🙌 Manchester City Cult Heroes: Nigel de Jong

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OneFootball

Dan Burke

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If you can’t be a flashy flair player or a great goalscorer, the least you can do is get stuck in.

Nigel de Jong was never one to shirk a tackle (sometimes to his detriment) and it was that quality which quickly endeared the Dutchman to the Manchester City faithful.

De Jong joined City in an £18m switch from Hamburg in January 2009.

Mark Hughes’ side were crying out for a midfield enforcer at the time and the former Ajax youngster’s quick adaptation to English football was one of the reasons the club ended up finishing the 2008/09 campaign in a comfortable mid-table position.

But further investment in the squad that summer meant increased competition for places at Eastlands and De Jong found it difficult to break into the side in the early part of 2009/10, with Hughes often preferring summer signing Gareth Barry instead.

Hughes was sacked in December of that year and replaced by Roberto Mancini, who immediately tried to make City harder to beat by playing De Jong alongside Barry in defensive midfield.

De Jong played the full 90 minutes in 18 of the final 21 Premier League games of that season as City narrowly missed out on a place in the Champions League, but it was the following season when he really established himself as an important player and a fan favourite.

The holding midfielder’s tough tackling, no nonsense approach provided the ideal foundations for City’s more creative players to flourish further forward.

De Jong’s goal threat was non-existent to the point that it became a running joke among fans and team-mates alike, but he made the City of Manchester Stadium erupt when he scored his first and only Premier League goal in a victory over West Ham in May 2011.

De Jong played the full 90 minutes in both the semi-final and the final of the 2011 FA Cup as City ended their 35 year wait for silverware.

He would make just 21 Premier League appearances the following season but would still prove tactically valuable to Mancini, who would often bring De Jong on as a substitute and move Yaya Touré into the number 10 position when his side were chasing a goal.

The most memorable example of this came in a crucial victory away at Newcastle in the 2011/12 title run-in, when De Jong’s introduction from the bench was the catalyst for Touré to score the two goals that won City the match.

It’s not unfair to say De Jong had his limitations as a footballer and his passing range rarely extended beyond him shifting the ball sideways to a more talented team-mate.

Which made this goal at Anfield all the more mind-blowing at the time …

But De Jong did make one very notable forward pass into the feet of Sergio Agüero in the dying seconds of the 2011/12 season.

Agüero then played a one-two with Mario Balotelli, and we all know what happened next.

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Ask most-non City fans about De Jong and they’ll probably talk about a dirty player who kung-fu kicked Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the chest during the World Cup final.

There was also a pretty nasty leg-breaking tackle on Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa while playing for City during the 2010/2011 season.

But De Jong’s disciplinary record in a City shirt wasn’t terrible at all. In 137 appearances for the club he was only booked 30 times, and remarkably he didn’t pick up a single red card during his time in England.

He was a passionate and committed player on the pitch but away from the field, he came across as a charming, funny, down to earth and very chilled out guy.

De Jong left City for AC Milan in the summer after lifting the Premier League title, and his career has since taken him to LA Galaxy, Galatasaray, Mainz 05 and Al Ahli.

At the time of writing he is 35-years-old and still turning out for Qatari side Al-Shahania.

But he will always be a City cult hero who is welcome back at the club anytime he wants.

As the old terrace chant to the tune of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ went: “There’s only gonna be one winner, oh when De Jong goes sliding in.”