Mike Rowbottom: Can Maine Road fans survive Keegan effect?

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The Independent Online

I've been thinking about that poor girl Martina Hingis over the last few days and it seems to me that she's missing an opportunity to earn some serious money.

Sure, she's suing Sergio Tacchini for forcing $5.6m (£4m) on her to wear shoes she didn't win in – sorry, fit in. But aren't we overlooking an even more obvious injustice?

Just think for a moment of the enormous mental and physical distress the young Swiss girl was subjected to earlier this month when she was beaten in the French Open by Jennifer Capriati. The fact that she was one match away from the final only compounded the hurt.

If mere shoes can cause $40m worth of damage to this sensitive sole – sorry, soul – just think about the costly effect of defeat. What the American did to Hingis in Paris was no different in essence from the actions of a hit-and-run driver.

Then again, I've just thought of another potential case for compensation which would make that available to the Swiss Miss pale into insignificance. You're there before me, aren't you? I'm talking about Manchester City fans.

Steel yourself for a moment before considering the evidence.

Right. Many years ago, I can remember my Grandpa talking to me about Manchester City, who were effectively his local team. From time to time he would check their position in the League table before concluding approvingly: "Halfway up, and halfway down."

Over the years he had grown to expect not very much from his team, other than knowing where to find them. The relationship resembled that between a man and a pair of bedroom slippers, and my Grandpa was happy with it.

But thing soon went seriously awry. City became a team who won things, like the League and the Cup, and had players who were good, like Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell and Francis Lee. They even beat Manchester United.

It didn't last. Joe Mercer stepped down as manager, and, instead of leading the Citizens onwards and upwards, his assistant, Malcolm Allison (whose signing of Rodney Marsh neatly sabotaged their bid for the 1972 title), tipped them downwards like the brim of an overly flamboyant fedora.

In recent years, City have dropped like a stone to the Second Division, then hauled themselves all the way back up to the Premiership. And now, after just one fleeting season in the sun, they have slipped down once again.

Imagine if you will the emotions experienced by those thousands who bonded with their team during the glorious Summerbee years. What else would they expect but success? The Manchester City they knew were not bedroom slippers but Gucci shoes.

Imagine if you can the monumental sense of lost status during the long years of decline, as, across the city, Manchester United transformed themselves into European plc champions.

Then the final, cruel twist – relegation once again. And Kevin Keegan as manager.

I don't think it would tax our finest legal brains to put together an almighty claim against this club on behalf of its supporters, who have, in the course of the last 25 years, suffered sufficient mental torment to alert Amnesty International.

Perhaps that course of action can be prevented, however, by City's swift return to the place where so many still expect them to be.

What are the prospects, I wonder?

It may well be that Keegan's decision to sign the combative Stuart Pearce to bolster his efforts both on and off the pitch will turn out well. No one, certainly, would doubt that these two men, whose sheer willpower projected them to the top of the game, can get the languishing City men motivated.

What causes concern, given Keegan's tendency to send his teams out emotionally charged, is the risk that Pearce will act as a supercharger rather than a balance.

The former England defender appears eminently capable himself of living up to the club motto of superbia in proelio – Pride in Battle. City's problem in the forthcoming season may be that their players arrive on the pitch so pumped up that they are in danger of drifting off like helium balloons.

Midway through last season, Watford's then manager, Graham Taylor, reflected on the task facing his side as they struggled – ultimately without success – to make an immediate return to the top flight.

"It's always been the hardest division to get out of," Taylor said. "The only thing harder is to stay in the Premiership. But this is still a bloody hard division to get out of."

Can City manage it? Just to clarify: we're talking about getting out of it via the top end, rather than the bottom. Fingers crossed that they do. For the sake of their fans, and the already overworked British legal system.

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