There could be a fight to prise Fabian Ruiz from Napoli.

Fabian has established himself as one of Europe's premier midfielders and the Spaniard is reportedly attracting interest.

Two LaLiga giants and the Champions League holders are said to be eyeing Fabian.

 

TOP STORY - THREE-WAY BATTLE FOR FABIAN

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool are chasing Napoli star Fabian Ruiz, according to the Daily Mail.

Fabian swapped Real Betis for Napoli in 2018 and the Spain international has quickly become one of Europe's most sought-after midfielders.

Now three of the biggest clubs in the world are reportedly eyeing the 23-year-old.

ROUND-UP

- The Sun reports Manchester United are preparing a January move for Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson. The Red Devils have limited options up front following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Wilson, who has already scored three goals this season, fits the bill at Old Trafford as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eyes talented English players.

Juventus, Liverpool and Manchester City are all interested in Real Madrid playmaker Isco, claims Calciomercato.

Barcelona are set to offer 16-year-old sensation Ansu Fati a new five-year deal to fend off interest from European rivals, claims the Daily Mail.

- League One side Southend United want to hire former Celtic, Barca and Manchester United striker Henrik Larsson as their manager, says the Daily Mail. Southend are second bottom in the league after eight games, while Larsson was last in charge of Helsingborg before quitting in August.

- According to Globo Esporte, Flamengo are negotiating to bring Fredy Guarin to the club. The 33-year-old former Inter midfielder is a free agent after leaving Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua.

Inter Miami are continuing their stunning bid to sign Lionel Messi.

Messi, 32, can reportedly leave Barcelona at the end of any season for a club outside of Europe despite being contracted at the LaLiga champions until 2021.

Linked with a shock switch to David Beckham's MLS outfit Inter Miami, the club are continuing to make moves for the Argentina superstar.

 

TOP STORY – INTER MIAMI REPRESENTATIVE MEETS MESSI'S DAD

Beckham sent Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough to London for talks with Messi's dad Jorge, according to The Sun.

Inter Miami are set to enter MLS in 2020 and are looking for a big-name signing, with Messi undoubtedly the biggest of the names linked.

It comes just days after Messi said in an interview with Sport that he wanted to remain at Camp Nou for "as long as possible".

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid could chase Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba again in January. Sport Bild reports Real Madrid are planning to use Toni Kroos in an exchange deal to land the France international, who was heavily linked with a switch during the close season.

- Sadio Mane re-signed with Liverpool until 2023 less than 12 months ago, but the European champions are already looking for the attacker to recommit. Liverpool have opened talks with Mane for an extension, according to Soccer Link.

- Seemingly unwanted at Juventus, Mario Mandzukic's future remains a talking point. Qatari club Al-Gharafa have offered €6million net per year to the striker and can meet Juve's demands, according to CalcioMercato, which reports Los Angeles FC are also interested in the Croatian despite the MLS transfer window not reopening until February.

- Inter are already looking to lock down a couple of stars. CalcioMercato reports the Serie A giants want to extend the contracts of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic – until 2022 – and forward Lautaro Martinez until 2024. The report says Inter would also double Martinez's salary from €1.5m to €3m per season amid interest from Barcelona.

- Sam Allardyce is ready for a return to management. The Sun reports the former England boss, who left Everton in May last year, is eyeing a return to Sunderland if the reported takeover by an American consortium is completed.

The English Football League (EFL) has commissioned a comprehensive review into the regulations and procedures concerning the financial sustainability of its member clubs following Bury's demise.

League One side Bury's 125-year association with the EFL ended last week after financial difficulties, while fellow third-tier side Bolton Wanderers were saved from liquidation when taken over by Football Ventures (Whites) Limited eight days ago.

The EFL announced on its official website on Thursday that an independent review is to be conducted by Jonathan Taylor QC, an expert on commercial and regulatory issues in sport, to reduce the risk of a repeat.

The first phase of the review will examine the background to Bury's insolvency and the second phase will focus on the owners' and directors' test amid criticism it is not fit for purpose.

EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans said in a statement: "The withdrawal of Bury FC's membership is one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to take at the EFL.

"This review will help everyone to understand what happened at Bury and ensure that, collectively, we learn and apply the right lessons for the future.

"The financial sustainability of EFL clubs is of vital importance to supporters and communities across the country as well as to the growth and development of the League itself.

"The EFL recognises its responsibility to examine whether we can improve our regulations and procedures in this area.

"In close collaboration with our membership, we want to play our part in helping to ensure a successful and prosperous future for the EFL so our clubs can contribute to their communities for many years to come."

Bolton Wanderers have dodged the threat of liquidation after Football Ventures (Whites) Limited completed its takeover of the club.

The League One side were told on Tuesday they had 14 days to provide proof of funds or they would follow Bury in being removed from the English Football League.

A deal to sell the club to Football Ventures appeared to have collapsed over the weekend, but Bolton said in a statement on Wednesday an agreement is now in place.

Joint administrator, Paul Appleton, told Bolton's official website: "This has been one of the most complicated administrations I've been involved with, but I'm delighted to say we have finally reached a satisfactory conclusion with the sale to Football Ventures.

"At times, some of the hurdles appeared insurmountable and the frustration felt has been immense, not least by the supporters who have had to endure too many weeks of uncertainty.

"I would like to pay particular tribute to the Eddie Davies Trust and their legal team who, throughout this whole process, have been willing to do everything in their power to ensure Eddie's incredible legacy was maintained and not sullied."

Bolton supporters braced themselves for the worst after the initial deadline of 17:00 BST on Tuesday to get a deal in place was missed.

However, the 145-year-old club now has a future beyond the next fortnight after a breakthrough in protracted talks with Football Ventures.

"Even at the 11th hour when other parties were content to renege on their agreements, the Trust realised the very existence of Bolton Wanderers was at stake and were willing to find a compromise to save the club," Appleton said.

"It is a testament to their unflinching determination to do what was best for Bolton that we are able to complete the deal today.

"The Trust were forced to constantly compromise their position in the face of circumstances and demands which were wholly unreasonable. This says much about their determination not to allow Eddie's beloved Bolton Wanderers to suffer any longer at the hands of Ken Anderson.

"Sadly, Mr Anderson has used his position as a secured creditor to hamper and frustrate any deal that did not benefit him or suit his purposes. Thankfully, with the assistance of the Trust and others, we were able to overcome this obstacle.

"I would especially like to thank both my team and my lawyers who worked around the clock to find solutions to problems which certainly threatened to derail the whole process.

"I have every sympathy for the staff, players and fans who have been forced to stand by while their club was taken to the brink. I am delighted their loyalty, dedication and patience have finally been rewarded.

"Of course, there will be difficult times ahead while the club gets back on its feet but there are too many people with Bolton close to their hearts for it not to be successful once more.

"The EFL and PFA have both played a major part in the club's survival. They have understood the complexities of the process and have stood strong in the fight to save Bolton, helping to drive this deal over the line.

"Now there can be a fresh start with owners who, I believe, will run the club for the good of the supporters and the community as a whole. For everything the fans have had to endure, they deserve nothing less."

Bolton – who were relegated from the Premier League in 2011-2012 – are bottom in League One with -11 points, having received 12-point penalty for entering administration.

They were thumped 5-0 by Ipswich Town on Saturday, conceding five goals for the third game running across all competitions.

Bury have been expelled from the English Football League (EFL) after a takeover bid collapsed, while Bolton Wanderers have been given a 14-day extension to avoid the same fate.

The EFL said on Saturday a takeover for Bury needed to take place by 17:00 local time (16:00 GMT), or their membership of the league would be withdrawn.

Analytics company C&N Sporting Risk pulled out of a deal to buy Bury earlier on Tuesday following a period of due diligence.

A statement on the EFL website read: "Having fully considered all available options, including a number of late expressions of interest provided to the EFL, the EFL board has unanimously determined with enormous regret that Bury's membership be withdrawn."

Fellow League One side Bolton, meanwhile, have been given until September 12 to "meet all outstanding requirements of the League's insolvency policy or its membership in the EFL will be withdrawn."

