Football: Maine line to nowhere for Lee
Manchester City's latest casualty was supposed to be the club's saviour, writes Guy Hodgson
Tuesday 17 March 1998
When he announced his resignation yesterday, a little over four years since flight BA254 brought him from Antigua to the City boardroom, Lee said he went with his character intact, which shows how power can delude even as it ebbs to nothing. A man worshipped as a player (112 goals in 249 League appearances) had become the chairman who was openly despised. BA, as in bad to awful.
"While I wish Joe Royle well in a task equivalent to nailing jelly to the ceiling," one supporter wrote recently to The Pink, Manchester's Saturday sports paper, "he should be on his guard as long as Franny Lee is in charge. City fans are entitle to suggest the problems go much further than poor team spirit. Was Frank Clark ever in charge?" Or Brian Horton, or Steve Coppell, or Alan Ball... the list of managers under Lee was an embarrassment, seven in all. And yet things just got worse. In Peter Swales' last three full seasons, City finished fifth, fifth and ninth in the top division. In Lee's seasons the story was 18th in the Premiership, relegation and 14th in the First Division. Today they are in the relegation places and the new board could soon be trying to extricate themselves from the Second Division.
Lee arrived as a messiah, but one without the means to work miracles as, from the start, the problem appears to have been money. A wealthy man by most standards, he does not have the resources of a Jack Walker and simply could not find the cash or the backers to turn around a poorly managed club with delusions of matching Manchester United. At yesterday's press conference, the new chairman, David Bernstein, said City had been "undercapitalised and overborrowed" for years.
Looking through Lee's pronouncements, they suggest he had no idea of the depth of the problems when he took over in February 1994. Two weeks later he said: "This will be the happiest club in the land. The players will be the best paid and we'll drink plenty of champagne, celebrate and sing until we're hoarse."
He was right about one thing: fans got hoarse shouting abuse. His reign was marked by departing players rather than stability and you could build a fine team round Tony Coton, Terry Phelan, Keith Curle, Niall Quinn, Garry Flitcroft and Steve Lomas. The replacements, Georgi Kinkladze apart, have not been as good and the club has more than 55 professionals, an indictment of the buying policy.
The indication was that, for all the fine words, City were far deeper in the red than Lee had imagined and he did not have the resources to do anything about it. He had to sell to ease the wage burden.
There was also, as the above letter exposed, a suspicion that Lee tried to manage the team as well as run the club. It was something he vigorously denied, saying the only matter he had an input on was transfers. "There's a lot of money involved these days and it would surprise me if any big clubs depend solely on the manager's opinion."
The quick departure after 33 days of Steve Coppell, who claimed he quit because of a mental breakdown, was never properly explained, however, and supporters have always believed it was because Lee was interfering.
Now he is gone and although Lee is keeping his 11 per cent shareholding in the club, it is unlikely he will be back for some time.
Latest in Sport
Manchester United teased by Monaco after claims they could have signed 'Luis Suarez of Neymar' instead or £58m Anthony Martial
Former Manchester United star Karel Poborsky goes full hipster
Manchester United hit back at Real Madrid by claiming they let David De Gea 'slip through their fingers into the back of the net'
Premier League Power Rankings: Eden Hazard and Harry Kane continue to slip but Wayne Rooney has to perform against rivals
Serie B introduces 'green cards' to promote good behaviour, fair play and sportsmanship
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 3 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...
£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...
£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...