Ex Files: Manchester City
All week we will be looking back at three players from England's top clubs who the fans have loved to hate, and those whom they wish had never left. Then one from a rival club whom they hate to say they love. First, Simon Curtis delves into Manchester City's recent past.
Love to hate: Emmanuel Adebayor
There's always something to be said about Joey Barton. From being a combative City youth product who looked to have broken through into the limelight with a terrific attitude and the necessary skills to be a decent pro, bit by bit the darker side of his character was revealed to all. First a cigar prodded into the eye of youth team player Jamie Tandy at the Christmas party, then a succession of on- and off-field misdemeanours which began to grate with the club's staff and the support alike.
Despite all of this -- and his somewhat bizarre marriage to modern social media as a kind of shopping centre intellectual of our times -- it is not Barton who carries the most baggage for me. Emmanuel Adebayor has turned out to be a serial slacker and an indefatigable attention seeker since his move from Arsenal to City in 2009. I guess City fans should have realised by the time he slid to a halt in front of the away fans in a memorable early-season rout of Arsenal that something was not quite right with his thought processes.
Having scored in his first four games in a City shirt, the walls came tumbling down when he ran the entire length of the pitch (he had scored at the opposite end to where the Arsenal away support was housed) to slide dramatically in front of the Gunners' fans. Defending the indefensible becomes a right of passage among certain kinds of supporters, but he was clearly slightly off kilter even then and has since proved at Real Madrid and Spurs that he can only really be bothered when the lights and stakes are high.
Love to love: Gareth Barry
It was really pleasing that Everton fans last season got to see and appreciate what the much-maligned Gareth Barry brings to a side. A hugely underrated player and, but for one moment of terrible global exposure as a player considerably slower than Mesut Ozil, many more would quite possibly have learned to love him.
Tidy, professional, hard as nails and with an unerring eye for the safest, quickest pass out of trouble, Barry worked excellently in those early City sides after the money rolled in from Abu Dhabi. In these days of prima donna attention seekers, the likes of Barry are a dying breed in the Premier League, able to get on with their barely noticed but essential work without having to scream "look at me" every 10 minutes.
You only have to see the almost unanimous response of Evertonians to his first season's work at Goodison to realise that it perhaps takes much closer inspection of all the little unseen bits of business that he concludes on behalf of his team, before you properly appreciate just how much stuff Barry gets through on your team's behalf. Roberto Martinez and his staff obviously agree with this sentiment.
Although Barry gets the recent vote, ex-heroes who score highly among those of us a little longer in the tooth include Shaun Goater, Paul Dickov and a raft of heroes from the late '60s, such as Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison, and the 1986 Youth Cup winning eras. Anyone who has stained the Sky Blue shirt with a decent amount of sweat is always remembered fondly, however.
Hate to love: David de Gea
Many City fans brought up on generations of great rivalry with our red cousins will find it difficult to offer much praise for any of their players. In addition to this, after the deeply traumatic season the Reds completed in 2013-14, it becomes more and more difficult to pick somebody out worthy of praise, but there is one player who stands out. One player who -- despite making one or two high-profile mistakes -- was in the firing line from start to finish and was, by the comparative standards and conditions of his direct predecessors over the last two decades, hugely both overworked and massively overexposed.
That man is (relatively) young goalkeeper David de Gea. Any goalkeeper asked to defend the nets at Old Trafford is in for a nerve-testing time. (Ask many who have attempted to do so and they might call it a thankless task.) But to be in charge of the gloves during the very season when your teammates consistently go AWOL is a test most would readily step away from. De Gea, despite his relative inexperience in goalkeeping terms, managed to hold his game together and swat away many of the goal-bound shots that his teammates in front of him could not get close to. On the basis of this nerveracking examination of his competence, De Gea deserves plenty of our respect.