Managerial mysteries

Parick Vieira was unveiled as a City player.-AP

Signing an aged Patrick Vieira for an outrageous salary of £155.000 a week, even if the resources of Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners seem infinite, are a few of the eccentric moves at the top in English football, feels Brian Glanville.

The recent turn of the years has seen some odd developments at club managerial level. First, there is Manchester City and Roberto Mancini. No one denied that the former Inter manager and Samprodia star has made an excellent start after all the tumult and outrage which followed the sacking of Mark Hughes. Things have even improved to the extent that raucous, tactless voice of the chief executive Garry Cook, is blessedly heard no more. The defence has been effectively tighte ned up, goals are seldom given away, Carlos Tevez, whom Manchester United let go last summer while keeping the gifted but disappointing Berbatov, is in electric form. So why, you may ask, Patrick Vieira? And at outrageous salary of £155.000 a week, even if the resources of City’s Abu Dhabi owners seem infinite.

When Vieira left Arsenal for Juventus in 2004, you wondered how he could ever be replaced, with his power, his drive, his size, his commitment. But Arsene Wenger the Gunners’ manager had an un-expected ace up his sleeve in the shape of the teen aged Cesc Fabregas, so much younger, smaller and less experienced than Vieira but as it proved, an inspiring replacement, So much so that when Arsenal played Juventus at Highbury in the European Cup, Fabregas completely dominated and outshone Vieira.

Now, at the age of 33, what can City and Mancini expect from the veteran Vieira who has had all these years away from the increasingly faster and more exacting Premiership? Mancini seems to think that Vieira’s sheer experience and know how will rub off on the other players, but there seems equally a very real danger that Vieira will simply see the play swirling round him. At £155,000 a west.

Sol Campbell is even older than Vieira at 35, yet Arsenal’s Wenger has just signed him up at a time when he has played but one League game — for humble Nott County — in the current season and that was far from successful. Vieira, you may remember, literally walked out of Highbury at half-time after a disastrous display in an evening game, in which he had ineptly given away two goals. Before joining the Gunners he had played for their bitter local rivals, Spurs whose supporters, when he left Tottenham on a free transfer at end of contract, have yet to forgive him.

Arsene Wenger one assumes knows what he is doing, but Campbell’s pace has seemed long gone, not least when he played in the premiership for Portsmouth. Of late, Wenger has seemed untypically cephalous. Even to the extent of advocating the replacement of the throw in with a kick in. The sort of erratic innovation you’d associate with the ineffable Sapp (51 bad new ideas a day) Blatter, kingpin of FIFA. Some years ago, when Blatter had his way in an international youth tournament, the Chinese reduced the practice of fiasco, employing huge young player to take every kick-in, even to the extent of bringing him from one side of the field to the other to do so.

Wenger also suggested, the other day, that when one of his players was brought down with an injury, he should deliberately handle the ball to hold up the opposing attack. He was probably thinking of the way his midfielder, Danielson, suddenly collapsed in the game against Everton, who promptly surged at field to score. But since Danielson when he so mysteriously collapsed, was nowhere near the ball, what difference would it have made?

Then there is the somewhat puzzling mid season move of Owen Coyle, who has done so well to get Burnley back in the top division after 33 years, to that other Lancashire club, Bolton Wanderers. True, Burnley’s resources are limited, and a porous defence has seen to it that the club’s home record is immensely better than its away record. But Bolton? The club which has just sacked Gary Megeen as manager, and is notorious for its rudimentary tactics: bumping long balls up to an attack in which the centre forward and usually sole striker, Davies, has a heavy burden to bear.

Coyle will have none of it. He means, he insists, to make Bolton play more creative, attractive football, evidently forgetting the dire fate of the manager who tried to do that: little Sammy Lae, once a sturdy midfield man with Liverpool and England. Things fell apart, results were dismal, and Lae was soon on his way back to his old club, Liverpool, as assistant coach.

Coyle, who once used to play for Bolton, insists that money has nothing to do with his move and points out that last summer, he turned down Celtic, who wanted to bring him to Glasgow and would have paid him a great deal more. He supported Celtic as a boy turned them down, plainly because he regarded Scottish soccer as a backwater, the real deal being the Premier League. Burnley and their fans are apoplectic: the words “Traitor” and “Judas” are flung around. My own surprise comes from the fact that Coyle has moved from one modest club to another. Had the call come from one of the top few Premiership teams, one might have understood it.

Meanwhile, what will happen at West London’s Queen Park Rangers? There has been something of a stay of execution for their flamboyant patron, Flavio Briatore. Formula 1 suspended him from all activity after it emerged that he had encouraged Nelson Piquet Jr. to crash his car in a race. But F1 seemingly hadn’t followed legal precepts, with the result that when Briatore took his case to a court in Paris, his disqualification was annulled. But now Formula 1 themselves intend to appeal.

Goodness knows QPR have hardly set Shepherds Bush alight with their recent form. Little chance of promotion to the Premiership, elimination from the FA Cup at home by Sheffield United. But with the immensely wealthy Mittal hovering in the background and F1’s Bernie Ecclestone and his millions on board, you’d have thought they might have gone out to buy good players rather than rely on loans.

Meanwhile, having only recently kicked out Jim Magilton, a mediocre manager, and appointed Paul Hart, who’d done enough at depleted Portsmouth not to deserve the sack, there is already talk that they might appoint Alan Curbishley, ex-manager of both Charlton and West Ham. Briatore, as we know, goes through manager, good, bad and indifferent, as though there were no tomorrow. But how long will he himself even be in charge? Lose the coming case brought by F1, and he would automatically cease to be “a fit and proper person” for the Football League.

But now after QPR’s FA Cup replay 2-3 defeat at home by Sheffield United, Paul Hart has abruptly been sacked. Surely a club in chaos: who’d want to manage it now if peace of mind is of any consequence?