Football: Stress forces Coppell to quit City job

It took Manchester City six weeks to find a new manager and 33 days to lose him. Steve Coppell, who was appointed on 7 October, resigned from his post at Maine Road yesterday, citing health reasons. The club, too, had a sickly pallor at the announcement.

In a statement, the 41-year-old Coppell, who will be succeeded on a caretaker basis by his assistant, Phil Neal, revealed that stress had forced his hand. "I am not ashamed to admit I have suffered for some time from the huge pressure I have imposed on myself," he said. "Since my appointment, this has completely overwhelmed me to such an extent that I can't function in the job in the way I would like to.

"As the situation is affecting my well-being, I have asked Francis Lee [the club's chairman] to relieve me of my obligation to manage the club on medical advice. I am therefore resigning solely for personal reasons."

Coppell, looking drawn and his voice cracking with emotion, said it had been the hardest decision he had ever made. "I am extremely embarrassed by the situation and I would like to apologise first and foremost to Francis Lee and his board, who did everything in their power to help me. Francis has been particularly understanding and I would like to thank him for that."

Coppell also apologised to the players and supporters, who must wonder what further mishap can afflict a club who were relegated from the Premiership in May and who have lived with rumours of takeover bids the last six months. The successor will be the club's third manager this season after Alan Ball resigned in August, and their ninth in the past 10 years.

Lee said that Coppell revealed his problems at the beginning of the week and refused either to take a holiday to reconsider, or to be persuaded to change his mind. "I have spoken to him two or three times every day this week," Lee said. "He is better than he was on Monday or Tuesday, when he was a bit downcast, but he has insisted on going and has gone on holiday with a friend.

"I had a similar problem myself a long time ago and I know how he feels. He'll be a relieved lad now he's got it off his mind. He'll be all right. It takes a strong character to sit there and read out a statement like that."

It was Coppell's honesty and strength of character that appealed to Lee in the first place and it will be difficult, as past events have proved, to find a man of similar calibre. George Graham, who has since accepted a post at Leeds, and Dave Bassett turned down the job after Ball's departure, while Howard Kendall and Kenny Dalglish also rejected the position via the media even though, Lee insists, they were never offered it.

Coppell was City's third choice, but even his appointment had an element of gambling about it as the then Crystal Palace technical director had been away from management for more than three years. His record in his six matches at Maine Road was two wins, a draw and three defeats, which leaves the club in 17th place in the First Division.

Neal, a former manager with Bolton, Coventry and Cardiff, was as stunned as the players at Coppell's departure. "I spoke to Steve last Sunday and heard that he was not well," he said. "I thought he was just physically sick. I didn't realise what was underneath it all. It wasn't once implied that this would be his final decision."

Neal revealed that two of the City players were literally bowled over by the news. Eddie McGoldrick and Paul Dickov fell to the ground in shock. None of the players had any idea about developments until Neal spoke to them after training.

Where Lee will turn next is anyone's guess. Supporters welcomed Coppell's appointment, despite his connections with Manchester United, for whom he played almost 400 times. Although his statement has to be taken at face value, there will be many wondering if there is a hidden agenda. Was Lee interfering or was money promised for transfers not forthcoming? Although Coppell has made it clear his decision was purely personal, it will not make it any easier to fill a position that was not too good to refuse even before this latest setback. Asa Hartford, the assistant given charge of the first team when Ball left, said he did not want the job.

Neal now faces the challenge that proved too much for Coppell, whose throwaway comment after his first home match carries more significant now. "They call Manchester Madchester," he said, "and now I know why."

For a proud, intelligent man who said the chance to manage City had left him "excited and delighted", it was a sad day. But as Lee himself pointed out yesterday: "There have been too many sad days" at Maine Road.

Coppell's resignation had Howard Wilkinson, the League Managers' Association chairman, calling on football's governing bodies to ease the pressure under which managers now operate.

Wilkinson, himself a manager for 15 years before being sacked by Leeds in September, said: "There is no doubt the game has changed dramatically in the last 10 years in terms of the manager's role or the manager's perceived role. Ill health is not a new thing in management, but it is an increasing one and it's not enough to say that the pay for the job is good."

Don Howe, the former Arsenal and Coventry manager and ex-England coach, sympathised with Coppell's plight.

"Steve doesn't make these decisions lightly... But there's something about Steve Coppell. He won't go and hide away. That's the last thing he'll do."

Zola signing finalised, page 29

THE SHORTEST MANAGERIAL

REIGNS IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL

1 Bill Lambton (Scunthorpe) 3 days 1959

2 Dave Bassett (C Palace) 4 days 1984

3 Ron Meades (Colchester) 4 days 1953

4 Jack Crompton (Luton) 7 days 1962

5 Kevin Cullis (Swansea) 7 days 1996

6 Tim Ward (Exeter) 8 days 1953

7 Johnny Cochrane (Reading) 13 days 1939

8 Jimmy McIlroy (Bolton) 18 days 1970

9 Paul Went (L Orient) 19 days 1981

10 Tommy Docherty (QPR) 28 days 1968

11 Robert Brown (Gillingham) 28 days 1920

12 Steve Coppell (Man City) 33 days 1996

13 Daniel McLennan (Oldham) 33 days 1960

14 Steve Wicks (Lincoln) 41 days 1995

15 Brian Clough (Leeds) 44 days 1974

16 Jock Stein (Leeds) 44 days 1978

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