Shaun Goater
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Shaun Goater gives City v Liverpool prediction and reveals how close his City side was to ‘going under’

| 09.04.2022

The match of the season takes place on Sunday when Manchester City host Liverpool which could decide the destiny of the Premier League title.

In the second part of our exclusive interview with Shaun Goater, the former City striker looks ahead to Sunday’s game, the progress the club has made under Pep Guardiola and reflects on the state of the club during his own time there.

Man City v Liverpool prediction

This is such a tough fixture for both teams this weekend. Everyone knows that both teams are more than capable of going the remainder of the season winning every game – both teams are capable of beating each other, which makes Sunday’s game a really intriguing one.

With the form Man City are in, I think they’re just going to edge it. Deep down, and I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking, but I feel like City could go and put on a performance that sees them win the game by two or three goals. But I also think Liverpool are a hell of the team, so if I was to stick my neck out, I’d say City win it by just the one goal. We’re in for a hell of a game, though.

Would I take a draw? It’s a good question; this match doesn’t necessarily conclude things, and a lot can happen in the seven fixtures after this one, but I probably would. It keeps City in pole position. But both camps are probably only thinking about winning this one; I’m really interested to see the first 20 minutes and how both managers approach things.

Pep has changed so much at City; players now get announced on arrival to the stadium… we used to get pelted!

We used to have this saying associated with the club back in my day; you’d hear it a lot: ‘typical City’. We’d be 3-0 up in a game and somehow find a way to lose, or we’d drop points against a team who hadn’t even managed to have a shot. Typical City. Now, what Pep Guardiola has come in and done, first and foremost, is rid us of that label. That was deep down in the core of City supporters; we still believed it and we still felt it because we experienced it.

What Pep’s done is come in and change the whole culture, first of all with the players, but that goes right through to the backroom staff and subsequently the supporters. It’s little things he’s changed, like when the players get to the stadium and come off the coach, they’re announced on arrival… I find it funny because when we were coming off the coach we would usually get pelted – we didn’t want to be announced!

Pep Guardiola, Manchester City

The level the club now plays at is just phenomenal, especially when you look back at where we’ve come from. And fans have bought into it. You know, I remember watching games in the early days where our goalkeeper would get the ball, and it would all be about launching it long, and you could hear the oohs and the aahs from supporters every time the ball went back to our keeper. Nowadays, Ederson is probably one of the most comfortable players on the ball in the team.

Pep’s changed the belief among fans, and educated us that there’s a different way of playing, where you can control the ball and subsequently control the game. He’s brought in world-class standards throughout every aspect of the club.

The City of now is a far cry from my old team; we had to wash our own kits! We had no idea how much that 1999 promotion saved the club

People talk a lot about these what-if moments in football, and when you think of comebacks and Manchester City, most fans nowadays would think about the Premier League win and the Sergio Aguero goal. But you only have to look a few years further back and you’ll find a real moment where things could have been completely, completely different for City.

It was 1999, the Second Division play-off final. Man City v Gillingham. That game was 0-0 heading into the final 10 minutes, and all of a sudden Gillingham are 2-0 up. It’s funny because, having since spoken with one or two directors in recent years, they were saying the club was going under. It really was at that point, but as players we did not know that. We really, really needed to go up, and if we didn’t, we were struggling so badly financially, that we were at risk of going under.

In fact, I remember at the beginning of that season, I think it was, we had to start washing our own kits. It’s crazy when you think about it now, especially compared to the current team. You can imagine it, being a professional footballer, and your club comes to you and tells you that you need to start washing your own kit. As players, we couldn’t believe it. “Typical City!” We just saw things at face value, assumed the club was raking it in, given the attendance figures and all that business, but we had no idea how bad things were behind the scenes.

Even before that final, we felt the pressure to win promotion. It was a game against Wigan at home, where I scored the goal which sent us to Wembley. Wigan fans will tell you it was a handball, but we make it to Wembley.

As for the game itself, it came as such a shock for us to go 2-0 down, especially with so little time left. I remember we pulled one back, the ball comes back to me and I go to shoot. There’s a great block in there and Kevin Horlock puts it away. As I get up, I’m limping. I’m limping back to the halfway line and I’m feeling sorry for myself, because I’m still thinking it’s not enough. But my teammates are geeing me up for one last push. We’re just heading into stoppage time and we see there’s five minutes left. I can tell you now, I’ve never heard anything like it; our supporters went absolutely crazy, there was just this roar inside the stadium, and all of a sudden the momentum shifted and we just knew we’d find another goal.

