Saturday 16 November 2019

James Lawton: The old Kidd in town

City's assistant boss has been around a long time but remains a key component of one of the world's richest clubs

Veteran assistant boss Brian Kidd with Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City
Veteran assistant boss Brian Kidd with Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City
Brian Kidd celebrates with Manuel Pellegrini
Brian Kidd and Alex Ferguson
Brian Kidd and Terry Venables
Brian Kidd with David O'Leary

James Lawton

The man who draws arguably the most reliable relief map of some of the ferocious terrain in English football has just completed his 51st pre-season as a professional. But if you expect Brian Kidd, right hand man to Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and a huge influence in Alex Ferguson's Manchester United revolution of the nineties, to cover familiar territory you are wrong.

Modern football, he says as he prepares to help groom £49m Raheem Sterling for the pivotal challenge of his brief but hugely controversial career, has taken the game to new and unprecedentedly hazardous country.

And nowhere, he also contends, has created quite the same concentration of pressure going into a new season which might be occurring on a different planet to the one on which he faced his first campaign as a tremulous teenager clad in his new Manchester United blazer.

Sterling is just one example of how it is living on a most precarious edge created by fantasy money and often unreal expectations. Across town, and in a place which once conditioned the rhythm of his heart-beat, he argues there is an even more extreme case of someone walking between the sunlight of glory and the darkest failure.

It is the situation of United's manager and putative redeemer Louis van Gaal.

Says Kidd, "I don't think anyone could quite have understood the challenge he faced when he came to United last season. No more than they did when David Moyes took over a year earlier. When he accepted the job, after some terrific years at Everton, I shook my head and thought, 'The lad will realise soon enough, he is stepping into an abyss. That was inevitable after the years of Ferguson and all that success - he just couldn't walk in and produce any of that authority over a squad which had, really against the odds, won a last title for the man who had laid down all the rules at Old Trafford.

"The truth is that Van Gaal has needed every minute of his year in office just clearing up the mess. Don't get me wrong, I think he's a top professional who has known success wherever he has gone, including places like Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But then I don't think anything can really prepare you for the culture of the Premier League.

"Some people say it is the best league in the world but I think that ignores the extraordinary technical achievements of Spanish football at the club and international level. When you have teams of the quality of Barcelona and Real Madrid and one like Atletico Madrid which won the title and came so close to winning the Champions League, and another team as gifted as Seville, you have staked out a pretty unanswerable claim to be the best.

"But in the Premier League there are different challenges and what I think is fair to say is that it is the most demanding - and the most exciting."

Demanding, certainly, for someone like Van Gaal who has never before operated in a league where the potential for ambush runs right down the league, where millions upon millions are poured not into the starry idea that one day you might compete at the level of a Barca or a Real but the imperative simply to survive, in the money, in the swim beyond which is the oblivion of the most rocky and unpromising shore - life without the underpinning of the Premier League's TV millions.

"Almost as soon as I got off the plane from City's tour in Australia and the Far East I was at a League Managers' meeting where the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore was giving new viewing figures across the world - staggering numbers of people watching the Premier League in places like Indonesia.

"The lure, the excitement, is the sheer unpredictability of so many Premier League fixtures . . . an element you just don't get watching Barca and Real Madrid and Bayern Munich rolling over some team in the lower reaches of La Liga or the Bundesliga."

As Kidd paints it, the new season has rarely been so intriguing in the promised investigation of the major contenders.

"Liverpool have flirted with the 'bread-and-butter' challenge of winning the Premier League title, which has to be the basis of any belief that you can go and compete with the Barcas and the Reals, but they are still looking for a breakthrough at this level," he says. "I think it will be pretty much as before, with Chelsea, us, Arsenal - who are well set up now - and Manchester United asking the big questions of themselves.

"Of course we were very disappointed in the league but we do believe that we have created the infrastructure that it takes to become one of the elite in European football. The facilities and the system in place are a guarantee for the future and the achievements of the ownership, not only in building up the club but also bringing new life to a part of the city that was dying on its feet, have been stupendous. Now we have to take another step forward and, hopefully, this will be helped by kinder draws in the Champions League.

"Getting hold of Sterling, who may prove the outstanding English player of his generation, was one statement of ambition. How will he develop? Kenny Dalglish did a brilliant job in 'boxing him off' for Liverpool when the kid was part of the QPR youth system. We heard about him, looked at him, but were told that Kenny had made sure he would go to Liverpool.

"Now he holds the future in his own hands. He has shown his talent - now he has to produce his competitive character. He has to look around him at people like Sergio Aguero and David Silva and realise how far he still has to go."

For Kidd the emergence of a Sterling or, say, Jack Wilshere, at Arsenal, is nothing short of a small miracle.

"Grass roots football has virtually disappeared," says Kidd. "When I was kid I played four times of a weekend and when I signed for Manchester United my overwhelming fear was that I wouldn't prove good enough against all the competition. I said this to Matt Busby when I went to sign as a pro with my dad. I told the great man that I worried that I wouldn't get the chance to prove myself. He told me what I now tell Raheem Sterling.

"If you get an opportunity it is all in your own hands. How much do you believe in yourself? How much do you want it?"

Kidd's desire was soon enough a key to his football nature - and his success. He was born two streets away from Nobby Stiles in East Manchester and he was just 19 when he took the injured Denis Law's place in a European Cup final and scored a vital goal and then, two years later, he destroyed Manchester City in a Cup tie in the season when Busby finally walked into the shadows.

There is an enduring thread in a career in which he has served the Manchester clubs as both a player and coach and assistant to Ferguson at Old Trafford and first Roberto Mancini and now Pellegrini at the Etihad. It is an effortlessly transferred passion.

It has caused a certain kinship with someone remembered with some ambivalence at both clubs, the turbulent Carlos Tevez. The Argentine had his critics on both sides of town, when he defected from Old Trafford and then staged his rebellions at City, but Kidd says, "I know what it is to cross the lines in this city and when I think of it, it puts me in awe of the way Tevez performed on the field for both clubs.

"For me he was a great football throwback, a street footballer in every part of his being - and I know that is true of me when I go into another season. For me there is no question of counting the years, wondering if I've had enough."

The implication could hardly be clearer. Values and demands and so many of the rules may have changed but for Brian Kidd the terrain remains quite irreplaceable.

Irish Independent

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