In an exclusive three part series, MCFC legend Gary Owen answers the questions of worldwide VMC Forum members. An insightful and thought provoking read…
GARY OWEN CITY FACT FILE:
BORN: St Helens, Lancashire. 7th July 1958
Arrived at City from Manchester Boys
LEAGUE DEBUT: Saturday, 20th March 1976 in a 3-2 win at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers (Age: 17)
124 League and Cup apps (+2 as sub), 24 goals
ENGLAND U21 CAREER:
22 apps, 4 goals
1. I followed City all through the seventies from the Mercer era, and saw you play many times. When Allison returned I thought without Mercer to guide him he was a clueless maverick who hogged the headlines ahead of the players. Do you agree the appointment of Allison, and his dismantling of a very strong City side, was the foundation of the the rot that has prevailed for thirty years?
‘I think you are absolutely spot on. I don’t think it can be blamed solely at the hands of Malcolm. Malcolm played his part, but you have to look at the directors. If those directors had allowed their businesses to be run the way they allowed our football club to be run, they would not have been as successful in business as they were. They allowed good value assets to leave cheaply and be replaced by over inflated assets.
‘An example of that is Steve Daley, a good friend of mine. Steve’s been to games as my guest. He told me that when he agreed to join City from Wolves, he expected to be playing alongside the likes of myself, Asa Hartford, Joe Royle, Brian Kidd and Peter Barnes. Yet when he arrived at Maine Road, he realised he was coming in to help replace those players. He couldn’t believe it. Steve was hoodwinked. His transfer fee started off at £400,000 and it went up to an astonishing fee of £1.5 million. Wolves immediately countersigned the cheque and passed it on to Aston Villa for Andy Gray. Steve, losing self belief, found it very difficult playing under that price tag in a side full of young players struggling to establish themselves in the then first division.
‘Furthermore, Michael Robinson was brought in for £750,000 which was probably the price of Asa Hartford and Brian Kidd put together!
‘One thing Malcolm did say looking back at what he’d done over 18 months was that the one regret he had was letting me go. It was great to read, but unfortunately it was too late and I had gone, marooned down at West Brom. Malcolm had some great ideas but he was way ahead of his time.
‘The team Malcolm had inherited was no longer recognisable. In my opinion, the board of directors deserve as much criticism as Malcolm because between them all, they did an unbelievable job of almost bankrupting the club with a debt for the next 30 years which has stayed with us until our new owners came in 2008 to put us on a level footing and beyond.’
2. Do you think it was the right time to part company with Mark Hughes?
‘Mark wanted to bring in a professional, collective team spirited way of playing like he had produced at Blackburn. The outside of the club, the support base wanted to know more about what was going on and Mark, to his own detriment, kept it all in house and was a really private person. Which is fine, but at a club like Manchester City you have to show a different side to your personality because you are leading the club, showing what is expected because you are the manager.
‘Mark didn’t do that. He was backed totally. He had a list of what he wanted and he agreed targets with the club for the multi millions that he had spent. Initially top six, which became top four after the £25 million signings of Adebayor and Lescott.
‘In any business, if you are running a company and you are intent on moving in a certain direction and you want to get there quickly, if you can afford it, the only way you are going to do that is buy chucking money at it and bringing in the best people to get that business module there quicker. With that comes responsibility and targets. Mark’s downfall was that we went on a run of eleven games and only won two. Eight of those were draws. He would have been better off losing half and winning half of those games and being on course for the agreed 70 points target.
‘So the situation was looked at approaching another transfer window and the half way point of the season and following £200 million, were the owners prepared to give him more money to spend. And that’s unfortunately how business works and that is what football is now. All that money has to realise some sort of profit, either getting into the Champions League or winning a trophy, putting us on the map. That wasn’t looking likely with the amount of draws and the players at Mark’s disposal.
‘These businessmen are the weathiest people in the world by being clever businessman, not by chance. Mark was not delivering and he knew the consequences of failing to do that. From the outside it looks harsh, but those targets were agreed and Mark new the consequences if those targets weren’t met.
‘One of the criticisms levelled at Mark was how he only changed things on the pitch after things had gone wrong and we’d conceded goals. Our new manager Roberto Mancini has to date shown that he will make changes before that happens.’