If I’m being honest, I thought we’d then go on to win it in extra-time, because we had the energy, the momentum, but Gillingham held on for penalties – and luckily it was us who got the job done in the end. A lot of people don’t know but I was the fifth penalty taker. As soon as Joe Royle asked us who wanted to take one, I was the first to put my hand up. In truth, I think he was desperately looking around for four other takers!

I still know to this day where I’d have put my penalty; it’s just such a nerve-wracking experience though, so in a way I suppose I’m lucky the job was done before it came to me. Some fans were walking out at 2-0 thinking ‘typical City’ and had to turn back around and get behind us – which is just football in a nutshell.

As for after full-time, first of all there was obviously the celebration on the pitch and in the dressing room. We were all absolutely shattered, though. It was the day after when we properly celebrated it, again, typical of that club! It was only arranged after we won; we got the job done and it was like someone said ‘right, book the hotel, we’re going to have a party’. So it wasn’t something that was pre-planned or booked – but those nights are some of the best you’ll end up having, if I’m being honest.

Do I bring up Gary Neville’s mistake every time I see him? I don’t need to; he just sees it in my smile!

I’ve got a lot of time for Gary Neville. I see him in passing every so often. Do I bring up his mistake which gifted me a goal against Man United? I don’t need to; he just sees it in my smile!

Gary was an absolutely brilliant full-back, and at a time when full-backs were mostly known for their defending, he was probably the best around. He was so difficult to beat in one-on-ones, he was aggressive in his game, and he got away with so much, let me tell you.

So many things he would do in those games that there is just no way he would get away with in today’s game. If he was marking you in the box, for example, just as the ball was being delivered, he’d just put me in this bear hug where I can’t move. I’m shouting at the referee for a penalty but I’m getting absolutely nothing. Would he be able to do it now? No chance. But, in reality, it was brilliant of him; it was so clever of him to use it as a tactic. He was so clever, he read the game incredibly well. And he’s gone on to be a brilliant pundit… as much as I hate to say it!

Anelka’s fines and what separated him from Henry

I always got along very well with Nicolas Anelka. He’s not really one to get caught up in what the media say about him. He’s very much of the opinion of ‘I know the truth, they’re going to say what they want to say’. I always wanted him to address it and defend himself, but he was adamant they had made up their minds about him, and so he just blocked it out.

But I got along with him very well; he was a good guy, a really good teammate with bags of ability. There weren’t many guys that were allowed in his circle, but I was one of them. I remember when he was coaching out in Mumbai a few years back, I went over to see him and he was comfortably the best player there, even then. He was their player-manager, he played 20 minutes when I saw him and he just changed the game.

Nicolas Anelka

One thing I will say is that he would’ve been a regular for having to pay fines for being late. I can’t really remember what the system was at the time, and I’m fairly sure we wouldn’t have known exactly what he would have had to pay, but we knew he was earning a lot at the club, so depending on his mood when he got to training, we’d just go “woah, that’s a big one!”

On the pitch, though, he had a real gift. He had this frightening ability that not many players could match; I don’t even think Thierry Henry had it. It’s nothing new to say how quick Anelka was; he could easily go from 0 to 100. But it was his ability to stop again, all of a sudden, and then start again, changing his direction at times, stopping, then going again. That was his best asset, for me. He would lose so many players by doing that. Whereas Thierry Henry was quick from the start, and quick while he was going, Anelka could stop and go, stop and go just like that. Defenders just could not cope with it.

Ali Benarbia was the most gifted player I played with; he’d fit right into this current City side

If you’re after the most gifted player I had the pleasure of playing with, while Nicolas Anelka deserves a mention, I can’t not pick Ali Benarbia. He had so much ability; tactically he was a quality player, but he had an ability to just slide through passes that no one else could see. When you’re in the stands and you’re watching a game from almost a birds-eye view, it almost looks easy. Anyone who has played the game will tell you it’s completely different when you’re down there on the pitch. But Ali was able to pull off these passes which fans could see – you know, at times, we couldn’t even read what he was going to do next.

For me, him and Anelka could both fit into this current City team and not look at all out of place. Anelka, because he’s proved himself at the highest level throughout his career, but Benarbia’s sheer technical ability is like nothing else I’ve seen before. You don’t win French Player of the Year unless you’re a serious, serious player. He could see a pass, pick out that pass, deliver it to perfection. He just commanded things effortlessly. He dictated the game. How? He was something like five foot six. How was he controlling the game?

Shaun Goater interview: part one

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Author

Andrew McDermott