Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Team of the decade

What better way to mark the end of the 2000s than with a composite team of the decade? This isn't the best players to play for City in this decade, but nor is it quite the players who made the biggest contribution to the club. It's closer to the latter than the former, but I have still allowed myself a goalkeeper who has only been at the club for eleven months to date. Danny Pugsley at Bitter and Blue has done his own. Let me know what you think.

I've gone for a 4-4-2, with a conventional right winger and a left midfielder drifting inside. I've also gone for a seven man bench, which is only slightly anachronistic and makes the exercise much easier for me.

Goalkeeper: Shay Given

I know that he signed for us with only twelve months remaining in the decade. But I just can't leave him out. In terms of quality he is at home in the Bert Trautmann/Joe Corrigan bracket of Manchester City goalkeepers. When did we last have the best player in his position in England? Certainly no-one in my lifetime. Because we've been through this enough recently, but Shay Given is a magnificent goalkeeper. His shot-stopping is miraculous. Just think of the games he's already won for us: last season there was Boro at home and Everton away, this season Blackburn away, Wolves at home and Chelsea at home. Throw in the shoot-out in the UEFA Cup last 16 game in Aalborg and he's already made himself a City legend.

MCFC 2009- 44 games, 0 goals.

Right-back: Micah Richards

I know he has his critics, and I'm certainly one of them, but there is something immensely heartening about an Academy graduate who by the age of 21 has already played 141 games for the club and has 11 full England caps. It shows the young man's promise which, while not yet fulfilled, is still certainly latent. He emerged with a bang - a stoppage time header at Villa Park to get a replay in the FA Cup fifth round in February 2006. He played at right back under Stuart Pearce, before Eriksson moved him to centre back - replacing Sylvain Distin - and buying Vedran Ćorluka. In retrospect it was a move that hindered Richards' development: his gifts are better suited to playing wide, and he faced the same problem when Mark Hughes bought Pablo Zabaleta. But he still plays more often than not, and while he still has a lot to learn he is also still very promising. Also good for the occasional goal.

MCFC 2005- 141 games, 5 goals

Centre-back Richard Dunne

Our Player of the Decade. Richard Dunne was bought by Joe Royle in 2000 and after initial problems with weight and alcohol, he managed to transform himself into a towering centre-half of the old school: fearless in the tackle, towering under crosses, corners and long-balls, and with a better touch and change of pace than people gave him credit for. Four consecutive Player of the Season awards - 2004/05, 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08 - demonstrate his importance in those rather stale mid-decade years. He was never part of a great City side, but his determination and consistency was perhaps the main thing that stopped us from dropping down into the second tier again after 2001. When he was sold in 2009 it felt like a symbolic break from mid-decade mediocrity as we reached for the stars. But he has excelled at Villa Park so far, and gets extra points for his deciding not to celebrate after scoring against us there in October. Naturally captains the side.

MCFC 2000-2009 345 games, 7 goals

Centre-back: Sylvain Distin

The other half of the Dunne and Distin partnership, the best and most important part of the team in the years of mid-decade inertia. He was brought to the club by Kevin Keegan on winning promotion to the Premiership in 2002, and won Player of the Season from his first year. He gave us five seasons of top service, complimenting Richard Dunne perfectly - a bit taller, a bit quicker, and left-sided. He was soon made captain and served admirably before Stuart Pearce chose to give it to Richard Dunne instead. That contract dispute eventually led to Distin's departure to Portsmouth at the end of the 2006/07 season, which was a real shame but had been inevitable for some time. I've applauded him at recent games against Portsmouth, and have been in the minority - which leaves a rather sour taste.

MCFC 2002-2007 206 games, 6 goals

Left-back: Niclas Jensen

This was the hardest position to pick. The number of left-backs we've been through this decade - Wayne Bridge, Javi Garrido, Michael Ball, Stephen Jordan, Ben Thatcher, Michael Tarnat, Niclas Jensen is incredible, and throw in auxiliaries like Sun Jihai, Danny Tiatto, Danny Granville and it all gets a bit confused. Picking the best one is made even harder by the fact that none of them have been any good. But I'm going for Niclas Jensen. Kevin Keegan signed him in January 2002 and he impressed as City galloped to the First Division title. He played throughout the 2002/03 season, always neat and tidy rather than cavalier. And given that this is more about special memories than objective analyses, his awesome volley against Leeds United has got to count for something too.

