WILL THIS be the season in which Trevor Francis finally proves he has cracked the art of management?
After a controversial spell in charge at Queen's Park Rangers, where his hard-line approach fell foul of the players, and a stint at Sheffield Wednesday that ended in an unhappy parting, the man who was the Michael Owen of his day may have found his niche at last at St Andrew's.
Francis has transformed Birmingham City in his two years at the club, bringing in 25 players at a cost of some pounds 13m and shipping out 33 worth pounds 6m. Three wins out of three and joint leadership of the First Division tells only part of the story of the settled and consistent team he has assembled in spite of no little turmoil off the field. Saturday's 2-0 victory over Sheffield United completed a sequence of 30 matches in which Birmingham have been beaten only three times.
Francis, whose fiery relationship with City's managing director, Karren Brady, led him to offer his resignation last season, compared the position of his former captain, Steve Bruce, who has just taken charge of the Sheffield team, with his own when he started out at St Andrew's as a means of illustrating how he was right to ask for patience from the Birmingham board.
"Sheffield United are a big club and they are expecting Steve to get promotion to the Premiership straight away," he said. "But that's unrealistic. It was the same for me from day one at Birmingham and that was totally unrealistic.
"But we have got the structure right, which is important, and promotion is starting to become a possibility."
Having signed the Crewe striker Dele Adebola from under the noses of several interested Premiership clubs this summer, Francis believes he will have the most potent strike force in the First Division once Paul Furlong returns to full fitness.
Club sponsors Auto Windscreens will present a pounds 25,000 BMW to the first Birmingham player to reach 28 goals for the season and Adebola has taken the opportunity to steal a march on his rival. Saturday's 55th-minute goal at Bramall Lane was the pounds 1m 23-year-old's fifth in as many games.
Wilson advised to start spending
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY manager Danny Wilson is bracing himself for a test of his management skills that has little to do with match tactics or with his strategy for keeping the South Yorkshire club in the Premiership.
Two weeks into the new season, the former Barnsley chief already faces an uncomfortable baptism as the man responsible for controlling the voluble Italian, Paolo Di Canio. Wilson rapped Di Canio's knuckles when the former Juventus and Milan forward suggested he should have bought more players if they wanted to avoid a season of struggle, insisting that managing the club be left to him.
But before giving another exhibition of his technical wizardry in Saturday's humiliation of Tottenham, Di Canio, whose outspoken manner contributed to his fall from grace at Celtic, insisted that he would not be gagged - and offered curiously plausible grounds for being allowed to say his piece.
"I want to help the manager," he said. "In three months' time, if we have lost five or six games in a row his job will be on the line. I won't lose my job because I have a three-year contract."
Meanwhile, it will not help Wilson rest more easily to learn that, unlike virtually every manager who has been asked, Di Canio supports his former Celtic team-mate and fellow rebel, Pierre van Hooijdonk, in his one-man "strike" against Nottingham Forest.
"Pierre is my friend and a great guy," Di Canio said. "He had problems at Celtic because he was passionate about the club and I'm sure it is the same case at Forest.
"It is because he is ambitious and I understand that."
Sounds like Wednesday better get the cheque-book out again - and quickly.
the number of years Dave Watson has been an Everton player, having signed for them on 22 August, 1986
the number of seconds it took for Darlington's Glenn Naylor to score Saturday's fastest English League goal
the number of playing minutes since Everton last scored a Premiership goal
the number of points won by Manchester United since the Premier League was launched
the cost in pounds of each of striker Andreas Andersson's five goals in 32 games for Newcastle
I TOLD YOU SO
It is vital to us that we use this first home game to win, that is the most important thing.
Christian Gross, the Tottenham manager running out of time at White Hart Lane.
Fact and fiction from the Sunday papers
DESPITE Roy Hodgson's insistence that Kevin Gallacher has reacted "professionally" to his exclusion from the Blackburn team, both the People and the Mirror say the Scottish striker is a pounds 2.5m target for Newcastle, whom the People says deny receiving an pounds 18m offer from Manchester United for Alan Shearer last week.
The Mail on Sunday, meanwhile, mischievously suggests that Dalglish may not be around to spend Newcastle's money much longer, reporting whispers on Tyneside that Ruud Gullit is to be approached about taking over.
The News of the World says Leicester have turned down a pounds 9m offer for Emile Heskey from Aston Villa and are also trying to fight off the attentions of Roma, while the People reckons Villa's top target is the Italian striker Christian Vieri, for whom Atletico Madrid would want pounds 10m. The Mail, however, says manager John Gregory wants to spend his Dwight Yorke windfall on a renewed attempt to land Vieri's team-mate, Juninho.
Departures as well as arrivals could be in the offing for Villa, however, with the People reporting a Liverpool interest in Mark Bosnich, whose contract has only a year to run.
The Mail says Nottingham Forest, without a proven Premiership striker, would like to buy Teddy Sheringham from Manchester United, although the People reckons manager Dave Bassett is lining up a pounds 3m move for Blackburn's combative midfielder Billy McKinlay.
Matt Le Tissier, once valued at pounds 10m, can leave Southampton for pounds 2.5m, according to the Mirror, who say that Portsmouth are interested but cannot afford the fee. Arsenal, says the News of the World, have made a cheeky enquiry about Tottenham's Sol Campbell.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Today: Neither Leeds nor Blackburn has scored a Premiership goal so far. They meet before Sky TV cameras at Elland Road.
Tomorrow: Rangers, leading 2-0 from the first leg, travel to Greece hoping to secure their passage through the Uefa Cup qualifying stage against PAOK Salonika. Kilmarnock have a 2-0 deficit to overturn at home to Sigma Olumouc. Watford face a stiff test at Sunderland in the Nationwide League.
Wednesday: Manchester United, aiming to qualify for the Champions' League, take a 2-0 lead to LKS Lodz, of Poland, while Celtic travel to Croatia Zagreb leading by a solitary first-leg goal.
Thursday: Hearts take on FC Lantana in the Cup-Winners' Cup with a 1- 0 away leg lead.
Friday: A star-studded night in Monaco is in prospect as Chelsea meet Real Madrid for the European Super Cup. At home, Watford against Wolves is the televised First Division offering.
Saturday: The Premiership programme sends crisis club Tottenham to Everton and gives promoted Charlton Athletic chance to measure themselves against the best when they meet Arsenal at Highbury.
Missing... making it... and mistaken
THE 33-YEAR-OLD Scottish captain saw his World Cup dreams turn to dust in November last year when knee ligament damage brought his season to an end, although he did attempt a comeback only a month later. Now well on the road to recovery, McAllister is back in training with Gordon Strachan's squad and hopes to put himself in line for a return towards the end of next month.
A LATE recruit to the professional game, Lee was already 21 when he joined West Bromwich for pounds 250,000 from non-League Kidderminster a year ago. Making up for lost time, he grabbed eight goals in his first Nationwide League season despite only latterly making the starting line-up and already has six this season following Saturday's hat-trick against Port Vale.
THERE'S NO limit to Michael Owen's earning potential, apparently. Advertising deals, boot contracts, pounds 20,000-a-week salary... now soap fans reckon they've seen Boy Wonder moving in on the acting business as Emmerdale's Scott Windsor (actor)Ben Freeman.
Premiership Team Of The Week
West Ham Utd
PAOLO DI CANIO
Manager of the week: Dave Bassett - defied fans protesting at the sale of top players by inspiring his makeshift team to a morale-boosting win.
Performance of the week: Charlton Athletic - whatever the rest of the season has in store, the Valley will not forget its first taste of the Premiership.Reuse content