Friday, July 14, 2017

MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU LOVE


So, where did all of this silliness begin?

Was it Peter Swales’s fault?

It always used to be, back in the old days when City were a solid laughing stock and almost everyone loved them for it. "You did what?! You sold Asa Hartford, Brian Kidd, Dennis Tueart, Peter Barnes, Dave Watson and Gary Owen and replaced them with Dave Wiffill and Paul Sugrue. Michael Robinson and Bobby Shinton. Have you gone out of your tiny mind?"
We still had Lee, of course, but it was Stuart not Francis and in any case the noise from everyone laughing wouldn’t let you appreciate his quietly ineffective outings up the right flank anyway..

And so it came to pass that Swales, in his ever-more desperate urge to catch Manchester United, who would each summer scoop up the close season’s most expensive purchase (be it Bryan Robson for nearly two million, Paul Ince in a controversial move from West Ham, where he had the red shirt on so quickly he was officially still a Hammers player when he fronted the press photographers, Gary Pallister for today’s equivalent of £50m or the expensive crab-like movements of Ray Wilkins), kept on upping the ante.

Just as in the world of politics, people have developed short memories. Either that or they weren’t born in those heady days of parkas and black and white tellies. Or maybe they wisely choose not to do the research. Liverpool in the 70s and United in the 80s and 90s, dominated the transfer market completely, cherry picking whoever they wanted. The fees paid pushed the market ever upwards and produced in the likes of Swales, Freddy Shepherd at Newcastle and Doug Ellis at Villa a paranoid need to try and tag along.

City were a busted flush, broke and laughable, going through the motions one last time with Trevor Francis, nicked from the grasp of – you guessed it – United in a last bid to wrest control in 1981. As any finance expert or inhabitant of the Emirates forecourt will tell you, however, false economies and overstretched budgets don’t work unless you have a solid Plan B.

When Francis’s well-publicised proneness to injury resurfaced, City were sunk. Gary Buckley and Aage Hariede were hardly like-for-like replacement. Without Francis, City looked utterly threadbare and were banished to the second division with a team shorn of its great stars and manned instead by the likes of Ian Davies, Chris Jones and a 39-year old John Ryan. They had been 2nd in November after a 2-0 win over Southampton at Maine Road and now here they were, descending into the relegation places for the first time that season on the very last day of the campaign, dumped there by Raddy Antic’s 84th minute winner for Luton Town.
Even that had been done adhering to the great Manchester City Book of Comedy. Eddie Large on the bench, David Pleat in his fawn suit and slip-ons, Luton Town singing on Match of the Day while wearing straw hats, we had the lot. Those trying to overturn the nº 41 on Clarement Road afterwards, however, had not stayed for the punchline.
Our chips and gravy had gone sour.

The following years brought meagre signings with new boss Billy McNeil’s hands tied behind his back. Miraculously, City resurfaced in the top flight within two years with Jim Tolmie, Derek Parlane, Neil McNab, Gordon Dalziel, Graeme Sinclair and Duncan Davidson the next-to-nothing signings that carried the ship forward, unsteady step by unsteady step.

City returned south two seasons later and began an even bigger descent in the mid-90s that took the club to the edge of oblivion, otherwise known as the Moss Rose, Macclesfield. League games against Bury, Stockport, Lincoln, York and Wrexham represented the coldest of showers for the great unwashed of the old Kippax terraces.

Broke and disheartened, we could only watch from afar as United and Liverpool continued their decades-long splurges, joined by a new moneyed elite of Arsenal (organic) Chelsea, buoyed first by Mathew Harding’s largesse then the windfall of Roman Abramovic’s surprise oil and steel windfall. Even Leeds were up there with the big hitters, spending money their erudite chairman Peter Ridsdale didn’t even know they had (they didn’t have it, as it turned out).

The Premier League’s dawn had occurred with City present at the 1992 curtain raisers, but soon the bandwagon laden with money was heading off over the horizon like a cartoon charabanc with City tied to a tree in dead man’s gulch.

