Graham interested in City job

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The Independent Online
Francis Lee made it clear to Manchester City's players yesterday that they should share the blame for the decision of his friend Alan Ball to relinquish the manager's job at Maine Road.

The City chairman suggested that little had changed since the club was relegated from the Premiership last May when he said: "If results had gone differently in the first three games of the season, I wouldn't be looking for a new manager," said Lee, who has seen City lose their last two First Division games. "I've told the players they have an obligation to the 29,000 fans who turned up to watch us play Ipswich and the massive following we take to away matches. I spoke to the players this morning and told them if they didn't want to be here they needed only to get up and walk out. They all stayed where they were."

It is open to question how long Georgi Kinkladze will stay where he is. He has asked his Swiss agent Philippe Hubert to discuss his future in a meeting with Francis Lee tomorrow.

Although the Georgian midfield player stayed with the club after they were relegated, he was waiting to see how they started the new season, but he has apparently not found the more frantic First Division football to his liking.

Lee is under pressure to buy rather than sell, but if Kinkladze decided he wanted to leave, his transfer could generate pounds 5m for the next manager.

The former England forward said Asa Hartford would be in temporary charge of the team, but his exhortation to the players to give him an "electric performance" in City's next game, against Charlton next Tuesday, was qualified with the rider "if we don't have a manager in place."

Two former Arsenal manager's, George Graham and Bruce Rioch, are among the candidates for the job. Graham, who brought Arsenal their most successful period, is eager to return to the game, having completed his year's ban from the Football Association over the "transfer bungs" affair six months ago.

"Of course I would be interested, but I have had no contact with anyone from Manchester City," the 51-year-old Scot said yesterday. "I can assure you it is a big job, a big club and I would be interested."

Graham was reportedly considered for the job before Ball was appointed to replace Brian Horton, who was sacked in July 1995.

Lee was guarded over Graham's reported interest. "I'd be interested to speak to George as my feeling is that what people are reported to have said is not always what they meant to say," he said. "But if the right man comes along we could appoint him straight away."

Lee, while admitting there had been disagreements in the dressing-room dismissed suggestions that player power had forced Ball out, but he admitted the moans of fans following defeats at Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City had stretched his manager's defiance to breaking point.

Hartford, the former City midfielder who was Ball's assistant, has to pick up morale at the club, but he has a week to work on that now that City's match against Charlton has been put back because of international call-ups this weekend.