Sinclair glad to be a northern light again

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The Independent Football

Trevor Sinclair bristles when I suggest he is one of several flair players who have invigorated Manchester City's start to their first season away from Maine Road in 80 years.

"Am I a flair player?" he asks. "I get forward but I'm helpful going back. [Steve] McManaman's the same. People talk about flair players but picture them walking back saying, 'Come on, lads, get on with it'. That is definitely not our team."

McManaman did indeed do his share of defending in Wednesday's wholly unconvincing Uefa Cup victory over Lokeren, a club bottom of the Belgian First Division, but who reached the away dressing-room 2-1 up at half-time and with the boos of the home crowd still audible in the September chill.

Kevin Keegan could not recall being howled down by his own crowd before, not even after the defeat by Germany which marked the end of the old Wembley and his own time as the England manager. Perhaps he was too focused on his imminent resignation, but on Wednesday night he attacked his own supporters for their fickleness, a perilous route for any but the most secure football man.

Unlike his counterpart at Old Trafford, the Manchester City manager does not have a Machiavellian bone in his body but his criticisms at least drew the media away from dwelling too long on another goalkeeping error by David Seaman. At 40, his habit of signing autographs "Safe Hands" now looks rather ironic after half-a-dozen errors that have been replayed, slowed down, analysed and used as damning evidence that he should have accepted Arsène Wenger's offer to become a coach at Highbury rather than indulge in a final, middle-aged fling in Manchester.

He apologised for Lokeren's first goal, hesitating fatally as a looping back-header from Sun Jihai became lost in the lights. Sinclair was in the England dressing-room at Shizuoka in the ghastly aftermath of Ronaldinho's infamous free-kick - which reduced Seaman to a tearful, mumbled apology to the nation - and he feels deeply for his team-mate. Accountants who fail can reflect in private over wine and cigarettes. Footballers do their suffering in public.

"I'm not sure he even knows he's being talked about. All I can say is he comes into training before most of the other lads. He is out on the field before they are even here. He's training with young kids, 20 and 21, and he's not looking out of his depth.

"I headed into my own goal at Blackburn and he got the blame. It wasn't his blame to take. The other night, Sun Jihai headed it back and didn't tell David whether to come for it. He got the blame. That comes with being an England goalkeeper." And the goal against Brazil? "It was difficult because it was not just the goal, it was the fact that we were out of the World Cup and everybody in that dressing-room was very low. A lot of people had a lot to say about that goal. It was very hard."

Sinclair has just found a house, returning to the North-West after a decade in London with Queen's Park Rangers and then West Ham. He says he is "unpacking boxes" and with three boys, aged between one and 10, he laughs that he has no time to read newspapers and no idea what is going on in the world.

"Once you've experienced the highs and lows, you don't tend to take much notice of what's said or written. If your life was all football you might, but not now."

Having left the wreckage of West Ham for the club he supported as a boy, Sinclair finds Manchester City a comfortable environment after the scars of the recent past. "It is different here," he says. "You have more internationals, more experience, a lot bigger club. When West Ham finished seventh [in 2002] Glenn Roeder didn't have that many players to choose from. It was still a club in transition because Harry Redknapp had just left, and it was a strange situation for Glenn because he was just coming back into management. Keegan has been here several years, he's had success.

"Relegation was very tough. As a professional, you want to perform at the highest level, and to be relegated is like a doctor being suspended or a solicitor struck off. It's not a good feeling, you have to put it behind you. It has been relatively easy to do it at this club because you have so many good players around you and people are on a high."

It has been a kind of homecoming for Sinclair, who was born in Dulwich and left Manchester when he was 14. Had his gut instinct when he was playing for Manchester United's junior side, that he would not make it as a footballer, been proved correct, he might have been in the crowd on Wednesday night.

"I was 12 and I didn't think I was good enough. They asked me to come back but I thought no, and anyway it was United." Supporting City did not, however, come naturally.

"My favourite player was John Barnes but I couldn't support Liverpool, coming from Manchester. I would have got battered. I wasn't supporting United so the only club was City. All my mates supported them and I would have got loads of grief if I didn't but, funnily enough, I ended up with all the kit."

These days, however, he does not have to pay for it.