City XI (89-09): Central Midfield

Undoubtedly the hardest part of trying to put together any City side of recent times will be choosing those for the middle of the park. From the dross that's filled our squad for years and years has emerged the odd jewel, the player with that extra something, the rare talent that has fans on the edge of their seat, ours in recent times tending to be supremely-talented but in someway flawed midfield playmakers.

The most obvious pick for anyone who's supported City over the the last decade or so would be a nimble Georgian fella signed from Dinamo Tiblisi for the princely sum of £2m in the summer of 1995. Kinkladze, as no-one will need telling, was a genius, it's as simple as that. Whether he was right for us at that particular time has never really clouded my opinion of him as a player, he was a unique talent, almost certainly the most natural i've seen, at City or anywhere else. In a way it sums up both player and club that the undoubted fan's idol of the last quarter of a century would end his career without a major trophy, never having played in a World Cup, and whose three seasons at his peak resulted in the side being relegated twice.

Gio had everything you'd want a playmaker to have; unbelievable ball control, world-class skill, an unrivaled eye for a pass, tremendous balance and acceleration, plus a hammer of a left peg. At times he seemed to be quicker with the ball than without it, and to this day i've not seen a footballer capable of putting players on their backsides repeatedly simply by dropping a shoulder. It shouldn't be forgotten that Kinkladze only played one season at the highest level for us, in which we were relegated and he only scored four times, but he was a breathtaking footballer.

My gut instinct was to pick Ali Benarbia alongside Kinky. He was another player with absolutely sublime ability on the ball and who really added another dimension to the side during the promotion season. Sadly he couldn't have as much of an impact in the Premier League, and it's always irked me that we signed him so late in his career. He was superb in his first year, though, a tremendous footballing brain, he seemed to see runs before players were even aware they were going to make them. Arriving a few weeks into the season, he slotted into the side with consummate ease, proved the catalyst during a remarkable run of high-scoring games, and had won the fans over almost instantly.

Instead of Bernarbia, however, i've plumped for current fan favourite Stevie Ireland. It'll be interesting to see if Ireland can maintain his terrific form of last season, but there's no doubting that he's an extremely bright talent. Whilst not perhaps having the skill of those previously mentioned, he has a much better overall engine, and i'd say he's probably the most complete midfielder i've seen at the club. His biggest asset appears to be his fitness, coupled with a terrific pair of lungs. People will often talk about how Colin Bell could make up tens of yards in seconds, and seemingly without breaking sweat. Whilst Ireland's got a long way to go to be considered in Bell's league, he's demonstrated that he at least has a comparable motor (not least with two or three goals last year in which he must've ran half the length of the pitch) and is fast turning into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the country.

I'd probably be doing Stevie a disservice if i didn't go into the other facets of his game. He's a very tidy footballer who can do both the simple and difficult well. He seems to always know where other players are, but also when to use play the easy ball. He's got terrific movement, drifts deep, wide, and into advanced positions, leaving teams unsure of who should be picking him up, and he's got an eye for goal, too. He could go on to be a superb player, we'd have been goosed without him, he's really stepped up to the plate and made himself undroppable. Although he always looked like a decent prospect, none of us could've predicted just how much he'd come on.

Making up a three-man midfield is Kevin Horlock, always a favourite of mine, and at £1.25m one of the best pieces of business we've done in recent times. Horlock, whether deployed in an advanced or more defensive role, always put in a shift. He could mix it with most, and was never afraid to put his foot in, but at the same time was quite a cultured player, competent in possession, a good passer, looking to get forward at any chance and deadly from set-pieces. He was a menace, but one with a sweet left foot and a real eye for goal. Another whose best days were at a lower level, but still, a very good footballer.

Two players who i think deserve honourable mentions are Eyal Berkovic and Joey Barton. Eyal only started just north of fifty games for the club, but he was a real key player for us during Keegan's first year, and another who seemed to have all the time in the world when in possession of the ball. The football that season with the two playmakers was the best i've seen in my time supporting the club, both were effortless, Berkovic in particular had this ability to draw defenders towards him and spotting late unlocking passes that sides rarely anticipated. I always thought he was a player who with more dedication could have been one of the very best, right from his initial loan spell at Southampton.

Barton, well, it's hard to show any sort of support for the boy now, chance after chance thrown back into the faces of those who pay him very handsomely. For a time, though, he was our best player and we relied on him immensely. During his final two seasons here especially it felt like he was the only one in the side with the urgency and will to influence games. The football under Pearce was notoriously drab (not all the manager's fault, it must be added) and the side rudderless, 72 goals over two seasons, with strikers who couldn't hit the proverbial cow's arse with a banjo. Joey, for all his faults, and we'd be here all night if we tried to list them, had the fire in his belly, and the dozen goals he scored during that time, not forgetting those he played a part in, kept us in the division.

Picks: Gio Kinkladze, Kevin Horlock, Stevie Ireland

1 comment:

  1. Haven only stumbled across your site now this was one of my favorite articles. Well put with Joey Barton, I loved him at City and its a real shame its gone the way it has for him. Keep up the good work.