Old Trafford in February 2008. The fixture fell on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster and much of the pre-match talk, understandably, was dominated by the sentimentality of the occasion rather than the football. Certain sections of the media questioned whether City supporters would respect the occasion and observe the minutes silence before the game, to such an extent that the cynic in me suspects they almost wanted something untoward to happen so they could have something to write about. Any forecast on the footballing side of things suggested only one thing: a heavy defeat for City. For the romantics, or the sycophants, out there it was destined to be Manchester United’s day. On the contrary, Darius Vassell *stifles laughter* and Martin Petrov ensured that it was in fact City’s day. City won 2-1 to record their first double over United since the 1969/70 season. No one saw that one coming, that’s for sure. City fans observed the minutes silence impeccably, by the way.
If being a Manchester City supporter has taught me one thing it is always to expect the worst. City simply can’t have too much of a good thing and that uncanny ability to make life difficult for themselves certainly reared its head in the latter stages of the season.
Case in point: Sven. Well before the season’s end it became clear that he was a dead man walking. News had leaked that Thaksin had wielded the axe and Sven was getting the sack at the end of the season. That, in turn, prompted a number of the City supporters to initiate the now rather embarrassing “Save our Sven” campaign. For as much good as Sven did, his team still left a lot to be desired. There is no doubt that he didn’t deserve to be treated that like he was, but the fan protest, predictably, had little to no affect. The 8-1 drumming by Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, and indeed that awful capitulation against Fulham which kick-started their “great escape” from relegation, exposed the “Save our Sven” campaign for what it truly was: a load of codswallop.
There was also the small matter of Thaksin Shinawatra. By the summer of 2008, his assets were frozen, on the run from the Thai authorities after attempting to avoid charges of political corruption in Thailand. The club was on its knees and staring into the abyss.
Typical bloody City.
We went onto finish 9th that season but that is kind of irrelevant. This was a season where the club woke up from their Stuart Pearce induced coma and entertained the supporters for the first time in a long time. This was a season when league standings didn’t matter as long as City weren’t getting relegated. This was a season when you win some, you lose some and you lose some more. There were many highs, some really great memories, but there was always something waiting to happen to remind you that this is the football club that cannot do anything easily. That this is Manchester City.
written by Rob Toole