x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Aleksandar Kolarov proving adept to rugged nature of English game

Aleksandar Kolarov, Manchester City's Serbian left-back, is living up to his nickname as the "Serbian Roberto Carlos".

Aleksandar Kolarov, right, had become a first-team regular at Manchester City following a three-month injury lay-off at the start of the season.
Aleksandar Kolarov, right, had become a first-team regular at Manchester City following a three-month injury lay-off at the start of the season.

Rewind a couple of decades and many a left-back shared some characteristics that endeared them to their own supporters.

They were robust figures, tough tacklers with a marked dislike of defeat and a hammer of a shot that made them regular scorers.

Stuart Pearce, one such defender, went on to become the manager of Manchester City. He may recognise a kindred spirit on the left of his former club's back line now.

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In his style of play, Aleksandar Kolarov is something of a throwback. In another respect, the much-travelled, multilingual Serb is very much a 21st-century footballer.

The break up of Yugoslavia fractured relations in an uneasy compromise of a country, but Kolarov counts the Bosnian Edin Dzeko among his closest friends at City.

While Yugoslavia was disintegrating, it nonetheless boasted, in Red Star Belgrade, the European Cup winners in 1991.

Twenty years on, a product of the club's youth school - albeit one who never played for the senior side - has had to venture abroad in a quest for success.

After three years at Lazio in Italy, Kolarov joined City last summer. He is rapidly becoming an Anglophile, enjoying the competitive nature of the Premier League as well as the tolerance of the supporters.

"The football in England is a little bit quicker and stronger than in Italy, but I like it here," the 25-year-old said.

"I played at Lazio, in the south of Italy, and the fans are very impatient. If you lose one game in Italy, they think you are going down to the second division. Here it's very, very good. The stadiums are nice and always full.

"In Italy, it's very, very hard to play because all teams are very good tactically. Here, it is much quicker, and I like this type of football. In Italy, there were four or five strong teams. Sometimes, every two or three games, a small team can beat the biggest team.

"But in England, every team can beat the biggest team. I think this is a sign of the quality of English football. Wolves are [second from] bottom of the table, but they've beaten Liverpool, [Manchester] United and Chelsea. You can't find this in Italy or Spain. And because of that, English football is special."

Kolarov is not alone among imports in taking time to settle. In his case, however, there are extenuating circumstances. After a gruelling campaign for club and country last year, he then damaged ankle ligaments on his City debut at Tottenham Hotspur.

"Last season, I played maybe 60 games, and went to the World Cup," he said.

"The injury was like a vacation for me. I played one year without a break and when I signed here, I played the first game and was then out for three months. It was very bad for me, because it was the first injury in my life."

Since his return in November, he has been kept busy. A demanding fixture list has been a test of his toughness. Kolarov's physical power has come in handy.

"In the last three or four months, I have played in just about every game," he said. "I have had some good games."

One was the 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion last month. To his surprise, Kolarov was chosen in midfield, when the overlapping left-back was transformed into a threatening winger. It was a consequence, in part, of injuries to Adam Johnson and James Milner.

"If the manager asked me to play in place of Joe Hart [the goalkeeper], then I would play there," he said. "But my position is full-back."

He faces competition there. Away against both Arsenal and Manchester United, Pablo Zabaleta was preferred at left-back, Kolarov occupying a more advanced role at Old Trafford.

Roberto Mancini's logic appeared to be that the Argentine is quicker and less prone to rash tackles. Two such challenges earned Kolarov a red card, albeit an unfortunate one, when Bolton Wanderers visited Eastlands in December.

Other firsts have followed. A drilled shot from distance against Leicester City in the FA Cup brought a maiden goal, a fierce free kick at Birmingham City in the league a second. While arguably his most memorable goal for Lazio, certainly for the blue half of the Italian capital, followed an 80-yard solo run against Roma, the most spectacular strikes came from up to 40 yards out, thunderbolts that flew into the net.

They earned Kolarov a nickname, albeit one that bemuses the defender himself: the Serbian Roberto Carlos.

"In Serbia, they never called me Roberto Carlos," he smiled, adding, with a hand at waist height: "He is about this tall." Spoken like an old fashioned left-back.