David Bernstein, the first man at Maine Road, who could do O level arithmetic, steadied the ship in the third tier. Still City’s signings (Danny Allsopp, Danny Tiatto) were distinctly Argos to United’s Rue St Honoré purchases of Matt Stam, Jesper Blomquist and – just to show they still held onto a vague sense of humour – Karel Poborsky.
Standing room only at Macclesfield

City crawled back, carried by a wave of gritty enthusiasm from the terraces. Those “invisible” fans that turned up in ever-increasing numbers the worse things got carried the club forward. Astute buys and growing momentum sent the club back in the right direction. By the time City found themselves consolidating under the arclights of the Premier League again, foreign investors were beginning to hover, rightly seeing the club as one of English football's great investment opportunities.

Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed dictator of Thailand with an ill-gotten penny or two to stash away, took over from John Wardle and David Makin, whose financial backing in the lean years had been crucial to City’s survival. Still loved by many fans for their authentic otherworldlyness, City had ramped up their devil-may-care image with Kevin Keegan, bringing all out attack and a return to boom and bust transfers to the club. Robbie Fowler’s switch in particular nearly brought the house down again, Keegan insisting on “one more sweetie before dinner”. The irony of taking on a rotund Fowler from Leeds, at this point imploding under the pressure of Ridsdale’s unusual accounting (he had the most expensive goldfish in English football, which - unlike Leeds - could swim), was eye-watering. Shinawatra’s entrance bolstered coffers about to pop open once again, but all was not well.

An 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough topped a previous last day of the season game with the same opponents, when UEFA Cup football was missed by the width of a post, red faced Fowler missing the injury time penalty that would have put City into Europe. With manager Stuart Pearce employing David James up front, City were once again everyone’s favourite laughing stock: harmless, feather-light on the brain and unerringly impotent, they were present day Newcastle and Leeds rolled into one, fluffy, desperate ball of lightly powdered intrigue.

In the 90s, as the club ricocheted from one disaster to another, the idea of the 5th Column surfaced. There had always been boardroom insiders, members of the press, moles and snipers, all trying to disable the club’s attempts at walking in a straight line. For the most part, City hadn’t required any help, but they were there, dark and shadowy figures lurking in the corridors if push came to shove.

As Shinawatra’s wobbly morals came under the spotlight, the club once again reached a turning point. Premier League mobility required great amounts of money and the Thai was spending more and more of his to keep himself out of jail. Then suddenly a seismic shift that is still wobbling the league like a jelly nearly a decade later.

September 1st 2008.

Never look back. Lightning had struck in Manchester and we were all a little singed.

Transfer deadline day was hijacked by City, as they were first bought outright by the hitherto unheard of Sheikh Mansour from Abu Dhabi, then joined the fun and games of the last four hours of deadline day to turn it into a soap opera of the highest calibre. Pushing United beyond £30 million for Dimitar Berbatov was the first bit of jiggery pokery. City then hijacked Robinho’s move to Chelsea from Real Madrid, morphing from high end slapstick to shoot-to-kill in the space needed for a gentle period of tiffin.

Welcomed at first at the top table, City’s attempts to buy impressively had involved The Jo Experiment and other trips into surreal places with Emanuel Adebayor and unofficial club mascot Glauber Berti. City were in the club but they were on the outside still, with their wonky cheque book and their over-polished shoes.  

The public reaction was mainly glee that a proper club could make it rich, that a daft club could maybe try to upset the applecart, that the Champions League cartel of United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, the perennial qualifiers, might just have a fly dropped in their ointment at some stage in the future.

The problems really started when City started to beat United. With Alex “not in my lifetime” Ferguson still in charge, these so-called noisy neighbours and classless oiks started to get the better of his megalith United. Gently at first, then cataclysmically with an FA Cup semi final win, then a 6-1 win at Old Trafford that nearly reduced him to retirement on the spot and the crushing 1-0 win to turn the title race into a two-horse race. That United had come to the Etihad to defend said it all. The lame ponies had turned into galloping stallions and United were getting trampled underfoot. Up front, City's riches had enabled the purchase of Carlos Tevez from United too, a painful reminder despite the Argentinean's obvious penchant for trouble, that the tables had been turned.

