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01/02: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 11/08/01
Manchester City
A vision in turquoise
By Matt Rowson

You can tell quite a lot about someone by knowing what scares them.

I don't mean whether you're scared of rats or spiders, Freddie Krueger or Hannibal Lecter. More by whether you're scared by the things that you see and hear... or by things that you don't.

Myers-Briggs describes this as "Sensing vs Intuition". In the real world, this clear distinction is perhaps most graphically manifested in one's attitude to "The Blair Witch Project".

Tsega hated this film. She'd only really been to see it on my insistence, was clearly bored within half an hour and grumbled all the way home. Me ? I spent an hour and a half lying awake in bed that night with my back as stiff as a board, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. I've never been so scared.

Tsega takes in information rationally... she is a "senser", she makes decisions based on what she sees and hears. I'm at the opposite extreme. I take the bare bones that are offered and fill in the gaps. The mind is far more powerful than celluloid. Why is the book always better than the film ?

And I'm buggered if I know what's going to happen this season. Perhaps the fear this provokes is why I'm merely looking forward to this game, rather than the usual drooling in rabid anticipation that builds up to the first match in August. There really is no way of telling which way this campaign is going to go.

For each good sign there has been a negative counterbalance. Luca arrives, Luther and Kenny leave. Vega arrives, Palmer leaves. Good performance against Inter, chaos in Genoa. I know football is supposed to be exciting, but it would be nice to have a little bit more certainty to depend on. Thank heavens for the Estcourt...

Manchester City, of course, are in a not dissimilar situation, having changed division for the fifth time in six seasons. This is our first league encounter since the eighties, City having entered the division we vacated every season since 1995-96 until the pattern broke last summer.

City have also made a high-risk, high-return appointment in Kevin Keegan. There's no denying the breadth of his experience, nor the excitement that accompanied some of his previous achievements. But for me, Kevin Keegan's enthusing about how he plans to turn City into a top six side isn't half reminiscent of David Icke. Turquoise isn't far from Sky Blue either. And they had perms. And they're ever so slightly lacking in credibility.

Two things in particular would worry me were I a City fan. One. Keegan virtually admitted on his resignation as England coach that he lacked something in managerial terms. Now Nationwide League Division One is hardly the European Championship Finals, but it's hard to see how this self-confessed gap in ability has been plugged in the intervening twelve months.

More critically, the one constant throughout Keegan's managerial career has been an inability to handle pressure. From his famous red-faced outburst at Alex Ferguson as Newcastle whittled away their Premiership lead to his emotional departure from St.James Park to his leaving the England job, Keegan has cracked before the pressure has got even half-serious. And ironically, he has chosen to make his latest comeback at Maine Road, where expectation is arguably less realistic than anywhere else in the country. OK, except Wolves. "The best fans in the land", by reputation. The late Peter Swailes, Brian Horton, Alan Ball, Kit Symons, Richard Edghill, Robert Taylor, Laurent Charvet and countless other victims of the City boo-boys might disagree. Either City have had far more than their fair share of muppets over the years, or their support is not particularly patient. One way or another, you feel City are in for an explosive season.

In goal for City would appear to be former Palace and Stockport keeper Carlo Nash, who has featured in the pre-season games in preference to Nicky Weaver. Weaver was touted as a future England goalkeeper on City's ascent to the Premiership, but the lingering memory of him in the Prem will be sitting on his arse in the goalmouth scowling and wondering if anyone will pick the ball out for him this time. Richard Wright, meanwhile, signed for Arsenal. A test of character, perhaps.

At the back, City have stacked up on craggy centre-halves over the past year or so; it would appear that Keegan plans to field three of them in his side this season. Stuart Pearce is the most imposing... one wonders if his legs will last another season, even at this level. But you wouldn't ask him to his face.

Steve Howey was the most successful of Joe Royle's signings last term, the one-time England centreback's Newcastle career having been stuffed up by injury. Richard Dunne, an impossibly bulky signing from Everton, has been altogether less convincing, looking about as mobile as my fridge for both City and Ireland.

Other options at the back include former Hearts stopper Paul Ritchie, whose epic transfer sagas over the years merit a player of higher profile, and Dutchman Gerard Wiekens.

Wingbacks are likely to be Laurent Charvet, a less popular member of Royle's recruits although perhaps better suited to a wingback role, and Danny Granville, still waiting to fulfill his promise at 26. An alternative to Charvet would be Australian summer signing Simon Colosimo, whilst the listed Richard Edgehill and Danny Tiatto could both fill in on the left.

In the middle of the park Eyal Berkovic, now with his fifth British club, should provide some of the creativity that City so badly missed last season. The psychotic Tiatto, whose irrepressible blood-lust won him City's player-of-the-year, should also feature. In the absence of the injured Alf Inge Haaland, the third spot should go to emerging teenager Dixon Etuhu. Zambia-born Northern Ireland International Jeff Whitley and a fellow Ulsterman Kevin Horlock are amongst the alternatives.

Up front, two charismatic and unpredictable characters, both of whom have more than enough to cause havoc at this level. Paulo Wanchope was named in the team-of-the-tournament after a successful showing for Costa Rica in this summer's Copa America. Boca Juniors were said to be interested, having presumably not seen him play last season, but Wanchope slightly unexpectedly remains at City. Alongside him will probably be legendary Bermudan striker Shaun Goater, although the one-dimensional Darren Huckerby is a pacier option. Paul Dickov has been bitter and twisted since Arsenal farmed him out to Kenilworth Road on loan, but Shaun Wright-Phillips, son of Ian, looks a very exciting prospect.

So what's so scary ? Well, the having-no-idea of it. The complete lack of control. The chasm between success and failure along our chosen path. The unspoken stuff that's lurking between the lines if it all goes wrong.

I'm also getting married in a fortnight, incidentally. That's not remotely scary... it's something completely fabulous that I can't wait to do. I know what fills the gaps, and it's all good stuff.

As for this season? This game? I haven't got a bloody clue. Do you? How scary is that?

Hold on to your hats...