Once upon a time, Manchester City fans sang that every run that Kinky made was blinding but, as Dan Brennan reports, the Georgian now just heads for dead ends
When Gio Kinkladze rejected Derby County’s offer of a new contract and a 50 per cent wage cut in the summer of 2003, there was little doubt in his mind that a return to the Premiership was just around the corner. What followed instead was an increasingly forlorn and humiliating attempt to secure employment in Britain and abroad. Plagued by injury and fitness problems at Derby, he only showed glimpses of the skills that had made him the darling of the Kippax at Manchester City, but he was only 30 and still possessed the dancing feet and quick brain to compensate for any decline in speed and increased girth.
Such was the sense of optimism that his representative Daniel Izza was moved to confidently declare that “Premiership clubs are interested as well as teams abroad who have Champions League qualification, but he’s got to think about the right move now”. It seemed a fair enough assertion. Liverpool – seeking to add a spark to a pedestrian midfield – had made overtures, while Celtic were eyeing him up as a ready-made replacement for outgoing playmaker Lubo Moravcik. It was surely, then, a matter of just waiting by the phone for the best offer.
However, Liverpool never did make a move, while Martin O’Neill took a closer look and had a change of heart. And any hopes for a return to Manchester City were ignored, as Kevin Keegan presumably decided that with Robbie Fowler already in situ, one erratic fatboy on the payroll was enough.
Briefly last autumn it seemed that the Georgian might follow the well beaten path from Derby to Dundee. Former colleagues Fabrizio Ravanelli and Craig Burley had already been tempted to Tayside by the empire-building plans of Giovanni Di Stefano, the fast-talking ham lawyer who claimed to be revitalising the Scottish club with a large injection of cash. Dundee manager Jim Duffy travelled down to meet Kinkladze in Manchester and spent a weekend in talks, only for the Georgian to decide at the last minute that he still thought he had a chance in the Premiership.
Rumours of a move to the south coast briefly surfaced, when Kinky popped up at Portsmouth. But having just brought in another ex-City creative in the form of Eyal Berkovic, Harry Redknapp was not in the market for a playmaker. It turned out that his old Derby boss Jim Smith was simply offering him a chance to run off the calories while he searched for a new club.
Next stop was Elland Road. These days, you know things aren’t going your way when even Leeds don’t want you. In January he was sent packing just days into a two-week trial, after being deemed too overweight. He was even too fat for Big Sam, normally not one to rule out a talented porker, and a trial at the Reebok also ended in vain. In what might be interpreted as a tacit admission of desperation, the Georgian and his merry band of agents even travelled up to Ayrshire for an audience with Jim Jeffries at Kilmarnock – but as soon as wages were mentioned, any notions of a deal were swiftly scotched.
With every British option exhausted, the net was cast Europe-wide. Keeping tabs on Kinkladze became a difficult job. One week he was to be found in Athens, training with Panathinaikos, the next it was Russia, with provincial outfit Shinnik. Each time, though, the verdict appeared to be the same: too fat and too unfit.
For a player once headhunted for Boca Juniors by Maradona and later heralded by his manager at Manchester City, Alan Ball, as “the best player to ever come out of eastern Europe” it was a collapse of Gazza-esque proportions.
Finally, in October, the 15-month search for employment came to an end, it seemed, thanks to a compatriot – Temuri Ketsbaia. The former Newcastle United and Wolves man is now a player-coach at Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta, where he has assembled a colony of Georgians. For Kinkladze it might have been a big step-down, but at least he was back among friends. However, within weeks, he was involved in a training-ground bust-up with Ketsbaia, after the latter apparently gave his new charge a stern dressing down for his lack of discipline, and was sent him home. Sadly, it may not be long before Kinkladze is packing his bags again.
From WSC 214 December 2004. What was happening this month