FA Cup 2014: Uwe Rosler returns – but not to the City he knew
Tournament takes Wigan manager back to a club where he was a hero but where money now rules
Sunday 09 March 2014
The applause will be guaranteed but then Uwe Rösler already knows what a Manchester City crowd sounds like. A decade ago, he was lying in a Norwegian hospital bed, having had a cancerous tumour the size of a tennis ball removed when a friend called from their stadium. He was holding up his phone to allow Rösler to hear the sound of the crowd chanting his name.
For the man who will oversee Wigan Athletic's defence of their FA Cup at the Etihad Stadium today, it has been an enduring love. He named his sons after Colin Bell and Tony Book. He was at Wembley when City clambered out of the third division in 1999 and when a reconstructed, unrecognisable club won the FA Cup, their first trophy of what will become known as the Abu Dhabi years.
"It is not the same club," the German said. "Now the Premier League is, financially, the strongest league in the world. Manchester City is not a club for local people any more. I must stress that I don't mean that negatively – obviously local people are involved but it has become a global player.
"Maine Road was a fantastic, old-fashioned English stadium. I was privileged to be there when the Kippax was singing my name. It is obviously a totally different atmosphere at the Etihad. Manchester City needed to go to the next level."
What is remarkable about Rösler's relationship with City is that his time at Maine Road coincided with the years of "Cityitis", when in the words of their then chairman, Francis Lee, the only cups they won were for cock-ups – the years when the club splintered into the third division of English football. He had left by the time of their finest hour, the season in the third tier when crowds of 30,000 came to Maine Road as United were rolling towards the Treble.
Yet, because he shone at a club whose foundations were being washed away with every result, because he scored great goals, particularly against Manchester United, Rösler was loved.
The T-shirts that proclaimed: "Uwe's grandad bombed Old Trafford" caused camera crews to be dispatched from Germany in search of a diplomatic incident. Rösler told them he found it funny.
They could still laugh at themselves at City. After they beat Coventry to set up an FA Cup tie against United, Lee gathered everyone around the piano and launched into a Stanley Holloway monologue, Albert and the Lion. Rösler scored, United won. Then, they usually did.
There are some who do not welcome revolutions, however successful. When, in 1977, England cricket captain Mike Brearley thought of his team-mates going off to earn fortunes under the sodium floodlights of tycoon Kerry Packer's cricket circus, he reflected: "I prefer the tramp steamer with its cargo of pig iron to the monstrous super-tanker, hurriedly constructed." Colin Shindler, whose book Manchester United Ruined my Life spoke for a generation of fans, is one of those.
"It all looks very lovely but there is a price to be paid," he said. "There is nothing of Manchester in it. I recognise that this is the best squad we have ever had but it doesn't move me. I loathed Peter Swales and his regime but this in its way is worse.
"I can imagine Swales's wife going to the hairdressers, sitting under the dryers and having to defend her husband. There is no point of contact with Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Mansour doesn't read the Manchester Evening News and his wife doesn't go to a hairdressers' in Sale.
"We used to mock United's fans in Kuala Lumpur buying their shirts without knowing anything of Manchester, but once we got money that is exactly what we wanted for ourselves. We have become Manchester United in blue shirts."
It says something that Shindler's latest book, Manchester City Ruined my Life, which articulates those thoughts, receives either one or five-star reviews on Amazon. "There are some older City fans with whom Colin's views might strike a chord," said Dave Wallace, the editor of City's most celebrated fanzine, King of the Kippax. "But there has never been a better time to support City.
"It is has always been a quirky club and not just when Rösler was there. In 1938 we were relegated the year after we won the championship and went down having scored more goals than the team that won the title. Cityitis will never stop – losing the FA Cup to Wigan was part of that.
"When we went down to Wembley for the Community Shield against Manchester United some of us left a day early so we could see Uwe's team, Brentford, play Yeovil on the Saturday. Some of us can imagine him coming back as manager."
Rösler said that when he was growing up in East Germany, he would have a "real team" to support – the relentlessly unfashionable Chemie Leipzig – and a "fantasy team" – the Borussia Monchengladbach that used to contest European trophies.
He has already experienced the earthy realities of playing for City. As a manager Rösler is returning to a fantasy club separated from reality by an ocean of money.
Manchester City v Wigan is on BT Sport, kick-off 4.05pm
A tale of two citys
Uwe Rosler's time
Annual turnover: £30m
Record signing: £3.75m for Lee Bradbury
Highest position: 17th Premier League 1995
Highest-paid player: Georgi Kinkladze £15,000 a week
Best FA Cup run: Fifth round, 1995, 96, 97
Sheikh Mansour's time
Annual turnover: £271m
Record signing: Sergio Aguero £38m
Highest position: 1st Premier League, 2012
Highest-paid player: Yaya Touré: £210,000 a week
Best FA Cup run: Winners 2011
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