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​The Cult: Georgi Kinkladze

Georgi Kinkladze symbolises the idea of something beautiful being destructive. A pure entertainment hidden in the footnotes of Manchester City's mid-nineties slump to the third tier of English football.
April 3, 2016, 11:58pm
Illustration by Dan Evans

Our latest addition to The Cult is so cult that he can be made synonymous with a cult post-modern systems novel. You can (in fact you must) read our previous entries here.

Cult Status: Years of the Depend Adult Undergarment

Have you read Infinite Jest? You should – it's great. It deals chiefly with the idea of immaculate consumption, or, our obsession with entertainment and what that might cost us in human terms. The novel is loosely structured around the hunt for, and dissemination of, a VHS tape known only as the Entertainment. The Entertainment contains a film, the apotheosis of an obscure filmmaker's canon, so entertaining that once it begins the viewer will refuse to eat, drink, defecate, sleep or move. They will become so entranced that they die watching it, basically by not doing all of the things above.

Nobody is sure what the Entertainment in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest actually is [1], but it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine it as a Georgi Kinkladze highlight reel. Because:

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a) That's just how cult he is: to be made synonymous with a cult post-modern systems novel.

And…

b) He symbolises the idea of something beautiful being destructive. A pure entertainment hidden in the footnotes of Manchester City's mid-nineties slump to the third tier of English football [2].

In many ways, Kinkladze represents a kind of footballing MacGuffin: a player adored for his ability to make defenders look like tourists trying to haphazardly slap at a mosquito, while the rest of the team loathed him because the manager had told him he shouldn't defend [2].

So, as cult status goes, he's a rara avis of sorts. He's a player for the pedants who bemoan the game's metamorphosis into a pre-watershed boxset drama, each episode prefaced with a "Previously On The Premier League…" narration from an increasingly hostile Jamie Carragher and an inaudible but impeccably dulcet Thierry Henry. He might also be known to City fans – proper City fans, who are a bit of a rarity these days.

Point of Entry: High

(In which I address the Elephant in the room)

Me: I was about six years old when Kinkladze joined City. I say 'about' because offhand I think it was around 1995, but it depends which side of July he joined. And I don't know that.

Elephant: You were attending matches at this age?

Me: Somewhat, yes, but the matches I would go to were mostlyafter-school club type things where the PE teacher got a group discount on kids' tickets and took the football team to see England under-21s get beat by Brazil's under-21s. This was an actual game I attended, by the way – I remember it mostly because, about halfway through, a player broke his back and on the way home we all told and retold the story together like it was some mythic scene we'd witnessed.

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Elephant: How does this relate to the Georgian football player Georgi Kinkladze?

Me: I guess I was just saying that I never actually saw him play in the flesh, but I do have an acute knowledge of the extent of his ill-fated role at City – homesickness, raw talent, scapegoat – during the club's relegation vicissitudes. This material is mostly archival – online and in biographical accounts – so I feel I have some qualification to present it. Not that I'll talk about any of that. I mostly write about books I like. Did you read my Berbatov one?

Elephant: I heard City have the coveted Pep Guardiola. Kinkladze was a Guardiola player.

Me: Guardiola was still playing back then…

Elephants: Hang on, it's not my qualifications that are in question here.

Me: Do you think I'll get away with this?

Elephant: I'll swallow it, but don't expect people who read football websites to; they're irascible people, pedants too. A horrible lot, really.

Me: They're alright. The point is to address you and go from there.

Elephant: Consider me addressed, suck up.

The Moment: City V Southampton, 1996

My Dad's favourite football article was a piece in The Times, decades ago, where the reporter spent the entire page describing, in garrulous detail, the build up, the passing, the éclat finish, of a particular goal. Then, at the end of the piece, this goal is revealed to have been offside.

It is a thankless task describing something in words that you could watch, and thus gain far more insight from than any clever or prolix analogy that makes me sound pointed and clever. Also, the Guardian have already done that with this exact moment [4].

To justify my role as author, here are some funny things that happen in the clip, which I have watched a far greater amount than anyone ever should [5]:

  • David Hughes [6] decides to slingshot around Kinkladze and come back in with a wild slide tackle that the Georgian merely sidesteps, as opposed to, you know, just taking him on.
  • Kinkladze's shirt is ridiculously proportioned. I imagine this to be some practical joke his teammates have pulled with the kit man, who is ambivalent towards Kink but has been drawn in by peer pressure.
  • Nigel Clough.
  • Uwe Rosler has hair.
  • The awkward fan/Kinkladze celebration, which neither fan nor Kinkladze has thought through enough to do anything other than just beam prophetically, or in the fan's case kind of awkwardly embrace and gesture outwardly to nobody or everybody (it's hard to tell). You sense that it's a moment of outer body surreality for the fan. What's he up to now, do you reckon?

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What happens after this moment is: City are relegated despite a draw in their last game against Liverpool, which had other results gone their way would have been enough to stay up. The team would be relegated again before Kinkladze moved on, to Holland and Ajax in 1998. On one occasion he met with visiting City fans, there to watch the Dutch club, for a pint, as though they were all casual acquaintances or had gone to uni together.

Years after, players from the team retired and either made it into coaching or had biographies ghostwritten for them – 'I always gave 110%, my parents never pushed me, Vinnie Jones was really mean; that type of thing – and when it came to those years they shared with Kink, many apportioned City's relegation woes to him. Problem was, Kink was an entertainer. A magician in a team of bulwarks and fulcrums, lodestars and sweepers, the game not yet modernised around the thrill and the trick. That came to late for him. Imagine David Silva playing alongside Lee Cattermole.

There is a kind of dark pall that hangs around Kinkladze that bears thinking about even now. He was the entertainer, the player a TV rights deal demand. The anti-Mourinho type. The dog and pony show. To criticise his role in the club's catastrophic plummet is to forget that he, like you and me, is human. A man who brought his mum over from Georgia for Christmas so she could serve her traditional nut roast. A man prone to brilliant things – and that's what we're all really here to see.

Closing Statements

He's not really here.

Footnotes

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[1] A section in the novel hints at the Entertainment involving a high-concept phenomenological filmed experience of birth.

[2] Kinkladze, like Infinite Jest, was another symbol for the post-Thatcher, pro-credit, cult of consumption going on in the nineties. A kind of entertainment demand curve that in football was created by the formation of the Premier League and its subsequent rights-selling to Rupert Murdoch's new cable television company, Sky, and the BBC, who lumped in their bid to rujuvenate their old highlights show, Match of The Day. This made teams generally unbalanced as TV fans wanted to watch individuals, not teams. In a lot of the early Premier League seasons results were kind of stochastic and it really put some betting firms off.

[3] If you've ever played football before, this is tantamount to being the coach's son, in terms of amicability and team harmony.

[4] I won't lie, it's better than this and has way more funny references that you will get.

[5] That's why the result is a kind of I-give-up-trying-to-describe-what-is-essentially-magic-and-if-I-tried-it-would-only-turn-out-torpid-and-dull-and-nobody-would-read-it-anyway.

[6] The guy that's essentially running around in circles like some sort of awful FIFA glitch.

Words: @bainosaurus / Illustration: @Dan_Draws