Eriksson steels City for unique challenge
Saturday 09 February 2008
Micah Richards' signature on a five-and-a-half year contract made Sven Goran Eriksson a happy man last night but there was no mistaking his sense of foreboding as he prepares for a derby match the likes of which Manchester has never known.
As if the Munich anniversary did not provide United with enough motivation – of the planned minute's silence beforehand which has left the city with such misgivings Eriksson told his club's supporters "forget being a fan for that minute" – City's triumph in the corresponding fixture six months ago and United's dropped points last week indicate a highly motivated side, come 1.30pm tomorrow. "I can see many factors to motivate United. It is up to us to stand up to them," Eriksson said.
The anniversary has left a number of United's side reflecting on their responsibility to the memory of the Munich team, none less than Paul Scholes who, as he contemplated the match, suggested this United squad have some distance to travel. "Europe is obviously massive if we want to be a great club," he said.
"But we have not won that competition as many times as we would have liked or should have done. To be known as a great team we have to win it two or three more times."
Sir Alex Ferguson also feels the weight of history this weekend. "I hope the anniversary provides motivation," he said. "There is always an expectation around us to do well but I think that will be higher on Sunday."
For Eriksson, it is hardly the best moment to visit a ground where his side last won in 1974, with his talisman Elano missing through suspension. But no man has the qualities he feels are needed for a game in which the 1950s-style kits worn by both sides will create an untold sense of emotion than Richards, who becomes City's highest paid teenager with his new deal which could keep him at the club until the summer of 2013. Eriksson is hopeful he will have recovered from the back strain he suffered with England before missing the Switzerland match.
Eriksson described Richards yesterday as the strongest defender he had managed – even stronger and faster than Franco Baresi, the Milan legend. "I had [Alessandro] Nesta [at Lazio in the early 1990s] when he was 20 but Richards is stronger than anyone I have had, jumping higher," Eriksson said. He believes 100 caps for England and the captaincy of City are within reach.
"We're going to fight for Europe, which is a massive achievement," Richards said after signing. "I try to put in 100 per cent every match and hopefully I can keep playing that way and playing for my country as well." Eriksson will not be tempted to switch Richards to right-back to replace the suspended Vedran Corluka tomorrow and may use Sun Jihai instead.
A less assured figure at City's Carrington training ground yesterday was Benjani Mwaruwari, unveiled by City hours after Zimbabwean newspaper The Herald reported him saying that he did not want to leave Portsmouth in the first place. Benjani rejected suggestions made by Portsmouth's Peter Storrie earlier this week that his delay in reaching City was caused by him falling asleep and missing his flight to Manchester. "No I did not fall asleep, the problem was that I live in Bournemouth and there was no flight so I had to drive to London," the player said.
Eriksson believes Benjani does want to be at City, though at 29 he is two years above the optimum age of player the Swede has been looking for. "I think he can easily do three or four years. "If you look at his physique he is very quick and strong."
Ferguson, with Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra suspended and Louis Saha recovering from a knee injury may look to 17-year-old Danny Welbeck, who spent time at City before his United trial. He has been brought into the senior squad for the rest of the season. United will close Old Trafford's gates five minutes before kick-off to help keep the minute's silence.
Richards' salary to double in value at City
Sources close to Micah Richards suggest that he will earn £55,000 a week under his new contract, though the club put the figure nearer to £50,000. That is a £28,000 a week increase on his previous deal, and though Martin Petrov and Elano are thought to earn more, City believe it is a statement of the club's ambition. The deal represents good business for the club who, with Arsenal and Chelsea circling, avoided breaking their pay structure in settling with Richards' father, Lincoln. He has been handling negotiations since Richards left Jerome Anderson's SEM group and has claimed that Newcastle United had offered Richards £70,000.
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