First introduced in 1967, the MCFC Player of the Year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
In the fourth instalment, we look at the years 1996 to 2005, with an eclectic mix of talents and nationalities collecting the coveted fan prize…
1995-96: Giorgi Kinkladze
Those who remember his grace and skill still wax lyrical about the days Giorgi Kinkladze played for City.
Kinky joined City from Dinamo Tbilisi in 1995 and quickly became a terrace idol for supporters during a difficult time for the Club.
Manager Alan Ball promised fans would be “hanging from the rafters” to get a glimpse of the Georgian in action and he wasn’t far wrong.
Blessed with the kind of dribbling ability only players like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona seem to possess and a range of passing that Ali Benarbia would be proud of, Kinky was a shining light in a struggling team that drew two and lost nine of the opening 11 games of the 1995/96 season.
City rallied towards the end of the season and Kinky’s goal against Southampton in March 1996 was arguably the best individual goal ever scored by a City player, as the Georgian glided through four tackles with the finesse of a ballet dancer before finishing with the gentlest of chips.
Ball’s side were relegated on the final day of the campaign against Liverpool but Kinky’s efforts were recognised by the supporters who idolised him with a deserved Player of the Year award.
1996-97: Giorgi Kinkladze
Though Kinkladze was expected to leave the Blues along with several other prominent stars following relegation, Chairman Francis Lee convinced him to stay another season and help the Blues back to the Premier League, but the brilliant No.10 where quickly became a target for some of the Championship-level hatchet men who had figured that if they stopped Kinkladze, they pretty much stopped City.
The ‘96-97 season proved to be a painful one for the Georgian who was stretchered off the pitch several times with injury, but with 12 goals and 42 appearances, he showed his resilience – even if despite his best efforts, City only finished in mid-table.
1997-98: Michael Brown
Academy graduate Michael Brown only played 27 times during the Blues’ second successive season in the second tier, but the combative midfielder did enough to win the fans’ vote for Player of the Year.
In what ended in a second relegation in three years, Brown’s energy and commitment – particularly his reputation for blood and thunder tackling - won him the vote over his team-mates and Hartlepool-born youngster was just 21 when he picked up the award making him one of the youngest recipients yet.
1998-99: Gerard Wiekens
In a season where Shaun Goater scored a hatful of goals, Andy Morrison arrived to add presence and steel to the Blues’ backline and Paul Dickov scored THAT goal against Gillingham, Gerard Wiekens was he the MCFC Player of the Year.
It is testament to the Dutch defender’s calm, cool approach to the game that he beat his team-mates to the prize and shows what an understated influence to quiet centre-half had on the side that would eventually win promotion back to the top flight that season.
1999-2000: Shaun Goater
With 29 goals in 45 games, Shaun Goater was the outstanding candidate for the ’99-00 Player of the Year award.
The former Bristol City striker had more than played his part in winning promotion in his first full season and during his second, he became something of a terrace idol as he helped Joe Royle’s side secure back-to-back promotions to the Premier League.
The Goat had an unorthodox style in many ways – he wasn’t a dribbler or likely to get you goals from outside the box, but put the ball anywhere around the six-yard box and he was deadly.
Feed the Goat and he will score – well he was fed this season and he thoroughly deserved the fans’ recognition.
2000-01: Danny Tiatto
During what was a difficult campaign for the Blues who had been playing third tier football just two years earlier, there were few players who had impressive seasons back in the top flight.
The fans’ vote went to Danny Tiatto – a fiery, 100% committed Australian full-back who played 39 times during the campaign.
The City fans wanted to see fight and Tiatto had that in bucket loads, collecting 10 yellow cards and two reds as he occasionally stepped over the mark – but he gave his all trying to keep the Blues in the Premier League and that was enough to win the fans’ vote.
2001-02: Ali Benarbia
Signed on a free transfer a few games into the campaign, Ali Benarbia made a stunning debut against Birmingham before being substituted to a standing ovation.
A genius of a footballer, Benarbia quickly became integral to new manager Kevin Keegan’s side and with the Algerian play-maker and Israeli international Eyal Berkovic in tandem, City were irresistible on the way to the Division One title.
Striker Paolo Wanchope claimed that Benarbia “can see you when you can’t see yourself”.
Benarbia was a joy to watch and a quite brilliant footballer and his eight goals in 42 games was only part of the story of his first season with the Blues that ended up with promotion back to the Premier League and Ali winning the Player of the Year by a landslide.
2002-03: Sylvain Distin
French defender Sylvain Distin was one of several high-profile new recruits City made during the summer of 2002.
Keegan was determined to equip the Blues with the necessary squad to avoid changing divisions for a sixth successive season.
One of those new faces was Distin – a tall, powerful natural athlete who slotted seamlessly into the City back four where he was hugely impressive throughout his first year.
He made 39 appearances in all competitions and as City comfortably consolidated their place back in the top flight, it was Distin’s consistency that won him the Player of the Year vote.
2003-04: Shaun Wright-Phillips
Having won the MCFC Young Player of the Year award for the previous four seasons, it seemed inevitable that fans’ favourite Shaun Wright-Phillips would take the senior prize sooner rather than later.
The popular winger had won an army of admirers for his energy and skill and under Keegan he had become a first team regular.
The only thing really missing from his game was goals with just nine strikes in 104 appearance – but that would change this season with SWP bagging 11 in 46 appearances during which he rarely missed a game.
At 22, he became one of the Club’s youngest recipients along with Michael Brown and Steve Redmond.
2004-05: Richard Dunne
Richard Dunne had been with City five seasons before he was finally awarded the MCFC Player of the Year award.
He would more than make up for it in the seasons that followed as he became the rock of City’s defence.
Alongside Sylvain Distin, the pair formed a dependable central defensive partnership with Dunne getting better each season.
The 2004-05 season saw Dunne, who had put his on and off field disciplinary problems behind him, show great maturity and leadership – though he wasn’t skipper just yet – and his 36 appearances during a turbulent season that saw Keegan quit his post, it was Dunne who richly deserved the fans’ vote.