Former City striker Uwe Rosler turns 52 today and here, we look back at his time with the Club and how a bargain-priced unknown German triallist became a genuine folk hero to our supporters…
It was 1994 when Uwe Rosler flew to Teesside Airport for a trial with Middlesbrough.
The East German striker had played for five clubs in his homeland up to that point and at 25, knew that if he was to fulfil his boyhood dream of playing in the Premier League, it would have to happen sooner rather than later.
His agent had arranged a trial with Middlesbrough, but after a session with the first team failed to materialise and then the reserve team match he was meant to play in was cancelled due to heavy snow, he returned home feeling dispirited and disappointed.
But almost as his plane was touching back down on German soil, Rosler received another call from his agent – he had arranged a trial with Manchester City if he was interested?
It was a chance he wasn’t going to miss.
“I was to fly to Manchester the following Monday where I would be training with the first team and then playing in a reserve game against Burnley on the Tuesday evening,” he recalled.
“After my experiences with Middlesbrough, I didn’t get too excited but I knew Manchester City were a much bigger club and hoped that fate was smiling on me for once.”
It was. City boss Brian Horton was desperate to find a No.9 who could score goals following Niall Quinn’s long-term injury and wanted to change an entire forward line that had managed just five goals in 11 games and, as a result, Horton’s side were now firmly embroiled in a relegation battle.
“I’d been out for almost six months and was nowhere near fit enough for the reserve game against Burnley but I gave it my all, scored twice and by the 55th minute, I had cramp and was exhausted because I hadn’t played competitively for so long,” recalled Rösler.
“God bless Brian Horton for taking me off when he did as I think things would have deteriorated rapidly after that. It felt good to know I could still score goals and I was happy enough with my display.
“I took a shower and went up to meet Brian in the boardroom after the match had finished. He told me he was pleased with what he’d seen and he was taking me on loan until the end of the season. He also said I was going to be included in the squad to face QPR at Loftus Road the following Saturday. Things had gone so smoothly I was waiting for something bad to happen, such was my mind-set at the time. But it didn’t and the dreams I’d had since I was a kid were all about to come true.
After a lot of wandering and restlessness, I was struck immediately by an overwhelming feeling that I’d finally found what I was looking for.
“All the financial aspects had been agreed between City and Nurnberg, I trained with the rest of the lads a couple of times before making my debut at QPR. City were fourth from bottom of the table and in some trouble. They had won just two of their last 20 league games so we needed points and quickly.
“I made my debut at Loftus Road and I remember running out for the first time for a top flight English league game. It was a great feeling to see the supporters in the stands and at QPR, the crowd is right on top of you – there was no running track around the pitch so you could hear comments from individuals, though my English was thankfully poor at that time!
"The sun was shining and I was raring to go, but my fitness was still lacking, somewhat. I’d put a lot into the reserve game in midweek and tried to impress during the training sessions so I was feeling a little jaded going into the match, but I had enough energy to get down the flank, whip a cross in and David Rocastle timed his run to perfection to plant the ball home. We drew 1-1 and it was a useful point under the circumstances.
“I needed to get my match fitness up to scratch as soon as possible, but I had a number of obstacles to get over, too. As I say, my English was pretty much non-existent and nobody really spoke any German so there was a lot of hand gestures and pointing in the early training sessions and more than one misunderstanding. We had been taught English at school but only very basic stuff and the teacher wasn’t very good – there was no real purpose to learn English in East Germany because we’d never use it and it was treated as something that seemed fairly pointless, like learning Latin, whereas I’d had ten years or so of being taught Russian.
“I didn’t understand anything that was being said apart from the odd word here and there; nowhere near enough to hold a conversation so that was something I needed to sort pretty quickly. “
Meanwhile, Horton signed Paul Walsh and Peter Beagrie as well before the March transfer deadline and City effectively had the new forward line the manager had wanted, going into the last two months of the season – and all for around £2million!
“Both Walshy and Beags would become lifelong friends in later years and we all hit it off pretty much straight away which would soon show when we played together, too,” said Rosler.