Bury have had all of their competitive fixtures postponed since winning promotion from League Two last season, with off-the-field troubles causing significant problems.

In its statement, the EFL said there could be "no further suspensions to the fixture list and that these ongoing concerns and the integrity of the competition were a significant factor in the decision."

It also confirmed League One will now comprise of 23 clubs for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign and relegation places would be reduced from four to three.

EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans said: "Today is undoubtedly one of the darkest days in the league's recent history. The EFL has worked determinedly and tirelessly to avoid this outcome and it is with a heavy heart that this situation has been forced upon us.

"The EFL has to place the integrity of our competitions at the heart of every decision we make, and we simply cannot allow this unacceptable situation to continue or countenance the prospect of postponing further fixtures.

"No one wanted to be in this position but following repeated missed deadlines, the suspension of five league fixtures, in addition to not receiving the evidence we required in regard to financial commitments and a possible takeover not materialising; the EFL board has been forced to take the most difficult of decisions."

A deal to buy Bolton collapsed over the weekend, leading to joint administrator Paul Appleton saying "the process of closing down the company will commence on Wednesday" if the involved parties did not find a compromise.

The EFL, however, have said they now have two weeks to "conclude a change of control with a preferred purchaser, or provide sufficient evidence that they are in a position to fund the club for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign."

Jevans added: "Despite repeated assurances, we are extremely disappointed that we are still not in a position to reach a successful resolution with the sale of Bolton Wanderers and have therefore taken the decision to lift the suspension on the notice of withdrawal. I again urge all parties to finalise the proposed takeover.

"The reality of this action is that there are now 14 days to secure the club's long-term future."

Bolton's administrators released a short statement saying: "All parties have been in continuous dialogue throughout the day and are working closely together this evening in order to bring a deal to completion."

Bury face expulsion from the English Football League (EFL) after a proposed buyer for the beleaguered League One side pulled out on Tuesday.

The EFL said on Saturday a takeover needed to take place by 17:00 local time (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday, or their membership of the league will be withdrawn.

Current owner Steve Dale told BBC Radio Manchester on Friday that a deal with analytics company C&N Sporting Risk had been agreed for the club who were FA Cup winners in 1900 and 1903.

However, C&N Sporting Risk have now pulled out of the deal following a period of due diligence.

A statement on the EFL's website read: "The EFL board has been informed that C&N Sporting Risk will no longer be pursuing their interest in Bury.

"The league announced at the weekend that it was working exclusively with the club and C&N in an attempt to finalise a change of control at the club. However, following a period of due diligence, C&N have opted not to progress matters.

"The league continues to be in discussions with Bury in advance of today's 5pm deadline and will provide a further update as appropriate."

Bury have had all of their competitive fixtures postponed since winning promotion from League Two last season, with off-the-field troubles causing significant problems.

Players and staff have had wages paid late, and a winding-up petition over an unpaid tax bill was only dismissed by the High Court in July.

Fans staged protests at Gigg Lane last week amid desperate calls for Dale to agree to a sale and end the threat to the 134-year-old club's existence.

Bolton Wanderers face liquidation this week unless a deal to buy the club can be resurrected by 17:00 BST on Tuesday, according to joint administrator Paul Appleton.

The League One club had been given the deadline to complete a sale or offer "compelling" reasons for an extension by the English Football League (EFL).

However, Appleton revealed a deal to buy the club collapsed on Saturday and says "the process of closing down the company will commence on Wednesday" if the involved parties do not find a compromise.

Bolton – who were relegated from the Premier League in 2011-2012 – are second from bottom in League One only ahead of Bury, with both sides having received 12-point penalties for entering administration

They were thumped 5-0 by Ipswich Town on Saturday, conceding five for the third game running.

In a statement on the club's official website, Appleton said: "The EFL have made their position clear by insisting on a 17:00 BST deadline on Tuesday for a deal to be completed or give compelling reasons for an extension.

"They have also written to everybody concerned in the process to underline that sense of urgency.