3. Can you see Mancini staying beyond a rumoured initial 6 months contract he signed and if so can you see City winning trophies under his leadership?
‘Mancini knows how to win. No two ways about it. He was a fantastic player. Not all the best players become great managers, but he has done it in Italy. He won three back to back championships and won four trophies.
‘Doing it here is another kettle of fish. You only have to look at World Cup winner Felipe Scolari who didn’t cut the mustard at Chelsea. There are no guarantees, but you have to look at what the manager has done elsewhere, that’s why they brought in Scolari and we brought in Mancini.
‘The only reason he has been out of work for 18 months is because he has been waiting for his payment from Inter Milan to be finalised before he could take another job, just like Alan Curbishley who has been out of football for a long time. Gary Megson is on gardening leave for 12 months. As soon as Mancini was available, City moved for him.
‘In my opinion, in big business you don’t sack someone without having anybody in mind to come in. People might think that is not right but that is common practice in business if you want the business to run smoothly.
‘So Mancini is here for what some people say to be six months. Some people say six months with a two year option. His remit is to try to win a trophy. We were knocked out of the League Cup semi-final in the final seconds, are fifth in the Premier League with a game in hand but also now out of the FA Cup. It would only be wise at the end of this current campaign to see if Mancini is happy with what he has been given at Manchester City and for the club to decide if he is the man to take us where we want to go.
‘In his first games, he gave us hope, in his last few games it has been disappointing but we are sat fifth in the league at this moment in time. We all need a realism check even though our impatience is understandable as supporters.’
4. Does watching the decline of the rags make you happy or would you prefer to see both clubs do well?
‘Well they are second in the league, in the final of the League Cup and in the Quarter Finals of The Champions League. The only decline is that they have gone from being the wealthiest club in the world to being the one with the most debt.
‘For all the criticism and the ribbing we’ve had off their supporters for over 34 years, today we have it with that Stretford End flag, it would delight me if Manchester United never won another thing for the next 34 years and we were as successful as them.
‘And after those 34 years, I hope they do well just like they hope we do well now. When they’ve been down to League One and back up again and suffered all that financial hardship. I am all for fairness and equality and fairness means they don’t win bugger all for the next 34 years while we win everything. Then, we can, as they say, have two sides in the city that we can be proud of, but not for another 34 years as far as I am concerned.’
5. Can you put into words what it was like to make your City debut at Maine Road at the age of 17 against Wolves?!
‘A dream come true. A young boy playing at home in your lounge with a balloon pretending your scoring the winning goal, watching England, the World Cup, having every kit you could think of, playing as a schoolboy morning, noon and night, playing for about four teams on a Saturday and a Sunday. Throughout, the dream always was to be a professional footballer.
‘At sixteen to leave school and go to Manchester City as an apprentice and then one year later, to be walking out and playing alongside those same players, those heroes you had on your wall at home that you have been cleaning boots and laying out kit for was a schoolboy`s dream come true. For me, it was never about the financial gains it gave me, it was because I`d go and watch my heroes play and want to emulate them. I couldn`t think of anything nicer in the world to do and I was one of the fortunate one in a million who was able to make my dream come true.’
6. Gary who was the greatest player you ever played with and who was the greatest player you ever played against?
‘I played against some fantastic players. The Boniek’s, the Rossi’s, you name it, but the hardest player I ever played against was Liam Brady. He was an exceptional player who won Player of The Year in England and Italy (twice). He could tackle, he could pass, he could dribble, he could score and make goals. He was the all round player. People said he only had one foot but so did Revelinho, so did Garrincha, so did all those fantastic Brazilians. He could do more with that left foot than some players could if they had as many legs as an octopus.
‘Best player I ever played with? I can’t name one. They all had different attributes. Robson at West Brom and Glenn Hoddle with England. Dave Watson was a domineering centre half at City, while Dennis Tueart, Peter Barnes and Laurie Cunningham were all dynamic wingers.
‘I’ve had the privilege of playing alongside so many great players but I cannot name one as the greatest. But were I to name the greatest player I have ever seen, one who I once played against in a testimonial, then it would be George Best. I know he was a red, but let me tell you, he is the finest player I have ever seen.’
7. Is Brian Kidd a Blue or a Red?
‘Now then. You’ll have to listen to this answer very closely…He was a Red, then he was a Blue, then he was a Red and now he’s a Blue.