“Beags was a player people often asked: was it difficult to work out what he was going to do? It was never a problem Walshy and I had because we knew when he was going to cross it instinctively. He once told us to never offer him any support on the wing but to wait in the middle where he would find us – and invariably he did, He loved to beat defenders and if he had two or even three to beat, so much the better – he just couldn’t help himself and his crossing was superb – Walshy would head for the near post more often than not and I’d head for the back stick and Beags would fine one of us. He was one of the best wingers I have ever seen.
“I scored the goal that earned us a 1-1 draw on the last day of the 1993/94 season away to Sheffield Wednesday meaning I finished with five in my first 12 matches which was a decent return, I thought. I’d come to City, a struggling side, at a fairly low point in my career with my confidence and fitness nowhere near the levels I’d enjoyed a few seasons before so I was elated by the way things had gone.
“I felt at home and really happy and I knew this was where I wanted to be next season. Better still, we had 5,000 fans for our last game at Hillsborough and we were well clear of the relegation zone. After my goal, the City fans began to sing my name to the tune of ‘Go West’ and it went on throughout the match. I’d never heard my name sung before and initially, I was so focused on the game I didn’t realise they were singing about me or what they were singing. Back home in Germany, supporters had maybe one song for the whole club and didn’t sing about individual players so it was all new to me. But it went on and on and when I finally realised it was my name that was echoing around this famous old English stadium, it made the hairs stand up on the back of neck.
All those years ago, as a kid, I’d listened on a tape to English songs being sung and now here I was and it was happening to me.
It didn’t get much better than that and though I’d had a relationship with the fans of the majority of teams I’d played for, I’d never had anything like this before. As we made our way home along the Snake Pass back to Manchester, we were followed by a mass convey of supporters behind us and I suppose I just fell in love with the club, fans and England.”
The 10 goals the new attacking trio had shared between them in the final eight games secured City’s top-flight status for at least another year and Rosler was signed on a permanent deal for £500,000.
With the Kippax being rebuilt the following season, City’s capacity was reduced to 21,000 or so and many of the former Kippaxites found a new home in the North Stand, giving Maine Road a unique and partisan atmosphere for home games. And the football wasn’t bad, either as City made their home a fortress, winning five and drawing three of the first eight Maine Road matches with 23 goals scored and nine conceded meaning each game averaged four goals per match – and Rosler was on fire.
He formed part of a terrific forward line that included Beagrie, Walsh, Niall Quinn, and Nicky Summerbee. Indeed, Rosler’s form meant Quinn had to make do with the bench on a number of occasions.
Manager Brian Horton had gone from one extreme to another, and now had an embarrassment of riches up front. The football was open and entertaining and Rosler feasted off two of the best crossers in the game at the time in the form of Beagrie and Buzzer junior.
The City fans idolised him and resonated with the passion he showed every time he played – he was living his dream in the Premier League and was every bit the typical English No.9 – great in the air, not afraid to mix things up and a great finisher.
But just before Christmas, results took a downturn, City’s form dipped and when relegation was avoided by just four points, Horton was sacked and events began to take a different path for Rosler who had finished his first full season with 22 goals from 38 games. Alan Ball was installed as the new manager and though he played all but one of the matches in first half of the 1995/96 season, towards the end of the campaign he was dropped in favour of Nigel Clough and new signing Mikhail Kavelashvili – a move that enraged the passionate striker and when he clambered off the bench to score a wonderful equalising goal against Manchester United at Maine Road, he made his feelings known.
Instead of celebrating an obviously joyous moment, he pushed his team-mates away as he ran towards Ball gesturing at the name on the back of his shirt
The manager kept the fuming German on the bench for the trip to Wimbledon – a game City lost 3-0 - and Rosler was re-instated for the last three games, scoring the winner against Sheffield Wednesday and converting a penalty against Liverpool on the final day of the season – but it wasn’t enough and City were relegated.
Ball was sacked a couple of games into the new season but a managerial merry-go-round at Maine Road would scupper hopes of an instant return to the top flight. Rosler played all but three of the games during that season, scoring 17 goals and forging a wonderful understanding with Gio Kinkladze.
