It is 26 years to the day that Manchester City, then perennial Premier League struggles, splashed out on a little known midfielder from Georgia, who would go on to become a cult hero at Maine Road.
Georgi Kinkladze had attracted the interest of several Italian clubs during 1994, after impressing for the national side in a match against Moldova. However, with no offers in sight, City chairman Francis Lee struck a deal with Diinamo Tbilisi chairman Merab Jordania, giving City first refusal should the Georgian side consider selling Kinkladze.
The midfielder had already been trialed at Atletico Madrid and Boca Juniors, but had failed to secure a contract, leaving the field clear for the blues to take control of the situation.
In November 1994, Kinkladze scored his first international goal as Georgia hammered Wales 5-0 in Tbilisi, while the return match in Cardiff saw the midfielder score the only goal of the game with a 20 yard chip over Neville Southall.
Heads were turned and enquiries were made, however Jordania kept his promise to Lee and City paid £2m for Kinkladze in the summer of 2005, and the Georgian made his debut in a 1-1 home draw with Spurs, Alan Ball’s first match in charge at Maine Road.
City failed to win any of their first 11 Premier League matches, but Kinky, as he was affectionately known by the supporters, was emerging as the star of City’s team.
His first goal was an 85th minute winner in a home match against Aston Villa in November 1995, and scored a solo goal away to Middlesbrough two weeks later. The match was billed as a contest between Kinky and Boro’s Brazilian star Juninho, and it was the latter that came out on top as Boro won 4-0. But the Boro fans were so impressed with Kinky that they labelled him the best opposing player of the season.
City continued to struggle in the league, but Kinky was shining. Although he didn’t score in a 3-3 home draw with title-chasing Newcastle, the midfielder ran the Toon defence ragged, taking on defenders at will.
A home match against Southampton in March saw City win 2-1, with Kinky scoring two goals in the space of five first half minutes. His first was a tap-in after Dave Beasant had parried Nigel Clough’s shot, but his second was anything but.
Collecting the ball midway in the Saints half, Kinky went on a mesmerising run, beating four Southampton men before chipping over Beasant to make it 2-0. The goal won BBC’s goal of the month and was second place in the goal of the season.
The blues were relegated at the end of the season, but with a number of big name clubs rumoured to be interested in him, Kinkladze opted to stay with the blues, but still City failed to make any impact on the division. Kinky scored 12 goals during a turbulent season, but again showed his commitment to City by signing a new 3 year contract.
Kinky celebrated his new deal by splashing out on a Ferrari, which he would lose control of and crash into a motorway bridge, requiring him to need 30 stitches in his back and miss two games of City new relegation fight.
In February 1998, manager Frank Clarke was sacked and Joe Royle arrived, and the former Oldham boss immediately told the board that Kinkladze was a ‘luxury they couldn’t afford in a relegation fight,’ and recommended selling the midfielder. Royle would later say that the fans viewed Kinky as the only positive in the City side and there was ‘too much on the while Kinkladze phenomenon that wasn’t right.’ He viewed Kinky as a negative, and while he didn’t blame the midfielder for City’s problems, the indication was there that the rest of team relied on the Georgian too much.
In their final home match of the season against QPR, Kinkladze scored his last goal for City, a stunning free kick in the first minute that gave City hope of avoiding the drop to Division Three.
However, the blues couldn’t hold on to the lead and former blue Mike Sheron equalised 7 minutes later. Jamie Pollock then scored one of football’s most well-taken own goals on 21 minutes, and while Lee Bradbury equalised 3 minutes into the second half, City needed a miracle to stay up.
The blues won their final match of the season, 5-2 at Stoke but need Port Vale and Portsmouth to fail to win their respective matches. Both won and City went down, and the prospect of lower league football saw Kinky leave the club to join Ajax for £5m.
Kinky spent three seasons at City, making 106 appearances and scoring 2 goals. While he may not have inspired the bleus to great heights, Kinky gave the faithful some valuable memories in his short time at Maine Road.