The comically multifaceted Phil Brown, sadly, has long ceased to be a figure of immediate relevance in the English top flight, but the cultural legacy he bequeathed to the Premier League was evident in Saturday’s 2-0 victory for Manchester City against Hull City.
It was this very fixture, on Boxing Day 2008, which witnessed Brown’s wondrously flawed motivational technique of holding an alfresco team talk on the pitch with his Hull side losing 4-0 after 45 minutes. The incident – memorably parodied by former funny man Jimmy Bullard – was partially blamed for Hull’s relegation all of 18 months later by George Boateng, with the bitter Dutch midfielder overstretching rather when claiming, “it took a long time to recover”.
Brown’s rather bizarre brand of man-management has improved – last season he recruited TV’s Jeremy Kyle, the screeching, unhinged baiter of the working class, to deliver a pre-match team talk for his Southend players – but still his reputation remains tarnished by his inadvisable decision to park his players on their bums and point his finger in their faces in front of 60,000 jeering people.
He is a visionary of sorts, no doubt - and Brown’s creosoted presence hung over this contest for another reason too.
Because, in August 2009, it was none other Brown who attempted to engineer an ambitious coup and bring a Real Madrid striker by the name of Alvaro Negredo to the Premier League, even inviting him to a match against Tottenham to gain a feel for the club – an invitation which was, cruelly, spurned.
A Palermo forward named Edinson Cavani was also under Brown’s gaze during a summer which, if history’s unfathomable narrative had turned ever so slightly in his favour, could have sent his star on the ascendant. As the perma-bronzed coach said rather proudly this year: “We were ahead of the game in terms of spotting these players”.
Negredo instead joined Sevilla, but four years on - following a £20 million summer transfer from the Spanish club to Manchester City –the striker gave another firm indication that Brown was right, and this is a player ideally suited to the caprices of the Premier League.
Though yet to start a league game this season, Negredo already looks likely to supplant Edin Dzeko as Manuel Pellegrini’s target man in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Dzeko has a goal himself, but Negredo has made contributions in all three of his sub appearances so far.
Against Newcastle, on his Premier League debut, Negredo had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside; against Cardiff he clambered off the bench to score in a 3-2 defeat in South Wales; and on Saturday his arrival as a half-time substitute helped change the game in City’s favour.
Negredo’s immediate impact was rather amusing– an awful attempt at a header when played in by David Silva’s glorious pass over the top of the defence, the ball springing wildly off his head like a small child being ejected from a bouncy castle and heading for the corner flag - but on 65 minutes he gave City the lead, nodding confidently home this time from a scintillating cross from Pablo Zabaleta.
These are early days in the season, of course, but the early impressions of Negredo have been positive indeed. Though an ill fit for his national side – his only start at Euro 2012 looked a rare false step by Vicente del Bosque in a goalless draw against Portugal in the semi-finals – the striker appears hewn from the right stuff for the Premier League.
Physically strong, commanding in the air and mobile and classy enough to perform as a lone striker, Negredo could soon edge out Dzeko in the City line-up. Not that Pellegrini is ready to suggest as much publicly of course.
“I expect Alvaro to do exactly what we’re seeing every time he plays,” Pellegrini said following a rather unconvincing 2-0 win. “He played some minutes and scored a legal goal in the first game against Newcastle which was ruled invalid. In the second game, he scored a goal – again today, he scored one goal more. I know what a good striker he is. In Edin and Alvaro we have two very good strikers. We’ll need both of them. We will rotate the squad a lot over the coming months.”
Negredo’s impact was particularly handy for Pellegrini as it helped to disguise a rather abject performance in defence.
Holistically-barren Roberto Mancini may have been, but in the past three seasons City had the lowest goals against tally in the league. Meanwhile, a 3-2 defeat to Cardiff last weekend had Pellegrini complaining “nobody can believe they can score two goals against us in set-pieces”, and while City were rather more composed at dead-ball scenarios against Hull, they struggled from open play as the returning Matija Nastasic – such a picture of assurance in his debut season – struggled with rustiness and Joleon Lescott looked repeatedly exposed.
Perhaps it was a symptom of the high line Pellegrini is fond of using – Andre Villas-Boas found to his cost at Chelsea that implementing such an approach can have consequences – but more likely City are just missing their captain, Vincent Kompany - a man with whom they concede 0.92 goals a game, and 1.37 goals a game without.
Pellegrini must address these problems, and quickly. It is said Martin Demichelis – he of the "Seeing the way Terry played against Germany, if I was Terry I wouldn't be able to go back to my country” line at the 2010 World Cup – is soon to arrive at Etihad Stadium from Atletico Madrid. Whether that will be a valuable acquisition will only be proved in time, but you feel City’s defensive problems are of the transitory kind.
Meanwhile, in attack they appear to have signed a player with a real penchant for the Premier League. Just as Phil Brown once predicted.