‘He obviously started at United, and you always have a soft spot for your first club. That`s where you started out. He’s played and coached for both clubs. Kiddo is a professional. When he’s working for us, he doesn’t want them to win against us. As far as he is concerned, he’s Blue through and through. But when he was at united, he was Red through and through and rightly so because that it is what being a professional is all about. Let me assure you, there is no denying what club he is at now and he wants us to be successful and as big a part of it as he was when he was at United.’
8. Can you see this idiot Michel Pratini stopping us going into the Champions League in the next season or two because of his new silly regulations?
‘Nothing surprises me about UEFA and FIFA. Platini and Blatter. They were twins separated at birth. Some of the ideas they come up with to try and enhance football are just complicating it. Yes, you want to make all competitions better but the latest talk of creating a Premier League play off for the Champions League fourth spot could see a side finishing seventh qualifying for a competition for champions, not the midweek super league it has become. That’s a ridiculous situation. It should be the best sides in that division who go through.’
9. You saw first hand in the 1970s how City can benefit from bringing forward young talent. You got your senior bow in 1976 after three years developing your skills. You went on to get 22 England U21 caps. How different was it for young players back in 1972 compared to the modern City Academy?
‘The difference now is that young players don’t have to do the jobs that we did. We had to learn to appreciate what it was like to be a professional. For example, you had to clean people’s boots and get their kit cleared up after the game. That’s what it was like learning your trade.
‘Now there is no such thing as Youth Training Scheme players or trainees doing any jobs. They think they’ve already made it when they sign for a club. We realised what had to be done. We used to look and think ‘hang on a minute, that’s what I want’ and it made you appreciate it far more when you got into the first team because of what it’s taken to get there.
‘Getting into the team now is as equally difficult as it was back then in a team that was also full of internationals from Joe Corrigan through to Dennis Tueart. Now we run from Shay Given in goal through to Carlos Tevez. You’ve still got to have that belief and that will and that bit of luck. You’ve got to hope the coaches at that younger level believe in you and will push you forward to the next level. Once you get to that level, as our young players now are being taken over to Carrington from Platt Lane, they have got to make a mark so that people see them and then they have to take that chance and try to stay in the squad.
‘Some of our players have done it, some haven’t. We’ve had around 29 Academy players break through but never in a million years would they all have become established Premier League footballers. And that’s proven when you look at players who have been moved on. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lee Croft, Willo Flood as examples. I see it as equally difficult now as in the seventies for a young player to break through at City. The side I joined was full of international footballers at the top of their game. I don’t see any difference now, save for the fact that the rewards come easier quicker, even if you don’t get to the top. Clubs don’t want to lose young players who show promise so they are already on top contracts before they even prove themselves.
‘It’s important that some younger players take note that that wealth should not be flaunted. Particularly not in the present climate when some people are struggling to get money together for tickets to watch City.’
10. The City Captaincy. Is Kolo Toure the answer? Many of us feel he is simply not exuding confidence and we look to be lacking leadership.
‘Everything looks that way from the outside. To the onlooker, Toure does not give the impression that when the going get’s tough, he’s able to organise it. A Captain should be a manager on the pitch. He should be able to change things, control things and for that you need a strong character.
‘I don’t know Kolo Toure that well, but Vincent Kompany of anyone in that team shows a command of that back four when he’s in it. He seems to pull people about, he seems to give them encouragement and he plays by example. He’s been our best central defender this season and probably only played a third of the games of the rest of them.’
Very many thanks and respect to Gary for this tremendous interview. Stay tuned with VMC for Part Two which follows next week!
As well as being a widely respected, successful media personality and commentator, Gary is the Managing Director of GTC Management, one of the UKs leading independent utility procurement brokers.
To find out more go to:
GTC Management: ‘Reducing Costs,Saving Time and Providing Peace of Mind’
Interview copyright Vital Manchester City, Gary Owen and The Vital Football Network 2010.
A Play As We Dream Production.
JOIN VITAL MANCHESTER CITY
Vital Manchester City was the fastest growing independent City Website of 2009 with a worldwide membership of over 2,100 Blues strong. Thank you for your support! Get on board both here and in our buzzing forums as we prepare for City’s big clash with Chelsea!