Which is where the 5th column re-emerges. The mainstream press, brought up on the need to satiate United’s millions of followers with anodine puff pieces about their heroes, had a major issue on their hands. City were grabbing all the back page space for themselves and it was not because they were bankrupt, relegated or knocked out of the cup by a soothsayer. Now it was serious.
At some point between City’s earth shattering first Premier League win, at United’s expense of course, and their second two years later under the less voluble Manuel Pellegrini, something changed. Good will towards the new elite ebbed away to be replaced by a casual hatred for their vulgar spending sprees. The press looked for any angle that could paint a negative picture.


< 2002: Rio Ferdinand is unveiled at United for a record fee of £28m (rising to £33m), breaking the British record transfer fee for the third time in 13 months after the arrivals of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. The press reported it calmly and objectively.
Nowadays, in these incredible days of indecipherable transfer fees that have more noughts
on the end than a NASA winter budget, City’s dealings are treated like the movements of a serial killer. Where others have the transfer fee announced, City’s are increased by wages and add-ons that might never happen. The headlines are about vulgarity and astonishment, despite others spending more and yet others spending eye-watering figures on players that have hardly made their names in the sport. Arsene Wenger has invented the term financial doping just for City, apparently oblivious to everyone else doing the same. Fans the length and breadth of the country survive on the frothy tabloid oxygen of hyperbole and dishonesty. Lines are skewed, numbers are massaged, all in the name of clickbait and the furtherance of the new wave of Emptihad grossness that should apparently now make us all deeply nauseous.
And they're right. It is all a little nauseous. It is a little vulgar. It is a little astonishing. But it has always been a little like this. As the Premier League cash cow has gradually grown its great swinging, vein-flecked udders, we have all been splashed with milk. However hard we try to make City's ventures worse than anyone else's, however, Everton spraying £25m all over Burnley for Michael Keane, Chelsea leaking £40m for Bakayoko and Manchester United testing the boundaries of decency with £31m for Lindelöf and a king's ransom for Lukaku are all just as "bad", if it is indeed possible or useful to try and compare these things. Certainly it is City that are stirring the emotions right now and stirring them vigorously. That Lukaku's monster fee produced mainly glee and excitement from the press was predicable. That City's desperate swoop for a full back needs Mirror stalwarts David Anderson AND David O'Donnell to co-write a piece humping the price up to over double its actual worth just serves to underline how far City's star has fallen. Infamy, infamy, they've all got it infamy, as Frankie Howerd might have said.   

From those timid days of Paul Sugrue, of the virgin Bobby Shinton and Peter Swales purchasing Kazimierz Deyna from Legia Warsaw with a trailer full of fridge freezers from Altrincham, from Romark tipping Big Mal’s City out of the FA Cup ona quagmire in Halifax, from Nick Fenton belting the ball onto the roof v Notts County and Jamie Pollock morphing into Ronaldinho just to score the best own goal in history, City have emerged into the dazzling white light at the top of the football mountain.
But even here they have found darkness.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE DOTTED LINE

Where today's star signings emerge through a tunnel of confetti and flashbulbs (or not in the case of Dani Alves) to pose in the new season kit wearing the bewildered smiles of the unfathomably rich, back in the day, those blinking and grimacing at the thought that they had been snapped up by the mighty Manchester City were lucky if they received a moist embrace from secretary Bernard Halford. When he wasn't busy inventing new ways to cock up the club's ticketing systems, Bernard always seemed to be the one available for the smiling-newcomer-with.pen photos that would be in the next morning's Daily Mirror. The affable arm around the shoulder; the bespectacled I'm-dealing-with-this glance, this was Bernard territory.

There might have been a slight chance of a chummy slap on the shoulders from Jimmy Frizzell or a quick photo shoot in the broom cupboard with a bic and a couple of sheets of strategically placed A4. If you were really unlucky you might get an immediate bit of elite coaching from the passing Stuart Pearce or even a state-of-the-moment racing tip from Alan Ball. You would do well not to try and engage Mel Machin in optimistic new season conversation, though.

Among the fans, there was no daily scramble to gather sense from the minutiae of the Gazzetto dello Sport's coverage of Torino's pay rebel centre forward or sweaty hours spent trying to get Google to produce a reliable translation of A Bola's tightly sprung rumour mill. The Daily Express would tell you in the morning: it would be either on or off.

