Manchester City suffered a 1-0 home defeat by Bolton Wanderers on 7th March 2005 and this game ultimately led to a significant change to the then 12th placed Blues. Years later, in an interview I did with him the City chairman John Wardle told me that Kevin Keegan, the City manager, took him to one side: “There were nine games left and Kevin said ‘John, I can’t do any more for you’. I didn’t believe him. I thought it was a joke at first but with Kevin you knew when he was being serious. He said ‘I know when I’m done and it’s only right that you put somebody else in’. I sat there shell-shocked. He said that if I wanted him to recommend someone he would. He then recommended Stuart Pearce.
“Stuart had already left Carrington and we had to call him back. I spoke with him, then Kevin talked with him. It was like a handover. Kevin packed his bags and left. We never saw him again at the training ground. That’s Kevin. Once he makes a decision to move on, he moves on. Obviously, it stunned me on the day but I have to stress that I cannot speak highly enough about Kevin Keegan. He’s a real football person and he also cares about people.”
Keegan was hugely popular with fans and they recognised that he had been responsible for the second stage in City’s redevelopment following the disastrous mid-nineties. They also felt that the departure of Nicolas Anelka in January was a sign that financial issues were having a severe impact on the Club. The player was sold for a reported £7m to Fenerbahce. At the time this was City’s record sale.
It is fair to say that Keegan’s time brought a great deal of pride back to the Club. Director Dennis Tueart felt that bringing Keegan in during 2002 was absolutely the right move for the Club. He told me: “I knew he wouldn’t stay for years and years because I knew him. He said to me in 1975 that he would never stay anywhere longer than about five years. People told us he wouldn’t stay but I said if he can have control for a couple of years and get us out of this division then that’s fine. That’s what we needed. Let’s manage first things first and get out of this division. If we can’t do that then what hope? So it was no surprise to me when he eventually left us.”
Former City and England captain Stuart Pearce guided the Blues through the final nine games of 2004-05, taking over on this day (11th March) in 2005. Apart from a 2-1 defeat in his first game, the Blues were unbeaten until the end of the season. This run included victories over Liverpool (1-0), Birmingham (3-0), Portsmouth (2-0) and Villa (2-1). As a result Stuart Pearce was named the Barclays Premiership Manager of the Month for April. The Club announced he was the first City manager to win the award since the birth of the Premier League. That was not true – Alan Ball had, of course, previously won the award in 1995-96.
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