The final day of the 2007-08 season had brought both delight and despair for Manchester City captain Richard Dunne.
After being announced as City’s Player of the Season for a record fourth consecutive season, the powerful Irish centre back unfortunately received a straight red card for a professional foul on Afonso Alves in City’s game against Middlesbrough at the Riverside. It was believed that this could jeopardise City’s chances of playing in the Uefa Cup next season via qualification through the Fair Play League (in the end it didn’t).
Furthermore, City lost the game 8-1, in what was Sven-Goran Eriksson’s final game in charge.
A rollercoaster summer ensued, as it always seems to at City. With the club in turmoil after Eriksson’s departure and owner Thaskin Shinawatra’s billions frozen by Thai authorities, rumours circulated that the entire playing staff were up for sale, including Dunne.
Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp has never hidden his admiration for Dunne, and reportedly lodged a £5 million bid, which was later matched by the defensively needy Tottenham Hotspur.
Newly installed City manager Mark Hughes made securing Dunne’s future, who only had 12 months remaining on his contract, his top priority. The Welshman succeeded, with Dunne signing a new four-year contract. The City fans were understandably thrilled with the news, after all Dunne had been the mainstay of the club for eight years since his move from Everton for £3 million.
However, now, after the groundbreaking takeover of the club by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and his subsequent purchase of Robinho for a British record £32.5 million, expectations at the City of Manchester Stadium have been sent through the roof.
Rumours were rife on transfer deadline day of bids for David Villa, Mario Gomez, and Dimitar Berbatov, and future bids for world stars such as Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, and Cristiano Ronaldo. It seems as though no player at City is now safe.
Which brings me to Dunne, a player who epitomises everything about Manchester City. A never-say-die-attitude combined with a huge amount of talent, Dunne is possibly the most underrated central defender in the Premiership.
Don’t forget, he was the only man who could come of a pitch last season and honestly claim he got the better of Fernando Torres for the full 90 minutes during the game between City and Liverpool at the City of Manchester Stadium in December.
Furthermore, after being unable to leave his bed the day before the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, Dunne miraculously recovered to lead his side to City’s first "Derby Double" for almost 40 years.
So with City entering this new, exciting era, with a seemingly limitless transfer budget available, what about Richard Dunne? His leadership of the side has never been questioned since being installed as captain, replacing the now departed Sylvain Distin.
He has a special bond with the fans, anyone who has been voted the club’s Player of the Season for four consecutive years must do. He has successfully turned his career around after entering last chance saloon under Kevin Keegan. The Dubliner, with a deceptive turn of pace, has clocked up a more than respectable 45 caps for the Republic of Ireland.
However, with the Premiership season just entering October, there have been question marks as to Dunne’s worthiness of a starting berth in City’s new look line-up. It must be said that he hasn’t looked his usual assured self in recent weeks.
His mistake lead to FC Midtjylland taking a first leg lead back to Denmark in the Uefa Cup qualifying round and he, uncharacteristically, lost his composure on several occasions during the Blues’ recent defeat to Wigan at the JJB Stadium.
Certain sections of the City faithful have suggested that, other than the troublesome left back position, Mark Hughes and his scouts should be looking for a long term partner for England star Micah Richards.
Basically, Dunne’s days could be coming to an end.
If we look at Mark Hughes’ preferred starting line-up, "Sparky" seems to favour 4-1-4-1 formation with the increasingly impressive Vincent Kompany sat in front of the back four. In front of him, we find the array flair and creativity in the form of Robino, Elano, Stephen Ireland, and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
This new, attacking philosophy certainly seems to be paying off, with City currently the league’s highest scorers. However, at the back, where the Blues have looked so assured in recent years, City looked decidedly shaky at times.
In previous years, certainly under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Stuart Pearce, City have looked to sneak a lead and then sit back and absorb anything thrown at them. This sort of philosophy is perfect for Richard Dunne.
However, the way City now play, with attacking vigour and vitality, the Blues’ defence have looked exposed at times. This linked with the troublesome left back position and Pablo Zabaleta enjoying the freedom to bomb forward from right back, the responsibility placed on the Dunne-Richards partnership has increased.
In a way, Dunne should take confidence from this—as it shows the faith Hughes has in him.
So, the question seems to be, is there a place for Dunne in City’s attacking formation? People seem to accept that Micah Richards has the explosive pace and power to get himself out of certain situations. Dunne is no slouch by any means, but as already mentioned, he is much more effective with his back up against the wall. It is no coincidence that his most famous performances for the Blues have come against the Premier League’s "Big Four".
Personally, I believe it is too early to judge Dunne as not good enough for City’s new era. After his performances for City, particularly over the last four seasons, Dunne deserves his chance to prove his doubters wrong.
He has done it before, there is no reason why he won’t do it again.
City’s next game comes against Liverpool, a game in which, as already mentioned, Dunne excelled in last season. It wouldn’t surprise me if City come away from the game with a result, brought about, in part, from a sterling performance from their "Captain Fantastic".