Nineteen years ago, Manchester City arrived at Tynecastle a different animal to the global phenomenon Hearts face tomorrow.
Alan Ball was manager, Brother electronics sponsored the distinctive sky blue shirts and signings were modest. They were destroyed 5-1 by Hearts in a pre-season friendly and have taken almost two decades to return.
The spine of City’s team that day – Saturday, August 12, 1995 – was Steve Lomas, Alan Kernaghan, Andy Dibble and Niall Quinn. Recognised names in England’s Premiership but hardly the Sergio Aguero or Vincent Kompany of their time. Days later, an unknown Georgian by the name of Georgi Kinkladze arrived at Maine Road for £2million. Even he couldn’t halt a decline which would eventually see City relegated twice and end up in England’s old Second Division, now known as League One.
Hearts’ goals in that friendly came from John Colquhoun, who struck twice, Brian Hamilton, Allan Johnston and David Hagen. Nicky Summerbee got the English side’s consolation. A repeat scoreline tomorrow night is about as likely as City owner Sheikh Mansour flying Ryanair to save cash.
Money talks at Eastlands following Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover in 2008. In fact, make that money shouts. Loudly. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has internationalists like Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo, Gael Clichy, Micah Richards, Aleksandar Kolarov, Stevan Jovetic, Jack Rodwell and Matija Nastasic with him for this training camp in Scotland. And that’s the City squad without several World Cup stars.
They lost 2-0 to Dundee at Dens Park on Sunday and tomorrow return to the scene of one of their most embarrassing pre-season outings.
“I remember coming up to Hearts that year. Alan Ball was our manager and we got trounced,” recalled Kernaghan, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I just remember we were absolutely garbage. English clubs come up to Scotland because the Scottish clubs are usually a week ahead in their pre-season programme. I remember one of the Hearts boys scoring a couple of goals but we were just awful. We couldn’t compete with Hearts at all.
“A lot of that epitomised the Alan Ball era. We had a lot of good players but there was no cohesion between the team, there was no togetherness. That’s why City started to plummet down the leagues. It was very much on the downward spiral towards the end of my time there.
“It was just like a hangover completely when Alan Ball was in charge. It wasn’t all down to him but he was a factor in it. He was third manager we’d gone through in 18 months so it was really a bit of a silly time at Man City. In my four and a half years there I think I had seven or eight managers, which is just ridiculous. You can’t get any cohesion or forward planning when that happens.”
City are currently top dogs in Manchester having just won the English Premier League for the second time in three years, but in the mid-1990s they very much lived in the shadow of neighbours United.
“I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Man City but it was a totally different time compared to now. Obviously, the money is the big thing,” explained Kernaghan.
“City are now in a position to challenge in the Champions League and pick the best international players from Europe and beyond.
“It wasn’t quite like that when I was there. The highest wage then would have been probably Kinkladze or Keith Curle. They would’ve been on about £5000 a week, off the top of my head, which was big money in those days.
“The success comes at a price for the fans because things are more expensive. I think the majority of Man City fans will put that to one side as long as they’re above Man United in the league. That huge rivalry is one thing that hasn’t changed. I remember they built a brand new stand at the Kippax at Maine Road [in 1994]. I was up there one day and I said: ‘This is fantastic, isn’t it?’ The reply was: ‘Yes, but you can still see f***ing Old Trafford from it.’”
One intrigued observer at Tynecastle tomorrow will be the Hearts director of football Craig Levein. He also played in that 1995 friendly and is eager to make the most of having City back in Edinburgh. “We had aspirations to get a big-name club here. It’s a traditional thing, isn’t it? To have one home friendly and get a big club,” he said. “To get Man City is probably above expectations.
“Pre-season friendlies are just that and a lot of supporters look on it that way, quite rightly so. However, I don’t know how many times Man City will come here given the way they’re going. I think it will be a while before they’re back so Friday will be really good occasion. They have a lot of players coming who are international players. I believe they could field 11 players who are internationalists so that will make it exciting.
“Man City are in a different stratosphere altogether now. They’re a global club. They’ve had their trials and tribulations over the years and I’m delighted for their supporters that they’re in a place now where they can compete with the best in the world.
“At this time of the year, the most important thing for me is getting the players ready for the start of the season. Training sessions have been really hard. The boys have been doing double sessions, even on the days before games. Until we go to Ibrox for the first league game, I don’t think we’ll be 100 per cent. Our whole programme is designed to get them right for that day.”