As you get older, cynicism prevents you from having a “favourite” football player. Too many players over the years let you down, with a lack of loyalty now a commonality of the game.
When you’re younger, however, it’s perfectly natural to have a favourite player. The one whose name adorns the back of your replica shirt, and whose celebration you copy when playing with friends on the local park. The player you long to emulate.
I was very fortunate to get my first Manchester City season ticket as 10-year-old back in the 1994/95 season. The City side that year was full of exciting players—Paul Walsh, Uwe Rosler, Peter Beagrie—playing an attacking, expansive style of football. It was that team which first gripped me and made me fall in love with the game.
The following season, though, a new star was born. Georgi Kinkladze, an unknown Georgian playmaker, arrived from Dinamo Tbilisi for £2 million, in what was to be one of City’s finest acts in the transfer market.
Francis Lee, a former City player and the club chairman at the time, had seen Kinkladze play for Georgia in matches against Wales and Moldova, and was so taken by his talents that he made him his top transfer priority. After some troubles obtaining Kinkladze a work permit, Lee finally got his man.
Kinkladze was an instant hit with the fans. His dribbling skills defied logic. His ability to ghost past players was City’s most potent attacking weapon. He was small, but his nimbleness meant it was near impossible to get him off of the ball.
Time and time again, he would leave a trail of defenders in a heap on the Maine Road turf as he shimmied his way to goal.
To this day, Kinkladze was the man who produced many of the best things I’ve ever witnessed on a football pitch. The finest was his solo goal against Southampton, which saw him leave five players for dead before chipping Dave Beasant in the Saint’s goal. It was a remarkable moment and one that will forever be etched in my mind.
Kinkladze was also responsible for one the best individual performances I’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying. The 3-3 draw with Newcastle in February 1996 was a memorable match for many reasons, including Kinkladze’s constant desire to run at the opposition and torment the Newcastle defenders. It was a special day at City’s dilapidated former ground.
After three seasons and two club Player of the Year awards, Kinkladze was eventually sold to Ajax for £5 million. Unfortunately, two of the Georgian’s three seasons in Manchester were spent in the second tier, a tragedy given his ability. City’s relegation to the third tier in 1997/98 confirmed his exit.
In the age of YouTube and online football databases, the idea of signing a complete unknown who goes on to become a club legend seems unthinkable, but that’s exactly what happened when the diminutive Georgian genius arrived at City.
He will forever be a hero to all of the City fans who were fortunate enough to watch him play.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.