Rosler revels in Maine Road survival game

Derick Allsop meets the man who has put aside any differences with his manager to concentrate on Manchester City's battle to avoid relegation from the Premiership

The diehards faithfully lining Manchester City's training pitch this week - perniciously dubbed "death row" by those of the United persuasion - cannot have missed the irony of the scene before them.

Alan Ball's senior squad had been depleted to the point where a five- a-side was just possible, not by injuries but by international calls. Six players were absent, a seventh, Mikhail Kavelashvili, had been excused for domestic reasons.

This, alas, is scarcely a team with talent to spare. The facts say so. The facts also suggest time is running out for the condemned men of Maine Road, but another reprieve may be denied them.

City present their final appeals away to Aston Villa, today, and at home to Liverpool, a week tomorrow. They need a convincing case to stay in the Premiership and the evidence appears stacked against them.

They will lean heavily, as they have all season, on Georgi Kinkladze, one of those summoned by his country this week. The little Georgian's audacious skills have beguiled opponents and spectators alike, and he is becoming as much of an icon on the pale blue side of this city as Eric Cantona is on the red.

But perhaps it will fall to another of the imports, Uwe Rosler, a man who still dreams of playing for a united Germany, to have the decisive influence on City's destiny.

Rosler was the cult hero here this time last year, his goals - 22 in the season - and his unbridled commitment not only leading the survival campaign in England but also earning the attention of the Fatherland.

All that was before Kinkladze arrived. And before Alan Ball arrived. Despite scoring in each of the opening two fixtures this season, Rosler could not muster another League goal until 18 December, mid campaign, and by that stage City were confronting a familiar struggle against relegation.

Ball blamed their plight on the lack of goals, and the supporters were directing their more overt affections towards Kinkladze. Come spring the papers groaned under the weight of stories about a conflict between Ball and Rosler. The German was left out of the side, supposedly because of a foot injury, although those close to the club suspected otherwise.

Rosler's anger, reported to have been compounded by orders to operate in a different role when he did play, went on public view when, after scoring against Manchester United early this month, he reacted with a defiant gesture and glare at his manager.

Restored to the starting line-up, he scored the winning goal against Sheffield Wednesday in the last match. Ball, however, was far from contrite, proffering the theory that Rosler's "madness" had been channelled to positive effect.

Whatever the depth of ill feeling between them, they patently still communicate, Ball pointedly singling out Rosler for a private chat after training. Rosler was equally deliberate in changing course back to the dressing- room to speak to a fan in a wheelchair.

Up in the bar and restaurant at City's new Platt Lane complex, some of the faithful, including the man in the wheelchair, wiled away another hour or so, one eye on a video recording of the match against Wednesday, another on the door to clock the players coming in for lunch or a drink.

Rosler, tall and powerful, marched purposefully to the bar, collected a soft drink in a pint glass from his compatriot, the City goalkeeper, Eike Immel, sought a table beyond the plants in the dining area,and talked about City's predicament.

"Of course it has not been an ideal situation for us this week, but it is fact and we have to handle facts," he said phlegmatically. "We are in a very difficult situation. We thought after the last win, against Sheffield Wednesday, we could make a step up, but other results went against us and at the end of the day nothing changed.

"Now maybe the other teams have easier programmes than us, on paper, but we have it still in our hands and need to concentrate on our games, not on Coventry's, not on Southampton's. We have not made it in all big games, for the big points, but now we have to. These are like two cup finals.

"There are so many reasons why we are in this situation. It is enough now to say people can make their own opinions. This is not my job. I am a player, and I must do my best on the pitch. We know we are responsible for this. But we have been in this situation before and I think there is enough quality and passion to stay up again." There is, however, apparently a significant difference in the relationship between Rosler and the manager this time round.

"I'm surprised why everybody makes a big story from this," he responded. "In every country, in every team in Europe, you have some players happy with the manager, and some players not so happy, but at the end of the day everybody sits in one boat - the players, the manager, the chairman, everybody.

"He [Ball] is my boss, I have respect for him, I accept him, and this thing that I thought was not good is between him and me and nothing to do with the newspapers. I have never said a negative word about him. The only thing I did was on the pitch. I am responsible. I will do my job. So long as I play for Manchester City I will do it properly and I need the concentration, not to make a fight. I think my reaction was normal. I can look in the mirror and know I do my best for this football club.

"I have two more years on my contract and in the summer we can sit down, discuss what we've done wrong, what we've done well, and make a decision about my future, but not now. I don't want to think about going down or anything negative. I love this club and the supporters, and they love me."

In the bar area, the fans were enjoying the re-run of Rosler's winner against Wednesday and the commentator led a chorus of "Uwe, Uwe." The appreciative striker said: " When you see the reaction of the supporters in our last game, it was fantastic. It's the greatest feeling as a player, to have 30,000 singing your name when you score goals, and are happy with you. This is the best.

"Every home game is nearly sold out and away we still have six , seven, eight thousand supporters. Man United in our situation, won nothing for the last 15 years [20 actually, as all tormenting United fans know], would not I think have the support we have. This is a huge club with a big potential and has the best man at the top you can have in Francis Lee. He must decide things. I'm sure he will spend more money on new players. It is the way to go up."

Whether or not Rosler will figure in the chairman's plans, the player acknowledges his experience in English football has furthered his education and he commends the contribution of the foreigners to the game here, giving particular mention to Bergkamp, Gullit, Yeboah and Cantona.

How about Kinkladze? "Yes," he replied, after a moment's hesitation. "He does things with the ball not a lot of players in the world can do, and of course a player like him is special, in any country."

Rosler, who achieved East German recognition, has seen his star rise and fall in the new Germany, but he is optimistic all is not lost. "I was one step from the national team, and I thought I would be invited to my first international this season, but it did not happen and the interest from the German coach has gone a little now. But I'm still young and I'm pleased with my performances in the second half of the season. I can do it again next year. For me, it's still a big target."

By then, Rosler could be looking back in anger at City, but in the meantime a 13th goal of this season would hugely enhance the cause of everyone at Maine Road.

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