"On Sunday evening, there was some tentative dialogue, but we are still some way from reaching a solution. Therefore, I am appealing to those parties whose position seems intractable to do everything to reach a compromise.

"In just over 24 hours, the club will have its membership of the EFL revoked. Over and above that, the club is currently not in a position to carry on trading and, as such, the process of closing down the company will commence on Wednesday.

"This will ultimately lead to its liquidation, the expulsion of the club from the EFL and the inevitable loss of over 150 jobs. More than that, it will devastate a community for whom the football club is a beacon of hope and expectation."

Bury have secured extra time to push through a takeover that could save the crisis-hit English League One club from extinction.

The English Football League (EFL) said on Saturday it had granted an extension to Bury, who have yet to play a match this season.

Owner Steve Dale told BBC Radio Manchester on Friday that a deal with analytics company C&N Sporting Risk had been agreed for the club who were FA Cup winners in 1900 and 1903.

The club had been given until 23:59 local time (22:59 GMT) on Friday to prove they had sufficient funding to complete the season and avoid being kicked out of the league.

Bury have now been told to complete the takeover by 17:00 (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday, or their membership of the league will be withdrawn.

EFL board executive chair Debbie Jevans said: "The board has considered the evidence presented and has determined, in a final effort to allow the club the opportunity to survive, to grant an extension and work exclusively with the club and C&N Sporting Risk to see if a takeover is possible.

"No one wants to see a club lose its place in the league and we will now work with the potential purchasers over the weekend and ahead of the Tuesday deadline in an attempt to find the solutions required for a sale to take place."

The EFL board also warned it would not countenance further League One fixtures involving Bury being postponed because of "the integrity of the competition" and the possible impact on other clubs.

Bury have had all of their competitive fixtures postponed since winning promotion from League Two last season, with off-the-field troubles causing significant problems.

Players and staff have had wages paid late, and a winding-up petition over an unpaid tax bill was only dismissed by the High Court in July.

Fans staged protests at Gigg Lane this week amid desperate calls for Dale to agree to a sale and end the threat to the 134-year-old club's existence.

Former Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole has signed for Eredivisie club VVV-Venlo after a successful trial.

The midfielder, whose long association with Sunderland came to an end in the close-season, has penned a one-year-deal.

He told VVV's official website: "The club arrived at the right time. For me it offers a new chance. I am therefore very happy that after so many seasons in England I can now work in the Netherlands at a beautiful Eredivisie club such as VVV-Venlo.

"With my experience I can contribute to the development of this young team. I want to move forward with VVV."

VVV announced the transfer with a twitter video referencing the Netflix documentary 'Sunderland till I die'.

The words 'Venlo till I die' are shown on screen before Cattermole introduces himself, saying: "I am yellow-black."

The 31-year-old could make his Eredivisie debut at Utrecht on Sunday.

Fleetwood Town manager Joey Barton has been charged with actual bodily harm following an incident at his side's match against Barnsley at Oakwell in April.

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) confirmed Barton, 36, has been bailed to appear before Barnsley Magistrates Court on October 9.

An SYP statement read: "On Saturday 13 April 2019, a man was left with facial injuries after an incident in the club tunnel around 5pm, following the conclusion of Barnsley's match against Fleetwood Town."

Barnsley lodged a formal complaint to the English Football League and Football Association following the incident and assisted with police enquiries.

Barton duly denied allegations he had assaulted Barnsley boss Daniel Stendel.

On April 18, he tweeted: "With regards to the alleged incident on Saturday following our game against Barnsley, I emphatically deny all the allegations made.

"Given this matter has not been formally closed, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment."

Barton, who had spells with Manchester City and Newcastle United during his playing career, guided Fleetwood to 11th in League One last season, his first in charge.

Liverpool began their pre-season preparations with 6-0 thrashing of over-matched Merseyside neighbours Tranmere Rovers.

Champions League final goalscorer Divock Origi was among those to find the net as England youth international Rhian Brewster hit a brace.

James Milner turned in an influential first-half performance in midfield alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana.

