When he was bought for £16 million in 2010 from Lazio, a lot of Manchester City fans, spoilt lavishly as they were by the concurrent arrivals of Yaya Toure and David Silva, probably saw the signing of Aleksandar Kolarov as a little less than sensational. He’d only had two appearances for Serbia at the World Cup in South Africa, and had spent the previous three years at Lazio, only making the Europa League once in those three seasons. He wasn’t a name that many had heard in England, and he was coming to Manchester to replace Wayne Bridge, who was on the way out. His was an inauspicious start at City, just as they were transitioning into their most raucous ever period of success. As he begins the current season, one that marks a decade for him as a professional footballer, he does so having just been awarded a new contract, tying him to the club until 2018. Along with Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Vincent Kompany, Kolarov grabbed at the chance to extend his stay in Manchester. If his name looks a little out of place among those of the bona fide City superstars Toure, Aguero and Silva, then all that shows is the clandestine nature of his quality as a player. Certainly, Man City are content for outsiders to underrate the Serbian left back, as much as they are to hand him a fresh deal.
He made 37 appearances in his first season in Manchester, establishing himself as the firm first choice on the left side of defence. Having arrived with the reputation as a swift attacking full back, he quickly got to work. Kolarov prefers the effective over the flashy; rarely does he get bogged down trying to beat his man one-on-one with stepovers or other leggy theatrics. He consistently plays the obvious but effective one-two pass quickly and accurately, often combining with Samir Nasri on the left. He races directly to recieve the return pass – it’s astounding how often this basic passing manoeuvre allows Kolarov to get behind the defence, charging towards the byline. His crossing technique is impeccable, spearing the ball into the area behind the backtracking defence but out of reach of the goalkeeper, that ‘corridor of uncertainty’. Kun Aguero and company must relish having such a reliable and efficient provider to work with. His first season was largely successful, joyously capped off with the club’s first trophy for forty years, the 2011 FA Cup. Kolarov played the full ninety minutes in that 1-0 victory over Stoke.
The next season French international Gael Clichy arrived from Arsenal for £7 million. Central to a transfer that garnered much more attention than Kolarov’s had, it being between two high profile English clubs, Clichy quickly established himself as the starting left back for City, usurping Kolarov and severely limiting his opportunities for first team action. Kolarov made 12 less league appearances that season, and 11 fewer overall. It was a blow to a player who had settled in so well, but in spite of his reduced playing time, he managed just as many league assists as Clichy in the 11-12 season.
Of course, Kolarov is no stranger to adversity, and having grown up in war-torn Belgrade, he has spoken of his memories of the NATO bombing campaign that was carried out against his home county.
“I don’t have nightmares, but I remember everything,” he said. “Bombs fell near my house. The windows blew in. There was a military airport near my house so that was a target.”
He was brought through the Red Star Belgrade youth system, but failed to break through into the first team, and was sold when he was 18 to Čukarički. In his first full season there, he was relegated from the league. He eventually found his way from the Serbian league, to Serie A with Lazio. Having overcome these obstacles as a young man, a challenge to his starting spot at Manchester City was unlikely to have intimidated Kolarov. In 2012-13, Clichy was again the first choice left back, making 37 appearances to Kolarov’s 29. But again Kolarov’s production was as good as the Frenchman’s, assisting as many goals and scoring one more than Clichy managed. The Serb’s set piece prowess made him a more potent and versatile weapon than Clichy, and last season, Manuel Pellegrini’s first, he re-established himself as the club’s leading player in his position. More than a few doubts had been creeping into the minds of the City onlookers as to the defensive solidity of Clichy, as well as his effectiveness going forward. Kolarov’s excellent year justified the change. He was key in last season’s title triumph, creating 7 goals in the league for his team mates and forming a deadly partnership with Nasri on the left hand side. He scored 4 goals in all competitions that year and Clichy didn’t mount a challenge as the second choice man, failing to score once and only creating one solitary goal, despite appearing 31 times.
His City career hasn’t resembled the sensational arcs that have risen and fallen around him. He hasn’t been a star, even the first choice, for much of his time there. But his consistency, his refined technique and his unquestionable work ethic have made him wholly deserving of his new contract. Pellegrini, an intelligent surveyor, has seen the value that the Serbian has; he’s a player upon whom you can undoubtedly rely.
After signing his new deal, he spoke to the club’s website.
I am very happy and very proud of this new contract. I will give to this club probably the best stages of my football career and I am very happy that I continue with this club which feels now like my home.
Last season I played a lot and I think I proved to people in the club that they can believe in me and the result was that I was offered a new contract and I was happy to sign.
Every club needs their own Mr Dependable. City now have theirs for three more years.