“Frank Clark had come in and our form had improved a lot in the second-half of the season,” he said. “He then asked me to travel to our last away game of the season at Norwich despite the fact I’d picked up an injury. At the team hotel on the Friday evening before the game we spoke together along with my agent Jerome Anderson and agreed verbally on a new four-year contract which would be finalised on our return after the summer break. I couldn’t have been happier. City were my club; the fans were always behind me and I was also due to marry Cecilie who was pregnant with our first child.
We were moving into our first house at long last and in my mind, I wanted to end my career with City
But the contract was never forthcoming for one reason or another and when Clark resigned partway through the 1997/98 season, Joe Royle – who had tried to sign Uwe while Everton boss - took over.
“Joe told me he was looking forward to working with me but said I’d still have to prove myself to him just as everyone else would have to before any contracts were agreed,” said Rosler. “I had been top scorer for the past three seasons but I understood everyone was starting with a blank sheet of paper.”
As it was, Rosler was gradually eased out of the first team picture and when Shaun Goater was signed, he accepted that his time at Maine Road was finally over – even if his love affair with the City fans wasn’t. Left out of the side in the season run-in, he decided to go and watch the final day relegation decider with the supporters.
“We were playing Stoke at the Britannia Stadium and they also needed to win to stay up,” he said. “As I wasn’t travelling with the squad, I got a ticket in the away end and sat with the City fans, hiding under my baseball cap initially before I was recognised and as usual, the supporters were fantastic with me and wanted to know why I wasn’t playing. It was so frustrating because I was fit and raring to go – I’m not saying we would have avoided the drop, but I might have made a difference. We’ll never know. Joe felt my heart was no longer in it but he couldn’t have been more wrong and I would have done anything to have played some part in our survival. To me, it didn’t make sense, but managers are paid to make these calls and they either live or die by them.
“Of course, we won that game 5-2, but Portsmouth won their final game 3-1 to stay up while ourselves and Stoke were relegated. Some people may question my loyalty but my situation demanded I took some sort of action. Besides, once I went out in front of the City fans that had believed in me and supported me from day one, I could never give less than my all. Nothing could’ve ever have changed that because my blood ran blue. If I’d been in Joe’s position, would I have done the same thing? I don’t know. It was a wrench to leave a club I’d wanted to finish my career at, especially as I’d been led to believe I would be staying for maybe another four years. I loved Manchester and the people who lived there; it was my home and I was settled, but that is the nature of football and being a footballer.
“I agreed a move to Kaiserslautern at the end of that season and I think my record of 64 goals in 176 appearances for City stands up well and even though, after four-and-a-half years, I was no longer part of the club, my relationship with the Manchester City didn’t end there. Far from it and the fan still had a major role to play in my life a little further along the line.”
After joining returning to Germany for a couple of years, he returned to England briefly with Southampton and West Brom. He eventually moved to Norway and played for Lillestrom, but in 2003, he developed chest cancer - and it was the City fans who inspired him at his greatest moment of need.
As he lay in hospital where he was undergoing treatment, his mobile phone rang as he was drifting in and out of sleep. It was an old friend from Manchester.
“Uwe, can you hear it?” he shouted.
“Hear what? I can hardly hear you…”
“Listen…” the friend said as he held the phone at arm’s length.
The City fans singing Uwe’s name and he could hear it echoing around the ground…
“The news had obviously reached them and they clearly knew I was ill, but they were willing me to recover and beat the cancer that had been discovered just in time. They hadn’t given up on me,” said Rosler.
“It was exactly what I needed. I ended the call and smiled for the first time in a while. I had my wife, my sons plus the support of close friends and family helping me to try and beat this. I also had 46,000 City supporters willing my back to health. With that kind of backing, how could I possibly fail?”
Thankfully, Uwe made a full recovery and went on to forge a successful management career, initially in Norway, and then in England with Brentford, Leeds United, Wigan Athletic and Fleetwood Town.
Today he is the boss of German side Fortuna Dusseldorf. And, as he later said, his bond with the City fans remains unbreakable.
Happy birthday, Uwe.