Made in Manchester

Posted by Simon Curtis

Setubal is a scruffy little fishing port 20 miles south of Lisbon, Portugal, where - on a good day - you can inhale the smoke of the barbecues and wait for the grilled sea bream to arrive fresh out of the sea and onto your plate. On a bad day the funk from the paper mills south of the ship building sinks carries all these pleasant aromas away and replaces it with a curtain of mist that smells like Brian Kidd's socks. It was in this town in 1981 that the late, great Malcolm Allison landed. The one and only City manager to gain a European trophy spent time in Portugal resurrecting his career after his disastrous second coming to Maine Road in 1979. Having won Sporting Lisbon the double, he fell foul of the dreaded drink, and drifted to this small town to revive both the local club's fortunes and his own.

Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty ImagesCity's out of the Champions League, but this is no team in crisis. Just lessons learned.

Allison was a man of loose morals but tight, well drilled football principles. He took City all the way to a rain-drenched Cup Winners' Cup final in the Prater Stadium in Vienna with a brand of football based on his upbringing at West Ham's school of pass and move, plus his own hankering for the delicious diagonal patterns of the magnificent Magyars from Honved in the 1950s. Allison was one of the first to enthuse about the Hungarian national team that would some time later come to Wembley in their old fashioned kit and lightweight "carpet slippers" to wipe the floor so comprehensively with Billy Wright's tittering England troops that it fair brought tears to the eyes.

José Mourinho is also a smooth operator built along the same sleek lines as Big Mal. He likes the spotlight, is not averse to the odd incendiary comment and enjoys his football pure and fast. Real Madrid play like Mourinho preaches: swift, arrogant, accurate and deadly. There is no real need for the tawdry put-downs and the base bravado that pepper his press conference performances, because his star-studded players can do the talking for him. Tonight in Manchester, his team - held together by the admirable Khedira and the outstanding Alonso, and driven forward by the livewire Di Maria and the cumbersome bulk of Benzema, - fought their corner against an increasingly desperate City, fighting for their lives amid the popping flashbulbs of the Champions League tourists that descend on the place on nights like this.

Mancini, like Allison before him, likes to think of himself tactically adept, a man with a system for every occasion. Tonight we were sent swirling back into the Back Three vortex, which, after a solid start, was undone by a bit of defending after 10 minutes that owed its conception to Power in Possession and its delivery to the Keystone Cops. Three blue shirts assiduously marking drizzle, while Maicon did his best to avoid looking at the ghost at the far post, Karim Benzema. That Benzema is built like a Tom Garner minibus made Maicon's flummoxed shoulder flexing after the goal even more comic. "Where did that fat lad come from?!" he seemed to be imploring Zabaleta. The Argentine, short on hair but rich in spirit, shot him a glance which would have turned someone less warm-blooded to slate.

After the delights of Jo and Robinho, City fans have developed a healthy mistrust of flaky Brazilians and this lapse will not have helped Maicon's cause. His masterful cameo against Villa last weekend, where - in full flight and with possession of the ball - he suddenly stopped to gaze at someone shouting at him from the crowd, waving a dismissive arm in the air before continuing down the wing - made him an instant fit in the City folklore that allows Ralph Brand to sit alongside Mike Summerbee and Barry Conlon to eat at the same table as Dennis Tueart. With that cameo, Maicon became part of the rich City tapestry but, adding tonight's moment of theatre, time will be the judge whether he be remembered as a Kenny Clements or an Andy Hinchcliffe.

Meanwhile, there followed a period of 10 or so minutes after the goal that one could reasonably have called City's "Dortmund Time", as chaos descended upon the disheveled Blue ranks to such a degree, watching from between your fingers became a realistic alternative. Hart kept City in it with a miraculous burst to the feet of Khedira, while the little magician Silva carried the fight forward with his full array of shimmies, dinks, nudges and laser passes. My, he even produced one crunching tackle on Benzema that had the big Frenchman jerking on the turf like he had just been shot out of a roll of carpet.

Ultimately this was not enough. Alas, for all the little man's promptings, the response from Dzeko and Aguero ahead of him did not mirror the Spaniard's sureness of touch and eagerness of movement. The ball squirted here and bobbled there. It jumped over there and it cannoned over here. When it did finally go in, rolled precisely by Sergio Aguero, it was as a result of referee Pinocchio's warm heart in awarding a softish penalty.

So City bid the Champions League farewell. Unlike Chelsea, the powers that be know that this is no crisis. There are lessons to be learned, formations to be put back in storage, targets to be refocussed on, but there should be no job vacancies to fill.

Back in Setubal all those years ago, Malcolm Allison's touch and move training sessions were partly aided by a young coach called Felix. Felix would often bring his son, a thrusting young student, to watch Allison shake some shapes in the sun. It was fascinating stuff to a young lad, waiting for life to smooth his career path. The young fellow would one day find his way, by the most circuitous of routes, into professional football, just like his father, just like Malcolm Allison. Big Mal, bless his soul, has parted this mortal coil. The student's Dad, Felix, or Felix Mourinho to give him his full name, packed the game in a long time ago. The student, meanwhile, has become a football professor, his name as familiar in Luanda and Littlehampton as it is in Lisbon.

And tonight, in the city where his very first mentor set his own name in neon, José Mourinho showed us what he had learned from those sun-kissed days on the training pitch in Setubal. The legacy of Malcolm Allison lives on

 

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