Each week on Football FanCast we will be celebrating those special breed who lit up the Premier League with their unique brand of utter genius. This time out we pay homage to a ballerina in boots who viewed pitches as playgrounds.
Georgi Kinkladze only played 28 times in the Premier League for Manchester City and he left two seasons later with the club spiralling towards the third tier. As an inconsistent luxury player who never tracked back a succession of managers built their teams around him to increasingly damaging effect and so obviously was he the ‘problem’ that when Joe Royle finally came in to stem the tide his only condition to the board was that they sell the gifted Georgian.
He was, in analogical terms, a ludicrously gorgeous supercar parked in the driveway of a family living on the breadline. And nobody in the household could drive.
You might wonder then why he holds such a special place in the heart of every Blue but to question this would be to fall under the spell of the rhetoric of modern football that decrees that results are everything; performance and impact and heat maps are everything. It would discount the truth that has persisted through the ages that when a club’s fan-base has very little to be thankful for they respond more than ever to magic.
And Kinky was magic; a twinkling, shimmying, tumult of tricks and slalomed runs that got a stadium out of its seat and pulsed adrenaline through its veins.
Take his individual effort against Southampton on March 16th 1996 as a case in point. That alone compensated for ten games of anonymity with a team set up poorly to accommodate that anonymity. With both sides struggling near to the foot of the table the quietly-spoken 23 year old zig-zagged through four Saints defenders before waiting for the keeper to commit to ground.
The delicate dink that followed first caressed his boot then the net, rippling down it like a kid on a waterslide. The goal was pure poetry. The ambition and intent to execute it was pure, ruthless confidence.
With arch rivals United winning the league annually and City enduring a bleak period that had them flailing from crisis to crisis Kinkladze offered a source of pride that was invaluable to the blue half of Manchester. For that reason he was voted the club’s player of the year two seasons running. For this reason he remains cherished to this day.
He arrived from Dinamo Tbilisi in July of ’95 reportedly signed off the back of a video watched by the chairman at the time Francis Lee, and until his artful scheming became familiar it was his international displays that made his name.
A virtuoso performance against Wales had the usually pragmatic Neville Southall declaring him brilliant and once homesickness eased City began to see why for themselves. He was thrilling in possession, blessed with footwork that was quick and mesmerising and a Subbuteo balance honed from years of training in mtiuluri, a form of traditional Georgian ballet. For someone so slight he was also surprisingly difficult to muscle off the ball.
Add in too a mentally that viewed even top level football as a glorified playground and it’s fitting that soon enough the lyrics to Wonderwall was changed on the terraces to suit him – “And all the runs that Kinky makes are winding” – while his harder working team-mates were probably wondering where the hell their song was.
Because alas devilment always comes at a cost and so often his individual adventures came to nothing because percentage-wise they always do. And when those failures are compounded by a bang-average team and Alan Ball in the dug-out relegation is going to find you.
Barcelona were keen, as too were Inter, but to everyone’s delight the little genius chose to stay that summer and the thought of him tearing apart Championship defences softened the blow of dropping down a division.
Unfortunately it just didn’t happen that way as injuries began to take a toll with one particular absence a result of a reckless collision with a roadside barrier while driving his brand new Ferrari. A supercar undone by a supercar.
He left soon after, with Royle installed to steady the ship and put some kind of order into a team that catered only to one man who produced on a whim. It was probably for the best.
Occasionally Georgi Kinkladze returns to the city that embraced him for the utter genius he was and to the people who knew that such genius doesn’t take place on a weekly basis. He returns beloved, a reminder of a time when City were a shambles but somehow, by virtue of a video and luck, in possession of someone very special indeed.