City Blogger: An ode to Ali Benarbia
- 24 October 2013 11:54
- Posted by @ThomSoutter26
Recently I was engaged in a rather drunken debate as to which three people you would want accompanying you on a desert island
Now isn’t really the time to discuss the rather random selection that I came up with, but one name did cause consternation between the group that I was with... a certain Mr Ali Benarbia.
Yes. Quite simple, really: Ali Benarbia, the greatest player I have ever seen grace the blue shirt.
I appreciate that is a very bold statement when considering the champions of 2012 or sides that contained dreamboats such as Neil Heaney or goal machine Samaras, but there I said it.
At a time when the club possesses a whole host of world-class, big money signings, it is refreshing to remember what I personally believe is the most unbelievable free transfer signing that our beloved club has ever made.
Ali Benarbia arrived in September 2001 on a free transfer.
Due to a raft of Kevin Keegan signings that summer, his arrival, the day before a home game with Birmingham, went relatively unheralded.
In fact, a good friend of mine commented that he couldn’t be bothered to learn his name and would merely refer to him as ‘No44’.
Ali soon changed his mind.
"Legend has it that he arrived at Maine Road, boots in hand, a mere 24 hours later and set about destroying the opposition in what was possibly the best debut I have ever witnessed."
Nowadays protracted transfer dealings are dragged through the press, with vast sums of money reported along with hastily edited showreels from YouTube.
This guy was an unknown quantity but WHAT A PLAYER!
Up until 2001 my viewing of City had mainly consisted of average individuals and workmanlike performances but Ali B changed all that.
He changed the way that I viewed how City could play football. Over the remainder of the 2001/02 season he was a level above everyone else on the pitch.
The Goat commenting that ‘he saw the pass to you before you did’ on umpteen occasions.
City were a missed Stuart Pearce penalty away from setting a goalscoring record that season and the little Algerian probably assisted around 80% of those goals (stats care of Thom Soutter).
Who cares if it wasn’t the Premier League? Football viewing is about 11 v 11 and this magician was a joy to behold.
The fact that the season coincided with the failed TV voyage of ITV digital meant that coverage of City was pretty limited, thus meaning that Ali and the football we played was almost our little secret.
Well, until we battered Premier League Ipswich away in the FA Cup live on the BBC, then it was out.
Thus began our storm back to the Premiership and a position that we haven’t relinquished since.
I remember the day that City clinched promotion, at home to those Yorkshire Brazilians, Barnsley.
"City won 5-1, Benarbia played a part in every goal and upon the fifth being dispatched the commentator of the game remarked, "City are too good", then the camera panned to Benarbia, "and he is TOO good"."
It was quite simply the most remarkable performance of flicks, twists, impossible passes and back heels that I have ever seen.
In terms of City playmakers we are now blessed with David Silva and Samir Nasri, plus even the likes of Elano have illuminated the City of Manchester stadium in the intervening time period.
However, in his prime, Ali Benarbia would have been right up there.
It is crying shame that having led us back to the Promised Land his role in the Premier League was marginalized due to ageing limbs and a change in tactics.
It is extremely fitting however that his final game in a City shirt was the first in our new stadium where we would eventually go on to play the football that he would have loved.
So Ali, if you fancy that drink on a desert island or a kick about with a coconut, just give me a shout as you remain the greatest City player I have ever seen live. Come in number 44….. Genius.
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