OFF; This is not to say that in the late seventies, there weren't some moments of fake news. Here the Sunday Express is sure City are closing in on a deal for West Ham's Rolls Royce midfielder Trevor Brooking. Nothing came of the early summer rumour and City ended up with a forward instead. For the same fee, Mike Channon brought his windmill arm goal celebration, which at the time seemed worth the fee on its own.

Malcolm Allison looks sane enough in this summer 1979 shot, but in fact his mind was doing little cartwheels, having sold Dave Watson, Peter Barnes, Gary Owen and Asa Hartford. The top class replacements? Bobby Shinton, of Wrexham, and Michael Robinson, from Preston. These were the first signs that Big Mal's second coming was about to take a different direction to the guaranteed success route that all had presumed City were embarking on.

Shinton, having uprooted not a single tree in low profile stints at Walsall and Wrexham, was suddenly deemed to be worth £300,000 of City's money, the same amount that had brought in England forward Mike Channon a couple of summers earlier.

It was a bright new phase for the club that would see Paul Sugrue, Dave Wiffill, John Ryan and a number of other luminaries arrive to help the smooth transition from erstwhile trophy candidates to rampaging relegation fodder.

There were near misses aplenty in the years that followed, as City's pulling powers diminished faster than Mr Halford's hairline. Even Middlesbrough's pocket dynamo Stan Cummins, not destined to achieve ever-lasting fame, but nevertheless an integral part of a deeply embarrassing game at Maine Road for newly promoted Sunderland in 1979, decided the lure of Crystal Palace too much to resist. This far City's stock had tumbled.

Graham Baker gets the Bernard Halford Treatment.
Bargain signing Gordon Dalziel has to make do with Derek Parlane and a Tartan teddy bear, as Bernard is out shopping.

By the time Billy McNeill shipped up from Celtic, City's idea of a summer transfer involved anyone with four limbs who cost nothing. Bargain Basement was the name of the game, especially if it was Scottish stock. McNeil pulled in Derek Parlane from Bulova in Hong Kong, Neil McNab and Jim Tolmie, who had been wasting his days in Belgium, playing for Lokeren. In that first horrific season in Division Two, all played a significant role in pulling City together again. Indeed McNab stayed on to grace the first division when City finally returned in 1985.
There had been times when City pushed the boat out, with great initial results and disastrous long term effects. Trevor Francis's arrival in 1981 was the eventual catalyst for City's relegation and subsequent bargain shopping. peter Swales, always trying to haul City up to United's level, broke the bank for Francis, but then discovered that his cod economics left the club without a penny for anything else. Francis was initially brilliant, then frequently injured and his purchase was the last million pound summer excitement for many years. 
On arriving in the First Division for the 1985-86 season, Swales loosened the purse strings a little to allow McNeill to scale up his buying to Nigel Johnson of Rotherham. With him arrived City fan Mark Lillis from Huddersfield and ex-United stalwart Sammy McIlroy. In this picture for Shoot magazine, McIlroy looks as pleased about it as most City fans were. At least Johnson can't believe his luck.
Derek Parlane gets the Jimmy Frizzell/Bernard Halford/bic/strategically placed A4 treatment: very nearly a full house.

By the early 90s City's spending power had still not returned, with swap deals covering the fact that Swales was still hunting for the cash he had stashed away under the Maine Road floorboards. Here fan favourites "Dissa" Pointon and Steve Redmond are sacrificed for the speed and tenacity of Ricky Holden.
City make a big splash for John Deehan, Andy Dibble, Bryan Gayle, Wayne Biggins and Nigel Gleghorn. Be still, our beating hearts.

FAKE NEWS: Three that got away: Pat Jennings, Joe Jordan and Kevin Drinkell.


Modern times have ushered in new ways. The assembled crowd, the triumphal arch, the regal wave, the Welcome to Manchester, the hullaballoo, the tweaking of other people's noses, the popping flashbulbs, the glamour and the glitz of the meet the public sessions and the glorious moment of first contact with the acrylic garment that bears your name.

Ben Thatcher offers his innocent face to the snappers as named shirts become a feature

Emmanuel Adebayor waves to those members of the 30-strong crowd outside, who haven't been frightened away by his headwear.

