Frozen assets, a broken Achilles and a seven-minute treble – the last time Man City lost their first game of the season
Losing the first weekend of the league season is not something Manchester City or Pep Guardiola are particularly used to.
Sunday’s lackluster 1-0 setback at Tottenham ended a 10-game winning streak for the defending Premier League champions, as they were unbeaten immediately after the big kickoff for 12 years.
Guardiola himself scored 11 straight wins on Matchday 1, a streak dating back to the start of his tenure at Barcelona in 2008-09, when a shock defeat to Numancia gave little indication of the milestone successes. that were about to unfold.
That same season was the last time City started a Premier League campaign with a loss. It was a severe setback in the midst of a chaotic few weeks that threatened dark times to come but ended with forever changed club horizons.
Trawl through the UEFA Cup
Mark Hughes Town faced Aston Villa on August 17, 2008, the start of their Premier League commitments in the calendar, even though their season had already been up and running for a month.
Any hope of qualifying for the Europe of right had long vanished before Sven-Goran Eriksson’s tenure ended in a burlesque 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough.
But, despite the expulsion of captain Richard Dunne in the opening stages at Riverside Stadium, City managed to qualify for the UEFA Cup via their Fair Play ranking with the governing body of European football. Once upon a time, these words came without being prefaced by “Financial”.
It meant going through qualifying and Hughes’ men traveled to take on EB Streymur from the Faroe Islands – a day away that demanded a special level of commitment, with a group of fans hiring a 72-foot trawler.
With a pair of 2-0 wins in every game, the “home” game took place at Oakwell as Bon Jovi had already booked the City of Manchester Stadium, ensuring more serene progress than those endured by supporters on the high seas.
Returning to their own stadium for the next round, however, City were abject in a 1-0 loss to FC Midtjylland and events on and off the pitch meant the coming season was anticipated with palpable terror.
“Almost out of business”
A year earlier, new owner Thaksin Shinawatra arrived with great fanfare, promising good times to come. There have been a slew of new signings and even fan curries in Albert Square following a friendly pre-season loss to Valencia.
The promising form under Eriksson has faded, and a month after parting ways with the former England boss in June 2008, former Thai Prime Minister Shinawatra was on trial for corruption in Bangkok.
Earlier this week, City faced Midtylland, Shinawatra fled his bail and returned to England in exile after his wife Pojaman was convicted of fraud. The key aspect of this fiasco as far as City was concerned was the little business of their owner’s missing fortune.
Shinawatra’s £ 1billion frozen assets meant his club were feeling the heat.
“It was chaos. Everyone was clinging to the wreckage,” City CEO Garry Cook recalled in an interview with BBC Sport 10 years later. “There was not much hope and it was born from the fact that financially we were almost bankrupt.
“We couldn’t pay the bills. We couldn’t pay the salaries. The money was frozen. It was a desperate situation and in the face of that you borrow money wherever you can.
“We were borrowing from board members. It wasn’t a plan to run a football club. It was a survival plan.”
Even in this context, Hughes might have felt he had a trump card up his sleeve en route to Villa Park. Alas, this was not the case.
Her body was a mess
One of the men to arrive as Eriksson and Shinawatra completed a last minute cart race around European football in the summer of 2007 was highly rated Bulgaria international Valeri Bojinov.
A stocky and powerful striker, Bojinov joined Fiorentina at 21, after spending a year on loan at Juventus.
In his third appearance and first start, a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Eastlands, Bojinov suffered a serious knee ligament injury and will not be seen for the remainder of the season.
He came back with a point to prove before 2008-09, scoring in friendlies against Stockport County and AC Milan and celebrating with enthusiasm. Hughes had a man to lead the line who was ready for take off.
During the warm-up at Villa Park, Bojinov ruptured his Achilles tendon and spent another six months on the sidelines.
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Ched Evans was rushed into a City squad with another academy product Kelvin Etuhu on the right wing.
After a scoreless first half, John Carew gave Villa the lead but Elano – still reliable from the penalty spot – equalized in the 69th minute after a foul on Michael Johnson.
The parity lasted five minutes as the often erratic Gabriel Agbonlahor briefly became one of the deadliest strikers on the planet, plundering a seven-minute treble.
“We had 10 crazy minutes. We made some bad decisions at the back and stopped defending set pieces – and you can’t afford to do that against Villa,” Hughes said afterwards. – Vedran Corluka’s late consolation counted shortly after a bottom line from Croatia international, Micah Richards, Tal Ben Haim and Javi Garrido were torn apart.
But, just as all pre-season optimism evaporated, things started to change. Promise of more solidity the following week when a young Vincent Kompany arrives from Hamburg.
Playing in defensive midfield, Kompany was exceptional in a first 3-0 win over West Ham and Sunderland was beaten 3-0 by the same score – Shaun Wright-Phillips scored twice on a second start moving after his return from Chelsea.
There were rumors of new investments. Surely there must be, since Shinawatra’s fortune remained as malleable as an igloo.
Between those Premier League wins, Corluka scored the decisive free kick as City edged out Midtylland on penalties. As such, that year’s transfer deadline started with frustration as the chic and versatile defender was dispatched to Tottenham, all because Hughes had taken a punt on a raw Pablo Zabaleta. and not proven.
At the end of the day, Zabaleta, Kompany, Wright-Phillips and the others had a new teammate in Robinho. Two weeks after the Villa debacle, City’s horizons have changed beyond recognition.
It’s hard to see a Benjamin Mendy turnaround repeatedly giving the ball to be so dramatic.
What memories do you have of the chaos that defined City in the summer of 2008? Follow our new publisher City Fan Brands Dom Farrell on Twitter to participate in the discussion and share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.