MCFC 2002-2003 53 games, 2 goals.

Right-midfield: Shaun Wright-Phillips

One of the first names on this team sheet. Wright-Phillips is the boy who was told he'd never make it and the prodigal son rolled into one. He emerged first under Joe Royle, more often than not playing up front, before Kevin Keegan used him as a wing-back in a 3-5-2. He soon started to dazzle with his pace on the ball, his ability to wriggle through defenders and an astonishingly powerful shot with a low backlift. He reached eleven goals in both 2003/04 and 2004/05 as he became one of England's most promising young wingers - the strikes against Arsenal and Manchester United are still legendary. In summer 2005 we could not turn down Roman Abramovich's money but in August 2008 Mark Hughes brought him back to Eastlands. Two goals in his second debut at the Stadium of Light was the perfect welcome present. This season he recreated his derby wonderstrike in a League Cup quarter-final.

MCFC 1999-2005, 2008- 207 games, 44 goals

Central midfield: Joey Barton

For all the controversy, the crimes, the acts of malice and cowardice, Joey Barton was an excellent player for Manchester City. His determination to make the very most of his talents was inspiring, as was his determination and energy on the pitch. He emerged on the fringes of the team in our first season back in the Premier League under Kevin Keegan, and after that made more than thirty appearances in each of the next four seasons. It was under Stuart Pearce, though, that he really came into his own. Nicolas Anelka left in January 2005 and Shaun Wright-Phillips was sold that June. When Pearce took over that spring he inherited a team shorn of any attacking quality. So it was Barton who took responsibility, dragging the team forward, creating and scoring most of the few goals we managed in Pearce's two full seasons. He may not have been the most talented player in the squad, but he was one of the few able to impose his will, and was just as responsible as Richard Dunne for our avoiding relegation in 2005/06 and 2006/07.

MCFC 2003-2007 142 games, 17 goals.

Central midfield: Stephen Ireland

Our third Academy graduate in the midfield, Stephen Ireland is the fourth player to come through the ranks and play at least one hundred games for the club this decade. He is a great example - like Barton - of self-improvement. He made his debut under Stuart Pearce and clearly had a quality midfielder latent inside him. But he was too small, too inconsistent, and so was played on the wing too often. This pattern broadly continued - as well as various personal indiscretions making the news - under Eriksson. It was only under Mark Hughes that Ireland finally found his voice as a footballer. He retired from international football, worked on his fitness and became an attacking midfielder of the highest order. Hughes build the team around him, and he dazzled with his touch, his creativity, his work-rate and his awareness. The 2008/09 City Player of the Season award was a formality - the PFA Young Player ought to have been but went to Ashley Young.

MCFC 2005- 135 games, 23 goals

Left midfield: Ali Benarbia

Not a left winger, but he has to play somewhere. Ali Benarbia, in tandem with Eyal Berkovic, inspired Kevin Keegan's City side to a glorious First Division title in 2001/02, accumulating 99 points and scoring 108 goals as they went. (It was also City doing our bit for world peace, uniting an Arab and an Israeli in glorious harmony.) People compared him to Georgi Kinkladze but he was more of a playmaker than a dribbler, feeding Shaun Goater, Darren Huckerby and Paolo Wanchope as they carved up defences across England. Moreover, he saw the return of a quality footballer to Maine Road for the same time since Kinkladze. Joe Royle did a fantastic job at City but it wasn't always pretty - Benarbia provided a welcome re-introduction to football, just as Elano and Martin Petrov did in August 2007. He couldn't quite reproduce it in the Premier League, but that did nothing to tarnish the memories.