Brewster was the provider in the sixth minute, laying on Nathaniel Clyne to slam into the top corner on his first appearance in a Reds shirt since spending the second half of last season on loan at Bournemouth.

Harry Wilson turned Milner's cross back across goal for Brewster to open his account and the striker doubled his tally on the stroke of half-time when Tranmere goalkeeper Scott Davies could only parry Milner's shot.

Jones swept in Ben Woodburn's 53rd-minute cross at the back post before Origi's sublime first touch allowed him to beat Davies with ease.

Bobby Duncan's close-range finish completed the scoring at Prenton Park before proceedings bizarrely ended with a pitch invasion at full-time.

Tranmere's League One counterparts Accrington Stanley fared somewhat better in a friendly of their own against a European giant, beating Marseille 2-1.

France international Florian Thauvin pulled one back for Andre Villas-Boas' side, who went down to Sean McConville's header and Offrande Zanzala's penalty before half-time.

Australia captain Mark Milligan has signed a one-year deal with League One outfit Southend United that is likely to lead to a coaching role with the club.

The 33-year-old has won 79 caps for the Socceroos and has been a squad member in four successive World Cup campaigns.

Southend announced the deal on Monday and said Milligan had "signed a one-year deal plus a club option for a further year and we have no reason to feel that Mark's playing career will not continue beyond the initial period".

The club added: "Thereafter it is intended that Mark will remain with the club for at least a further two years in a coaching role either within the academy or first team, employing his vast experience and leadership skills to the advancement of Southend United Football Club."

"I'm very excited. It's always a process but to be down here now I can't wait to get started," Milligan said.

"The competitiveness of games at this level with sometimes three games a week, along with the ambition of getting the club back to the Championship, was also an important part in my decision."

Milligan made 28 Scottish Premiership appearances for Hibernian last term and counts Al Ahli, Melbourne Victory and Shanghai Shenhua among his former clubs.

Southend only stayed in League One on goal difference last season, losing 24 of their 46 league fixtures.

The English Football League (EFL) has confirmed it will adopt the Rooney Rule.

An 18-month trial saw EFL clubs voluntarily committing to interview at least one black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidate when recruiting for any managerial position in first-team football. 

The scheme is a variation of the Rooney Rule in the NFL, where teams are required to interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching jobs.

A new regulation has been introduced by the EFL, which it said will ensure "that the principle of providing more opportunities to BAME candidates is mandatory when clubs consider multiple applicants for a role". 

The EFL also confirmed a change in regulations following the 'Spygate' row between Championship clubs Leeds United and Derby County earlier in the year.

Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa admitted sending a staff member to watch Derby's training sessions ahead of a league game between the sides in January.

The EFL concluded after an investigation that the conduct undertaken by Leeds breached its regulations, but on Friday noted a clarification of the rule was needed.

It now reads: "Without prejudice to the requirements of Regulation 3.4 (that each club shall behave towards each other club with the upmost good faith), no club shall directly or indirectly observe (or attempt to observe) another club's training session in the period of 72 hours prior to any match scheduled to be played between those respective clubs."

Manchester City completed an unprecedented clean sweep of domestic honours in English football this season.

But 20 years ago the club were operating in a very different reality and on the brink of ruin, having dropped down to the third tier for the first time in their history.

Having initially struggled with the status of being overwhelming favourites for the Division Two title, Joe Royle's side managed to scrape into the play-off final at Wembley on May 30, 1999 against Gillingham.

Goals from Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor had Tony Pulis and his underdogs 2-0 to the good as the 90-minute mark approached.

City, whose neighbours Manchester United had completed their own incredible comeback to win the Champions League against Bayern Munich in Barcelona four nights earlier, were staring into the abyss – a planned move to what would become their Etihad Stadium gravely threatened by the prospect of a prolonged stay in the lower divisions.

Without the new stadium, Sheikh Mansour and all that followed would probably never have happened. This is the story of City's journey through England's footballing backwaters and how the likes of Paul Dickov and Nicky Weaver became players revered alongside the club's superstars of today.

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Having played as a centre-forward in a celebrated mid-1970s City team, Royle returned as manager in 1998 but was unable to avert relegation to Division Two – what is now League One.

