Russ Cowper on the surprising rejuventation of a pigeonholed player.

On the 26th of  February 2011, Fabian Delph returned to the Aston Villa side as an impromptu left back after Nathan Baker was injured in the first half. Nearly 7 years later he is receiving rave reviews as an impromptu left back for Manchester City.

His early career at Leeds was one of great promise, he scored two brilliant long range goals against Walsall and he came to the attention of Arsene Wenger. Newcastle joined the ever expanding queue for his talents as he was called up by Stuart Pearce to the England U21 squad. In 2009 he joined Aston Villa where he suffered a litany of injuries which hampered his progress but nonetheless he blossomed into a central midfielder of high repute and gained full international recognition.

On 17th July 2015 he joined Manchester City prompting Villa fans to refer to him as the snake as contract disputes and promises were broken. The Lure of City tempted him to sign a four year contract at a fee of around £8 million.

Since joining City his appearances were initially limited and his injury curse reappeared prompting many fans to wonder why he was signed. He struggled for game time and looked all over like a sick note player. Before the start of the current season he was widely expected to leave for pastures anew. His path to the first team blocked by Guardiola’s plethora of world class midfielders, it looked for all the world he would call time on his City career and join another Premier League club with Stoke City amongst those linked with him. The previous season had seen Delph make just 13 appearances in total with only 7 in the Premier League and Guardiola’s new signings made a first team place look highly unlikely to say the least.

However he decided to stay at Manchester City, the reasons why are unclear but maybe being part of a superb squad was enough and Guardiola was happy to keep him after learning from the previous season the nature of the relentlessness of English football and its unforgiving fixture list. Guardiola obviously saw something in Delph that the fans had missed.

It is my opinion all fans love a trier, my mum says God loves one and Delph has proven to be just that. He knuckled down, worked hard, was patient and looked happy to be part of such an illustrious squad. Patience has proven to be a virtue, that along with Guardiola’s coaching and coaxing must be a potent drug for those wishing for self improvement. His chance came when new terrace darling Benjamin Mendy succumbed to a knee injury and much to the astonishment of many City fans Delph was tasked with filling his oversized boots.

Many football fans are quick to pigeonhole a player as being of a certain type who plays one position only and will be all at sea if asked to fulfil an unfamiliar role. Delph has addressed these concerns in spades as he has fitted seamlessly into a back four that is 75% Yorkshire born and bred. His critics have been silenced and the praise has been effusive. The job he did on the wonderfully creative Leicester City winger Riyhad Mahrez was a full back masterclass and he is growing into the role by the game. He also offers the option much beloved of Guardiola of being able to step into midfield and pass with accuracy and perception, a prerequisite for all Guardiola players. He also offers a touch of physicality to a team that can be perceived as lightweight and too small to compete at the very top level  of football. He has quite rightly earned a recall to the international ranks and is at the moment playing as well as in any time in his career, but more importantly he plays with a joyful exuberance that few show towards their job.

Manchester City fans have curious hero’s, amidst the stunning brilliance of David Silva, the match winning genius of Yaya Toure and the record breaking goalscoring exploits of Sergio Aguero the player held in the greatest affection is an unassuming right back from Argentina. Ifontribution  Delph continues to play as well as he is, if his selfless contribution and commitment to the cause carries on unabated perhaps Delph may take the mantle of the warrior King Zabaleta. And to a Blue there is no higher praise than that.