Who was the best player to ever play in the Premier league?
It’s a question that has been debated for years from the classroom to the pubs, even ex-players and managers have given their preferred numero uno.
Most if not all say the same names: Henry, Ronaldo, Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard, and maybe even Shearer.
All great players worthy of taking home the accolade, but I like to look at things a bit differently.
No grey area
I do it with other sports as well, let me give you a quick example: I love the 100m sprint, how can you not?
It’s simply a no grey area: the first man to cross the line wins, that person is the fastest in the world.
That mantle right now goes to Usain Bolt.
He is the current world record holder and the 6 times Olympic champion so he’s the fastest sprinter of all time right?
Wrong!! (Well, kind of)
See for me the fastest sprinter I’ve ever seen was a guy called Donovan Bailey.
The 1996 Olympic champion, who himself was once a world record holder, his Achilles heel was that he had the worst start in the universe yet
was still able to catch the field and win.
I remember watching him thinking: “If he could just get his start right, we could see something special”.
I actually debated with someone that he could be the first man to ever go to under 9.5 seconds, he never did but nonetheless he was something else.
A forgotten name
Anyway back to football. See all those aforementioned players played for great teams.
Don’t get me wrong individually they were breath-taking and a joy to watch, how could you not be transfixed whenever Henry went on one of his runs or Ronaldo smashing in a screamer from 35 yards?
But we also have to remember that Henry did have Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, and as great as Ronaldo was he did benefit from the likes of Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs.
What about those forgotten stars of yesteryear who quite frankly didn’t have anyone?
The ones that didn’t play for the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool yet still made us sit on the edge of our seats.
For one season, one forgotten name springs to mind.
Manchester City have always been a team blessed with superb talent not just the current superstars such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva but also former players like Colin Bell, Franny Lee and Alan Oakes.
However, ask any Manchester City fan as to who put a smile on their faces during the bleakest of years and you’ll probably hear one name.
Let’s go back to just over 20 years to 1995 (a time before Man City became the behemoth they are today) when they signed an unknown player from Dinamo Tbilisi for £2m, a player that would in one season would gain cult status amongst City fans.
That player was Georgi Kinkladze.
Small and unassuming, but a special talent
Small and unassuming in his appearance, but with the ball at his feet it’s very difficult to not draw some comparison to another diminutive left footed player currently at Barcelona.
I remember watching Kinkladze and being genuinely taken aback at his brilliance and equally embarrassed at the supporting cast he had at his disposal.
It was ignominious, but he was still able to shine brightly and at times set the league ablaze with his deft touches and wonder goals.
Of those goals none were better than the one he scored against Southampton on 16th March 1996, where he effortlessly left four Southampton players in his wake before calmly chipping the ball over the on-rushing (and then England) keeper David Beasant.
Keith Curle, the then City captain remarked: “I’m not surprised by the goal, he did it in training all the time”.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he had signed for Manchester City’s fiercest rivals Manchester United instead!
What if he had a Roy Keane in the midfield to protect him, or Paul Scholes to be feeding him with pass after pass after pass.
Hmm…. just a thought.
It’s easy to sometimes forget the role teammates play in making good players truly great players.
The United Team of 95/96 had the likes of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and David Beckham, City on the other hand had Kit Symons, Niall Quinn and Steve Lomas.
Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?
Relegated, but still highly regarded
Man City were relegated in that 95/96 season and surprisingly even with the likes of Inter Milan, Liverpool and Barcelona interested in his services the left-footed magician decided to stay at Manchester City, and it was undoubtedly the wrong decision.
In the 1996/97 season, he played for no less than 5 managers.
Eventually City were once again relegated and Kinkladze finally left.
Struggling final years, but still left an indelible mark
For the next few years he played for the likes of Ajax and Derby County, but because of injuries and off field problems he was never able to produce the type of form that gave him cult status amongst city fans.
Alan Ball once remarked, “He (Kinkladze) provided City fans with moments of heaven in a time where both on and off the field City were experiencing moments of hell”.
Regardless of how his career tailed off City fans will always remember him as King Kinky, the genius that lit up Maine Road!
Written by Ade Oladipo
Follow Ade on Twitter @BoxTalkUK
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