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  22nd November, 2007
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Milan works his magic

If last night taught anything to Milan Mandaric - and the 200 or so Leicester City fans who responded to his invitation for a clear-the-air chat - then it was surely this: a week can be a long, long time in football.

Less than seven days ago, bristling with indignation and stung by City fans chanting for the manager he had just sacked, Mandaric laid down the gauntlet.

You're either with us, he said, or against us. If you want to keep singing for Martin Allen, then come and see me. “I'll try to explain why I sacked him - and if you don't believe me, then, give me your tickets and support him instead,” he said.

The venue was set. Last night, 7pm, Gordon Banks Suite, third floor of the Walkers Stadium.
It just might be like the OK Corral, said Mandaric last week, astutely aware how strong his words had been. “But I'm prepared for that.”

And for a while, it looked like his Wild-West analogy might have been right. All week, City internet sites buzzed with disgruntled chatter: are you going/I'm going/Me too/I'm going to tell him what I think/I was a fan before he came and I will be when he's gone/How dare he...etc.

And then fate stepped in - in the shape of Matty Fryatt's overlooked left boot; a man who, we learned from Mandaric last night,  had been dropped, discarded and forced to train with the kids.

Suddenly, with a 1-0 Carling Cup victory against Martin O'Neill's Villa in the bag, thoughts of the other Martin did not seem quite so important.

City fan and season-ticket holder Andy Whitman, like most of the supporters who were there last night, had not chanted for Allen.

“I'm here because I want to know what happened between Allen and Mandaric”, he said before the meeting.

“I didn't sing for Martin Allen at Forest, and I wouldn't sing for Martin Allen. But, like a lot of fans, I think I understand why it happened.”

And it happened, said Whitman, because we all bought the dream that Milan successfully sold us - here was a passionate, no-nonsense manager who would change our ailing fortunes.

After far too much limp, lifeless, woeful football, here was a mean-eyed Cockney who jumped up and down; who made the players clean the toilets with their toothbrushes; a man who, make no mistake, you would not want to mess with.

Hello, we all thought, this is a bit different to Craig Levein and Robert Kelly. It seemed just what safe, predictable and under-performing Leicester City needed.

And then, no sooner had he arrived, dug up the flower beds at the training ground and fallen in love with Mark de Vries, and he was gone.

No explanation. No press conference. Not much in the way of anything, really - leaving the fans who pay their money week in, week out, with a thousand unanswered questions.

“We just want to know why,” said Whitman.

“Allen ignited a spark with us - and then to many, it seemed, Milan poured a bucket of water over it.”

Unfortunately, because of a confidentiality clause which Mandaric pointed out protected Allen more than it did him, we were never likely to get to the bottom of this little mystery.

But Mandaric's claims offered some interesting snippets including:

Allen either instigated or approved every one of the 14 players signed - except centre-half Bruno N'Gotty. “I bought him,” admitted Mandaric, “because I believed we needed him.”

Not only did Allen choose or approve all the players being signed - with the exception of N'Gotty - he also seemed happy to approve Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink's acquisition, before a last-minute change of heart.

Forgotten goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen came via Allen's agent, who claimed he was “another Peter Schmeichel.”

That, essentially, Allen was sacked for non-football reasons and there was a “fundamental” breakdown in their relationship.

“Come on,” said Mandaric, “you can read between the lines here all night long...” He also said that Allen was “a good man and a good manager.”

And that, rest assured, if whoever is in the City hot-seat does not perform, he will be gone.

Nothing gets in the way of the three-year promotion plan, although, while that is the most important thing, he did say he wanted some stability at the club.

“I have a company I started in 1980 with five people,” said Mandaric. “Three of those people are still there - along with 14,000 others. I don't like sacking people, you know - but I will do it, if they don't perform.”

But this was a two-way conversation and what the chairman found out in response was equally illuminating.

Season-ticket holder Glenn Stewart was spending his last night of single-man freedom at the meeting. A life-long City fan, he is due to get married at the Walkers Stadium today.

“There were all sorts of things we could have asked him - but this meeting, specifically, was about Allen and the fans response to his sacking,” he said.

“I came along, not because I sang, but because I thought it was important that Milan knew that we still supported him - he's the best chairman we've had - and that, in my opinion, those chants were borne out of frustration. They weren't aimed at Milan. They were not personal.”

After a cautious start, the meeting settled into a groove which soon began to mirror Radio Leicester's Monday night “moan-in” - a few decent questions, the occasional excellent question, some badly needed succinct questions and some truly awful, irrelevant questions posed by fans who might have been better staying at home and watching EastEnders.

Mandaric, the consensus seemed to be, dealt with it all pretty well.

There was a rousing round of applause at the end as compere, Alan Birchenall, wound up the evening.

“At least there's one thing,” said the Birch, as the fans reached for their coats and headed for the pub, “at least he had the balls to do it. And how many other chairman have we had here who have been prepared to do that? See you Saturday.”


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