Richard Dunne: From dunce to diamond – changing Sven's mind

Richard Dunne caught the City manager's eye five years ago – for the wrong reasons. Ian Herbert hears a different assessment now
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson vividly remembers watching Arsenal's ritual 5-1 humiliation of Kevin Keegan's Manchester City on a February afternoon in 2003 which stands, to this day, as one of the side's defining performances under Arsène Wenger. It is not only the opening display of sustained brilliance which saw Arsenal 4-0 up inside 19 minutes that sticks in his mind, but the devastating way that Thierry Henry made a fool of Richard Dunne.

"When I first saw Dunne I wasn't so impressed," Eriksson said, recalling the Irishman's display that day when, as England manager, he was City's guest at the game. "I think if [he] was here now he would agree with me, he wasn't the best on the pitch."

But that was then. Dunne, predictably named City's player of the month for December yesterday, is now Eriksson's captain and, after a monumental performance against Liverpool's Fernando Torres on 30 December, he returns with City today to his first club, Everton, as one of the Premier League's most underrated centre-halves; a man transformed utterly since the dark days under Keegan when he was ordered out of the training ground after turning up under the influence of alcohol.

Eriksson was talking about his captain after emerging from a training session in horizontal rain. "Going out today the weather was not good," he said. "The rain was coming from the side, not straight down, and it's difficult to play football when there is no protection from the wind. So you can see him, he's the captain and he's out there saying, 'OK, come on, boys, let's do it'. So now today, it is two different players."

For his part, Dunne believes that City under Eriksson have as much chance of finishing in a Champions League spot as Liverpool – although confounding an unhappy record at Goodison, which has not seen a City win since 1992, represents one of the tougher strides towards it today.

"We came off the pitch against Liverpool and thought they were not that much better than us," said Dunne, whose personal turnaround dates to his suspension by City in 2003, which prompted an intensive fitness programme and return to the first team. "We all took some confidence from that. Last year it was Arsenal that people thought would be the team to catch. But this year, Liverpool are the team who have not pulled away from the rest of us. They are a side the likes of ourselves, Everton and Aston Villa will be trying to catch. We are all in there and we have as much chance as them of getting into fourth position."

The game also provides an incentive for Michael Ball, another ex-Evertonian who has provided something unexpected for Eriksson. "Ball has surprised me," the Swede said. "He is a much better player now than he was four or five years ago when I picked him for England. He is more mature; tactically and technically, he is far better."

Less clear, with his talisman Elano fit, is how Eriksson will accommodate the Brazilian and his new signing Nery Castillo.

City, who, Eriksson hinted are looking for one further purchase, arrive as Everton seek recovery from the last-gasp loss at Chelsea on Tuesday, and with David Moyes' side missing Ayegbeni Yakubu and Steven Pienaar, both away on African Nations Cup duty.

Moyes has Mikel Arteta back from suspension, and Manuel Fernandes in from Valencia for a second loan spell, and there is always a sense that Moyes takes particular pleasure indefeating the sides who have the sort of millions that Everton cannot draw on.

"City have come in one fell swoop from being a club at the bottom last year, spent a load of cash," he said of a side two places and three points above his own. "We're different. We've done it over five or six years now. But we all want the same thing and that's trying to break into that top four."

Moyes, marking 10 years in management today, is reluctant to let anyone leave Goodison Park during the transfer window, though Birmingham are understood to be preparing an increased bid for the striker James McFadden after making an initial £2m offer.