Carlos Tevez is ushered inside as his headwear is deemed too scary for members of the public to come into contact with. There was also the prospect of a lightly fuming Alex Ferguson loitering outside with a harpoon gun.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

TIME'S ARROW


Tony Book holds aloft the 1976 League Cup with Mike Doyle.
With Manchester City’s players reassembling for the first stretches of pre-season training, the inevitable pressure cooker of being a manager at the pointy end of the Premier League begins its annual growth spurt.

Having Pep Guardiola as manager means City can relax a little, as there are few better options to have in control of your club’s immediate playing destiny.

Having begun his tenure in Manchester with an unprecedented blank sheet, Guardiola is being widely predicted to bring home the bacon this time round.
Despite the high expectations, one might expect his unsullied reputation to win him more time than most.
The Catalan’s simple target is to relaunch City as a major domestic force after a lull in proceedings under predecessor Manuel Pellegrini and introduce the club to the very highest echelons of European football. And try to keep them there.

Manchester City is a very different animal to the one that languished in the old second division in the mid-sixties, down on its luck and without a hope in its heart. Attendances had fallen to an all-time low (today’s imbecilic jibes about empty stadiums would have been apt to use properly in those threadbare times) and City’s playing staff lacked the style and grit to haul it out of the morass.

Along came Joe Mercer, persuaded to give management another go after spells of decidedly average plodding at Sheffield United and Aston Villa. Suffering with ill health and advised against the move, Mercer stubbornly took the job, famously saying that “Football can live without me, but I cannot live without football.” The date was 13th July 1965.

With the help of his highly strung but technically superb assistant Malcolm Allison, Mercer hauled City back into the top flight. By 1967-68, they were league champions, topping off a marvellous season with a thrilling 4-3 win at Newcastle to gain the title. It had been almost exactly three years from beginning to glory. More was to come in City’s hitherto most prolific trophy-winning phase, with the Mercer-Allison duo claiming the FA Cup, the League Cup and City’s only European success to date, the Cup Winners’ Cup.

When Allison took the reins himself after a boardroom coup had ousted Mercer, it was thought only a matter of time before more glory came City’s way. In fact the experiment was an abject failure, with Mercer’s old assistant presiding over the gradual crumbling of an empire. City won nothing under Allison’s sole charge and, within two years, he had gone to Crystal Palace. 

When he returned almost a decade later tasked with reigniting the flames of glory, he doused them completely and was ousted after presiding over the dismantling of a promising late seventies side built by ex-Mercer era full back and captain Tony Book. Book had taken charge in 1974 and, within two seasons, had constructed a side to win the League Cup in 1976. It was to be City’s last trophy until the FA Cup win over Stoke in 2011 under Roberto Mancini’s stewardship.

Before Mancini, the likes of Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Erikssen and Mark Hughes had all come up short, failing to break the 44-year trophy embargo placed on the club by the football fates.

Mancini had arrived to a hail of plaudits in December 2009 and proved a relatively quick worker, immediately pitching City into the League Cup semifinals and finally breaking the club’s trophy hoodoo at the end of his first full season in charge. A season later, the coveted first league title since Mercer and Allison was achieved, before Mancini’s reign ended with Cup Final defeat to Wigan in May 2013.

Patience then success for Joe Mercer
His successor Pellegrini was put under immediate pressure to come up with the goods with a five-trophies-in five-years mandate from the owners. In double quick time the Chilean delivered a second Premier League title and a League Cup win, repeating the latter in his third season in charge.

As City’s hunger for trophies has grown, so the need for instant results has been magnified. For a club that infamously munched its way through a total of 15 managers during Alex Ferguson’s sole tenure across the city boundary, it could reasonably be said that patience has long been a rare commodity in the sky blue boardroom.

These days the stakes are higher and the sums of money spent on each season’s assault on trophies match them cent for cent. City’s stability (they are the most consistent top six finisher in the modern era of 2010-2017) has ushered in a new period of expectation and with it the pressure is inflated.  

If Guardiola’s legacy is to create the grand festival of success that all yearn for, the coming season will begin to define it. His reputation precedes him. His supporters await the fulfilment of City’s long-hatched plan for a new Belle Epoque. But time waits for no man.
This article first appeared on ESPNFC's website on 10th July 2017

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"City Had Been Following Me for Some Time" EDERSON interview

New goalkeeping recruit Ederson Morais has been talking to Portuguese football journalist Pedro Ponte at Record newspaper. Here are the highlights of a long interview with the ex-Benfica number one translated into English.

