Kinkladze the City sticker

Ian Whittell sees how much the Maine man means to his manager

So there is life after the Premiership - or at least there is as long as Georgi Kinkladze remains a Manchester City player. Alan Ball freely admits that his biggest fear following his club's traumatic demotion on the final day of last season was the knock on his door that would herald the Georgian midfielder telling him that he did not wish to parade his mercurial talents on stages such as Roots Hall and Valley Parade.

"The player is bigger than the club now," says Ball, bemoaning the general balance of power in the modern game. "And what fans don't understand is that if a player does not want to play for you there is nothing you can do about it. And who gets it in the neck from the fans if a player is sold? Muggins here, or the chairman, that's who."

Thankfully for Ball, and nearly 30,000 long-suffering City supporters who brought in the new season at Maine Road on Friday night, that knock on the manager's door never came. Perhaps the new pounds 30,000 Mercedes and improved contract lavished on the brilliant player this summer helped.

But more surprisingly there were few, if any, calls from opposition managers testing to see if the club, still sailing in financially precarious water, would like to make an instant million or five on a player for whom they paid a meagre pounds 2m one year ago.

Sheffield Wednesday were one party who certainly did enquire. But in a summer of frenzied transfer activity that has placed such a premium on exotic talent, the lack of serious bidding for Kinkladze is tantamount to negligence on the part of the Premiership's leading managers.

It took approximately three minutes for Kinkladze to underline that point against Ipswich. The Georgian rode one attempted assault, ran into two more defenders and, with a sleight of foot Paul Daniels would have been proud of, left both on the floor in a state of shock. The aftermath looked like a scene from Twister.

No wonder Ball claims that Kinkladze need not fear the division's apocryphal hatchet men. Just how do you leave an imprint of your size tens on a shadow? Fittingly, the goal saw Kinkladze again squeeze his way through three defenders - leaning left then right, dipping the shoulder to wrong-foot the marker - before crossing for his midfield partner and self-styled "minder" Steve Lomas to head in.

The sense of relief around Maine Road was tangible. First - Second as was - Division football is nothing new to these most frequently disappointed fans. Then again, neither are false dawns.

The fatalists among the City faithful - and that probably means everybody - were not to be disappointed on Friday as their team contrived almost to throw the game away. Reduced to 10 men for the final half-hour, the home team were overrun by opponents who twice hit woodwork. Michael Frontzeck was at the centre of City's attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, dismissed for a clumsy last-ditch tackle. For Frontzeck, a former German World Cup defender, it was the latest in a long line of personal calamaties, the most notable the unjust penalty decision awarded against him when City lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup last year.

The perverse logic that surrounds life at Maine Road demands, of course, that Frontzeck be regarded as something of a cult figure. Predictably, he left the pitch to a standing ovation.

In the minefield of First Division football that lies ahead of them this season, it will be left to another cult hero, Kinkladze, to determine City's promotion chances. As Georgi Kinkladze goes, City will go.

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