After the sacking of Stuart Pearce, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s time at Manchester City in the 2007-2008 season brought much-needed hope, optimism and a first Premier League double over Manchester United. Despite only lasting a year in the hot-seat, he swiftly became a fan favourite both for his style of play and the maturity he exhibited.
An end to the club’s financial struggles at City seemed to be in sight when former Thailand Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra took control of the club in July 2007, ousting the previous board much to the delight of fans. Eriksson was appointed exactly one year to the day from leaving the England job.
Not initially Thaksin’s first choice, Sven nonetheless managed to extract substantial funds for new signings from City’s new owner. Claudio Ranieri had been the number one choice for the role. However, a late offer from Juventus tempted him to sign for the Italian giants.
Sven had this to say following his appointment: “I couldn’t care less if I was the second, third or fourth choice to be City manager. I am here, and the job is mine.” Upon appointment, former City chairman John Wardle expressed his delight at the signing of Sven by saying: “I’m very pleased and am looking forward like everyone to the future of this Football Club and watching them go up and up.”
The 59-year-old signed a three-year deal worth a reported £9 million, and in an interview with the official City website said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be City manager. It’s an exciting challenge. I’ve already started making preparations for the new season. I want to deliver a team that our fantastic fans can be proud of.”
Sven got straight to work by securing the signatures of Gelson Fernandes, Rolando Bianchi, Vedran Corluka and Elano all in the close season. Geovanni, Martin Petrov and Javier Garrido soon followed. Academy graduates such as Micah Richards and Michael Johnson were heralded as the club’s core around which Sven wanted to build his new side.
Three wins in his first three games, including a famous 1-0 home victory over eventual champions Manchester United meant City topped the table at the end of August. Sven claimed the manager of the month award while 19-year-old Micah Richards scooped player of the month for his impressive performances, most notably during the derby.
A great run from September to November meant City approached the midway stage with eight home wins from eight, a new Premier League record for the club. Brazilian Elano had stolen the show on many occasions as Sven had granted the former Shakhtar Donetsk man the freedom of the midfield.
City stayed in sixth place for much of the season despite allegations of corruption and human rights abuses against the new owner. February 9th, 2008 took City to Old Trafford on a memorable occasion. The 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash witnessed both Manchester clubs do battle in an iconic game.
Against all the odds, a 1-2 away victory over United and a debut goal from new signing Benjani gave the fans the bragging rights and recorded the club’s first win at Old Trafford since 1974.
Despite the victory over their bitter rivals, City would only record one win in the next eight, and their hopes of a top-four or even a UEFA Cup place came to an end. Rumours of Sven being dismissed started to appear frequent and seemed to affect the on-field performances of the side.
More changes would occur at boardroom level, and stories of Sven’s departure became a daily occurrence. Shinawatra responded by announcing that Sven would leave the club at the end of the season and fans showed their support for the manager by chanting ‘Save Our Sven’ and organising a march from the City centre to Eastlands. There was also a flood of letters to the club and the Manchester Evening News. Failure to consider the fans’ opinions resulted in high volume season ticket cancellations. The team also announced it was prepared to go on strike. Eriksson rejected this form of support and persuaded his players not too damaging their careers in this way.
Shinawatra claimed that he was replacing Ericsson after only one full season, because of an “avalanche of destitute results which is unacceptable at this level.”
In the last game of the season, Manchester City suffered an 8–1 loss to Middlesbrough – the biggest defeat of Eriksson’s career. Despite having lost his job, Eriksson nonetheless honoured his contractual commitment to accompany the team on a post-season trip to the Far East. The team finished in 9th place and actually gained a place in the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play League.
Sven-Goran Eriksson became Manchester City’s first foreign manager and the first in Premier League history to deliver the fans a sense of optimism for Champions League football.
His professionalism, charm and humble behaviour will live long in the memory of City fans who were saddened by the news of his unfair dismissal.
Eriksson became the first Manchester City manager since the 1969–70 season to win both league derby games against Manchester United and he also achieved the club’s joint highest Premier League point total at that stage (55).
He was replaced by Mark Hughes on 4 June 2008.