⛨ WHAT MEMORIES WILL YOU TAKE WITH YOU OF YOUR TIME AT  BENFICA?
I was there four years in all. I remember when I was in Brazil and the possibility arose that I could be going to Benfica, I went mad. "I'm going to Europe!". I was only 15 when I arrived in Lisbon and when I saw the Academy in Seixal... "My God this is first class". There I began my first steps in big time football. I did two years at the Academy, left and, a little later, had the opportunity to return. Benfica opened the gates to Europe for me and for that I will always be grateful.

⛨ DID YOU EVER IMAGINE THAT YOU WOULD LEAVE HAVING WON SO MANY TITLES IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD?
When I came back (from 3 years at Rio Ave) I certainly dreamt this might be possible. Benfica is a club with a winning mentality, which always has to be champion and which enters all competitions with the idea of winning them.

⛨ EVEN WITH YOUR DEPARTURE AND THAT OF LINDELÖF, WITH PERHAPS OTHERS STILL TO COME, DO YOU BELIEVE BENFICA CAN BE CHAMPIONS THIS SEASON?
Yes, the quality is still there. Certainly it will be difficult but I have total confidence that they will manage to get title number 37 this year. Benfica have let three players go, but will quickly stabilise things. It has always been like this in recent years. Benfica has become a production line of great players. For example, I am not so sure that they will be able to hold on to Grimaldo and Nélson Semedo for much longer. Football has become big business and whoever has the most cash plucks off the best players.

⛨ YOU ARRIVED AT THE CLUB DURING A PHASE WHEN THEY WERE STILL "RECOVERING" FROM THE DEPARTURE OF JORGE JESUS. THERE WERE UNSTABLE MOMENTS, THE SUPERTAÇA DEFEAT TO SPORTING, HOW DID THE TEAM.REACT TO THESE SETBACKS?
Well, we always had a very united group and Rui Vitória knew how to bond us together. He is a 5-star manager, who treats you well and even with such a troubled start, we had the power and ability to win the title by the end of that season. I cannot speak highly enough of the manager.

⛨ AND THE TALK COMING OUT OF SPORTING, ESPECIALLY FROM JORGE JESUS HIMSELF, DIDN'T HAVE AN EFFECT ON YOU? AT THE END OF THE DAY YOU WATCH TV TOO AND YOU HAVE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET TOO. YOU MUST HAVE BEEN AWARE OF IT ALL?
Yes, that's true! We heard all of the quotes, but they go in one ear and out the other. It was like water that falls on your hand but then dries again. It didn't make the slightest difference because we were focussed on our own side and what we could achieve on the pitch.

⛨ YOU HAVE SPOKEN VERY HIGHLY OF RUI VITÓRIA, A TRAINER VERY CLOSE TO HIS PLAYERS. DID YOU FEEL THIS ELEMENT OF HIS CHARACTER TOO?
He was essential for me. He filled me with a lot of confidence, before my debut. He is the leader of the group, a sincere man, who says to your face exactly what he means. He respects all players and this is fundamental for me.

⛨ DURING 2016-17 BENFICA DID NOT LOSE A SINGLE GAME AGAINST FC PORTO OR SPORTING...
These are the big matches, the ones where you are on fire. We always went onto the pitch with the firm idea that it was simply 11 v 11 and that we had to be strict about when we were going to attack and when we were going to defend. At the Dragão for example, we didn't produce a very good first half performance, but afterwards were able to balance things up and get our equaliser. This gave us a lot of confidence.

⛨ WILL YOU TAKE MUCH THAT YOU HAVE LEARNT FROM JÚLIO CESAR TO MANCHESTER? WAS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE HAD THE CHANCE TO WORK WITH HIM THESE PAST YEARS?  
It certainly was. Not just with him though, but also with Paulo Lopes (Benfica's third choice keeper). They are two very experienced goalkeepers. When I arrived at Benfica they made themselves available to help me adapt. I spoke to Júlio more as he is a fellow Brazilian, but Paulo also became a friend over time. I am extremely grateful for everything they have helped me with and taught me. All those chats and bits of advice, they were important and made a significant difference.

