THE LAST time Manchester City played in the Uefa Cup, in 1978- 79, Mick Channon was playing up front, SV Hamburg's Kevin Keegan was the European Footballer of the Year and foreign footballers in England were rare and sometimes temperamental beasts.
In a run to that year's Uefa Cup quarter-final, when Milan and Standard Liege were among City's scalps, Poland's Kazimierz Deyna experienced one of the better moments of his Maine Road tenure by getting on the scoresheet in the eventual exit to Borussia Monchengladbach.
Tonight City will play in European competition for the first time since that night. Keegan, embarking on the latest challenge in his roller-coaster managerial career, will oversee the first competitive match in a spanking new stadium. And his side's opponents, the Welsh minnows Total Network Solutions, are likely to field twice as many Englishmen in their starting line-up as Keegan will in his brigade of Franco-Sino-Dutch-German-Australian- Costa-Rican-take-your-pick recruits.
Yet when it comes to assessing City's chances, old fears die hard. "Our task is to go out and achieve a healthy first-leg lead if we can, but that might not be as easy as people think," Keegan said. "If we fall short it will be a disaster for us." Should that unlikely scenario unfold, he added: "It will not be through lack of preparation or professionalism".
Records are there for the taking. If TNS ship more than five goals this evening, City will beat their best tally in a European game, set when they won 5-0 against SK Lierse and then 5-1 against Schalke04 en route to their Cup-Winners' Cup success in the era of Lee, Bell and Summerbee in 1970. Not that Keegan is getting ahead of himself. "We have had TNS watched four times and [assistant] Arthur Cox and myself travelled to watch them play an Everton XI last Friday," he said. …