Will Alexis Sanchez be City’s new Rodney Marsh?

With the latest 3-0 victory over Burnley, Manchester City are really motoring.

The club are 5 points clear at the top of the table with 32 goals scored and only 4 conceded in the league.

Stretford United are looking prehistoric in comparison and 4 City players, Aguero, Sane, Sterling & Jesus have scored 31 goals in all competitions.

Awesome.

With all going so shark-swimmingly, Arsenal‘s summer intransigence over the sale of Alexis Sanchez seems like a distant memory.

However with Arsene Wenger‘s recent comments on the subject to the effect that Sanchez and Ozil could both very well be sold in January, the media are raising the matter once again.

But with the great form of our forwards Aguero, Sterling, Sane and Jesus, we have to ask, would Sanchez be the 5th Beatle? Would bringing in the Chilean upset the apple cart? (especially since Bernardo Silva often can’t get a game...)

City have a precedent here.

Rodney Marsh.

In March 1972, Marsh was signed by Malcolm Allison for a club record of £200,000. City were 4 points clear at the top of the table but by the end of the season they had slipped to fourth.

Many pundits criticised the signing, pointing out that Marsh was a maverick player ill-suited to Allison‘s well-drilled set-up.

Marsh initially replaced Wyn Davies up front in a 4-4-2 formation, before playing alongside Davies, Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee in a 4-2-4 set-up. 

Marsh eventually agreed with the critics in his 2001 autobiography, saying that he regretted the move to Manchester City and he felt he let the supporters down.

“Right, no beating about the bush, I have to hold my hands up – I cost Manchester City the 1972 league championship.”

The club then entered into a decline when Allison resigned in March 1973.

Here are the passages from Dennis Tueart‘s excellent autobiography on the subject of Rodney Marsh: Tueart, Dennis. Dennis Tueart. Vision Sports Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I’d heard through the grapevine that the root cause of the discontent at City was Rodney Marsh. Malcolm had brought in Rodney from QPR during the latter stages of the previous season when City were charging away with the title. It was a costly misjudgment, and Malcolm and Joe had fallen out massively over it. Malcolm reckoned Rodney was the final piece of the jigsaw, but in my view in fact all Rodney did was disrupt the flow of the team and an already settled system. Within a year of facing City in the FA Cup, I would begin to see the effect that Rodney had on the team for myself

[Mike Summerbee] confided in me that many of the team felt that Rodney Marsh was a liability, and that his arrival in the spring of 1972 under Malcolm Allison had cost City the title. Mike’s view was that Rodney, who was undoubtedly an entertaining player to watch, disrupted the flow of the team, and that he was purely interested in furthering his own interests, rather than that of the team. From my observations of Rodney during Sunderland’s matches with City, I’d already begun to notice that the ball-juggling, the dummies and the feints were all pleasing on the eye, and made him a fans’ favourite, but had little end product. Rodney was injured at the time I arrived at City, and I wouldn’t link up with him until the following season, but I was already forming my impressions of him.

Socially, Rodney was okay in that he could dish out the one-liners and spin a good yarn, but he needed to be at the centre of attention the whole time. I wouldn’t say that any of the City players openly disliked him at the time, but some mistrusted him. He had a penchant for not wearing socks with his shoes. I didn’t have a problem with that, but Rodney would always seem to make a big thing about it. It was as if he needed constant attention. If that was his fashion thing, then fine, but I didn’t see why he had to make a big deal about it all the time. He’d hold court and try and dominate the conversation on any topic – politics, holidays, cars – whatever. I could see the other players glance at each other. They weren’t really sure how to take Rodney.

Little things about him like that began to stack up and grate on everyone, I think, me included, but it happened gradually. Mike Doyle told me that after City had lost in the League Cup final to Wolves a few weeks earlier, Rodney had stormed off, rather than do the right thing and shake hands with the Wolves players. Things like that made him look like a prima donna. I know that Rodney’s view is that a kind of northern mafia made life uncomfortable for him at Maine Road, but my experience was always that he brought problems on himself.

I now saw for myself how much he unbalanced our team. He wasn’t an out-and-out goalscorer, and we needed a target man alongside him. Sometimes, he could look the part, especially when the opposition gave him licence to roam. On the first day of that 1974/75 season, in blazing sunshine against West Ham, we won 4–0, with Rodney scoring a brace, and I weighed in with one of the others. On days like that, you’d think Rodney was a world-beater and a leading talent. But in my opinion it was an illusion. Even on a day like that, he frustrated me. My job, and that of Colin Bell, was to storm forward and use our pace to damage the opposition. Rodney slowed us up massively. West Ham weren’t known for being defensively solid, so he could show-boat to his heart’s content, performing a few of his circus tricks. I watched on with bemusement as he dummied and juggled the ball. The crowd loved it, but I was frustrated as I could now see for myself what Mike Doyle told me about Rodney was true.

It concerned me that he was our main front man and, as the season wore on, his inconsistency frustrated me more and more. I saw that he often did little that was effective with possession, and his self-indulgent tricks were often in areas of the pitch where he couldn’t inflict any damage. When the conditions suited him, he could delight the crowd, but the opposition knew that if they stuck tight to him like limpets he would disappear from games. So in the really big games, when it came to the crunch, I felt that he would invariably let you down. He was consistently inconsistent, and I felt that he was letting down our supporters. I know that these are strong words because Rodney remains a big City hero, and I risk incurring the wrath of some fans who are reading this, but I felt that he was very much a square peg in a round hole. His style didn’t suit City, and I couldn’t understand why the club had bought him.

