Clark accepts 'glorious' City challenge

Football
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The Independent Online
The 1996-97 season has yet to reach its sixth month and Manchester City have appointed their fifth manager. Frank Clark, who left Nottingham Forest because he said he felt like a turkey waiting for Christmas, accepted the job that has become football's equivalent of the roasting tray when he took over at Maine Road yesterday.

Clark signed a three and a half year contract to replace Phil Neal, who had held the manager's position on a temporary basis since Steve Coppell resigned in November. Neal will leave City but a more shocking departure is that of first-team coach Tony Book, whose sacking ends a 30-year link with the club.

Clark, 53, took a training session yesterday morning and then attended a "meet the new manager" press conference that has become a regular fixture. "This is a glorious opportunity," he said. "I know that's been said many times before but a club that gets 30,000 to a game when it's fourth from the bottom of the First Division and takes 6,000 fans to an away game at Barnsley has massive potential. It doesn't sound like a job from hell to me."

Others might not agree. George Graham and Dave Bassett turned down the position and Coppell gave it up after 32 days, citing stress. In the last seven months City have been relegated from the Premiership, are in the First Division relegation zone and have won only two of their past 11 matches. Add pounds 26m of debt, rumours of boardroom takeovers and the disruption of a new share issue, and the scale of Clark's task becomes apparent.

Eleven days after walking away from boardroom uncertainty at the City Ground, he was not deterred. "There's vast potential at the club," he said. "I know the supporters are fed up of hearing the word 'potential', but it is a club where, if you get it right, the sky is almost the limit.

"There'll be money to spend, and that's obviously a big help. I will be assessing the playing staff as quickly as possible. There's some very good players at Manchester City, players who have had a difficult time over the last nine months or so. Every player will be given a chance to show they can play a part here."

That money will come with the share issue which will raise pounds 10.8m next month. Neal had asked to spend some of it but, when it became apparent he would not get the authorisation, his call for backing, paradoxically, moved the board in the opposite direction. Saturday's defeat at Barnsley hastened the process and the chairman, Francis Lee, had his holiday in the Caribbean interrupted to finalise Clark's appointment.

Being Manchester City, however, the transfer of power could not go entirely smoothly and Clark had to spend an embarrassing half-hour in his car outside the club's Platt Lane training ground yesterday morning while Neal cleared his desk.

Not that the departing man appeared to hold a grudge. "I had been in bed all day with flu since Saturday, when I got the call yesterday afternoon to meet representatives of the board," Neal said. "When I realised Frank was bringing his own management team, there was only one way forward.

"The SOS I had been sending out and my frankness may have played a part in getting some positive action on the managerial front for the long-term good of Manchester City. Maybe my words did not go down well in all quarters but that's the way I am. You get what you see. I wish Frank all the best and I'm just sorry it has not been possible for him to find a place for me."

There will be sadness among supporters, too, that no place is found on Clark's staff for Book, who was still referred to throughout the club as "Skip" in deference to his captaining the team to the championship in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1970.

The 62-year-old also managed the club for five years in the 1970s and was in charge when they won their last major honour, the 1976 League Cup. He also guided City to the runners-up spot behind Liverpool in the old First Division in 1976-77 yet was demoted to allow the return of Malcolm Allison in 1979.

If Clark achieves anything close to those achievements, he will be lauded as a genius. Book's sacking was a shabby way to herald a new era.

Maine Road's catalogue of chaos

THREE DECADES OF MANCHESTER CITY MANAGERS: 1965-71 Joe Mercer 1971-73 Malcolm Allison. 1973 Johnny Hart. 1973-74 Ron Saunders. 1974-79 Tony Book. 1979-80 Malcolm Allison. 1980-83 John Bond. 1983 John Benson. 1983- 86 Billy McNeill. 1986-87 Jimmy Frizzell (became general manager). 1987- 89 Mel Machin. 1989-90 Howard Kendall. 1990-93 Peter Reid. 1993-95 Brian Horton. 1995-96 Alan Ball. 1996 Steve Coppell. 1996 *Phil Neal. 1996 Frank Clark. *Other caretaker managers not listed

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