x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Kinkladze dazzled at Man City way before Messi did for Barcelona

It is hard to fathom that the twinkle-toed Georgian midfielder graced the Premier League only briefly, or that he is now a football agent.

Georgi Kinkladze stayed loyal to Manchester City as the club suffered two relegations.
Georgi Kinkladze stayed loyal to Manchester City as the club suffered two relegations.

The world should die of shame if it really is the case that Georgi Kinkladze is now a Moscow-based football agent.

Last heard, around August, he was apparently the key figure in Zenit Saint Petersburg's attempts to take Nani away from Manchester United (which might have generated more tribal grief given Kinkladze's status as a former Manchester City player, but such is the funk in Nani's career that nobody seemed to really care).

But Kinkladze, an agent? Georgi, et tu?

A man who, for three beautiful and painful seasons in the 1990s, chose to make art as the decks of his club burnt around him, who chose loyalty and stayed at City through two relegations, apparently turning down interest from Barcelona, Inter Milan, Liverpool and Celtic, who became not a club legend, but a folk hero.

And now an agent? That is brutal realism right there.

I have been remembering Kinkladze's City days, prompted by the club's exit from the Champions League at the group stage last week for the second year running.

There is a little something in their individual struggle that recalls those years when Kinkladze arrived and the Premier League collectively was struggling to catch up with Europe, not long after their ban from European competition ended.

But more specifically, I think, it has come from the relativities of disappointment. Because to imagine City now, upset at not making it to the knockout stages of Europe's elite competition, is to forget that they existed in 1995 and were relegated twice in the following three years.

It is also to forget their entire, crazy backstory of relegations and promotions, including an infamous relegation a season after they became league champions as well as 1996/97, when Kinkladze and the club did half a Roman Abramovich in one season and were coached by five different men.

In those days, still at Maine Road, Kinkladze was something else, a faint shimmer in the wreck, a little party inside a morgue. If you did not particularly care for the club, Kinkladze was the one reason to watch them.

He was so left-footed if you chopped the right one off, it would not have made a difference. And how he loved dribbling, just loved dinking past one, twisting past two, surging past three defenders.

It may sound far-fetched, but watch some of his finest moments and then do so of Lionel Messi's (there is, predictably, a "Messi v Kinkladze" compilation on YouTube as well). Forget about the quality of opponents for a second, just log the similarities: the balance and low centre of gravity, the head down, short-stepping scurry of an aimless toddler, the persistence until the right route is found, the darts inside and the permanent boyishness.

Kinkladze was less a false No 9 and more a No 10 (a book on him, in fact, is so titled, Kinkladze: The Perfect 10), not nearly as consistent as Messi, but maybe as illuminative over a random five-minute stretch, roaming and roaming until suddenly he has turned the game over.

The other player he could put you in the mind of was the Romanian Gheorghe Hagi, the "Maradona of the Carpathians", and it was not entirely a surprise that Galatasaray were once interested in signing Kinkladze as a replacement for Hagi. He was that kind of player and he could be that good, too.

How can it be that Kinkladze only actually played in the Premier League with City for one season before they were relegated, because it feels like he played so many more?

He later played for Derby County in the top flight but it was over by then, whatever magic he had brought with him. City happened to be one of those passing, intense communions, a club going down, a player going up, and neither side really recovered afterwards, not for a long time.

He sparkled at a transformative moment, both for Manchester and the Premier League. The city would be struck by an IRA bomb in June 1996, hastening its transformation from a hip, northern city to a hip, continental one. Supporting struggling City was the street thing to do. If you supported fat cat United, you were just from the south, and supporting City meant treasuring Kinkladze.

The English Premier League was still brewing, foreign players were still a big, foreign deal and most as gifted as sin. Those were the days of Eric Cantona, Gianfranco Zola, Dennis Bergkamp, Jurgen Klinsmann and David Ginola, who, to say simply that they played football is like saying Jimmy Hendrix played the guitar.

For a season, Kinkladze was there.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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