As a senior professional at the club, I felt that Rodney should have set the younger players at City a better example. Micky Horswill became part of Rodney’s social circle and began to enjoy the night life a bit too much. Rodney was a big part of the Manchester scene, and Micky was in awe of him because, if nothing else, Marsh was extremely charismatic. It was to the detriment of Micky’s football career, no question. He only played a handful of matches at City, and never broke through as he should have done. He lost his focus, and ended up at Plymouth. He could have done so much better, and I know that we all make our own choices in life, but I do feel that Rodney held a lot of sway over Micky and should have been encouraging him to be more professional.

However, I was aware that I was still very much the new kid on the block, and that until my form became more consistent I was in no position to preach to others how to live their lives, or voice my concerns to Tony Book. Rodney and I never had words, as such, but he knew, and I knew, that there was a tension between us. Glances during games. Hands being thrown up into the air – mine mostly – as our possession broke down. The tension simmered for the next year or so, before I had finally had enough of Rodney.

Rodney was given every chance by Tony Book at City, he really was. He’d consult him on team affairs, and for a while even appointed him as captain. But Rodney was never captain material. As a front player, it’s very difficult to get a handle on how the game is developing across the whole pitch, and I believed he was too wrapped up in himself to cajole and command the respect of the whole team. The other problem was he never seemed fully fit to me.

When he first arrived at City, I heard that he used to be physically sick after training because it was so much more strenuous and demanding than at QPR. He was always slightly overweight, and hence his effectiveness was blunted. I never quite understood what made him tick. He went on to forge a career in punditry, and prided himself on being outspoken, which is how he was all the time at City. Whatever anybody said, did or thought, Rodney would do the opposite, just for effect, and that had a negative effect on our morale. It didn’t surprise me when he got sacked from Sky a few years back for that tasteless Tsunami joke because, knowing him, he would have said anything for a wind-up, without thinking through the consequences.

Eighteen months into my City career, I finally plucked up the courage, went to Tony Book and told him exactly what I thought of Rodney. “He’s not right for City, and he’s letting down his team-mates and the fans,” I told him. I’m sure that Tony knew all about the mechanics of what made a successful team, having captained City to several successes, but I felt I had to get things off my chest. I used the example of the team at Sunderland when we had a group of players with a great team unity which won the FA Cup final. We were successful because everyone fought for one another.

I’ve never felt the need to be great friends with my team-mates off the field, but when they are committed to winning on the field they would always have my lasting respect. I finished by telling Tony that I wasn’t willing to allow “a court jester to affect my career”, and I wasn’t overly keen on us being mired in eighth place every year either. I kept remembering what Mike Summerbee had told me, that Marsh had already cost City one league title, and now I felt he was preventing us from reaching our potential again. Tony listened to me and told me that he’d think about what I’d said.

I found out later that Dave Watson, Joe Corrigan and our captain Mike Doyle had also been to Tony and told him that something had to be done. I hasten to add that there was no mass uprising against Rodney, and all of us acted independently, which shows the depth of bad feeling which there was towards him. I think Rodney must have guessed that I’d been to see Tony about him, or maybe someone told him. Maybe he felt aggrieved that I’d undermined him at the club. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. We were never each other’s cup of tea, and there was no love lost between us. We both knew it.

A few days after I went to see Tony, my patience with Rodney, already wearing thin, ran out. We’d beaten Norwich 6–1 in a League Cup replay at Stamford Bridge in September 1975. We’d drawn the first two matches, at Carrow Road and then at home, and so we traipsed off to West London to try and settle it. I scored a hat-trick, with two of the goals coming from the penalty spot, but it was a magnificent all-round team performance. Rodney played well that night, but then so did the whole team. After a game he was usually one of the last to get changed because he spent so much time preening himself. This time, he was out of our dressing room like greased lightning, and went up to the press room because he knew all his London journalist pals would be there waiting for him. Sure enough, the vast majority of quotes in the ’paper the next day were his.

I felt that Rodney Marsh was in it for Rodney Marsh, and this was another case of him maximising a situation to his advantage. Within a few weeks, Tony Book offloaded him, and Rodney headed across the Atlantic to the Tampa Bay Rowdies, claiming that English football had become “a grey game played by grey people on grey afternoons.”

Quite simply, he never took responsibility for his lack of consistency. It might surprise people to know that I went to Rodney’s leaving do at George Best’s club in Manchester, Slack Alice. Not because I liked him, nor him me, but because I felt that by attending I’d be able to draw a line under the whole thing, and both the club and Rodney could move on from it. I didn’t stay too late, and before I left I stuck my hand out to him and said, “Good luck, Rod.” “Fuck off,” he replied. His statement didn’t surprise me, and it didn’t overly bother me either. I certainly never lost any sleep over it.

I didn’t bump into him for a while after that, but I saw him years later at one of the road shows he and George Best did in the 1990s. He didn’t seem that pleased to see me, but at least he tried to inject a bit of humour into the situation by telling me, “You’re a bastard, but I can’t remember why, anymore.” Again, his comment didn’t bother me too much. “You couldn’t criticise me as a player, we just didn’t get on,” I said. I left it at that, and walked away.

What do you think, Blues? Would Alexis Sanchez prove to be a similar disruptive and derailing influence?

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