Joe Royle (Manchester City manager 1998-2001):  "There were in excess of 50 professionals on the books. On my first deadline day were just trying to get players out to release the wage bill. There were constant talks about the club going into liquidation. There was certainly no money to spend and, at the time, we were fighting a relegation battle."

Paul Dickov (Manchester City forward 1996-2002, 2006-08): "A club like Manchester City should never have been in that division in the first place, regardless of players, mismanagement off the pitch and everything else. I think the clubs that have stayed down there a long time have maybe a bit of a complex about it and that's why they stay down there. You can say we're a big club and we shouldn't be here but if you take that attitude you're never going to get out of it."

 

A 3-0 opening day win over Blackpool proved a false dawn. After a December defeat to York City, Royle's men were languishing in 12th

Nicky Weaver (Manchester City goalkeeper 1997-2007): "It was the lowest the club had ever been. It sort of couldn't get any worse. We were a bit of a laughing stock. We needed a leader, Andy Morrison came in, Terry Cooke as well and Gareth Taylor."

Gareth Taylor (Manchester City striker 1998-2001; currently City's U18s coach): "We never warmed up on the pitch at Maine Road before home games, I don't know whether it was because of the fans giving the lads a bit of stick. We used an old primary school at the back of the Kippax Stand. They had an old assembly hall – really small, wooden floors. We'd play head tennis, do little sprints. Sometimes you were stopping yourself from sprinting into the piano or into the curtain."

Royle: "You had the anomaly of sides actually bringing more away fans to Maine Road than they were getting at home sometimes. They were making a big day of it. Coming to the game, theatre of a night, a meal out in Manchester, a couple of nights in a hotel."

 

Back-to-back wins against Wrexham and Stoke City after Christmas proved a turning point and City stormed up the table to a third-place finish.

Dickov: The Stoke game was huge for us. We were one down at half-time and we managed to turn it around, come back and win 2-1. I'd been lying to you if I said there wasn't a few things said at half time, a few things thrown, a few punches thrown as well."

Taylor: "The fans let us know about it at half-time against Stoke. It was high pressure, a bit of a cauldron. Then I remember Paul setting up a cross inside for me and I managed to get my first goal. We won the game 2-1 and kind of went on from there, really."

 

After edging through a semi-final 2-1 on aggregate against Wigan Athletic, City faced up to Gillingham, a manager on the rise and their in-form strike duo – one half of which almost missed out on Wembley.

Robert Taylor (Gillingham 1998-99, Manchester City 1999-00): "Tony Pulis was like a dad to the rest of the players, everyone looked up to him. He's such a nice fella but a hard fella – he'd tell you straight but everyone knew where they stood with him. In the build-up to the game we trained at Aston Villa and I turned my ankle. Where they'd taken the goals out of the ground, I went down one of those holes. I was sitting on the sidelines with an ice pack with Gareth Southgate, funnily enough, who was there training for England. He's going, 'Are you going to be fit for Sunday?'. I didn't know if I would be."

Weaver: "We were all excited. We trained at our stadium leading up to it. It must have been the day that tickets were released - I turned up for training and they were queueing around the car park at Maine Road. The buzz about going to Wembley, it was the first time they had been to Wembley for a long, long time. I remember it seeming to take ages to come around."

 

A cagey contest unfolded until Asaba finished superbly in the 81st minute, before laying on Taylor for a fabulous second.

Robert Taylor: "I played with Carl at Brentford and we were one of those partnerships that just clicked. You look at the goal we scored at Wembley where I flicked it on, spun and he backheeled it back to me. We knew each other, where we were and what we wanted."

Weaver: "Bob Taylor's goal is probably my fault, I was out of position – too advanced, showing him too much of my near post. But no one ever says anything about that so I'm quite happy about it. You're down and out, but I remembered Man United against Bayern Munich a few nights earlier. I was thinking 'if you get one, you never know' and Kev scored."

 

Kevin Horlock drilled home a loose ball from the edge of the box before a signal for five minutes of injury time sparked fresh hope in the City end. Dickov made them count with an equaliser at the death.