MCFC 2001-2003 66 games, 11 goals

Striker: Nicolas Anelka

He may not be the most popular, but Nicolas Anelka was surely the best centre forward to play for City in the 2000s. In terms of his achievements at City this is demonstrably true, and in terms of the best striker to wear the shirt he is in a very tight battle with Carlos Tévez which he probably edges. Kevin Keegan spent big on him in the summer of 2002, hoping that he could tackle 'le Sulk.' He did ok - getting two and a half seasons out of him, in which he scored 46 goals for the club. His performances were no surprise to anyone who had seen him at Arsenal - pace in behind and clinical finishing - the only question is how long he would last once it was clear that we were a mid-table side. He packed his bags for Istanbul in January 2005, with not much love from the fans. But remember these two facts - he has scored more goals for City than he has for any other club, and he scored more top flight goals for us (37) than anyone since the mid 1990s.
MCFC 2002-2005 101 games, 46 goals.

Striker: Shaun Goater

Another easy pick. One of Joe Royle's first acts as City manager was to buy Goater from Bristol City in March 1998, and the Goat scored the goals that fired Royle's side to successive promotions in 1999 and 2000. He bagged a respectable eleven in the relegation season of 2000/01, and Kevin Keegan kept him on board for the promotion push of 2001/02. He was better than ever - putting Benarbia and Berkovic's passes into the net and scoring 32 goals in 44 goals. Even with the purchase of Nicolas Anelka he still played enough games in 2002/03 to score seven goals, including the famous humiliation of Gary Neville in the last ever derby at Maine Road. Not as talented as Anelka, but he scored more goals for City and was much more popular. An all-time great.

MCFC 1998-2003 189 games, 103 goals

Substitutes:

David James Bought to replace David Seaman, he gave us two and a half good seasons before leaving to join Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth one year before Sylvain Distin did. There were a few mistakes but also some magnificent saves. By all accounts a good guy as well.

MCFC 2004-2006 100 games, 0 goals

Steve Howey Joe Royle brought in the Newcastle veteran to keep us up in 2000/01, and while we were eventually relegated it was not due to lack of effort on Howey's part. He went on to give two full seasons of service under Keegan and provided much needed experience.

MCFC 2000-2003 103 games, 11 goals

Danny Tiatto The Melbourne Zabaleta, Danny Tiatto was a seriously dirty player but no less popular for it. He could play left back or midfield, and was one of the main battlers in Joe Royle's side. Was never as popular with Kevin Keegan.

MCFC 1998-2004 128 games, 4 goals, 7 red cards

Kevin Horlock Another left-footed battler who could play in defence or midfield, Super Kevin Horlock was a better football than he looked, signed by Frank Clark but excelling in the first two seasons of the Keegan era, anchoring for Eyal Berkovic and Ali Benarbia.

MCFC 1997-2003 211 games, 44 goals

Elano Just as Benarbia and Berkovic did in 2001, in 2007 Elano brought good football back to City. Bought by Sven from Shakhtar Donetsk, he gave us an autumn of magical displays, running games and scoring goals unlike anyone we had seen in years. 10 out of 10 penalties too.

MCFC 2007-2009 64 games 18 goals

Martin Petrov Just edges out Mark Kennedy and Trevor Sinclair for the last winger slot, his pace and crossing ability makes him the best old fashioned outside-left in the Premier League when he has his knee ligament problems under control.

MCFC 2007- 51 games, 11 goals

Paulo Wanchope Leggy, unpredictable and inconsistent, Wanchope gets in ahead of Darren Huckerby and Robbie Fowler by virtue of just being a bit more fun. He got a decent goal return under Royle and Keegan, and would have got more were it not for injuries.

MCFC 2000-2004 59 games, 29 goals

9 comments:

Slow of Heart said...

Over 140 goals from Barton in 17 games!!!! Must say I missed that one Danny.

JPB said...

Thanks very much!

Matthew said...

Berkovic!

Karakand said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Don said...

Excellent, but... no Nicky Weaver?

Henry Crun said...

At the risk of being labelled a pedant, the decade still has another year to run. The current calendar starts in the Year 1 A.D.

There is no year zero thus the current decade is 2001 - 2010.

Which means that Tevez, Bellamy, Barry, De Jong and Kompany could well edge out some of the names already in your team of the decade.

tony said...

I agree with Henry but Jack is only following what is the trend nowadays.

New millenium started 1/1/2000?

Revolutionary Biscuit said...

*rolls eyes*
http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/pedants.html

Anyhoos, I know where you're coming from but it seems a shame Horlock couldn't be on there in place of Barton. It seems he (Super Kev) is a victim of cross decade placement.

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