Second Summer

WHEN I call the former Manchester City winger Nicky Summerbee, he is in Amsterdam visiting his nine-year-old son Harley. The boy has recently moved out there with his mother, and father and son are exploring the city on a pair of hired bicycles.

“He’s really into riding his bike,” says Summerbee. “I keep trying to get him into football, but maybe I should be trying to get him into the Tour de France instead! He could be the fourth generation in our family to play football, but I don’t know if that will happen – he doesn’t like watching the game.”

This might make you feel old: Nicky – who followed in his father Mike’s footsteps by playing for Swindon and Manchester City – celebrated his 39th birthday last week. While he was the second Summerbee to play for City, he was the third to be a professional footballer, as his grandfather George was at Preston and Portsmouth.

“People ask if it was more difficult for me coming to City because of who my dad is, and it’s hard for me to answer that, because I’ve never known any different,” Summerbee says.

“People always used to call me Mike. It was just something I had to deal with. But I was really proud to get the chance to play for City.”

I’ve phoned Nicky – who I manage to avoid calling Mike at any stage during our conversation – primarily to discuss the fact that he is playing for City again this weekend. On Sunday night, he will be part of their squad for the Selco Masters Cup finals at the LG Arena in Birmingham.

The Masters Cup is an indoor six-a-side tournament for over-35s, scratching the itch for ex-professionals who miss playing and allowing fans of a certain generation to wallow in nostalgia while giving Sky Sports some football to fill their summer schedules with. It works on all three levels.

“It’s great to catch up with all the old lads,” Summerbee says. “I played last year and we didn’t do very well.

“But this year, I played some of the best football of my career in the regional heats, and I’m nearly 40!

“I’ve realised that the key is to let everyone else run themselves into the ground in the early stages, and then come off the bench and do my stuff when they’re all exhausted!”

City’s squad will be familiar to anyone who watched them in the early-to-mid-1990s – alongside Summerbee, there’s Andy Dibble, Ian Brightwell, Keith Curle, Steve Redmond, Fitzroy Simpson, Steve Lomas and Mike Sheron. Eight teams have reached the national finals after coming through the regional heats, but the format of Sunday’s tournament appears to be causing Summerbee some confusion.

He asks: “It can’t be a straight knockout, can it?” I tell him that I think it is. He is surprised: “It’s a long way to go to Birmingham if we lose the first game, isn’t it?”

He smiles about the fact that City have been drawn against Sunderland, who will feature his close friend Michael Gray, with whom he runs car and property businesses. Summerbee also does a bit of punditry for Sky, and is looking to break on to the after-dinner speaking circuit.

He certainly has a few tales to tell – and not all of them related to his famous father.

Nicky was with Georgi Kinkladze on the night the Georgian winger crashed his Ferrari into a motorway bridge in 1997. And following a move to Sunderland, Nicky got some unwanted tabloid coverage when he was photographed coming out of a London nightclub with TV presenter Melanie Sykes hours after his team had been thrashed 4-1 at Arsenal in January 2000. It didn’t go down well with his manager Peter Reid, who promptly dropped him.

Summerbee junior behaves a little more responsibly these days. “I still have a bit of a life, though,” he smiles.

His best days, though, were undoubtedly at Sunderland, where he flourished after a testing three years at Maine Road. As if trying to live up to his father’s reputation wasn’t a big enough challenge, Nicky was at City when the club were going through an extraordinarily turbulent phase – even by their standards.

“We went through so many managers,” he recalls. “And yet we actually had the makings of a good squad, with Georgi Kinkladze, Niall Quinn, Garry Flitcroft and Keith Curle around.

“I always felt that if we hadn’t been relegated from the Premier League in 1996, and we’d managed to get a couple of extra players in, that side really would have kicked on.”

He’s pleased that City are moving in the right direction now, under owners prepared to spend fortunes in the pursuit of success.

“It’s an exciting time at City,” he said. “They’ve basically crunched the kind of progress that normally takes five or 10 years into two.

“And there’s no reason why they can’t challenge this season. They need to get a Champions League spot, because that will give them the platform to take things on.

“The biggest hurdle for City will be picking up that first trophy. If they get that, then there’s no reason why they can’t go on to really big things.

“But it’s all about getting on a bit of a run, which is why I’m reluctant to make rash predictions.

“They’ve had a lot of new arrivals, and it’s important that they all get to know what Premier League football is.

“And they need to follow the examples of United and Chelsea, who kill teams off and are always going for the extra goal.

“At Sunderland last Sunday, City had the chances to win the game and didn’t take them – and got punished for it. They have to make sure that kind of thing is a one-off.”

Ask him who impresses him in the current City line-up, and he picks out a fellow winger. Adam Johnson scored his first goal for England against Bulgaria last night. Summerbee thinks the 23-year-old will become an international regular.

“I do like Adam Johnson,” Summerbee says. “Wingers open games up, and he’s a very exciting player.

“He can play on either flank – and he can attack a defender on the outside and cross the ball or cut inside. That keeps defenders guessing.

“Adam’s also prepared to run at players, which is something you don’t see enough of in modern-day Premier League football.

“It’s always good to see a winger do that. You’ve got to have a go. What’s the worst that can happen? You get tackled and lose the ball. But at least you’ve excited the crowd.

“He’s certainly got what it takes to become an England regular, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be.”

And with that, Summerbee is off on his hired bike, trying to keep pace with his son.

(The Selco Masters Finals take place at Birmingham’s LG Arena on Sunday (kick off 6.30pm, doors open 5.30pm). Tickets are £13 for adults and £7 for children. For details, visit www.mastersfootball.com)

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