Over the weekend, the day finally came. I thought that day would be during the summer of 2016. I previously thought that day would be during the summer of 2015. And prior to that – well, you get the idea. Aleksandar “jingle bells” Kolarov has left Manchester City to join Roma, and not even on loan, as is the tradition for those that depart for sunnier climes (by which I mean anywhere). For a man who professed a desire to return to Lazio one day, it seems he took a wrong-turn at the airport, but his departure was done on his terms, and he departs with many good wishes.
When I think of Kolarov, thoughts turn to May 19th, 2013. It was a miserable end to a miserable season. City had lost the FA Cup final to a soon-to-be-relegated Wigan Athletic, Roberto Mancini fell on his sword, and then Brian Kidd reluctantly guided City to a lacklustre 2-3 home defeat against Norwich City. Even the rare sight of a Jack Rodwell double couldn’t save us. Cue one of those end-of-season laps of dishonour from the City players that no one really wanted.
Only this time Aleksandar Kolarov, not for the first time that season, managed to get embroiled in an argument with one of the few remaining fans as the walkabout occurred. It summed up quite well not only the season that saw United crowned Premier League champions but also his time at City, but with five trophies and seven seasons under his belt, he deserves to be remembered for more than that last game of the 2012/13 season or his other unflattering moments.
As we all know, many a City player has proved divisive during their time at the club, but few more than the Serbian left-back signed by City for £16m in July 2010. Hell, I changed my opinion of him hour by hour some days. Boy he infuriated me at times.
It wasn’t that he was terrible, but he was a player who I felt could have been more. He looked like the real deal. Hard as nails, athletic, powerful, with a left foot like a traction engine – not quite fast enough, but not a million miles off the archetypal modern full-back. However, in the end he was never quite consistently good enough, but when we’ve reached the stage where Championship players are valued at up to £20m, in seven years at the club Aleksandar Kolarov will be viewed by my good self as a good value purchase who contributed to City’s success.
It was a bumpy ride though. An early injury that stalled his progress was symptomatic of a rollercoaster seven years at the club. With the signing of Gael Clichy on 2011, Kolarov spent the next five years battling with the Frenchman for the left-back slot, with varying degrees of success. Neither proved a calamity, but neither was good enough to help City compete with the world’s best, but at a club allergic to spending money on full-backs they both got plenty of pitch-time.
His appearance record reflects the duel he had with Clichy. Twenty four league appearances in his debut season was followed by just twelve in the historic 2011/12 season, then twenty the season after. After the spat at the Norwich game, I scored him 4/10 for the season and his departure seemed inevitable. He stayed though, and was one of our better defenders as we won the league for a second time, even gaining a respectable 7.5/10 score from me – by the end of that season, he was widely regarded as our first-choice left-back, with thirty league appearances under his belt and a new three-year contract beckoned.
The problem with Kolarov though was that he could never keep it up, never sustain good form. He was capable of sumptuous free-kicks and killer crosses from the left that were almost impossible to defend. He was also capable of hitting balls into row Z, bad positioning and giving off an air of being uninterested. When eventually Pep Guardiola reinvented him as one of our more consistent central defenders of last season, it seems it was Kolarov who decided his time was at an end, and asked to leave. Obviously central defence was not for him. Pep makes no effort to persuade those not willing to stay to change their mind, and that was that, an unfortunate end at a time when his versatility could have been more useful than ever after the summer cull of ageing full-backs that has left some City fans nervously counting down the days until the season starts and tracking private jet flights from the south of France.
I digress. For all his faults, Kolarov had his moments. The aforementioned form of the 2013/14 season helped keep Champions-elect Liverpool at bay and despite a lesser contribution to the first title win, a late equaliser against Sunderland proved crucial in the end. When he was in the mood, few hit a free kick better, and when he sneaked in a curling free-kick at the Santiago Bernabeu, I thought he had inspired the biggest of all away wins – but it wasn’t to be.
Never mind. Few could put in a better cross, and few were so readily available to play without injury, suspension or the need to stir up trouble through agents or manager fall-outs. He was professional throughout even if some felt he didn’t seem overly committed to the cause week-in, week-out. One hundred and sixty five appearances, eleven goals and five trophies suggest he played his part, but in the end, a club managed by Pep Guardiola and a club coming off the back of three underwhelming seasons needs more, it needs to be the best.
At the age of 31, Kolarov gets his final payday and City get a modest fee for a fullback before the inevitable happens, and the legs begin to flag. Another of the old guard has departed, as the team goes through one its greatest revolutions. Kolarov will never be regarded as a City legend, never appear on the pantheon of greats, but he did his bit, representing the club for seven seasons and helping shape some wonderful memories for us blues. I wish him all the best in the future, and say thank you Aleksandar. City TV will never be the same again.