⛨ YOU NO DOUBT REMEMBER YOUR DEBUT AGAINST SPORTING IN ALVALADE? WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN RUI VITÓRIA TOLD YOU THAT YOU WOULD BE PLAYING'?
It felt like it was my big chance. Simply that. I had to grasp that opportunity. Life is made up of opportunities and we have to know how to make the most of them. I have come through many difficult periods to get to where I am now and each little victory adds value to what I have managed. My parents and my wife are always close to me and are the basis to everything I do.

⛨ DID YOU BELIVE THAT, FROM THAT MOMENT, THE FIRST TEAM SHIRT WAS YOURS?
I have to admit that I did, yes. This opportunity presented itself during a period when there were many big games coming one after the other, the ones that are the nicest to play in, in big stadiums. So, if you're given your chance in such a big game... I was happy that I had helped the team to win and that same week we played Zenit in the Champions League. There again I played well to help the team through to the quarter finals.

⛨ DID YOU SENSE THAT JÚLIO CESAR ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT HE HAD LOST HIS FIRST TEAM PLACE TO YOU?
Yes. He never once treated me differently. He was always honest and clear with me, always showed me respect and his general positivity was contagious. In the changing room we all love him. He's one of those guys who helps the group gel. He gave me a lot of advice from that moment on and every little offer of help that he put my way, I grasped.

⛨ BENFICA HAVE JUST SIGNED ANDRÉ MOREIRA AS YOUR REPLACEMENT. DO YOU THINK HE'S READY TO GO STRAIGHT INTO THE FIRST TEAM?
Well, I can't say he's going to be my direct replacement as Benfica already have  other 'keepers of high quality. I'm sure the goalkeeper that Rui Vitória chooses will do the job required of him. I will always lend my support to my old colleagues. Don't forget also Bruno Varela, who is back at Benfica after a big season at Vitória de Setubal.

⛨ WHERE DID THIS ABILITY YOU HAVE TO GET THE BALL OUT TO ONE WING OR THE OTHER SO EASILY COME FROM? HAVE YOU TRAINED THIS SKILL A LOT?
I never trained it specially, no. I was born with it and it happens naturally. During training sometimes the boss would place another player close to the edge of the box and have the ball played into me, just to make sure I didn't lose the skill.

⛨ BUT WERE YOU DETAILED TO DO THIS DURING A GAME? THERE WERE VARIOUS OCCASIONS LAST SEASON WHEN YOU TRIED TO SURPRISE THE OPPOSITION DEFENCE WITH LONG BALLS TO THE FLANKS AND EVEN MANAGED AN ASSIST TO RAUL JIMENEZ ON ONE OCCASION!
The manager told me I could do this, but only at certain stages of the game. In that game with Guimarães for example, I had noticed that their defensive line was taking its time to recover its positions and I could also hear the shouts from their bench. I managed to dispatch the ball swiftly and accurately to put Raul Jimenez through on goal to score. This all depends on the moment in question.

⛨ YOU SCORED GOALS YOURSELF DURING YOUR DEVELOPMENT YEARS. DOES THIS COME FROM YOUR ADMIRATION FOR CENI?
Well, I distinctly remember one of the two. It was against Deportivo da Corunha during an Easter tournament in Guimarães in 2010. We were losing 0-1 and from a goal kick I hit the ball past the other goalkeeper and into the net. It was mad. Then also in the juniors I scored at Seixal against Braga. We beat them 7-1 and I opened the way with a goal after 3 minutes. As far as free kicks are concerned I did practise them at Riberão but I never thought of taking them or penalties. I practise them and if the manager says to take them I'll be prepared (smiles).

⛨ AT CITY YOU'LL HAVE THIS LIBERTY TO PLAY WITH THE BALL AT YOUR FEET.
I want to have this freedom, yes, but I can't just do what I want. With a bigger club comes bigger responsibility. The pressure will be much higher but I'm going to have to take a risk from time to time to hit the target. When I'm playing it will always be like this.

