Coppell arrived preaching realism and good sense. There were no bold boasts, just a promise of hard work and hope, and the new manager said he had no intention of selling Georgi Kinkladze.
"Expectations have to be realigned," Coppell said. "The reality of the First Division has to be adjusted to. People say there's no quality in it, but it's a war every Saturday. It's hard to express yourself and hard to play the football you played in the Premiership because the emphasis is on stifling.
"I don't know if we can go up straight away, but it has to be the target. There are 37 games to go and, the old cliche, we will try to win each and every one of them. I think we have a realistic chance of being successful."
Coppell's appointment after three and a half years away from management ends one of the most embarrassing episodes in City's recent history, in which leading figures have been falling over themselves to reject the job. As a City supporter outside the ground yesterday put it: "Anyone who can sort this lot out, even a Red, is welcome."
Coppell, 41, leaves his position as technical director at Crystal Palace to take over a club that has had scant direction since Alan Ball resigned three games into the season. He has accepted a position that was rejected conventionally by George Graham and Dave Bassett and by numerous others through the media. Bassett's decision is particularly paradoxical as Coppell, nominally, was his boss at Selhurst Park. "I have blinkers about this job," Coppell said, referring to Bassett's decision not to move north. "I didn't think about anybody else. This is a massive club and a golden opportunity that I'd have been a fool to turn it down."
Coppell will have as his No 2 Phil Neal, who resigned from Cardiff yesterday to become his assistant.
Francis Lee, the chairman who has come under fire from supporters in the interregnum between Ball and Coppell, did not feel his new man's Old Trafford connections would be a problem. "It's so long since he played for United you can't bring it into it," he said. "He had a wonderful career at United, but you have to move on in this profession." He added: "I think he's got great integrity, he's got a proven record at Crystal Palace, a great knowledge of the game and he's a good motivator."
Coppell has not been in management since 1993, when he resigned from Palace after relegation from the Premiership, but Lee saw that as a blessing. "Sometimes you can be in it too long and if you step back you come back refreshed," he said.
Coppell will cut an unusual figure at City's Platt Lane training ground in that his record in Manchester derbies is on the plus side. A right winger whose skills were reinforced by his intelligence, he was on the losing side only four times in 17 appearances for United between 1975 and 1983, scoring five goals.
After retiring at 28 because of a knee injury, Coppell, who won 42 England caps, became the youngest manager in the League with Palace, where his record included promotion from the old Second Division, an FA Cup final appearance in 1990 and third place in the old First Division 12 months later. "I was eight years at United and nine at Crystal Palace," he said. "So I'm an animal that tends to roost."
As indeed he hopes Kinkladze will do. "As far as I'm concerned, I want him to stay. I've seen him on television this year and live last season and he's an exceptionally gifted individual. But an individual won't win you anything. You need a team and unity of purpose.
If City's supporters are seeking comfort, they should remember the time when Manchester United, short of cash and in crisis, appointed a former Maine Road player as manager and did not regret the decision. His name was Matt Busby.
MAINE ROAD MANAGERIAL
Malcolm Allison 1972-73
Johnny Hart 1973
Ron Saunders 1973-74
Tony Book 1974-79
Malcolm Allison 1979-80
John Bond 1980-83
John Benson 1983
Billy McNeill 1983-86
Jimmy Frizzell 1986-87
(continued as general manager)
Mel Machin 1987-89
Howard Kendall 1990
Peter Reid 1990-93
Brian Horton 1993-95
Alan Ball 1995-96
Steve Coppell 1996-Reuse content