Gareth Taylor: "I don't know where that time came from. I can't remember there being any injuries or anything like that. I managed to win the header, I put it forward to Kevin, Kevin sets it to Shaun Goater, who gets tackled and Dickov scores. Cue pandemonium."

Robert Taylor: "I don't know where five minutes came from, to be honest with you. It's a mystery. Bringing Carl off and leaving me up front on my own let them come forward more. They could put another couple of bodies forward and it landed to the right people."

Weaver: "I remember Tony Pulis was going mad on the touchline about the injury time. At this point he'd taken his strikers off and put more defensive players on."

No one could find a winner in extra-time, meaning City and Gillingham would settle their fate from 12 yards.

Royle: "We'd been practicing penalties all week and Nicky Weaver, exciting young prospect that he was, hadn't been great at saving penalties. There is a knack to saving penalties and he was a bit raw. I did remotely consider bringing Tommy Wright on for the penalty shoot-out."

Weaver: "I think he'd used all his subs… he had! He put Tony Vaughan on for Andy Morrison, Gareth Taylor came on and Ian Bishop. But it may have crossed his mind at some point. We did a lot of penalty practice and Paul Dickov never missed. He was like a tennis ball machine."

Dickov: "Going into penalties we were super confident. I've never been as confident in my life taking a penalty."

Gareth Taylor: "I was keen to take one but Joe Royle didn't look at me and I don't blame him! I was on penalties normally but I missed one in a game against Oldham at Maine Road. I scored in the game but missed the penalty. I don't think he ever forgave me because we lost the game 2-1."

 

Despite his confidence, Dickov's attempt to beat his former Arsenal team-mate and best man Vince Bartram from 12 yards hit both posts and bounced clear. Weaver was on form, however, saving from Paul Smith as all City's other takers scored. Adrian Pennock also missed for the Gills, meaning Guy Butters had to score their fourth kick.

Weaver: "I said to the linesman, 'If I save this, is that it?' He said, 'Yep'. I said, 'Are you sure?'. There was plenty of power on it but it was one of them where if you guess the right way, you're going to save it. I pulled this face that I've never pulled previously or since, waved the lads over and got this adrenaline running through my body. I hopped over the advertising board, ran around there and back onto the pitch. Only big Andy Morrison stopped me. The last thing I wanted after that was a 20-man pile-on."

Gareth Taylor: "I got married a week afterwards. Nicky Weaver's at my wedding doing the silly like [penalty celebration gesture] every time he sees the camera."

City were promoted back to the Premier League the following season and, although relegation followed and Royle departed, they bounced straight back before taking up residence in the City of Manchester Stadium in 2003. Five years later, they were under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group.

Dickov: "I dread to think what might have happened if we hadn't gone up. If you believe what people were saying, the club would have really struggled. It's probably just as well we didn't realise how important it was as it would have put more pressure on us. I signed in 1996, I was at the parade after this season and you can see the same people are still working here. It would have been easy for the owners to come in and get rid, but they've got wonderful people working here. The stuff they do in the community around east Manchester is amazing. It’s a special club and I don't think they get the credit they deserve for it."

Weaver: "The Wembley thing, it sort of gets bigger every time I go back. People want to talk about it more. I suppose I'll be talking about it for the rest of my life. It's just a fantastic part of the club's history and I'm so proud I was involved."

Royle: "It's nice what they say about our time being a base for what's happened here. Who knows what would have happened with one more season in the lower divisions? The drama the fans have gone through there is amazing. I don't think there's any parallel to what has happened at Manchester City in recent history."

Manchester City's 2018-19 season concluded with players celebrating on the Wembley turf last weekend, just like it did 20 years previously.

The parallels end there.

While Pep Guardiola's all-conquering domestic treble winners spent the campaign pushing to higher levels of excellence, their counterparts from two decades ago often threatened to chart new depths of farce - or "Cityitis", as then manager Joe Royle termed it.

