x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Summerbee: City can oust United

The legend believes the club are equal to their Manchester rivals, and in Mancini, he sees a touch of Malcolm Allison.

Roberto Mancini took over as manager in December of City. Allison was his predecessor in the 1970s.
Roberto Mancini took over as manager in December of City. Allison was his predecessor in the 1970s.

The last time Manchester City enjoyed anything approaching managerial stability a vintage crop of players enjoyed a golden era which brought them English League championship, FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup honours in the space of three seasons.

Since those halcyon days under the statesmanlike Joe Mercer and his flamboyant sidekick Malcolm Allison, City have collected only one more piece of silverware - the consolation prize of the League Cup way back in 1976. That embarrassing barren spell has been made even harder to bear for City's enormous and commendably loyal following by their neighbours and fierce rivals Manchester United enjoying success after success at home and abroad under Sir Alex Ferguson's remarkable tenure spanning 24 years.

It is not rocket science to evaluate that United's prosperity under Ferguson has come as a reward for the Old Trafford hierarchy's, (principally the former chairman Martin Edwards) refusal to dismiss the gritty Scotsman when times were hard in the first four years of the manager's exceptional reign. Ferguson has devoted much of his time at United towards getting to know his City counterparts. After being welcomed to the Manchester way of life by his fellow Scot Jimmy Frizzell in 1986, Ferguson has offered the same good luck messages to no fewer than 17 City managers - the last of them Roberto Mancini in December.

Mancini, in the view of one of the most charismatic old boys from that triumphant Swinging Sixties era under manager Mercer and influential coach Allison, can provide City and their Abu Dhabi owners with that overdue spell of steadiness. Mike Summerbee, the tricky England international winger who alongside Colin Bell and Francis Lee provided City with a star-studded triumvirate to match United's legendary trio of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, sees early similarities between the latest City regime and the one in which he figured so prominently.

"I can see a lot of the Malcolm Allison characteristics in Mancini," said Summerbee during a visit to Abu Dhabi to conduct a series of "football" schools and seek to strengthen his club's bonds with sponsors Etihad Airways. Summerbee, City's official ambassador, added: "Roberto might not yet be displaying the charisma that Malcolm showed when working with Joe but I'm sure it's there. He's still finding his feet in the English game and that will take some time. But he's doing a tremendous job

"I think he is the one who will bring a bit of stability to this football club - and hopefully silverware too. United are not looking down at us at the moment because we are right alongside them. The future looks very bright for us." Summerbee, who, considering he turned 67 last December, cut a sprightly figure in his City kit coaching young hopefuls, looked forward excitedly to what tomorrow will be one of the most significant Manchester derbies since his own playing days.

A City victory at Eastlands would not only make them even stronger favourites to secure the valuable fourth English qualification place in next season's Champions League but it would also effectively extinguish United's fading hopes of retaining their Premier League title. The man known as Buzzer during his 10 years scampering down the wing at Maine Road (City's former home) emphasised, however: "People might say that the minimum requirement this season is fourth place in view of all the extra money provided by the new owners.

"But there is no pressure on the manager to deliver that. Whatever happens in the remaining matches, we've had a fantastic season and we are way ahead of schedule in terms of where the club want to be. "Fifth or sixth place would be perfectly acceptable, but I have a sneaking feeling based on 25 years of playing professional football that we have a marvellous opportunity there and that we can take it."

Derby day in Manchester still gets Buzzer buzzing and his eyes lit up when asked to reflect on his own experiences against the old enemy. "We played them at Maine Road [in September 1967] and they beat us but that proved to be the stepping stone for our team to go on to great things," he enthused. "We ended up winning the [old First Division] Championship. It was between United and ourselves and we came out on top. The self-belief among the lads was brilliant. It was a fantastic occasion.

"The only down side was that we won the league and United won the European Cup [beating Benfica in a Wembley final] the following week. That took a bit of the gloss off our success. "We knew then, though, that even though they were European champions they were never top dogs in Manchester. "In 15 games against them [a sequence that included five successive wins at Old Trafford] I was only once on the losing side.

"We are all looking forward to the day when City can be dominant again in Manchester and that the constant look-backs to the days of Lee, Bell and Summerbee will be cast aside to be part of history and be replaced by the likes of [Carlos] Tevez and [Emmanuel] Adebayor going into Eastlands folk lore." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae