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Archive - Friday, 1 March 1996
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'Gio is the best of the lot' - says Lee
WHEN you can beat Neville Southall from something like 40 yards, you just have to be something special.
And Manchester City's Georgian giant - in football terms - is just that.
Georgi Kinkladze, the man with the tongue-twisting name and skills which can turn opponents inside out, first came to British football's general notice when he helped destroy Wales in a five-goal international rout.
It included his spectacular strike against the worldly-wise Southall and Blackburn Rovers will need to be super-vigilant at Maine Road tomorrow to combat the player that Manchester City chairman Francis Lee firmly believes is THE best in the Premiership.
Lee had the foresight to spot Kinkladze's potential and set up a £2 million deal with Dynamo Tbilisi before the star became known to a wider audience.
As a full-blooded competitor himself in the sky blue shirt, there were never any reservations about Lee's own playing style.
Now he is leading from the top, the Maine Road chief is just as forthright and clearly feels Kinkladze is capable of inspiring City to climb out of trouble.
The Georgian certainly appears to be the biggest threat as Rovers attempt to avoid chalking up an unwanted new low for them since the Premiership began - four successive League defeats.
Lee has no doubts - "With hand on heart, I genuinely believe that he is the best player currently in the Premiership, either home grown or imported," he said. "At this stage of the season, we have seen all the big new foreign stars who came into the Premiership this year, Ruud Gullit, Juninho, Dennis Bergkamp and many more who have all added something to English soccer.
"But, in my eyes, 'Gio' is the best of the lot.
"He does things with the ball which can literally make your hair stand up on end."
Kinkladze has adapted to the rough and tumble of English football as well as anyone, his stocky frame and lightning-quick feet are the perfect defence mechanism when the boots are flying.
"We were worried about how he would handle the hurly-burly and buffeting that players like him get in the Premier League," admitted Lee.
"But, believe me, he is as tough as they come.
"He has played with knocks to his legs and ankles this season which would have forced many English players to miss a match.
"His critics might say that he drifts in and out of games. But my answer to that is that he is only human.
"You can't expect him to make a 60-yard dash at tremendous speed, beat four or five players and then do it all again without taking a few moments rest."
Kinkladze has a remarkably consistent record this season for a player who many suspected might prove inconsistent.
Perhaps the only area where he hasn't yet satisfied his new employers, or indeed his own high standards, is in the art of goalscoring.
He only has two Premiership strikes to his credit so far.
Yet he packs a powerful shot and Lee is optimistic that the goals will come.
"The lad himself is disappointed that he hasn't scored more goals since arriving at Maine Road," said the chairman.
"But, believe me, that's only a matter of time.
"He has a shot like a mule and he won't keep on scraping the bar or missing the post by inches for ever."
Rovers cannot deny - they have been warned.
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