⛨ YOU'RE GOING TO BE PLAYING IN A CHAMPIONSHIP WHERE GOAL LINE TECHNOLOGY ALREADY EXISTS. ARE YOU IN FAVOUR OF THIS TECHNOLOGY?
I don't mind either way. It's the referee that makes the final decision after all. If it helps, fine, but I don't like the idea of the game being stopped lots of times. It might delay things a bit but the technology might bring about a revolution so....

⛨ BUT DURING THE PORTUGUESE CUP WE'VE EXPERIENCED THIS AND THERE WERE CASES WHERE THE PLAYERS WERE WAITING FOR THE REFEREE TO MAKE HIS MIND UP.
I don't feel that this had a negative effect on the games but I'm just a bit wary that it could lead to lots of stoppages.

⛨ YOU'RE OFF TO MANCHESTER THIS SUNDAY (9th July). HOW DO YOU FEEL WITH SO LITTLE TIME LEFT BEFORE YOU TAKE THIS NEXT BIG STEP IN YOUR CAREER?
I am very relaxed about it. I have always been a calm person and never got overexcited about stuff. I want to get to England, show my qualities and prove why people had faith in me.

⛨ WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD ABOUT CITY'S INTEREST, DID YOU DECIDE STRAIGHT AWAY OR TAKE TIME TO PONDER THINGS?
City's interest in me had already been apparent for some time, but I always stayed calm about it. When it came to having to take a decision, I had a meeting at Benfica with all concerned and told them that I had accepted City's offer. We are talking about a club that had always shown a lot of interest in me, with a trainer, who had also shown he liked me from the start. It wasn't a particularly difficult decision to take, as it was good for Benfica and good for me.


⛨ GUARDIOLA HAD ALREADY BEEN IMPRESSED BY YOU AFTER THE BAYERN-BENFICA GAMES IN THE 2015-16 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE.
I think this stemmed from the different way we played in those games. Bayern didn't seem prepared for us to play in the way that we did. We created a lot of chances from goal kicks sent to the flanks and, from that, I think Guardiola started to enjoy my way of playing out to feet. After the game we did not talk though.

⛨ GUARDIOLA'S ALSO WELL KNOWN FOR GIVING THE GOALKEEPER POSITION EXTRA IMPORTANCE IN HIS GAME PLAN. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN RISE TO ANOTHER LEVEL UNDER HIS GUIDANCE?
Without a doubt. I hope very much to develop my game at City.


⛨ DO YOU FEEL READY FOR THE DEMANDS OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE?
Yes, I always had the dream of playing in the Premier League, especially with a team of City's calibre. I hope to put in a good shift and reach the same heights of success I tasted with Benfica.

⛨ AND YOU'LL HAVE BERNARDO SILVA AS A TEAM MATE WHEN YOU GET THERE, A PLAYER YOU KNOW FROM THE BENFICA ACADEMY....
We can help each other for sure, but in football these days the groups are very welcoming and I believe this will happen at City too. It looks like a well knit group and,. apart from Bernardo, there is also Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus that I know. They'll help me to adapt.

⛨ YOU'LL HAVE CLAUDIO BRAVO FIGHTING FOR THE FIRST TEAM SHIRT WITH YOU AT CITY, WHO WAS IN GREAT FORM AT THE CONFEDERATIONS CUP. ARE YOU READY FOR THIS SCRAP?
I sure am. I'm happy for him that he had a good tournament. It was good for him coming off the back of a season that wasn't so easy. It will help him regain some of the confidence that he might have lost last year. Everyone knows that he's an excellent goalkeeper, but I hope he realises that he's going to have some stiff competition for the shirt.

⛨ THE CHANGE TO CITY HAS MADE YOU ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE GOALKEEPERS IN HISTORY. DOES THE €40 MILLION FEE FRIGHTEN YOU AT ALL?
It's just a number! Many friends have said to me: "Mate, how does it feel to be the second most expensive keeper in history?!" I feel completely normal. Going for one or for 40 it makes no difference to me. The responsibility increases but I'm ready for that. It's not going to affect my concentration.

⛨ YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE LINDELÖF AS A RIVAL THIS FIRST SEASON IN ENGLAND. HAVE YOU ALREADY SPOKEN TO HIM ABOUT THIS?
Yes, we've spoken. He congratulated me and me him. We're going to be on opposite sides but we remain friends. Let's just make sure City always come out the winners.

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