Treble fever also hit Manchester in 1999, but for United and Alex Ferguson, who famously added a last-gasp injury-time triumph in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to Premier League and FA Cup glory.

Meanwhile, City were grappling with life in Division Two – the third tier of English football – for the first time in their history.

"It is unthinkable now but it was only 20 years ago, a generation ago," said Nicky Weaver, the former England Under-21 goalkeeper who would end his breakthrough campaign in 1998-99 as City's saviour. "They're at Wembley every other week now."

"It was my first season playing, so for me it was just a thrill to be involved in it all. The fans probably didn't think so, going to places like York and Colchester and Lincoln and Macclesfield and places like that.

"It took us four or five months to get into our stride. I think everyone thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was."

City had been in the Premier League as recently as 1996 but two relegations in three seasons sapped morale at their tired former home of Maine Road.

A 3-0 win over Blackpool on the opening day of the season proved a false dawn as a bloated and ill-equipped squad slogged away with mixed results. Across town, United were heading for the footballing stratosphere.

A December loss at York City left Royle's pre-season promotion favourites 12th in the table and in danger of slipping into oblivion. However, no-nonsense captain Andy Morrison came in to add some steel to the backline and the corner was turned in the nick of time.

"I remember going to Wrexham on Boxing Day," Weaver said, of a game when Dutch defender Gerard Wiekens scored the only goal for City. "Ian Rush was playing for Wrexham. That was a big thing for me at the time, playing against someone like Ian Rush.

"We won 1-0 and then we beat Stoke at Maine Road and went on a really good run."

Regular goals from Shaun Goater, wing wizardry from United loanee Terry Cooke and Weaver's increasingly sharp keeping were all factors as Royle's men stormed up to third.

Automatic promotion proved out of their reach but, after a tense semi-final against Wigan Athletic was negotiated 2-1 on aggregate, Wembley – of the twin towers vintage - awaited.

Tony Pulis' Gillingham were betting outsiders but ‘Cityitis’ struck again as Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor beat Weaver with late goals. It was 2-0 heading into the final minute of the 90 and many of the Manchester contingent were heading for the exits when Kevin Horlock lashed in an apparent consolation.

Then came some hope from the touchline.

"I always thought the biggest thing was the five minutes of injury time. That was a little bit dubious," Weaver chuckled.

"Mark Halsey [referee] is a very popular man in these parts! I've got images of Tony Pulis going mad on the bench."

If Pulis was going mad there was full-scale pandemonium in the City end shortly afterwards when Paul Dickov steered a finish past a familiar face in Vince Bartram, best man at the City striker's wedding, in the Gillingham goal – an 'Aguero moment' before such a thing existed.

Extra time passed without incident before Weaver took the virtue of inexperience into the penalty shoot-out.

"I don't think I'd even been in one in a school tournament," he said. "Nowadays, you look at where the last few penalties have been, you have all the information and statistics.

"There was none of that then. I just thought, 'make yourself look as big as you can, pick a way and go that way'.

The method worked as Weaver thwarted Paul Smith, while Adrian Pennock blazed high and wide. Successes from Horlock, Cooke and - despite not having a senior goal to his name - Richard Edghill meant Guy Butters had to beat Weaver, or City were up and out of the abyss.

"He hit it well enough. It wasn't right in the corner but he got plenty of power on it," the goalkeeper recalled.

"Fortunately, I managed to get two hands on it. I waved the lads over and sort of pulled a face. I don't know where that came from."

Weaver's delirious celebration – halted only by a typically robust intervention from Morrison – is still fondly remembered by City supporters to this day, despite their vastly altered reality.

"If City had just been a mediocre Premier League club now, no-one would talk about it as much as they do, but the fact of where they are and where they have come from, it just makes the story so much bigger and so much better," Weaver said.

"If we hadn't done it, who knows what would have happened? It certainly wouldn't have been any easier.

"The new stadium followed a few years later, and then obviously the big investment came after that. If the stadium hadn't come, the investment might not have come and we might not have been sat here."

For all that Guardiola's unprecedented success is rooted in meticulous attention to detail, it owes a significant debt to the guess work of an unassuming terrace hero.

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