Football: Kidd steps into front line

Born and bred a Manchester United man, Alex Ferguson's No 2 has made the inevitable breakaway to seek his fortune.
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IT WAS the twilight after the brilliance of Denis Law and Old Trafford anxiously wanted someone to admire who was not too good looking, not too gifted and not called George. Someone who was good butwithin reach of lesser mortals.

This was the early Seventies when pitch invasions were commonplace but when one supporter made his way to Brian Kidd it was clear no malice directed his intentions. Instead he went down on his knees before the embarrassed young man and handed him a gold paper crown. The succession to Law had taken place.

Except the coronation was premature. The hugely gifted teenager who made the Manchester United first team at 18 and scored in the European Cup final on his 19th birthday did not mature into the striker he should have done. Kidd, the player, was one of Old Trafford's great losses; Kidd, the manager, could end that way, too.

Today he became manager of Blackburn Rovers, ending an association with United that began as a boy born in the city and continued via the Stretford End then the pitch to the backroom staff. It will be a wrench he will feel deeply but even the most loyal No 2 wants to be No 1 one day, particularly one who was unfulfilled as a player.

Kidd, 49, joined United as a 14-year-old, and at first his progress was meteoric. After winning two England caps his form deteriorated in a declining team, however, and there was no huge outcry when Tommy Docherty sold him to Arsenal in 1974 after scoring 70 goals in 255 games. From Highbury he went to Manchester City, Everton and Bolton Wanderers before finishing his career in the United States with Fort Lauderdale and the Atlanta Chiefs.

In 1985 he returned to Britain to become assistant manager at Swindon Town and, in January 1996, he was appointed manager of Preston North End for a spell that was little short of calamitous. He lasted 12 games, winning only one (against Port Vale), and, until Blackburn came knocking, appeared disillusioned with doing the top job.

Instead he had joined United's youth development programme, being taken on to the staff by Alex Ferguson, who made him assistant manager when Archie Knox left to join Rangers in 1991. "What the gaffer saw in me I don't know," Kidd said last year,."I asked him once 'why me?' and he just started laughing. I haven't asked him since."

Whatever it was, it worked. Four championships, two Doubles, Kidd has been as much a part of that success as anyone; Ferguson acknowledged as much by announcing him as his preferred successor. "We're both from the same working-class backgrounds, which helps," Kidd said. "We're both very stubborn and we have rows every day. We argue like cat and dog but once he comes to a decision I'll back him all the way."

A family man with two grown-up sons and a daughter in her late teens, his success has not been accompanied by bombast. Indeed, he has shunned publicity and was embarrassed by the television pictures of his exuberant celebrations when United beat Sheffield Wednesday deep into injury time in their championship season of 1992-93.

While Fergie wears his emotions like an overcoat, Kidd, a religious man who goes to church every Sunday, generally keeps his feelings to himself, revealing his character only on the training ground. Consequently his reputation as one of Europe's leading coaches has come from word of mouth rather than any bragging on his part. "It's not my style," he says.

Eric Cantona was more forthcoming in his autobiography My Story. "At some clubs training sessions have no interest," he wrote, "but there are coaches like Kiddo who make you want to train. He gives you a lift. He motivates you... He is down to earth, pragmatic and honest."

So why does someone who is the perfect No 2 want to leave his comfortable niche and emerge into the bright lights? Everton and Manchester City have approached him before, the former as recently as last summer, and he turned them down but Blackburn with a strong squad and a wealthy benefactor in Jack Walker provide an altogether different proposition.

Rovers are bottom of the Premiership and if they do go down little stigma will attach itself to Kidd, while there is the prospect of a rapid rise up the table once the players are fit. It is a no-lose situation with the odds stacked in favour of improving a managerial reputation.

Because that is the one thing that Kidd lacks and with Ferguson seemingly determined to go on into his 60s he is unlikely to gain it at Old Trafford. He is only seven years younger than United's manager and unless he has success elsewhere he might be considered too old himself when the time comes.

If Martin Edwards and the current board remain in control Kidd could take their guarantees at face value, but BSkyB lies over the horizon and might want a more glamorous figure than a 50-something when Ferguson retires. Bryan Robson and Gordon Strachan, both former United players, could fit that bill.

Kidd might be a more natural assistant but he harbours ambitions to be the top man at the club he loves and the Blackburn route could be the best way to get there. "I want to do more for the club," he said, "but at the end of the day the powers that be at Manchester United will decide what happens."

But there is no harm in a little persuasive good work elsewhere is there? He would like his next coronation at Old Trafford to be a real one.