Ater thirty-five names were linked with the vacant managerial position at Manchester City, Steve Coppell was appointed Manchester City manager in October 1996. His thirty-three day tenure at the club resulted in a controversial exit which still has City fans questioning the reason nearly twenty-years later.
Coppell tenure as City manager remains the shortest reign by any manager the club has ever appointed. During his first press conference, he told reporters. “I was at United and Palace for nine years apiece, and I hope that City is a long-term rather than a short-term move.”
Evidently, it seemed apparent that Coppell was the man to bring City back to the top-flight and was aware of City’s financial struggles following relegation.
Incredibly, just six matches later Coppell resigned much to the shock of everyone. Assistant Phil Neal’s first hearing of the news was the following day at training when the national media were asking him questions on his departure.
Rumours began to develop as to why Coppell had walked out on the club. The former Palace manager cited health-grounds as the reasoning behind his sudden resignation. Coppell had lost a significant amount of weight during his month in charge and his facial structure had become gaunt and hallow looking.
Coppell was going through a difficult divorce with his wife and was 300 miles away from his son – who was living in Surrey with his mother Julie.
Coppell soon realised that City’s resources were stretched to breaking point. In the week he resigned, the club announced record losses of £2m for the year, while the debt had ballooned to £26m. The perilous financial state was a result of the shocking neglect during Swales’ last years as chairman.
Unbelievably, when Lee and his consortium took charge of City in February 1994, they discovered that no money had been put aside to rebuild the Kippax, despite the 1990 Taylor Report requiring clubs to have all-seater stadiums by August 1994. After finding £11.5m for the new stand, Lee had precious little left for players.
Watford’s Kevin Miller, Coppell’s first choice for a new keeper, was deemed too expensive at £2m, as was £1m-rated Iain Feuer at Luton. Mark Schwarzer proved a more realistic target at £250,000, but after spending a week at City he opted for Bradford.
The supporters high expectations at the time also caused enormous strain to Coppell’s time at City. Watching neighbours Manchester United achieve success annually, the club’s supporters grew envious of their constant silverware.
Chairman Francis Lee later offered Coppell a payment of £30,000, even though he was not obliged to. Coppell wrote back declining the offer, “because I haven’t earned it”. Supporters were dismayed, especially when he later returned to Crystal Palace and guided them to promotion via the play-offs.
Despite sitting 17th in the table, Coppell failed to overturn the club’s results. One victory in six, including three defeats, meant City’s hopes of achieving promotion were swiftly fading away.